Skipping is one activity almost all of us would have done as children. It was fun, wasn’t it? The sheer joy of indulging in a very natural exertion, jumping up and down in sync with the swooshing rope, sporting a wide grin on our faces. However, growing up, most of us would have hung that skipping rope, never going back to it.
Well, perhaps it’s time to take up skipping again — for it can be one complete exercise, not just for the body but the mind too.
Skipping is a go-to warm-up routine for athletes, boxers and many other sportspersons. Its benefits in building muscular endurance, coordination and aerobic capacity are well accepted. The same benefits apply to a person hitting the gym for, say, getting his bodyweight under control or improving fitness in general.
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One of the biggest advantages of skipping over other forms of aerobic and coordination-building exercises is that it can be done in any location, even indoors, provided you have a decent space to swing the rope. Come rain or shine, you can skip. The equipment required is just the rope, and you are on your way to a wholesome workout.
Skipping as a full-body exercise
When we skip, we may feel the major burn on the calves and arms and the muscle groups which drive the primary movement in the exertion. However, skipping is a full-body exercise involving the use of several muscle groups simultaneously.
“The muscles that are involved when you use a skipping rope are basically the quadriceps, hamstrings, glute, calf muscles, shoulder muscles, biceps, triceps and chest muscles,” says Dr Sidharth Unnithan, a sports-medicine specialist based in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. “Literally, almost all the muscles in the body get involved because it is a complete exercise. While skipping, you move in coordination from top to bottom.”
Various combinations, changing the intensity of skipping or even the weight of the ropes can be tried to add variety to a skipping-rope workout.
“Skipping can be used as a warm-up exercise, as a warm-down exercise and it can be used as a main exercise also,” says Dr Unnithan. “I would also recommend using different weighted ropes. Usually we get thin ropes, [but] there are thicker ropes also and they are more weighted ropes. Based on that if you start interchanging and skipping, it gives better muscle building, muscle coordination and much better strengthening for the person doing the exercise.”
He says the US’ Centers for Disease Control recommends that a 15-minute skipping workout for five days a week will enhance one’s cardiovascular health and stamina, and one’s cholesterol level will also improve. “So [even] those people who complain that they don’t get time to do any exercise, can do this easy form of exercise,” says Dr Unnithan. “They can do continuous and proper skipping for 15 minutes, which alone is very good.”
Mixing it right with a skipping rope
People using skipping as a warm-up routine is a common sight in gyms and neighbourhood parks. However, much like athletes and boxers, there are many who have included skipping routines as a standalone workout.
Goa-based Nelson Paes, a professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter and a fitness trainer, has incorporated skipping as a major exercise in his coaching.
“At our studio, we use skipping for fitness,” says Paes. “It’s great for weight loss because you have to carry your entire weight and hop. Skipping is a plyometric exercise that burns maximum calories. For athletes who also do skipping, it majorly helps with foot conditioning like the calf muscles, because when you are boxing, fighting or running, you stay on the front of the feet, so the calf muscles must be strong.”
The effect on the body varies depending on the duration of the skipping routine.
“If you do it as an aerobic workout [for a longer duration], then it aids in building stamina and burning calories,” says Paes. “If you are doing it as an anaerobic workout [short bursts like 10 seconds fast pace and 20 seconds low pace or 20 seconds fast pace and 30 seconds slow pace], it helps in gaining explosive strength.”
Talking about using skipping as a warm-up routine, Paes says the duration should be decided based on the individual’s fitness level and body conditioning. “If the person wants to skip for weight loss, then ideally 20-30 minutes of skipping can help burn calories,” he says. “Skipping is also great for a warmup exercise. When we go to our fight camps, we start our training with the warm-up that includes some mobility and exercises that open the joints. After that we get into skipping for 10 minutes. The jumping increases the heart rate, which gets the body warmed up. This increases the blood flow, and thus also increases the supply of oxygenated blood and the body becomes warm. When the body becomes warm, you are in a safe zone for working out.”
While a 30-minute skipping workout and the calories it could burn are very enticing targets, the exercise takes a little getting used to, especially since it involves coordination and high-intensity exertion.
“I skip for 30 minutes to work on my stamina and endurance,” says 18-year-old Sara Christy Prinson, a college student in Goa and an MMA trainee who started skipping a year ago after watching some jump-rope videos online. “But when it gets boring, I try a few skipping patterns to make it fun.”
Prinson makes it a point to skip every day either at home or at the gym. “I think everyone should make it a point to skip twice or thrice a week — even if not every day — because you will see so much change when it comes to your stamina and endurance, and gradually you will also see yourself get so much better at it,” says Prinson. “It is just a matter of giving it a try. And if you do, there’s no way you are letting the ropes out of your hand.”
Who can and cannot do skipping?
Skipping can be done by any individual provided they don’t have any injury or haven’t hit that age where the knees are weak. In such cases, they may have to seek medical advice before starting. People who suffer from knee pain should first do other strengthening exercises before getting into skipping, say experts.
“There are no restrictions for skipping as such, but for elderly people, unless they have been skipping for a long time, we would avoid it because it is a type of plyometric exercise, and you need rhythm and coordination,” says Dr Unnithan. “So, for the older age group it would be much better to do some basic strengthening exercises and simple form of coordination exercises. Skipping is preferred for a young age group to a middle age group.”
The exercise is beneficial for children too since it improves not just physical fitness but is also good for their motor-neuron development.
“I advise skipping for children quite a lot because it helps them to grow much better,” says Dr Unnithan. “Women, especially homemakers who want to start exercising slowly, can begin with strengthening and basic exercises. After that I would suggest skipping because that would help them quite a lot in improving agility, balance and coordination.”
Benefits of skipping
*Muscle coordination and balance: The muscles that are involved in skipping need to coordinate with one another to maintain rhythm.
“Since you are moving in rhythm from top to bottom, you must have a coordination of your eyes, hands, legs and body,” says Dr Unnithan. “You should be moving in coordination, otherwise you are going to fall or hit the rope. There is a rhythm to it. This improves the coordination and that’s why as time goes and you start getting the rhythm more, your coordination starts becoming better and you can start skipping much faster. This helps in other regular activities too. In certain cases, I have seen people do alternate skipping, where they move one leg at a time. In such cases you need very good balance and coordination to control the movement.”
*Muscle toning: The concentric and eccentric loading that happen during skipping helps in toning of the muscles. “There is a form of concentric and eccentric loading which happens on to the muscle during the exercise,” says Dr Unnithan. “You are jumping and you are landing continuously and each time you do that, it makes your muscles move quite a lot. So, there is toning and there strengthening happening continuously.”
*Increases bone density: Skipping is also a form of plyometric exercise. The exertion of jumping up against gravity and the impact of landing can bring about bone growth and increase bone density.
*Cardiac health: “When skipping is done aerobically for 15 minutes, the heart gets loaded and that improves the cardiac output [and] reduces the lipid profile,” says Dr Unnithan. “So, it is a very good cardiac endurance activator also.”
*Improves concentration: We need to have strong focus and mental conditioning to continuously do this repeated movement for a long time. So, skipping has a positive impact on concentration.
*Meditative zone: The focus on rhythm can take a person to a meditative zone while skipping, relaxing the mind.
“Basically, you have to have a rhythm in jumping,” says Dr Unnithan. “It is quite difficult to do that continuously. You need good concentration and once you get into the rhythm, after doing it daily, that makes you go into a meditative zone.”
However, that can happen only after skipping for a certain duration. And much meditation, a person can either focus on an image or just leave it blank.
“You can focus on something and start skipping,” says Paes. “What we do is we think about our game when we are skipping — or you just don’t want to think about anything at all, and just skip.”
A very well worded and comprehensive article. A reminder to keep the child in us alive. A little jumping works miracles. Looking forward to many more such informative pieces.
A very good reminder of Skipping as a wholesome exercise. I feel skipping had taken a back seat amongst other aerobic exercises. Inspired to kick off soon!