The Cardio-Revving Benefits of Jumping Rope Seriously Rival Running

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Jump ropes have long been a staple on the playground. But once you're an adult, is jumping rope good exercise? Or should you choose something more "grown up," like running for your cardio routine? The short answer: When it comes to choosing between jump rope vs running, you'll benefit from embracing both.

"I alternate between jumping rope and running because both are great forms of cardiovascular exercise," says Joshua Vela, a NASM-certified personal trainer with DailyBurn. While running unquestionably has its fair share of benefits, the jumping rope benefits are actually very similar. Vela explains that jumping rope and running "share the same general goals."  Both will help you increase overall longevity, build cardiovascular and mental health, maintain a metabolic fitness and bone density, reduce your risk of disease, and increase oxygenated blood flow to your muscles.

Experts In This Article

However, there are also some key differences that might influence when you want to opt for the rope or the road. Here's what to consider.

Jumping rope vs running: When to jump rope

While some coordination is required, jumping rope is an efficient form of cardio that increases your heart rate and revs your metabolism.

1. When you only have a few minutes for cardio

There's no need to spend an hour on the treadmill for the sake of your cardio routine—all you really need is a few minutes of jumping rope for cardiovascular health. The cardio benefits of jumping rope are clear: "Jumping rope for 10 minutes per day [has] been proven to be just as effective in terms of cardiovascular health and caloric expenditure as running for 30 minutes," says Vela. This means you can get your daily dose of cardio in three songs, flat.

2. When you want to do something low impact

There's no question that running is great for your cardiovascular health, but one thing it's not so good for? Your joints. "When done correctly, jumping rope can actually be lower impact on the joints than running," says Vela. "It's a great way for runners to train on off days to build ankle stability and even prevent shin splints." When done properly, the light, repetitive movements put less pressure on your knees than pounding the pavement mile after mile.

"It's great for someone who may be nursing an injury that doesn't allow them to run," adds Joel Okaah, CPT.

Since proper jump rope form is essential for mitigating high impact, fitness coach Gabbi Tuft, CPT, says that consciously controlling each jump is key. “A softer jump, using our toes to absorb the landing will produce less impact than a bigger jump with a hard, more flat-footed landing,” she says. While running can also be tweaked to create less impact on your joints—from adjusting your stride to wearing the proper shock-absorbing shoes—overall, Tuft says that jumping rope is more gentle on the joints. 

3. When you want to add a strength component to your cardio

Jumping rope isolates the muscles in your calves and quads, and the repetitive bouncing on the balls of your feet serves to target and strengthen these areas with every swing of the rope. Plus, it's a great warm-up for the rest of your muscle-building routine. Vela, for instance, is a fan of super setting his strength training routine with five minutes of jumping rope to spike his heart rate and get the endorphins flowing. "Jump roping is similar to running the 300 to 800 meter in track and, when paired with strength training, may lead to greater results," says Joey Cifelli, a master trainer at Crunch Gym in New York City.

Meanwhile, Tuft points out that jumping rope doesn’t only benefit the lower body. Jump rope workouts also engage upper body muscle groups, including the core, back, biceps, triceps, shoulders, and traps. “During a decent session of jumping rope, you will start to feel a burn in many of these upper body muscle groups,” she says. “The result? A more toned upper body.”

4. When you want to work on speed, agility, balance, and coordination

Need some extra work on speed? Grab a jump rope. "The activity is typically done in bouts of three minutes or less for multiple sets and engages the type two muscle fibers," says Cifelli. "Jump rope is more effective than running for individuals focusing on quick-twitch facilitation."

Need proof? There's a reason why jump ropes are such a longstanding staple in boxing gyms. And if you've ever tried jumping rope for yourself, you know that it's not exactly an easy feat. "Quick footwork and full-body coordination can be acquired with jumping rope," says Cifelli. According to Vela, it has a one-up on running in this sense, because running requires the sort of "locomotion movement we're all innately programmed for," he says. Plus, jumping up and down over a rope requires a certain level of hand-eye coordination and balance, and over time you'll see improvement in those areas, too.

5. When you're looking for something convenient and budget-friendly

Given that so many folks have busy schedules (same), the convenience of jumping rope is certainly a big pro. “It’s compact and easy to pack, so it’s a great cardio option for traveling,” says Vanessa Liu, CPT, an online trainer. Plus, rather than spending hundreds of dollars on a treadmill, jump rope is an inexpensive way to do cardio at home. File that under benefits of jump rope workouts. There are even cordless jump ropes available, so you can get your heart rate up without breaking a few lamps.

Jumping rope vs running: When to run

The physical and mental benefits of running are legendary for a reason. Here's when you might want to opt for a jog or run over a quick session with your jump rope.

1.  When you've got a little more time on your hands

We know 10 minutes of jump rope is about equal to 30 minutes of running from a cardiovascular standpoint. So if you've got 30 minutes to enjoy the feeling of getting your heart pumping, you might want to lace up those sneakers. Giving yourself that time and space to move can benefit you in multiple ways beyond just cardiovascular.

“There's also something about running that transcends physiology,” Erica Coviello, a running coach and personal trainer, previously told Well+Good about the social benefits of running. “Maybe it’s the time you give yourself to sort out your to-do list, reflect on your day, or solve a problem. For [parents], it might be their only alone time. For people with high-stress jobs, it’s their way to decompress. For others, maybe they run with friends and it’s their opportunity to socialize. If you're into racing, it can satisfy your competitive nature. There are so many things about running that go beyond the physical act that add value to our lives.”

2. When you want a functional workout

Whether you're chasing after a kiddo or rushing to an appointment, running is an activity you might do in your everyday life. That makes it a functional movement in and of itself. The compound act of running also contains functional movements, like lunges, jumps, and arm swings. Finally, all those movements in one allow you to train in multiple planes of motion—up and down as well as front and back—which helps your body be better equipped for all the ways you move about the world.

3. When you're looking for a mental boost

From releasing endorphins and feel good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, to building mental fortitude, running benefits your mind and your mood.

“Intense exercise for 20 to 30 minutes at 70 percent of your maximum heart rate for your age will significantly decrease anxiety and increase positive emotions for the next few hours to a day,” Jenna Nielsen, MSW, LCSW, a clinical social worker and therapist at ADHD Advisor, previously told Well+Good about the benefits of running. “I encourage my clients to get more physical movement into their daily lives in order to decrease their vulnerability to negative, painful emotions, increase their physical health, improve their moods, and be more present.”

4. When you want to practice mindfulness

Many runners describe the meditative experience of going on a run and how focusing on the movements—their foot striking the ground, their chest rising and falling, the scenery they're passing by—helps them practice mindfulness.

“When running, you might not realize you're training your brain to continue to move forward or be mindful of what's around you,” Nielsen says. “It can help you be more present without realizing it."

How to jump rope correctly

Before you add a jump rope into your routine, it's important that you know what you're doing—and proper form is key. “Practice without the rope and get into the proper position,” says trainer Amanda Kloots in a recent episode of Well+Good's The Right Way. “Jumping rope is a rhythm—the rope hits, you jump. Your foot rhythm and your hand rhythm have to be the same.”

A few other things to keep in mind?

  1. Only jump as high as you need. “You never want to jump higher than the rope is thick,” says Kloots, who explains that this is an unnecessary expenditure of energy and will tire you out more quickly.
  2. Hold your arms out at a 90-degree angle so that the rope forms a perfect circle around your body.
  3. Engage your core to keep your body in a straight line from your head to your (jumping) feet.
  4. The type of surface you jump on also matters. “Jumping on a hard surface, like concrete, would have more impact on your joints since there’s not much shock absorption,” Liu says. “If you have sensitive joints or knee and ankle issues, I would try to avoid jumping on concrete or asphalt. If possible, jump on a softer surface, like rubber tiles, or even a yoga mat.”
  5. If you have breasts, wear a supportive sports bra. Liu notes that the constant jumping up and down motion will require more support than you’d normally need during a run.

How to jump rope the right way:

How to incorporate jump rope into your routine

When you're first starting out with a jump rope, "start with the basics and work your way up to more complex jump rope workouts that challenge your tempo and isolate different parts of your body," says Okaah. At first, you can challenge yourself to jump for one minute straight, then build up to three-minute rounds, which can be integrated into your warmup or used as a cardio break between strength-training intervals.

Rope make you nervous? You can start by training yourself to jump at a regular cadence while swinging your arms without the rope, then add the equipment when you're ready.

Once you've got the classic two-foot jump down, you can up the intensity with more complicated jump rope exercises for cardio:

1. Single leg jump

To really isolate your calf muscles, spend part of your interval jumping exclusively on one foot. By the end of the round, you'll be seriously feeling the burn in your lower body.

2. Alternating foot jump

If you want to further enhance your coordination, try jumping back and forth from one foot to the other. This will help with your balance and agility, and takes so much focus that it will be impossible to think about anything else during your workout.

3. Double unders

To spike your heart rate, try swinging the rope around twice with every jump.

4. A full routine

Ready for a full-scale jump-rope class? Follow along with the video above for a routine that will leave your heart racing in the best possible way.

FAQs about jump rope vs. running

Is jump rope better cardio than running?

According to Liu, jumping rope isn’t necessarily better cardio than running, but she does consider it a more efficient way to do cardio. “Because of the constant jumping, it gets your blood pumping and heart rate up pretty fast,” she says.

Tuft adds that while the cardiovascular benefits of jump rope are comparable to those of running, jump rope workouts are more efficient for caloric burn and challenge your cardiovascular system more. “Both running and jumping rope will result in a decent calorie burn and are fantastic when it comes to portable exercise options,” she points out. “With jumping rope though, because it’s typically a form of HIIT, [so] you tend to burn more calories in a shorter amount of time. Moreover, since jumping rope tends to be a higher intensity workout, there is a significantly greater cardiovascular load induced.”

Does jump rope burn more calories than running?

Technically, yes jumping rope does burn more calories than running, but that alone is not reason enough to ditch running altogether. “Jump rope burns a bit more calories than running, but the difference isn’t as vast as one might think,” Liu says. “In my opinion, the difference isn't enough to pick jump rope over running solely based on calorie burn. My suggestion is to pick the option that you enjoy the most and can stick to long term.”

Why do boxers skip rope?

According to Tuft, a lot of boxers and MMA fighters jump rope to fit in quick HIIT workouts. “It’s specifically for conditioning the cardiovascular system at high-intensity intervals,” she explains. “When you think of a boxing or MMA match, there are a lot of quick bursts of high-intensity energy expenditure. Jumping rope creates a significant load on the cardiovascular system and it tends to be in similar bursts or rounds.” It can also help hone quick footwork.

Who should not jump rope?

Liu says jumping rope is generally safe for most people, even if you have sensitive joints—just start off slow and be sure to practice proper form while jumping. “If you do have sensitive joints, I recommend giving yourself a trial period,” she says. “Jump rope for six to eight weeks and if it still doesn’t feel right, then look for another cardio option.”

However, if you’re pregnant and in your second or third trimester, Liu advises avoiding any high-intensity exercises including jump rope to be safe.

Tuft says that other people who should avoid jump rope workouts include those with patellar tendonitis (pain in the front of the kneecap). “They may find that jumping rope worsens this condition,” she admits. “Also, those who have a heart condition that precludes them from performing higher intensity exercises should avoid jumping rope.” After all, just because it can be relatively lower impact, jumping rope is still one of the most high-intensity workouts out there.

It's also worth pointing out that, given the similarities between jump rope vs. running, folks with these conditions should also slow down their stride and consider walking, stair stepping, or working out on an elliptical instead of logging miles—at least until the pain subsides. Another option is to opt for another low-impact HIIT workout, such as rowing

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