Skipping rope cross-training for trail runners

When playtime is a workout. Personal trainer Rhain Hoskins uses skipping rope routines to get his clients faster and stronger.

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Skipping Rope Rhain Hoskins TRAIL 31
photos Heloise Hunter | TRAIL magazine

Need some extra spring in your step? Skipping or jump rope may be the answer! Not only is skipping a great conditioning exercise, but it also builds resilient and strong lower limb muscles and tendons, improves timing and co-ordination and adds strength and endurance to the upper-body.

Various drills can improve stability  of the legs without having to get to the trail. Use skipping as a monotony killer, or a tool to gain strength coming back from injury.

Be sure to ease into skipping slowly as it may be more taxing on the feet and ankles than you may realise.

Skipping wins

Recovery. Due to the more controlled nature of skipping, it can be great for those coming out of injury and looking to rebuild strength and elasticity in the muscle. You can stop at any time if something hurts.

Run form. It can improve your running posture, as skipping will naturally pull your upper body more upright due to the engagement of the arms. It can help you learn how to rebound better, a very necessary skill for an efficient running gait.

Any time, anywhere. On days when the weather is bad, it can be a productive alternative to time spent on the treadmill which can often be boring.

Variety. The myriad variations you can do with the rope will ensure you don’t easily get bored. You’re simultaneously developing superior skill and co-ordination that will make you more confident on trail (especially on technical sections with your newfound fancy footwork).

Choose your weapon

There are four main types of skipping rope you may find in stores or online. You can spend as little as R50, or more than R300.

Leather Rope These often have wooden handles and probably the kind of skipping rope your parents used. Handles generally feel heavier than the rope making feedback difficult.
Cloth Rope Very lightweight and the least durable. They can make speed skipping difficult due to the rope being very light and having high air friction because of the thickness and lightness.
Speed Rope A thin wire cable rope, with high speed bearings at the handles. They are great for double-unders or if you want less work in the upper-body due to lightness and speed.
Plastic Rope Recommended for versatility. They give you good feedback and good arm work due to the weight of the rope. Suitable for beginner to advanced drills.

Skipping as a workout

Skipping can be considered a full body workout. The abs and upper back are bracing the torso, while the legs and especially the calves are rebounding your body off the ground, and the arms and especially forearms are rotating the rope.

Skipping can be used as an endurance workout if you use an easy pace and string together consecutive repetitions. Try it for five minutes non-stop, and you’ll know what I mean! It can be high intensity with high knee sprints, speed single-unders, or heel-toe steps, and it can be explosive with double-unders or the incredibly taxing and advanced triple-unders.

Switching between variations can greatly improve your ability on technical trails, as it can mimic the variation in terrain and increase your confidence in attacking technical sections.

You can use skipping in conjunction with your gym based strength training, or join a group class where they incorporate skipping in their programme. If you’re skipping alone and not sure if you’re getting the most out of your skipping rope, seek out an experienced coach who can help you tweak your technique to maximise the benefit you gain.

Warmup

  • Ankle circles and knee circles
  • 30-60 sec single-unders (normal skips)

Example session 1

  • Single-unders × 1- 3 min; rest
  • Heel-toe step × 30 sec
  • Scissor step × 30 sec; rest × 30 sec
  • Repeat × 3-5; rest
  • Single-unders × 1-3 minutes

Example session 2

  • Heel-toe step × 1-2 minutes; rest
  • Scissor step × 30 sec
  • Single-unders × 30 sec
  • Repeat consecutively × 3-6 rounds; rest
  • Heel-toe and criss-cross freestyle × 2-3 min

Example session 3

  • Single-unders × 2-5 minutes; rest
  • Scissor step × 20 sec
  • Criss-cross step × 20 sec; rest × 20 sec
  • Repeat × 4-6; rest
  • Double-unders × 30 sec; rest × 30 sec
  • Repeat above × 3-6

The moves

Single-Unders. Two foot jump with the rope, doing one revolution for every one jump.

skipping rope collage Rhain Hoskins TRAIL 31

Scissor Step. Two foot split-jump where the legs alternate split position after each rope revolution.

Criss-Cross Step. Two foot jump where the rope revolves the same as a single-under, but the legs go from a crossed over landing position, back to regular landing position for every rope revolution.

Double-Unders. Rope does two revolutions for every one jump. These require a more explosive jump, improved timing as well as fast acceleration at the forearms. They should be done sparingly as the impact on landing can be great.

Heel-Toe Step. Alternating leg skipping with two jumps on each leg making a heel to toe pattern with the elevated leg. Great for mimicking a running gait.

heel toe step Skipping Rope Rhain Hoskins TRAIL 31
Heel-Toe Step

Watch Rhain demonstrate these moves.

This article was originally published in TRAIL 31.

Rhain Hoskins is a personal trainer (available online), StrongFirst kettlebell coach, trail runner, obstacle course racer, and founder of The IRON Movement.

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