In Pursuit of the Elusive Double Unders
Photos provided by Tony Swann and SICFIT.
I have to preface this whole thing by stating that I am in no way an expert with double unders. Rather, I am just someone who has struggled, continues to struggle some days, and can share some of the useful things I have learned along my journey. I am the type that all the stars need to be aligned for my double unders to be consistent. And by stars I mean the right jump rope (not just the type but the length and thickness of the cable too), the right shoes, the right jumping surface, and the right music. Okay, maybe not the music, but when double unders aren’t your forte, it is important to be as mentally ready to tackle them as possible.
The Rope - Thickness
Let’s start with the first thing; you can’t do double unders without a rope, so it seems like the perfect starting point, choosing a rope. There are many makers/suppliers of ropes. When I started everyone had a speed rope with the thinnest cable possible, because they were fast! So I joined the bandwagon and that’s what I started with. Failure after failure, this is when I realized that just because the cable is thin and will move really fast, it does not make it the best rope choice for every person.
At this point I found Rx Jump Ropes, which I still use to this day. The Rx Jump Rope comes in a variety of different cable thicknesses. At the time, as I picked them up, I quickly realized I needed some weight on my rope, and so a thicker cable helped a lot on my double under quest. Finding the right cable for you is important, and in my experience there isn’t an exact science to it, you just have to give it a go and feel them out.
The Rope - Length
But likely the most crucial aspect when picking a jump rope is to size it properly. Rx Jump ropes have created a fairly extensive guideline of how to size your jump rope, which I highly recommend. It is particularly important to not just size your rope statically - the static size is what “should” suit you in an ideal world. We are humans, nothing is ideal, and as close to perfect as we may get, our mechanics will always have flaws. Use the guidelines as just that, guidelines, but ultimately try the rope length out to see what suits your style of jumping.
My Lesson Learned
I learned the hard way how important the right size of rope is for double unders. In a recent competition double unders made an appearance in the last workout. It was the fifth workout of the event and, among a few other things, there were two rounds of 100 double unders - something I had done countless times. I had all my stars: the right shoes, the right rope, the right surface, the right crowd, and the right amount of adrenaline leading after four workouts with big names like Kris Clever, Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, and Andrea Ager.
But there was a caveat; my main star was taken away, my rope! We were provided ropes that we had to use. While most competitors sized perfectly for their new ropes, my perfect size seemed to be right in between the ropes available to me. So I walked onto the competition floor with two jump ropes: one slightly longer, and one slightly shorter than the size I needed. The end result? Not so good. I struggled through both sets of double unders, switching between ropes, hoping magically one would have grown or shortened. If I had not learned the lesson that the size of the rope was paramount, I surely did after that experience.
Tips for Successful Double Unders
Now you have a rope, one that is the right thickness and the right size, it’s time to practice those double unders. Here are a few things that helped me improve my double unders:
1. A split rope. I found this in a corner in the gym, and always thought it was a useless rope someone had damaged and they cut it in half for something cool. Wrong! This actually helped me a lot. A few years back I broke my wrists, so my wrist motion wasn’t, and still isn’t the most ideal. With the split rope I was able to practice the rope turning, the wrist action, all the good stuff, without having to worry about the rope clearing my feet every time. This was a great way to strengthen my wrists while performing a movement pretty much the same as an actual double under. You always hear doing singles won’t help you get doubles, so why not scale and do double like movement with a split rope? In my opinion one of the best scaled movements for a double under.
2. Jumping pull-ups. If you’re thinking “what?!” just know I reacted the exact same way when I asked my coach for help with double unders and he told me to go do some jumping pull-ups. I thought he had gone mad. I ate all my words (or thoughts, because I never actually voiced them). Doing a set of jumping pull-ups before double unders helped me get used to a higher rhythmic jumping that usually is ideal for double unders. I remember the day this workout was prescribed to me, my unbroken double unders went up by 300% (Okay, okay, from 10 to 30 at that point. Not as impressive as when expressed as a percentage. Why do statistics make everything sound so much sexier?). This worked not only for me, but a couple of other people I worked out with that day. I have since used it when I coach, and although I am not exactly sure what my n is, the overwhelming majority had drastic improvements on their unbroken double unders.
3. Use a tempo trainer. Yes I am definitely a swimmer geek. I found an alternative use for my tempo trainer. The tempo trainer is something we use inside our caps or on the goggle straps to help us keep a specific stroke rate when swimming. It is the metronome of swimming, you could say. You set it for your desired setting, and it will create an audible noise (beep) at exact time intervals. How has this helped me? I found myself either rushing my jumping or not jumping quickly enough and failing on my double under. The tempo trainer set a nice constant pace that was comfortable and allowed me to practice at a cadence that favored my style of jumping. The setting will vary from person to person, but if you are hot-blooded like me and get impatient and frustrated quickly, the tempo trainer will keep you at bay and jumping when you should.
4. Find your style of jumping. I often hear coaches advising to jump with straight knees, not to jump with a dolphin kick, etc. In my experience you really have to find what suits you. And this might even change depending on the situation. I have recently changed my style of jumping to having a slight bend in my knee when I jump. This feels much more comfortable on my shins and I can jump for longer periods of time. The one thing I sometimes see and advise against is hard landings. I find that foot take off should be heel to toe and the landing toe to heal with all the athletes I have worked with. When I look around in competitions I see all possible styles of jumping. Most, if not all, work, but it works for that athlete. Don’t be afraid of trying different things if what you are doing isn’t working. Maybe you will find something that suits you better.
In the end, there is really no magic recipe to getting double unders. I will say it again, I am no expert, I can’t do thousands of double unders unbroken. I am just a mere mortal, one of you, who fails, gets frustrated, gets back up, and tries it again. These are just some of the things that helped me get better at this elusive skill.