Learning Double-Unders – Speed Kills

Speed Kills - Learning Double-Unders

The scene begins the same every time. I’ll see someone over in the corner warming up with a jump rope doing some nice easy singles. Their posture actually looks decent with body fairly upright, arms relaxed in good position while bouncing lightly on the balls of their feet. Meanwhile, the athlete is preparing for the burning sting from the self-inflicted lashes they’re about to receive as the rope circles their body like a hungry vulture ready to swoop down on fresh road kill. Then, as if stepping off an 80-foot cliff and feeling completely helpless, their arms start flailing wildly while the legs start Rx Jump Ropekicking and stomping like the closing act of River Dance. The athlete revs their rope up to maximum speed and attempts to rattle off as many double-unders as possible until luck runs out, and the jump rope comes to a screeching halt against their butt or forearms, provoking an interesting combination of expletives. I call this “racing the rope to failure” and the rope wins every time.

The scenario happens in just about every gym, garage and driveway across the globe. It happens because of lack of understanding simple progressions as well as basic principles of cause and effect. For example, the effect of the jump rope eliciting pain when it impacts the body is simply caused by the rope moving too fast. Simple solution: Slow the rope down. The rope moving too fast is the effect caused by the athlete’s belief that they need tremendous speed for the rope to clear the feet twice. Simple solution: Give the rope more time.

Double-Unders Jump Rope ClincSpeed causes a domino effect of all the bad things that athletes experience when first learning double-unders, including constant misses, whip marks, stinging pain, elevated heart rate and the burn from fatigued shoulders to name a few.

Learning a simple set of principles based on building block progressions will change the whole perception about the “need for speed.” We coined this method Jumpropeology, and it’s is based on this simple philosophy: Minimize your variables, maximize your tolerances, isolate your movements and SLOW DOWN.

The first thing you need to do is choose a jump rope that fits your body allowing adequate tolerances for the type of jump rope you plan on doing. These tolerances are focused on two things: the amount of resistance or the weight of the cord and the amount of clearance or the length of the cord. For example, competitive speed rope athletes like to use a super light and razor thin wire cable. Their rope length is on the shorter end of the spectrum typically 1-2 feet longer than their standing height. This yields a length that forces them to slightly bend down in order for the rope to clear their head. These specialists are extremely disciplined at isolating their posture and hand position while jumping, which allows them to perform under extremely tight tolerances with minimal room for error. Their competitive time domains are usually not greater than 3 minutes. Research it online; it’s very fun to watch.

Anatomical Position
Anatomical Position: This posture closely resembles the clinical anatomical position seen in anatomy textbooks. The slight differences are Jumpropeology asks that the feet be pressed together and elbows are drawn back slightly with a light bend. Otherwise, this is the most basic and effortless position the human body was designed to be in.

The Jumpropeology sizing standard, however, is based on the fitness enthusiast who trains with constantly varied, functional movements performed at high intensity and across broad time domains. Because the athlete will be exposed to ever-changing physiology due to stress, lactate thresholds and fatigue, this standard allows for greater tolerance between the rope and athlete with a rope length typically 3 feet longer than the athlete’s standing height. This satisfies the 12 and 12 rule, which is 12 inches of clearance when the rope passes overhead and 12 inches of clearance in front of the toes when the athlete is in the air. These tolerances can only be met if the athlete is holding the handles right at hip crease height with elbows draped down and drawn slightly backwards. The wrists should be turned outward no more than 4-6 inches away from the hipbones. This posture closely resembles the anatomical neutral position seen in anatomy text books. The slight differences are Jumpropeology asks the feet to be pressed together and elbows drawn slightly back with a light bend. The idea is to use the least amount of movement and muscle recruitment possible while jumping.

The easiest and fastest method to find the right length is to take the athlete’s standing height rounded up to the nearest inch and then add 3 feet to it. This will give the approximate cord length as if the athlete stepped one foot onto the middle of the cord and brought both ends of the cord up against their torso with the ends reaching the base of the chest and the nipple area. Keep in mind we are only measuring the cord length without the handles. This eliminates the variance between different handle sizes.

Making sure the cord carries enough weight is extremely critical. Jumpropeology suggests a non-elastic cord between 3-4 ounces in weight (not including handles). Having enough weight in the cord will allow for better awareness as the rope moves around the body. We call this “feedback,” meaning the athlete’s ability to monitor the tension created by the rotating rope. The second but equally important reason for the weighted cord is that it will allow the athlete to SLOW the rope down yet still retain tension while maintaining a nice arc. The importance of the non-elastic cord is that a consistent, static length, no matter how fast or how slow it rotates, is most desirable. An elastic cord can stretch and grow longer the faster it’s rotated and then shrink back when it slows down. This would force the athlete to shift their hand position to compensate for the changing length when greater success can be achieved with isolated hand positioning.

Once the right tool is in hand the real work begins. The biggest challenge is recalibrating priorities from speed to elevation. Most people’s reflex is to simply speed the rope up to successfully make the double-under. To me this is the same as someone who has never swung a bat yet goes to the batting cage and cranks the pitching machine up to 100 mph and starts swinging away. Besides feeling terribly intimidated by the fast moving object, it would be extremely difficult to develop a sense of timing and coordination at such high speeds. The alternative is to simply create more time for the rope by elevating the body higher off the ground, i.e. turn the pitching machine’s speed down.

Jump Rope Instructor Jumpropeology advocates that athletes go for maximum elevation while learning double-unders. Once a superior sense of timing and tempo are developed then it is natural to bring the bound down to a comfortable level that they can sustain on a consistent basis. Everybody creates their own unique tempo based on their level of athleticism, coordination and dexterity. The question we ask at all of our Jumpropeology clinics is, “if one never leaves the ground at all, what are their chances for success?” The obvious answer is “absolutely zero.” But if one leaves the ground just an inch or two they’ve, dramatically improved their odds for success. If they can create 4-6 inches of separation off the ground, then they’ve improved their odds exponentially. When ample time and space are created for the rope to clear the feet twice, it allows for slower tempo and turnover rate. When that happens, a myriad of wonderful things start to occur. First, one can actually start to see the rope better instead of just a blur whizzing by. One gains greater awareness of the rope as it moves around their body. This will allow them to place the rope at the ideal position at take off so that all airtime is used efficiently. Another amazing benefit to a slower tempo double-under is that one can relax their shoulders and forearms while regulating their breathing and keeping their heart rate down. Lastly, slower tempo double-unders do not hurt when misses occur, leaving less whip marks and consequently a clearer complexion.

David Newman - Jumping RopeThe best way to achieve efficient airtime is through bounding. Bounding is a gymnastics term, which essentially means “bounce” off the balls of the feet. The athlete’s body remains tall and upright with chin tucked back extending the spine. The lower lumbar remains neutral while the glutes and quads are actively engaged. It’s imperative to have full extension through the ankles to fully load the calves. The knees will flex slightly when bounding but remain tightly engaged creating a spring-like effect instead of a shock absorber effect. Essentially the body is rebounding off the ground the way a pogo stick rebounds. This is the best method to achieve a consistently repeatable rise and fall of the body while keeping the time in contact with the ground at a minimum. The longer the body is in contact with the ground, the greater potential for the rope to catch up and ultimately collide with the feet.

Another important concept about bounding delves into the psychology of the athlete in what Jumpropeology refers to as the flinch reflex. This is when the athlete bends and shortens their body by picking their feet up to try and avoid colliding with the fast moving rope. This puts the body in a state of flexion as the athlete is trying to shrink their body to miss the rope, much like one would flinch at anything coming at them that threatens their health or safety. The problem with this reflex is that it is not consistently repeatable over time and expends an abundance of energy. The correct posture is to elongate the body utilizing the state of extension. A useful cue is to think of making the head rise as high as possible. Holding a soft target above the athlete’s head to bound to (without a jump rope) is a great tactile cue. The athlete may feel that extending their body is counter-intuitive as they are creating a larger target for the rope to collide with. However, with a properly sized rope and isolated hand position a greater tolerance will occur between the jumper and the rope. So, the moral to this story is fly, don’t flinch.

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