This is an installment of our continuing What, When, Why series exploring gear, training plans, certifications, and other things that make CrossFitters ask “should I buy this?” In this segment we’ll share what we’ve learned after years as CrossFitters, as CrossFit coaches and affiliate owners, and simply as dudes who like fresh shoes.
A jump rope can be a CrossFitter’s best friend, a soothing aid that turns a section of a workout into a bit of an “active rest.” More often, they can be our worst enemy, a confusing and frustrating demon snake that seems committed to snarling at our feet and leaving us with welts and whip marks. Some people struggle at double-unders for weeks, months, or even years after starting CrossFit, and often times it’s because they are using a rope that is not appropriate for them! Think a new rope is what you need? You might be surprised…
What Are They?
Everyone knows what a jump rope is- it’s two handles with a rope in between- you supply the jumping. The devil is in the details- materials, spin action, and sizing can make a big difference. With some notable exceptions, we can divide jump ropes into two big categories- standard ropes and speed ropes.
Standard ropes include beaded, “licorice”, and other ropes generally roughly ⅛” or more in diameter. They generally have plastic or wood handles and the “spin action” is fairly low tech- either none at all or a plastic bushing within the handle that lets the rope spin a little more freely.
Speed ropes are made of thin braided steel cable, possibly coated with PVC, sometimes left bare (risque!) These ropes have handles made of plastic, glass-filled nylon (aka really hard plastic), or metal. They also have some sort of ball bearing spin mechanism at the top of the handle, with some variance in execution. Due to their thinner diameter, denser composition, lighter weight, and faster spin action these ropes spin a lot faster and take less effort to spin. They will also whip your ass like a stubborn donkey if your miss your jump.
Why Should I Use One?
In general, you should use a jump rope if a workout calls for it.
Ok, gotta earn my paycheck here, it’s a bit more complicated than that. First, you can sub doubles for any monostructural activity in a pinch- so they are great for traveling. One thing to consider is that if you are dealing with a foot, ankle, or knee injury the impact may be problematic, so if you’re in the gym you may want to swap a row or KB swings for your doubles.
As far as why you would use a speed rope vs a standard rope, the answer is in the name- speed. Speed ropes turn very quickly, and in an experienced hand can make doubles relatively easy, turning what for many is a total gasser into an easy cruise and opportunity to recover a bit during a workout. The key phrase here is experienced.
When Should I Start Using One?
As the bard says, “therein lies the rub,” or in this case, the whip. Often times people having trouble with doubles will look to the elitefirebreatherwodkillas in their class and see that they are a) good at doubles and b) using a speed rope. Correlation is not causation my friends- they are not good at doubles because they are using a speed rope, they are using a speed rope because they are good at doubles.
To put it simply, for those still learning doubles, a speed rope is too light and fast to correctly palpate (feel) and time the rope’s spin. If anything you might want a slightly heavier rope, that will let you feel where the rope is in space more easily. Over time you can slowly step down- by the time you are using a speed rope you have likely internalized your timing to such an extent that you aren’t really jumping “over the rope” you are simply jumping at a consistent pace and spinning the rope to match it.
If you are using a speed rope, it’s largely a question of personal preference and budget. Variations in ropes are fairly minimal, mostly in the materials and bearings used. While there may be some slight difference between a $15 plastic handled speed rope and an $80 aluminum knurled handled rope with your initials engraved on it, it’s likely minimal. A good jump roper with a cheap rope will beat an average jumper with a Ferrari rope any day.
One outlier here are companies that make ropes that allow you to change out rope thickness on a pair of consistent handles with nice bearing action. These are pretty cool if a bit pricey for a beginner. They will allow you to gradually use a thinner rope as you get more proficient, so these are a valid choice for beginners and experienced jumpistas alike.
Lastly, a bit on sizing- generally if you step on your rope with one foot the handles should come up to your armpits. There’s room for personal preference here so try it out a bit and see what you like. Generally, people with less experience/efficiency might want their rope a little longer which will give them slightly more room for error at a cost of speed and effort, while ninjas like their rope as short as possible, sometimes so short that they barely graze the floor as the jump.
That’s all for today, happy jumping!