March 25, 2020 10 min read

Winter’s ending and you’ve been bulking up with muscle, and fat, for a few months now. You’ve cultivated some mass and you fill out most of your shirts, but soon it’s going to be beach season and you want a ripped and toned physique for the summer months. You’re aiming for those rippling muscles, well defined and prominent. Everyone knows that cardio and other aerobic exercises are fat burners, so you’ve been hitting the “dreadmill” a lot recently. But you’re not seeing results as fast as you thought you would like. While pumping iron is going as well as ever, you just can’t seem to get rid of the fat that’s preventing everyone from seeing the muscles you’ve been working hard to build the past few months. At this point, you’re probably convinced that the treadmill was invented as a medieval torture device. You’re continuously taunted by the numbers on the scale as you pump out mile after mile.

“What on earth am I doing wrong?", you ask. Well, there’s a big possibility that you might just not be doing the correct type of cardio. Enter: the jump rope. More than just a mainstay of school playgrounds and gym classes, the jump rope might be one of the most under-utilized tools in the gym. Done properly, exercises with the jump rope can be a boon in terms of burning fat and conditioning your muscles to the next level. This is especially true when it comes to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) exercises, which the jump rope works especially well for.

The intensity part of HIIT is what you’re aiming for when it comes to fat loss. While your long, steady, runs might be intense when it comes to pure endurance (both mental and physical), the type of intensity that builds muscle and burns fat is specific to HIIT, and it just so happens that the jump rope is a perfect vector to take this intensity straight to your muscles and burn fat. While doing your 1 RM (repetition maximum) is intense, it’s not intense for a long enough period to burn a significant amount of calories. Include some jump rope HIIT into your weekly gym regime, and you’ll be seeing results in no time—getting your physique beach season ready. But what exactly is HIIT, and why should you take the jump rope for a spin next time you’re in the iron temple?

HIIT as the Perfect Conditioning Training

In a survey conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine, HIIT was voted one of the top fitness trends for 2020—so you may have heard of this routine already. Although touted for its fat-burning ability, HIIT’s benefits extend much further than that, which is why you should seriously consider including it into your workout regime.

HIIT workouts are all about combining short periods of intense exercise with periods of less-intense activity, or even complete rest. These exercises are usually shorter in length since you’re expending so much energy, with your heart reaching 80 percent of its maximum capacity during the intense bursts of activity. This novel way of getting your heart pumping comes along with a laundry list of benefits. For one, the fact that HIIT can last anywhere from as little as 4 minutes to 20 minutes, means that it’s both efficient and flexible with your schedule and how much time you’re willing to spend on it. While we’ll be talking about jump rope HIIT, equipment isn’t necessary if you don’t have it—allowing you to do it wherever and whenever you have some time to spare.

In terms of health benefits, HIIT builds a healthier heart. Most people aren’t used to reaching the level of not being able to catch a breath and their heart trying to jump out of their chest, but HIIT exercises will push you into this anaerobic zone. Being in this zone, even for a short time, will help not only your lung capacity but also strengthen your heart—allowing you to build endurance, fast. This type of training also burns significantly more calories than steady-state cardio, which is an important element when it comes to getting lean. And since more of your muscles are activated during the intensity, you’ll even burn more calories when you’re sleeping, since your resting metabolism will be raised.

Another benefit of HIIT over steady cardio is the effect on your excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). These are the calories you burn after a workout, rather than during. As your body leaves the gym, it needs to used energy (calories) to help restore your oxygen levels, repair your muscles, and also clear out excess lactic acid. What makes HIIT especially useful in terms of EPOC is that it raises the post-workout energy consumption significantly more than after a steady-state run over a much longer period of time. These intense exertions of energy are what really bring your EPOC up to the next level, and activate another fat burning component of working out.

This other fat-burning component is the stimulation in the production of human growth hormone (HGH) during the next 24 hours after finishing a workout. Not only does HGH increase caloric burn, but it helps in building muscle, releasing adrenaline, and it may also have anti-aging properties (although this is debated). While you might be sold in adding HIIT into your workout routine, you might still be asking what the humble jumping rope has to do with any of this.  

The Jump Rope as a Tool for Muscle Definition

Although HIIT running routines are commonplace, the jump rope happens to be one of the best tools to utilize in maximizing the benefits of HIIT. To start, it’s extremely convenient. A jump rope doesn’t take up much space, and it’s easy to pack. All you need is a few square feet of space and a high enough ceiling to get in an intense workout. And while more expensive upfront than just running, a jump rope is still relatively cheap and an investment you’ll only need to make once in order to garner all the benefits. There are also many reasons why it’s better to opt-in for a jump rope HIIT program rather than a running HIIT program.

A major benefit of the jump rope over a HIIT routine on a treadmill is the time it takes to “power up” and “power down”. Since you’re working with extremely short segments of time (think seconds) when it comes to HIIT, every second that you spend either warming up to a higher speed, or lowering the speed on a treadmill, is time that’s in a weird gray zone between high intensity and low intensity. With a jump rope, that problem becomes irrelevant. You can easily and simply increase the jump speed when jump roping, or even completely stop the action. This allows a greater amount of control when taking part in such a relatively short training routine where every second counts.

There’s been a lot of debate recently about the benefits versus costs of running. While no one should necessarily dissuade you from running, the fact is that running remains a high impact exercise. This can be tough on your joints, bones, and ligaments—especially if you’re in a more advanced age. While running ultimately strengthens these aspects in the long run, it can be more beneficial to get cardio through jump roping for some individuals. And even though jump roping is essentially jumping up and down, the form you use to jump rope categorizes it as a low impact exercise. This can be especially useful if you have a heavier weight and are just seriously getting into cardio—making jump roping useful for the novice gym-goer, and also someone who’s looking for that extra calorie burn to define their muscles.

This is compounded by the fact that jump roping basically forces you into good form, unlike running. With running, some people have a tendency to land on their heels, which can be especially stressful on the joints and bones. This can lead to injuries in the long term. Jump roping on the other hand, forces you to land on the balls of your feet since landing on the heel will end up being extremely painful. Additionally, when you’re jumping your posture must be upright, meaning that your core is engaged. This activates your calves, legs, and core, taking stress off the joints and bones.

This last point leads into another major benefit of jump roping rather than running. While running is mostly within the realm of legs, jump roping properly takes not only your legs to jump, but also your core for stability and your arms to rotate the rope. Jump roping is a full-body exercise which helps in burning calories and conditioning your physique. Not to mention that regularly jump roping will strengthen your calf muscles and tendons, helping to reduce the risk of injury when doing other types of exercises which engage these muscle groups.

Lastly, jump roping will help you in terms of your cognitive function. There is a significant amount of coordination required for jump roping, which is why you might find it difficult to do at first. You don’t use these muscle movements in everyday life, or your regular gym exercises. This means that new communication pathways will have to be developed between your brain and your muscles, helping you in an array of other activities—whether you’re a mountain climber or a stay at home parent.

A man with a jump rope.

Jump Rope Basics

As with most things, the quality of the outcome depends heavily on the tools you use. This is why it’s important to buy the right skipping rope. While you don’t have to spend a lot, keep in mind that the plastic speed ropes will be much easier to handle and get up to speed faster than their cotton counterparts. Once you have your jump rope, make sure that its length is tailored to your height. Standing in the middle of the rope, the ends should just reach your armpits.

When thinking about form, your elbows should always be slightly bent while using it, keeping your hands at the same height as your hips and your arms close to your sides. As we mentioned above, land on the balls of your feet—and don’t jump too high, unless doing some variation which warrants it. While at the beginning it might be difficult to add intensity and speed, you can begin by taking an extra jump each time the rope passes underneath. This way, it’ll be easier to gain some momentum and provide a springboard for advanced maneuvers, such as high-knees and double-unders. The proper use of the jump rope will allow you to successfully use HITT programming to its maximum benefit. 

How to HIIT the Jump Rope

At its base form, a HIIT exercise is just a back and forth between high intensity and low intensity. Translating to jump rope terms, this could be exemplified by about 30 seconds of all-out jump roping, going as fast as you can, followed by 30 to 60 seconds of some light jogging or walking in place. You’d repeat this anywhere from 5 to 10 times, depending on fitness level. While this is the most basic routine, you can complicate things that will target specific goals and provide more of a fat-burning element to the training.

For example, if you add some bodyweight exercises into the mix you can target your core more. This could look like:

  • 20 seconds—jump rope, followed by running in place
  • 20 seconds—butt kicks
  • 20 seconds—jump rope
  • 20 seconds—push-ups
  • 20 seconds—jump squats
  • 20 seconds—jump rope
  • 20 seconds—lunges

With 10 seconds of rest between each exercise and a minute rest between each circuit, this would be a more demanding routine than the simpler one outlined above. The key is to go all-out during the intense skipping parts—which is part of the beauty of jump rope HIIT. The ability to customize and easily change intensities on the fly is entirely in your hands. The point is to go as hard as possible and really push yourself. You should already be jump roping as fast as you can, but you can ramp up the difficulty by modifying the rest periods or even getting rid of them completely.

Furthermore, you can challenge yourself by substituting regular skipping for the double-under. This will force you to jump high enough for the rope to swing below you twice with each jump. The criss-cross/cross rope method will find you crossing your arms at the elbow and jumping through—which will activate much more of your upper body if you go fast enough. In a circuit, this could look like:

  • 30 seconds—boxer step
  • 30 seconds—off step jump
  • 30 seconds—criss-cross jump
  • 30 seconds—high knee jumps
  • 30 seconds—boxer step

Like the routine above, you’d be taking 10 seconds of rest in between each exercise, with a minute at the end of the circuit. It’s recommended to repeat this routine 5 times, but for a beginner then it doesn’t have to be quite as much. When it comes to programming jump rope HIIT into your weekly gym regime, don’t go over 2 or 3 times a week. This training, after all, is supposed to be extremely intense and demanding. So, if you’re already lifting regularly, then don’t over train and risk injury or exhaustion. After all, rest is the  most important element when it comes to training. 

Three people working out with jump ropes in a gym.

HIITing New Fat Burning Highs

When going for that head-turning, ripped physique, it’s important to keep your body fueled up. Everyone knows about eating clean—lean meats, tons of veggies, and complex carbs. However, there are ways to get that extra edge over the competition and have defined muscles in time for beach season. As we mentioned above, rest should be first and foremost in the bodybuilder’s toolkit. But supplements containing L-citrulline, for example, can raise your game to new levels. And since you’ll be doing extremely demanding circuits, keeping your body’s energy levels up and boosting recovery times is imperative for doing HIIT successfully to its maximum benefit. Not only will some supplements boost your HIIT output, but they’ll have equally as important benefits when you’re cultivating lean muscle mass and training for strength. 

What the Jump Rope HIIT Workout Means for Your Body and Mind 

While the jump rope workouts outlined above will help you get those rippling abs, well-defined pecs and bulging biceps, the benefits of this training will extend much further than the physique. The ability to truly push yourself as far as you can in terms of endurance, for a short period of time, is as much a mental game as it is physical. When you’re struggling to catch a breath and your hearts about to burst, will you finish the last 10 seconds left in the circuit? Because those 10 seconds will feel like ages. Our advice? Push on, and reap the rewards.