Double-unders are one of those movements that cause so many athletes a ton of grief. Many of us will be able to perform ten, twenty, maybe even thirty double-unders unbroken, but any more reps and our form breaks, the rope snags and we’re left with nasty whip marks across our calves, shins and arms.
So the question is—how do you become more efficient at double-unders?
1. Check Your Rope
Are you using the right rope? First, you want to check your rope’s length. To find the right jump rope length, hold a rope by the handles at about chest height and place one foot on the chord that’s on the ground. Ideally the tips of the handles will be underneath your armpits so that when you jump, the rope clears your head by about 10-12 inches. Use this as a starting point and adjust your rope length from there.
In the middle of a workout, when your shoulders start to burn and your double-under technique begins to break down, a shorter rope will cause you to stumble much quicker. On the other hand, a longer rope will ‘hide’ breakdowns in form much longer. The downside is that a longer rope can bring on fatigue more quickly and may slow your double-unders a bit. Personally, I like to invest in a shorter rope for training (one that clears my head by only 6-10 inches) and a longer one for competition. In training, the shorter rope will force me to focus on my mechanics.
There are plenty of jump ropes n the market, but it’s important to get one that’s in line with your current skill level. Thicker, heavier ropes are better suited for athletes still learning the double-under, while speed ropes are thinner and lighter and are better suited for athletes who can consistently string at least 50 double-unders together.
2. Hand & Elbow Position
Hand placement causes a lot of athletes to trip up in the double-under (pun intended). A common mistake is allowing the elbows, arms and hands to drift away from the body. Doing so is inefficient because it puts more emphasis on shoulder strength and mobility rather than the wrist. If you’re in the middle of a workout that involves a lot of shoulder work, the last thing you want is to place more stress on the muscle during double-unders. Furthermore, allowing your hands to drift out to your sides will actually shorten the rope’s length making revolutions of the rope more difficult and increase the likelihood of the rope catching a part of your body and forcing you to break.
So, where should your hands—and by extension, your elbows—be during the double-under? They should be tucked nicely in to your sides, with your hands slightly in front of your body (not out to the sides). You don’t want them to be glued to the side of your body as that won’t allow for any movement of the wrists whatsoever. Keep your elbows and arms by your sides but let them hang loosely. Remember, you want your wrists to do the majority of the work, so don’t tense your arms unnecessarily.
3. Handle Grip
Gripping the handles of the jump rope is not a good idea. Why? Because you’re spending valuable energy and muscular tension on an area that doesn’t need it. In short, the death grip is inefficient and wears you out unnecessarily. The wrist is a very mobile joint and can rotate quickly enough to generate rotations without you having to grip the handle until your palms bleed. If you grip the handle too tightly, you’re essentially ‘freezing’ your wrist joint in place, preventing it from rotating as efficiently. This means the handles will stay flat and parallel to the ground, drawing the rope towards your toes promoting an inefficient ‘shoulder pump’ motion that will lead to shoulder fatigue. Instead, lightly grip the handles of the rope with your fingers—not your palms—as if you were holding a paintbrush. This way your wrist can fully rotate as it’s designed to, allowing the hands to flow with the rope and the handles to turn down.
4. Use Your Wrists
The wrist is a complex joint that allows the hand to move in three degrees of freedom (flexing and extending, pronating and supinating, and deviating ulnarly or radially). Those are a lot of physiological terms, but the main takeaway is that it’s a highly mobile joint. Why is this important? Because the wrists are key to generating momentum for the jump rope to start revolving. If you’ve learned where to place your elbows and hands, then it’s time to put the wrists to work and let them rotate as freely and quickly as possible. Those who burn out during double-unders are the ones who put the majority of the work on their shoulders instead of their wrists. The shoulder can’t move as freely as the wrist, and simply because it’s connected to more powerful muscles doesn’t mean it won’t wear out quickly. Keep your arms close to your body and flick those wrists as they were designed to. Work smarter, not harder.
5. Body Awareness
Because you need to clear two revolutions of the rope instead of one, try jumping slightly higher than you would for your singles. And, don’t forget to land on your tippy-toes. Many athletes land on their soles, bend their knees then jump into the air again, making the process slow and inefficient. You may need to build your calf strength (plyometrics are a good place to start) to remain on your tippy-toes for an extended period of time, but it’s really not that long and it’s far more fluid and conducive to stringing double-unders together than landing flat-footed every time.
Another tip to refining your double-under technique is to keep your torso straight and jump in the same place. Some athletes will have a tendency to bend forward during the double-under in an attempt to shorten the distance the rope needs to cover. That will lead to you moving all over the place when jumping, which decreases your efficiency, puts more stress on the shoulders and will inevitably lead to tripping. Keep a hollow body position (like the starting point of a hollow rock) and a neutral head position. It may help to focus on something that’s at eye-level in front of you (as long as it’s not moving). Focus on trying to jump at the same height, in the same place, every time.