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A Cheap, Fun, Effective Way to Exercise at Home

Segmented jump-rope
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Champion Sports.

If you’re looking for a new way to work out right now, you could do worse than trying jump-rope. It doesn’t require you to go anywhere near other people (public health experts say it’s wise to avoid gyms even as they reopen). It’s also extremely inexpensive, and for people who love it, it’s the right combination of exhausting and joyful. Here’s how to get started.

You don’t need a fancy rope. “There’s this running joke that you should be able to jump with a shoelace, or a piece of seaweed,” says Michael Fry, the founder of JumpLA, which teaches people to jump rope. Both Fry and Brian Hsu, co-founder of the American Jump Romp Federation, recommend getting a rope with plastic beads on it (the kind that look like cylindrical pasta). The beads are durable and give the rope weight; Fry and Hsu find that the weight makes the rope a little easier to control than a plain, plastic one.

Fry swears by this custom beaded rope, which sells for about $10. He recommends 5-inch handles (longer handles are more forgiving if you have bad technique) and 1-inch beads. You can select a handle color and up to six different colors of beads.

But “ropes are really a thing of preference,” says Bernadette Henry, who teaches jump-rope through her lifestyle business Make It Fun. Unlike Fry and Hsu, Henry and personal trainer Amy Roberts, writing in Wirecutter, like the lighter weight of plastic ropes. Whether you choose beads or not, don’t worry about spending much money; when I forwarded Hsu a press pitch I’d received for a hundred-dollar rope, he replied: “I’ve won championships with my $15 rope.”

Opt for a rope that’s your height plus 3 feet. Once you get your rope, you will need to adjust it a bit. Stand on the rope with one foot. If you’re a beginner, it can go up to your shoulder or a little lower, says Henry. If you are using a plastic rope, tie knots close to the handle. For a beaded rope, untie the rope and remove a few beads.

Once you’re ready to jump, choose an appropriate surface. Hard surfaces might be a bit hard on your body, says Henry. A rubber track is a kinder surface, but if you don’t have access to that, a mat can help make concrete (or wood floors if you have space to jump indoors) a bit squishier.  If your only option is bare sidewalk, Henry says to make sure you have good shoes and be careful to only jump high enough to clear the rope (which is smart anyway) to reduce impact. Both Henry and Fry recommend jumping in cross-training or running shoes. Otherwise, says Hsu, “as long as no one’s in your danger zone, you’re good to go.”

As you get started, remember that learning to jump rope effectively requires some patience. “Jump-rope is really hard. You don’t realize until you pick up a rope and do it,” says Henry. She recommends starting with 10 sets of 20 jumps, a few days a week. From there, add 10 to the number of jumps each week (unless your body starts to hurt). Pick music to jump to that has a consistent beat.

Work up to 100 per set before you try out tricks like double unders or crossovers, says Henry. (YouTube and Instagram are replete with jump-ropers doing tricks.) Until in-person classes like Henry’s return, you’ll have to learn through online tutorials or by attending a Zoom class like the ones Fry organizes via the JumpLA Instagram. “You get to be really creative,” says Fry. “I don’t feel like I’m exercising. I’m honestly just doing it because it’s so much fun.”