Serious Jumping with the "Rope Wizard"

Buddy Lee's workouts stress power, finesse, and speed

Dressed in a star-spangled unitard, Buddy Lee works his magic with a jump rope. His torso remains nearly stationary as the rope spins under his feet at nearly 200 revs per minute during his complex maneuvers. All you hear is the whir. My lesson with the "rope wizard" is about to begin.

Thanks in part to Lee, a former Olympic wrestler, jumping rope is no longer just for schoolyards and boxing gyms. People from world-class athletes to aerobics instructors are putting it in their routines. "It's the most underrated exercise there is," says Michael Gostigian, a personal trainer and former Olympic pentathlete.

I have jumped for 28 years, since I was 14. I learned to do it in preseason training for alpine ski racing. What I love is the sheer efficiency and convenience. Research shows that 10 minutes of jumping can produce the cardiovascular payback of 30 minutes of jogging. Done properly, jumping is easier on your knees than running is. That's because your feet are barely off the ground--about one-quarter to one-half inch.

And you can jump almost anywhere. Just ask Mark Pizzi, a 45-year-old executive at Nationwide Insurance in Albany, N.Y. When feeling stressed, he shuts the office door, moves some furniture, and jumps until he's about to break into a sweat. "It has a remarkable ability to change my mental attitude in a matter of minutes," he says.

Ropes sell for $10 at sporting goods stores or $25 for a top-of-the-line model at Lee's Web site, Lee's PVC (polyvinyl chloride) ropes are narrower and more aerodynamic. Whatever you buy, the handles should reach your shoulder when the rope is looped under one foot.

Start by practicing without a rope to get the feel of the exercise. Hold your legs together and jump on the balls of your feet, while mimicking turning the rope with your hands. Then try "shadow jumping," where you jump and spin the rope, holding both handles in one hand. This builds timing. Finally, try the real thing, and be prepared to make a lot of mistakes. Do this three to five times a week for 10 minutes, and the missteps will quickly decrease. When you feel ready, move to a "jog step," where you alternate landing on one foot, then the other. "It takes about a week to start to get it," says Woodbridge (Va.)-based Lee.

EXPLOSIVENESS. I thought I had the technique down--before I met Lee for my lesson. I certainly jump enough--about 30 minutes five times a week at a cadence of 120 to 130 revs a minute. Was I wrong. Lee tells me I need to jump on the balls of my feet and concentrate on posture, holding my back and head upright. "You have got to be light on your toes," he says.

I need the extra quickness. I am using one of Lee's high-speed ropes and it turns far faster than my old one. I'm now hitting 150 revs a minute and feel like I'm dancing on the balls of my feet--a sensation I've never had. "You are off to a jumping start now," Lee says.

Next, he teaches me six types of jumps that build strength and explosiveness, what he terms "power jumping." I combine all the steps as I jump, and my calves and thighs burn a little, not used to the exertion. Then we turn to "finesse jumping," fancier moves such as crossovers, which you see boxers do. Next we do "speed jumping," where you turn the rope as fast as you can at shorter bursts. I hit 170 revs a minute, but a really good jumper can reach nearly 300. Finally, we do alternating 30-second intervals of power, finesse, and speed jumping. I'm really sweating by the end of the hour.

I'm back on my own now trying to master what I learned from the Rope Wizard. I've picked up even more steps from his instructional video. There's so much to think about, I no longer have time to get bored when I jump.

By Robert Berner

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