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In muscle-building circles, the jump rope is almost as unpopular as the pullup bar and for about the same reason—because you can look like a total tool if you never do it. That’s too bad because the jump rope, like the pullup, offers a host of benefits that people have chosen to ignore for fear of looking stupid. In addition to melting away body fat at record rates, the jump rope helps you build those stubborn calves while also putting a hurting on several other muscle groups.
“Yes, the main muscles that you’re working are your calves but you activate a lot more muscle than you may think,” says Brian Peeler, N.A.S.M.-C.P.T. and trainer on Bravo’s hit reality show Workout. “But you’re also using your shoulders—particularly your rear delts—as well as your abs, quads, hamstrings. Pretty much every muscle is firing when doing this exercise to keep your body stable.”
Need more incentive for learning how to work the rope like Rocky and Apollo? Consider that jumping rope at a moderate pace will burn approximately 16 calories per minute for a 200-lb man. Work that into 10 three-minute rounds and you’re looking at 480 calories during your session. The one-minute rest periods characteristic of boxing routines provide somewhat of an interval effect, giving you an even greater calorie burn long after your final skip.
Peeler says the best way to start getting the most out of the jump rope is to start slow.
“This, it takes a lot of coordination so don’t think you can just get in there and be like Rocky,” he cautions. “Try to start just by swinging the rope over your body, aiming to just jump the rope once. After you do this and understand how the rope reacts you are ready to kick it up.”
Four-time boxing world champion “Sugar” Shane Mosley—an expert on the rope—offers this advice: “Don’t rotate with your arms. Use your wrists and let the rope glide around you. Don’t fight it. I listen to the rope, too, and jump when I hear the sound. My feet barely come off the ground—just enough to let the rope slide under. And I’m always on the balls of my feet.”
Once you nail the cadence of the simple skip, try alternating feet. Bounce slightly side to side or front to back with each revolution of the rope. Eventually, you can graduate to double-unders, where the rope passes under your feet twice with each jump.
And let us not forget the “cool” factor. While the rest of the crowd relegates itself to Treadmill Lane for its cardio, you can be in front of the mirror with your iPod cranked up practicing a skill while getting a workout.
“No one became a jump rope star over night,” says Peeler. “So keep at it and before you know it you will be ripping it up.”