How to Get a Legitimate Endurance Workout Out of the Jump Rope in Your Garage
We talked to a former pro boxer who's trained Will Smith and Adriana Lima
Welcome to The Workout From Home Diaries. Throughout our national self-isolation period, we’ll be sharing single-exercise deep dives, offbeat belly-busters and general get-off-the-couch inspiration that doesn’t require a visit to your (likely now-shuttered) local gym.
Last fall, I had a chance to speak to Michael Olajide, Jr., a former professional boxer who now runs a gym in Chelsea called Aerospace High Performance Center. Olajide’s decorated boxing career — 28-4 (20 KOs) four championship titles, a contract with MSG — was cut short in 1990 due to an orbital fracture that rendered him legally blind. But he bounced back soon after as a trainer, bringing time-tested boxing workouts to the fore. Olajide began training actors like Will Smith and Hugh Jackman, and Victoria’s Secret Angels like Adriana Lima and Doutzen Kroes, as if they were prize fighters gearing up for a championship bout.
In addition to shadow-boxing, sparring and grueling core work, those sessions involved a whole lot of jumping rope. It’s a personal favorite of Olajide, even now at Aerospace, and his usual exercise of expertise when featured on Chris Hemsworth’s Centr app. Olajide doesn’t care that the majority of adults haven’t picked up a jump rope since summer camp. As he told us last September: “[It’s] simply the most convenient, efficient and effective exercise in the game.”
When you combine proper mechanics (lead with the hands, don’t jump too high) with a bit of grit (fight your way through false starts, establish an uncomfortable rhythm), jumping rope is a ready-made endurance workout that will increase aerobic capacity while putting less stress on the skeletal system than running.
During that initial interview with Olajide, he suggested a jump rope workout that I never quite got out of my head. He said: “Put together a playlist of 8-10 inspirational songs that will really get you going. Jump the length of each song, and take a 60-second break it between. It’s going to be impossible at first. Thirty minutes is a lot. I recommend starting with 10-15 minutes (three to five songs). As you become more comfortable with the rope, increase your time up to the full 30.”
Though I’ve long turned to the jump rope for a shake-the-dust-loose warm-up or as an aerobic supplement during other, larger workouts, I’ve never just jump-roped, for minutes on end. Not because I thought I was above it, but the exact opposite. Have you tried endlessly jumping rope? It’s horrible. Making it to a minute is difficult enough. Stringing together several songs didn’t sound particularly appealing. Besides, I had my gym, my running club, my mat Pilates sessions. I didn’t need to go out of my way to torture myself, not matter how credible Olajide’s endorsement of the routine was.
Well, quarantine has a funny way of scrambling fitness priorities. We’re all making do with whatever gym equipment we’ve got — at my house, we unearthed a barbell that belonged to my great uncle; it’s nearly 75 years old, and I think the weights are filled with sand — or waiting for the nation’s suppliers to stock back up for delivery in late April. Running has been a godsend, but in an existence where very little ever changes, the basics, like how you take your aerobic exercise, absolutely can and should. (If not to shock the body and encourage muscular development, at least to keep things different, encourage sanity, etc.)
Anyway, that’s the logic that led to me fishing an old Reebok rope out of the garage and heading over to the track on the sunniest day this week. I queued up five songs, the medium version of Olajide’s music-inspired jump-rope workout, and lived to offer some takeaways. Spoiler — it’s awesome and everyone should do it. Here are my thoughts:
1. Choose songs in the 3:00 range, and add them to your Spotify/music streaming provider before diving in. I’m not going to reveal all my choices, mainly for fear of rebuke from the InsideHook editorial room — let’s just say they have opinions — but know that my choices were a little all over the place, from The Weeknd’s current ’80s-reminiscent hit “Blinding Lights” to Bruce Springsteen’s timeless “Hungry Heart.” All of my choices were three minutes and change, which was on purpose; I knew I was either going to do the 10-minute version of the workout (three songs) or the 15-minute version (five), depending on how my legs felt. I ended up doing five.
2. Make sure your chosen tunes are suitably upbeat. “Hungry Heart,” as near and dear as The Boss may be to my Jersey heart, was not a good jump-roping song. It’s 110 BPM, as opposed to 171 BPM for “Blinding Lights,” and it showed. Olajide is a big believer in switching up cadence while jumping rope, which forces the whole body to readjust and keeps the brain engaged on the action (achieving that mind-muscle connection trainers are obsessed with right now), but certain songs are just a bit too slow.
3. Consider songs you don’t know well, or perhaps don’t know at all, in order to ease the pain. One reason I love this workout is that listening to music is distracting — vitally so during a stuck-in-place endurance activity like jumping rope, when you can’t check the timer or your progress, because literally all you have as a point of reference is a a few verses and a chorus to latch onto. I found myself, at my best, reaching a sort of musical trance and practically forgetting the discomfort of the rope. That said, the bridges of songs you know well are unbearable, and will feel particularly superfluous when they’re the only thing between you and freedom. With a song you’ve never heard, you can just focus on hearing the song for the first time (and deciding whether you like or hate it).
4. Keep your feet low to the ground. It’s worth repeating. This is an aerobic exercise. Compare it, physically, to completing a repeats workout on the track, like handling 800 meters as a steady, concerted pace (a distance that will take most runners somewhere in the three-minute range). Save your vertical leap max for box jumps and other leg-oriented strength training sessions. Remember also that this is a full-body aerobic exercise — you want to lead the flow of the rope with your hands. My calves were toast by the end of 15 minutes, but then so were my shoulders, biceps and forearms.
5. Take off your shoes. I just hate jumping rope with sneakers on. If you can find grass or track to do this workout on, as opposed to hardwood or cement, reap all those stabilization benefits and get your toes out.
7. Actually take the 1:00 rest, and don’t fill it with push-ups, mountain climbers, jumping jacks or whatever else you’ll be tempted to try to fill out the time. The point of the routine, which I finally learned when I got around to doing it, is that jumping rope more than qualifies as its own workout. If you don’t feel like you’re sweating or heaving enough (you bloody masochist), go harder during the chorus, mix in criss-crosses or simply extend the workout another song, and another, until you’re exhausted.
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