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26 May 2018

‘I finally learnt how to skip at the age of 36 – this is how you can do it too’

"I was amazed how quickly I improved."

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My journey to skipping started on my 36th birthday when my husband gave me a skipping rope. I know. Who does that, right? Well, against all odds, it turned out to be one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

A diary of shame

I’ve never been able to skip. I have vivid memories of sitting on the sidelines at school – and we’re talking all the way back to pre-school – while other girls did criss-cross. For all my hours of practising, the best I could manage was an ungainly gallop.

As an adult, I learnt that skipping has all kinds of amazing fitness benefits. I desperately wanted to reap them. But I couldn’t go 10 skips without tripping over the rope. (Not ideal when you work for a health and fitness magazine and regularly have to try group workout classes where skipping ropes are standard.)

It took me about four months to learn to skip. These are the tips that helped me.

Get the right rope

Turns out, skipping ropes are not all the same. When you’re a skipping queen like Mapule Ndhlovu, you’ll probably be able to pick up any rope and do great things. But, I discovered, when you’re just getting started, finding the type of rope that’s easiest for you to skip with can make all the difference.

The rope my husband gave me was a speed rope – one of those very thin skipping ropes that people who are much better at skipping than I am use to do fancy things like double-unders. I always thought a heavier rope would be easier to control, but actually the lighter rope worked much better for me.

Adjustable handles let me figure out what length worked best for me. Even though I’m fairly short, I found a longer length easier to skip with because of the hand position (more on that later).

This is how it started. Not pretty.

Practise at home

After so many years of sucking royally, I associated skipping with failure and humiliation. So there was no way that I was going to be seen flailing around the gym floor for the entertainment of everyone on the treadmills. Instead, my husband had me practise in the garden (yes, the rope came with free lessons) and he turned out to be a surprisingly good coach.

After just one session, I was up to 20 unbroken skips and ready to be seen in public. I was also exhausted, gasping for breath and my calves threatened to cramp.

When skipping was death.

Slain. Dragon flag day ?? #calisthenics #waniwillflag

A post shared by Wanita Nicol (@wanita.nicol) on

Uncoordinated? Go slo-mo

One of my biggest issues was coordination. I was constantly tripping over the rope and getting tangled because I couldn’t match the timing of my hands with my feet. My hands were much slower than my feet so, for a long time, I would do two jumps for every arm swing.

Fixing this was surprisingly easy. I simply slowed the whole movement down. Swing the rope, wait for it to land, jump over it. Repeat over and over again. Amazingly, after just a few minutes, I was managing 10 skips without any double-hopping.

Read more: This strength workout totally counts as cardio too

Adjust your hand position

Ideally you want your hands fairly close to your body for a tight, controlled movement. But I found this position had me tripping over the rope again. As I got tired, my hands would stray even closer together and the rope would hit my feet. Or I’d swing it skew with the same result. By using a slightly longer rope, I could keep my hands further apart and these were no longer issues.

A couple of months in…

If you have no rhythm, use music

A key factor in skipping success is getting a good rhythm going. That repetitive action is what allows you to sync your hands and feet. In the beginning I just couldn’t get this part right, so I was jumping high over the rope to avoid falling on my face. It not only looked ridiculous, it’s also inefficient – you end up using much more energy than you would doing small, rhythmic hops.

Someone on Instagram suggested I try skipping to music. It made all the difference – even when I was just skipping along to a song in my head, my hops became much quicker, smaller and more rhythmical. It also stopped me from panic speed increase – where I would skip faster and faster and not know how to slow down.

Read more: This 15-minute skipping rope workout will transform your arms and abs

Do a little bit every day

I incorporated skipping into my existing workout, throwing it in between strength moves as active rest. That meant I was doing a little bit at least five days a week. And I do mean a little. In the beginning, I would just skip to failure – that meant 20, maybe 30 skips at a time. So not much at all. But it made a difference.

Within a month, I was routinely managing 60 unbroken skips, which became a comfortable plateau for a while until I decided it was time to go big and upped it to 100 skips. These days some of my workouts include three minutes of unbroken skipping. And that’s the warm-up! I can’t believe how far I’ve come!

Finally able to skip!

via GIPHY

The results

The best part of learning to skip is that I finally got to reap all those health and fitness benefits that I used to covet. But, ironically, I was so busy focusing on the act of learning to skip that I didn’t even notice them until later. My legs are much more toned – I actually have definition in my calves for the first time in my life.

And my cardio fitness has improved tremendously – I can do a cardio workout without ending up in a gasping heap on the floor. But best of all is that I no longer fear skipping. In fact (and this is going to sound crazy) after more than 30 years, I’ve finally learnt to enjoy it!

This article was originally published on www.womenshealthsa.co.za

Image credit: iStock

 
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