How to Get a Legitimate Endurance Workout From a Jump Rope

We talked to a former pro boxer who's trained Will Smith and Adriana Lima

Updated October 27, 2023 9:45 am
A screengrab of Rocky Balboa jump-roping, as his trainer looks on.
The Italian Stallion, high-stepping to victory.
John Springer/Getty

In addition to sparring and grueling core work, boxing sessions typically involve a whole lot of jumping rope. The exercise is a personal favorite of Michael Olajide, Jr., a former professional boxer whose decorated 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.

Oladije bounced back soon after as a trainer, bringing time-tested boxing workouts to the fore. He 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. He doesn’t care that the majority of adults haven’t picked up a jump rope since summer camp: “[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 a rhythm), jumping rope is a ready-made endurance workout that will increase aerobic capacity while putting less stress on the skeletal system than running.

Oladije’s jump rope workout of choice is dead-simple: “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.”

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How Did We Do?

I recently dug an old Reebok rope out of the garage, queued up five songs and headed over to my local track on a nice day. Spoiler — the workout’s awesome and everyone should try it. Here are my key takeaways from the experience:

Choose songs in the three-minute range

Add them to your Spotify before diving in. All of my choices were three minutes and change, which was by design; I wanted to either do the 10-minute version of the workout (three songs) or the 15-minute version (five), depending on how my legs held up. I ended up doing five.

Make sure your chosen tunes are suitably upbeat

Aim for songs in the 170 BPM range. 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 the “mind-muscle connection” that trainers are obsessed with right now), but certain songs are just a bit too slow. Take a few seconds to Google your choices. One reason I love this workout is that listening to music is ergogenic. It’s a vital distraction during a stuck-in-place endurance activity like jumping rope, when you can’t check the timer or your progress.

Keep your feet low to the ground

Remember, 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-to-four minute range). Save your vertical leap max for box jumps and other leg-oriented strength training sessions. Keep in mind that this is also 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.

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.

Actually take the one-minute rest

Don’t fill it with push-ups, mountain climbers, jumping jacks or whatever else you might 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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