Jumping rope is much more than a playground pastime.
Just ask Molly Metz, a five-time jump rope world champion, who has done roughly 1,400 unbroken double-unders (that's when you turn the rope underneath you twice during one jump) in 10 minutes—multiple times. A self-described "jock at birth" and four-sport varsity athlete in high school, Metz took up jumping rope as a 7-year-old and continued with the sport because it “truly challenged me the most,” she tells SELF. She began traveling to international competitions at age 8, and won her first world championship at age 10.
Now 42, Metz hosts nearly 150 double-under tutorials a year through her JumpNRope business and also heads a competitive youth squad, Mad Hops.
“There’s so much to learn,” the Louisville, Colorado, native says of the sport that demands a tough-to-grasp, even tougher-to-master combination of coordination, power and finesse. Jumping rope, explains Metz, can be as much a mental challenge as it is physical. Here, she breaks down the complexity of the sport and explains exactly what it takes to jump—and win—at a competitive level.
There are three different types of competitive jumping.
The first focuses on speed. “This is about alternating your feet as quickly as possible, like running,” says Metz. In speed competitions, one foot makes contact with the ground for every spin of the rope, and the aim is to do a certain number of these repetitions as quickly as possible, or do as many repetitions as possible in a certain timeframe.
Here’s Metz demoing a speed jump:
The second type of jumping competition focuses on power and height, as measured by double- and triple-unders (AKA when a jumper gets enough height that the rope can swing beneath them two or three times in a row before their feet return to the ground). Like speed jumps, the goal here is to do a certain number of these specific jumps in as little time as possible, or bust out as many as you can in a certain time.
Here’s Metz powering through double-unders:
The third type is freestyle, which combines gymnastics and choreography. “This is where the brain gets going,” says Metz. While speed jumps and double- and triple-unders are mesmerizing (and seriously impressive) in their own way, the true entertainment value of jumping rope comes from freestyle routines, which are 75-second choreographed combos of criss-cross handwork, dance moves, inversions (e.g. jumping rope while in a handstand), front flips, back flips, back tucks and more. “It’s what keeps you hooked on jumping,” says Metz,” and “it’s what people enjoy watching most.” Freestyle jumps can either be performed solo, or with a team.
Here’s an example of a duo freestyle jump at the 2016 Pan American Jump Rope Championships:
All three types of competitive jumping rope require a unique blend of explosiveness, rhythmic coordination, and core strength.
High-level competitive jumpers will typically practice two to three hours a day, five or six days a week, says Metz. A standard practice for her squad begins with various footwork drills—side straddles, can cans, side-to-sides, out-and-ins, etc.—to warm up the body and the brain.
When your feet move, explains Metz, your body’s natural reaction is to simultaneously move your hands. This will serve you well in everyday life, but not in jump rope, where fixed, stable hands and super quick feet are key. Separating foot and hand movements is “quite difficult” for many people, says Metz. “A lot of people react [with their upper half] when their lower half moves.” Footwork drills like the ones Metz does for warm-ups can help people get better at this.
Post drills, jumpers will complete various rounds of speed training intervals mixed with core and lower-body exercises, like planks, crunches, mountain climbers, squats, and push-ups. Core strength is essential to strong jumping. “A lot of novice jumpers will sit their hips back as they jump,” explains Metz. This is a big no-no. “You want to draw your hips in and jump with your core in a hollow position,” she says of proper form.
A power training session typically follows, where jumpers will practice double- and/or triple-unders, dialing in on the proper technique: relaxed shoulders, quick wrists, explosive jumps. Because the longest set in a jump rope competition is just three minutes long, the sport is more about explosive moments and “good quick-twitch stamina” than endurance, explains Metz. This type of explosivity can be trained with various cross-training exercises like box jumps, barbell movements, burpees, power cleans, wall ball throws, and other high-intensity movements.
The more complicated a jump, the more explosiveness required. The triple-under, for example, requires a “lot more explosiveness” than the double-under, says Metz. Jumpers need constant extension from the hips and correct hand positioning, with the hands in the frontal plane of the body and a loose flicking of the wrists rather than intense shoulder and arm strength. This expert-level move is best practiced on a gymnastics spring floor, which can provide extra height to each jump.
Here’s Metz demoing the triple-under:
Lastly, jumpers will tackle freestyle work, which is less scripted and involves practicing various gymnastic elements and creatively combining them into a routine. “This is where a background in gymnastics is super helpful,” explains Metz.
In general, jumping rope is more about finesse than pure strength.
“I’ve worked with super strong, talented athletes who have a really hard time jumping rope,” says Metz. “It’s not about how strong you are, but about your rhythm, timing, and coordination. It’s a mental challenge.” Bottom line: It takes lots of practice and finessing your skills to get to Metz's level.
The 2018 World Jump Rope Championship will take place at the University of Central Florida the first week in July. Visit the World Jump Rope Federation for more information.