In yesterday's lesson, we defined one of the most important features of jump rope: keeping a smooth parabola shape by relying primarily on wrist action to propel the rope.
Once you've got that parabola, you don't want to let it go to waste! You need to make sure you take advantage of it with skillful footwork. Today you'll focus on mastering how and when your feet leave and return to the ground.
It's tempting to think of skipping as a specialized activity that requires you to radically change how your feet engage with the ground. You may be inclined to continuously engage your calf muscles and skip on the balls of your feet. Avoid this!
Skipping on the balls of your feet is bad for 2 reasons. First, it places a lot of stress on your contracted calf muscle. The force of the repeated impact of your jumps is enough to cause muscle strains, or worse, tears.
Second, toe-jumping is hard on the bones and ligaments of your feet. The interlocking series of muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons in your lower leg need to work together efficiently to absorb the energy from your steps and skips. Skipping in a near tip-toe position is like taking to the football field with only half of your players! Things are not going to end well.
Remember how you sized your rope on Day 1? Skipping on your toes shortens the relative amount of rope you have available to clear your feet, making it more likely you'll trip. To compensate, you'll have to jump unnaturally higher, which in turn places even more stress on your feet.
Just as you want to avoid hammering the balls of your feet, you need to avoid the jarring impact of skipping on your heels. This is a less natural position, and easier to avoid--you'll really feel it if you don't!--but you should still be conscious of how heavily you're coming down on your heels. Heel striking transfers all of the energy of your impact straight up your leg to your spine, where it can cause a lot of mischief.
Effortless skipping involves working with your body's natural mechanics. The safest, most natural orientation for take-off and landing is the same one you used when measuring your rope: flat-footed. Jumping with the whole foot, not just the toes, distributes the force of your hops and gives you a natural spring action, similar to your stride.
Now that you know how to jump, the next question is: how high? The beauty of flat-footed skipping is that you don't need to hurl your body a half-meter into the air or dramatically kick your feet up beneath you. Coupled with a consistent, predictable wrist-driven rope swing, you only need to jump a few centimeters!
Even with good foot-form, skipping can still take a serious toll on your feet. That's why it's important to skip with the right shoes--ALWAYS. Be sure you are wearing a good, well-fitting running shoe or cross-trainer with a decent amount of cushion.
Good foot and wrist technique, combined with a right-sized rope, give you one of the great advantages of the jump rope: a highly-consistent calorie burn that doesn't in turn burn out your legs!
For today's prep, let's practice your jump. If possible, try to find a mirror or other reflective surface like a window. Get far enough away that you can observe your form by redirecting your gaze, rather then tilting your head or bending from the waist. stand at an angle so that you can observe the side of your foot.
Now, practice a single hop! Focus on leaving and returning to the ground from your mid-foot. It's fine if your fore-foot is the last part of your foot to leave the ground and the first to return, but it should always be closely followed by your mid-food a split-second later. Repeat the single hop a few times, paying attention to your form.
Next, pick up the pace! Do 20 hops, 2 per second while maintaining that solid, flat-foot form. How does this feel? Are you consistently coming down on your mid-foot, or do you find yourself more forcefully on the balls of your feet? Continue your prep by doing a few more sets of rope-less hops, striving for consistent mid-foot take-offs and landings.
1 set x 50 jumps - standard form
3 sets x 50 jumps - focus on further minimizing the height of each jump with each set
Rest between sets: 25 seconds
How did you do? As usual, note how many time you tripped during your sets. How low were you able to get on your jumps? What other adjustments did you have to make? Check back in on your Day 2 form: were you able to maintain good wrist action during your sets?
Don't worry if you ended up tripping more than you normally do--that's a good sign that you were really testing your limits and going low!
You've now covered the two critical contact points in effective skipping: the hands and feet. Tomorrow we'll focus on what to do with the rest of your body!