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LEARNING THE ROPES
by William L. Hamilton
As appeared in the Wall Street Journal
April 4, 2011
Peter Nestler, who jumps rope for a living, recently executed an extended double dutch sequence for Adam Sandler's next movie, "Jack and Jill," as Mr. Sandler's stand-in. When he was finished, Katie Holmes, the film's co-star, approached Mr. Nestler, he said, and told him it was the most amazing thing she'd ever seen.
I know the feeling. I jump rope out on the street in Astoria, Queens, for exercise, observed by my coterie of elderly Eastern Europeans.
"When's the fight?" one asked recently.
Traditionally the turf of the boxing ring and schoolyard, jumping rope is nearly perfect exercise in terms of conditioning, cost-benefit and convenience. It's just you, a rope, a pair of shoes and the ground.
It is a kind of complete physical engagement that few other activities offer. And once you catch the "swing," it's pretty satisfying stuff: a personal lyricism that jogging and other aerobics will never have.
"To coordinate that kind of rhythm, the whole body has to be in sync—core, shoulders, legs," said Brian Nguyen, the actor Mark Wahlberg's personal trainer. Mr. Nguyen trained with Mr. Wahlberg for his role in last year's film "The Fighter." "It's a very intense movement for the body," he explained.
Jumping is also gentler and kinder, though. "You're getting the most bang for your buck, because you're working almost every part of your body, but there's not the impact of running, because of the way the foot lands," said Alexis Colvin, an assistant professor of sports medicine in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan.
John Snow, the manager of Trinity Boxing Gym in Lower Manhattan, has basic pointers. He has me jump in place, without a rope, practicing my arm movement: elbows to my sides, turning the wrist and bending and rolling the elbow, breathing through my nose, setting a pace, staying focused and loose. Mr. Snow called it "controlled relaxation," an eloquent attitude towards life, as well as rope jumping.
Tim Haft, who leads the Punk Rope class at the Greenpoint YMCA in Brooklyn, stresses the importance of sizing the rope you use. Most ropes can be adjusted by making knots next to the handles. "Stand on the middle of the rope with one foot," he said. "The handles should come up to just below your shoulders."
Mr. Haft uses an inexpensive plastic-cord "speed" rope with simple handles. Ropes with ball-bearing handles are also available and can facilitate your swing. Weighted ropes will give your arms and upper body more exercise; plastic-bead ropes are sturdier for outdoor jumping on harder surfaces, though you should be using a giving platform like a pliant wooden floor, a mat or grass. Cotton-cord and leather ropes look great; no one except stylists use them.
Shoes are important too. Wear something flat, like a cross-trainer or a wrestling shoe, not a running shoe. When you jump, land on the ball of your foot, not your heel.
Like most trainers I spoke to, Frank Powers of Serpico Powers training studio in Manhattan bases his rope routine with clients on a boxer's three-minute round: three one-minute rounds, with a 30-second break between, then three two-minute rounds, then three three-minute rounds.
"When you can jump for 10 minutes comfortably, you're at a decent fitness level," he said.
But for me, it's all about the "swing," casually watching the cars go by on 28th Avenue, the steady exhilaration of the light-footed step and sailing repeatedly up into the air. Michael George, an ex-boxer who has trained Julianne Moore and others, likened it to a dance—that's exactly what it is.