I distinctly remember Sonja recently telling me very passionately how she hated double unders.

I believe she used the word “hate” 3 times. 3 times!! I thought that was quite appropriate as the single under substitute for doubles is often 3 jumps to one double under.

Yes they can be annoying. Yes double unders can be good one day and vile the next but just like any skill or complex movement pattern, jump rope skills will develop excellent coordination, hand speed, timing, agility, conditioning, and neurological efficiency.

When I used to box, jumping rope was a basic conditioning, footwork and hand speed drill. Boxers will frequently jump rope for up to 10-15 minutes non stop. Indeed my coach often gave me the choice to run up and down a flight of stairs for 30 minutes or jump rope non stop for 15. The skills never leave you once you master them.

Regular single unders, running on the spot jumps and other lower skill level variants done correctly are a great way to warm up and cool down. The higher skill level double unders, cross overs, sprint drills, triple unders and the like all fire up the nervous system in a dynamic way making the jump rope potentially one of the cheapest and best conditioning tools you can use. I’ve said the same thing about the Kettlebell in the past but unlike a Kettlebell you can pack a jump rope in your suitcase without attracting unnecessary attention at airport security.

In the UK they call it skipping and my first competitive experience with a skipping rope was when I was 14. I had made an impressive fake ID to get membership into a local gym that you had to be 16 to join. My friends at school had seen my strength improvements and after manufacturing more fake IDs for them, using my special typewriter and sticky tape method, they also joined the place.

We were quite lucky to have access to this place. It had a velodrome, running track around a fully equipped field and of course the gym. As a result it was a place where many genuine athletes trained.

Skipping ropes (that’s what they call them in the UK) were pricey, typically with wooden handles and the really fancy ones had ball bearings to make them spin nicely.

I couldn’t afford to buy a fancy leather skipping rope (yes leather) so I used reel of nylon coated clothes line instead. No handles required. I just wrapped it around my hands with more or less wrapping to change the length. This meant that blisters, torn hands and some nasty skin abrasions were inevitable especially between the thumb and forefinger where the rope would rub. I later learnt to tape this area up and did so for my first jump rope challenges in the changing rooms. This was a serious contest between 4 young gentlemen of the fake I.D club. We all had our cheapo jump ropes and the first challenge was to do as many unbroken jumps as possible. The winner won bragging rights which was like a gold medal at the time.

We would repeat this little contest every week and the crowd watching this odd tournament would get bigger and bigger. At one point I think we had 10 people watching. The record at the time was something like 150 unbroken jumps. Big money in those days! I look back on this now and smile as the average single jumps per minute is around 120 for most people and these days you’re doing pretty well if you can get 150 unbroken double unders.

Historically jumping a rope has been in practice for centuries around the whole world. In early China the first ‘rope makers’ emerged and during the Chinese New Year Festival a game called Hundred Rope Jumping was one of the most popular sports. Rope was used for skipping in Phoenicia, and ancient Egypt. The Greeks jumped a pole in the early days of the Western civilization, and several painters in the Golden Ages painted children playing with a rope.

Rope Skipping (or Jump Rope) originated in the Netherlands, and made its way across the Atlantic in early 15th Centuary when the Dutch settlers were America’s first jump-ropers. The English, who governed the Dutch colony in the Hudson River Valley, found a sport that involved jumping over one or two ropes to be absolutely ridiculous. The Dutch settler children jumped their ropes in front of their houses. As they jumped, the children accompanied their jumping games with all kind of songs. Of course the songs were in Dutch; which couldn’t be understood by the French or the English. So the English who named the two-roped variety of the sport “Double Dutch”. The name was a derogatory term because anything associated with Dutch culture was considered absurd and inferior to the English. Personally I quite like the Dutch. Pancakes, tulips, clogs and windmills are quite nice, however it took until the twentieth century for double Dutch to hit the uptown streets. In the ’40s and ’50s, jumping rope was all the rage in the American inner city. Apartments and buildings were stacked and sandwiched together with sprawling pavement front yards. Girls would head to the sidewalks with their mothers’ clotheslines, if possible still wet from laundry day, so that the ropes would be heavy enough to hit the ground just right. By the late 1950s, Double Dutch nearly became extinct as it was overshadowed by the popularity of television and radio among youths. But in 1973 an officer in the NYPD chose to use Double Dutch in his youth outreach programs. The project was cleverly named “Rope, not Dope”, and its focus was to keep girls away from the destructive temptations of the inner city! The amount of organized Double Dutch teams increased during the 1980s, until New York City alone had fifteen hundred jumpers. Before long, the American Double Dutch League (ADDL) was created by a former D.C. police officer. He had seen the positive impact Double Dutch had on his community, watching girls being rescued from the lures of gangs, drugs, crime, and sex. Shortly after the ADDL’s inception, McDonalds restaurants began sponsoring tournaments locally and nationally. This, not only provided much needed financial support for these events, but helped Double Dutch gain a wider audience and legitimised it as a sport.

It may seem strange to many people that the worlds largest “junk food” company would ever be involved in sport but McDonalds has been directly involved with summer and winter Olympic sports sponsorship since 1968. If you want to see how “healthy” McDonalds meals can be I recommend watching the film “Fat Head” which might surprise some people. Having said this McDonalds severed its ties with the ADDL in the late 1990s, which pretty much collapsed the network of rope-jumping leagues. The ADDL continued but struggled as it carried on without McDonalds’ strength and resources. Membership declined and tournaments were few and far between.

This is a shame but just like Olympic Lifting, CrossFit has dramatically revitalised the interest in jump rope, the associated skills and the use of a rope for increased work capcity. I remember last year at The CrossFit Games there was a display team of young jump ropers who always had a decent crowd around them. They were doing double unders, triple unders, split jumps and even backflips with one rope, two ropes and teams which was all very impressive.

Buying a jump rope can be as easy or complicated as you want it to be. You can go old school like me when I was 14 and buy a crappy clothes line or you can spend up to $150 on something fancy like the crossrope.

I encourage everyone to have their own personal rope as you’re less likely to blame the gym for it’s plastic or wire ropes that leave you with whip marks across your body that wouldn’t look out of place at a BDSM or self castigastion festival. When it comes down to however, a bad workman always blames his tools.

Tuck jumps are probably a better substitute for double unders in terms of the cardio respiratory and plyometric demands but ultimately practice will get you to where you ultimately want to be…somewhere like this perhaps?