Does jump rope improve running speed

[00:00:00] Super hot topic today. We’re going to talk about jump rope. Why are we talking about jump rope and running? Well, apparently people want to know, does jump rope make you a better runner?

[00:00:22] I’m Jesse Funk, the founder of Solpri.com and the host of this show Runner’s High where we talk about everything running and endurance related. So if that is you, you’re a runner or you are an endurance athlete, then you’re going to want to stick around, hit subscribe, stick around with me every Tuesday and Thursday, new episodes come out.

[00:00:39] Now, I think initially when I think about jump rope and running, I immediately go to like a rocky montage. They’re more probably by boxing or somehow they always have a jump rope and then they’re going for a run. I don’t know that I’ve personally seen any runner use jump rope to increase their speed or abilities, but I think if we think about it, there may be some efficacy to this idea.

[00:01:09] Now, if you ask, generally speaking, most trainers or coaches, specificity is key. So if you want to be a better runner, then you should probably run. This goes back to an example. That was me, a question I asked very early on in my triathlon career. I was, I think, probably 22 at the time, just out of college. I asked former pro triathlete Barb Lindquist, who’s kind of a quasi-coach for me for a little while, in charge of the  U.S.A. Triathlon’s Elite Recruitment Program, Collegiate Recruitment Program. I can’t think today. In any case, I’d asked her because I need to get better at swimming.

[00:01:53] And I was really not great at swimming and I didn’t have a lot of upper body strength. So I was trying to think of tangential ways to increase this upper body strength that also might kind of mimic swimming. And I said, “Hey, you know, can I go rock climbing and will that help me swimming?” And she gave me points for ingenuity, but said basically, “No, if you want to be a better swimmer, you need to swim.”

[00:02:18] And the same thing applies here, I think, with jump rope specificity. If you want to be a better runner, you need to run. That being said, I think there are some other things that we can learn from jump roping and some kind of physical adaptations that may be helpful in some very specific cases.

[00:02:37] So beyond my rock climbing example, where you know anything about rock climbing, you know that you actually need to use your legs a fair bit more than using your arms, even though you are using your arms. Jump rope in particular actually uses somewhat of the motion that we use when we are running. So when we think about the whole motion of running, we have this entire phase from where our leg comes through to the front, pushes down, pushes off, pushes back. It’s at that back we refer to as toe off.

[00:03:11] So this is when your calves are really engaged to get that last amount of power. And that is what I would suggest jump rope might help with, is if your calves are weak in this area at the top end speed and you need to improve that somehow, but also don’t want to engage the rest of your muscles. 

[00:03:31] You want to do something very specific because what are you doing when your jump roping, right? You’re doing this repetition of basically a small hop. It’s kind of equivalent to a calf raise. And this is going to be more similar to this kind of toe off position, this push off position at the very end of your stride without actually running.

[00:03:55] So you get the specificity of this kind of push off position and also targeting your calves. That being said, this is going to be what I would think, maybe the icing on the cake for some kind of elite athlete who has a very specific need because the vast majority of your power is going to be quads and more importantly, hamstrings for your running.

[00:04:26] Your calves aren’t the major mover in that motion. So if you’re trying to maximize your speed, you really want to maximize your quad and hamstring strength. That being said, one of the things that I’ve been working on with a physical therapist with recently, as I’ve been dealing with an Achilles issue and kind of re-recruiting muscle fibers through that whole posterior chain, that backside of your leg from your Achilles all the way to your glutes is that the idea of proprioception. 

[00:04:59] So when you are running, your body engages certain muscles to stabilize yourself and to propel yourself forward. It is possible to get into bad habits where you don’t necessarily engage certain muscle groups.

[00:05:15] So if you find yourself when you are going faster, really not engaging your calves for that toe off position. I think, again, this is a theory. Nothing to back this up, just an idea here that it might be helpful for you to engage those calves and work on both muscular strength and also that kind of proprioception of making your the brain muscle connection so that you actually use them. So when you go out to run, then it hopefully translates.

[00:05:48] The other thing I think may be helpful is if you have weak ankles. This was an issue for me early on in my career. I had lots of ankle instability and small ankle injuries. Now there are probably better, good, better, good, better pre-hab routines with their bands and things like that that can target specific motions with your ankles versus just doing jump rope.

[00:06:17] But I do know when I was going through rehab for these kind of ankle issues I was dealing with early on, this is a decade plus ago that there was basically this jump rope motion with single leg at some point to try to help with the strength and coordination of the ankles.

The difference being that I was going forward and backwards in a zigzag pattern so I can see where if you’re going to jump rope, beginning with just basic jump rope up and down, probably useful if you’re beginning to try to work on your ankle strength. But then beyond that, trying to make it a little bit more complicated, going back and forth, doing it with one leg, those kind of things to help with your ankle strength.

[00:07:06] This is, I think, probably not a mainstay of your running routine in your training schedule. But if you know in particular you have weak ankle strength, it may be one way to target that area and help that out to hopefully prevent some of those injuries you can run into as you increase your mileage. Overall, I wouldn’t personally prescribe jump rope for most people so that they would become better runners.

[00:07:35] But one thing I think is an interesting way to take any individual and kind of coach them is figure out where they’re at and then find unique things for them. So if you could have fallen the categories that I’ve talked about where you really need to learn how to engage your calves more or strengthen your calves, you have weak ankles and you find jump rope engaging or fun. Then I think it’s something that you can consider adding into your running schedule to try to increase those things and strengthen your ankle, strengthen your calves.

[00:08:08] Again, theoretically, increase that proprioception where your brain is going to know how to engage your calves a little bit better when you’re running. But for the vast majority of us, I think we can probably skip the jump rope and probably spend more time either running or in the gym doing strength training.

[00:08:27] So do you have any questions for me about running, about triathlon or endurance-related, anything? Leave them in the comments below. I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.

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