If you take a look at someone running and someone doing a jump-rope workout, it will be clear that both are working hard — but you might also notice a few differences in how their bodies move. Consider those differences if you're thinking of replacing your running workouts with rope-jumping sessions. Your success will depend on what you're trying to accomplish.
Both jumping rope and running are excellent ways to burn calories and strengthen your cardiovascular system. You can use one to replace the other or even alternate between both workouts. But if you're training for a specific sport, that changes how you choose which workout to do.
Jump-Rope vs. Running: Calories
If you're focused on calories more than anything else, which is better: going for a run or doing a jump-rope workout? Ultimately, that depends on how much effort you put in.
For example, the American Council on Exercise's physical activity calorie counter shows that jumping rope slowly is roughly equal in calorie burn to running at 5 mph. If you weigh 155 pounds, you can expect to burn about 281 calories in a half-hour with either pursuit.
Many factors affect your energy expenditure, with your body weight being one of the biggest. Generally, the more you weigh, the more calories you'll burn. So if you weigh 185 pounds, you can expect to burn around 335 calories per half-hour of either jumping rope or running at 5 mph.
Running at 5 mph is equivalent to running a 12-minute mile.
Another major factor at play in calculating how many calories you burn is how hard you're working out. If you jump rope harder or run harder, you'll burn more calories.
Sticking with the 185-pound exerciser as an example, if you jump rope fast instead of taking it slowly, ACE estimates that you'll burn just over 500 calories in a half-hour. Running at 7mph, or an 8.5-minute mile, gets you close to that, burning about 482 calories in 30 minutes. But you'd have to run at 8mph, or a 7.5-minute mile, to beat it: ACE estimates that calorie burn at about 566 calories per half-hour.
Are those calorie-burn estimates realistic? Only you can decide that because how you work out matters.
The estimates given assume continuous activity. If you're constantly stopping to untangle your jump-rope or slowing from a run to a walk to catch your breath, you're not going to burn as many calories as somebody who exercises straight through.
Build Your Cardiovascular Fitness
Both running and jumping rope are great tools for building up your cardiovascular fitness, which brings with it lifelong benefits, including a reduced risk of chronic disease, fewer signs of depression and cognitive problems and, of course, a healthier body weight.
But one of the most compelling reasons for keeping up with your jump-rope or running workouts was noted in an October 2018 issue of the JAMA Network. Researchers followed a cohort of more than 122,000 patients and found that cardiorespiratory fitness (having a healthy heart and lungs) was inversely related to all-cause mortality.
To put it another way, the healthier your heart and lungs are, the longer you'll stay alive compared to your peers, and being fitter offers even more benefits.
What does that have to do with choosing between running or jumping rope? The study focused on patients who underwent exercise treadmill testing, but that doesn't mean all the subjects were runners.
The treadmill test is simply the accepted protocol for measuring cardiovascular fitness, and small wonder. Running is relatively straightforward, whereas developing the coordination necessary for a vigorous jump-rope workout generally requires a lot of practice.
But ultimately, any exercise — including jumping rope — that gets the large muscles of your body moving rhythmically and continuously qualifies as a cardiovascular workout and offers health benefits. And if you think jumping rope will only move your calves, think again.
Although all the muscles of your lower body are involved with absorbing the impact of each jump, you can engage your larger leg muscles even more by doing variations, such as high knees and butt kicks, during your jump-rope workout.
Their Relative Merits
There's a reason why boxers often use jumping rope as an integral part of their workouts. It requires and builds a high level of hand-eye coordination, rhythm and timing.
If developing this sort of coordination is your primary goal, then you should reach for your jump-rope more often than your running shoes. Jumping rope is also a fantastic choice of exercise if you have limited space to work out in — so if your problem is finding room to run, go ahead and pick up that jump-rope.
But if you're participating in a sport that requires a lot of running — say, soccer or football — or if your personal goal is simply to get better at running, then putting on those running shoes is going to show you more immediate benefit. That's because of a principle known as sport specificity.
Basically, your body adapts to meet the specific challenges you give it. Or, to put it another way, if you want to get better at a certain physical task, you need to either practice that physical task or practice the specific components of that task that you need to develop.
Read more: Running Workouts for Beginners
Something to Keep in Mind
Both jumping rope and running produce a lot of impact on your body every time your feet leave the ground and then contact it again. High-impact exercises can be beneficial. They not only help increase bone density but also improve your strength and balance and thus, decrease fall risk factors, as shown in a study of 50 healthy men between the ages of 65 and 80, published in a March 2018 issue of the Journal of Musculoskeletal and Neuronal Interactions.
But not everybody will tolerate them well. If you have joint problems, you can still reap the benefits of lower-impact exercise. Walking, cycling, water jogging or using an elliptical trainer are just a few examples.
Finally, no matter how many calories a particular activity burns or how much it can improve your health, it's not going to do you any good unless you do that exercise regularly. There's a reason why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity to maintain health — and doubling that amount offers even more health benefits.
Ultimately, consistency matters a lot when it comes to building health, losing weight or building your skills — really, any aspect of the long-term benefit you could be looking to get from either workout.
What if you have to choose between jumping rope and running? Unless you're training to develop yourself in a specific sport, choose the one that you enjoy the most because that's the one you're most likely to stick with — and thus get more benefit from — over the long term. Or you could even do both.
- American Council on Exercise: "Physical Activity Calorie Counter"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 1. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- Current Sports Medicine Reports: "Sports Training Principles"
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: "Physical Activity and Your Heart"
- JAMA Network: "Association of Cardiorespiratory Fitness With Long-Term Mortality Among Adults Undergoing Exercise Treadmill Testing"
- Journal of Musculoskeletal and Neuronal Interactions: "High and Odd Impact Exercise Training Improved Physical Function and Fall Risk Factors in Community-Dwelling Older Men"