Jump rope has long outstripped it's playground stereotype, and now is hugely popular activity for fitness and competition. And if you're serious about either, you're probably looking for a faster rope ... a "speed rope."
What is a Speed Jump Rope?
Back in the day (1998) when I began coaching a competitive jump rope team, a “speed rope” was simply a jump rope with a thin PVC plastic cord. These were the fastest ropes around, and what everyone used at speed jumping competitions.
The team I coached specialized in speed jumping and we were one of the best in the world. When we heard about another team that had started using a cable rope instead of the standard PVC, we jumped all over it (yes, pun intended. Sorry…). The problem with these early cable speed ropes, though, was the torque on the cable coming out of the handle, which soon broke after a few weeks of jumping.
That’s when the Ultra Speed Rope came out, which featured handles attached to the cable at a 90-degree angle. That original Ultra Speed revolutionized competitive speed jumping and double under jumping (ie for CrossFit), prompted a number of world records and spawned a host of other speed ropes.
8 Characteristics of Great Speed Ropes
Over the years I’ve talked with hundreds of competitive speed jumpers and CrossFit athletes about their ropes. I’ve also done what seems like a million hours of speed rope testing. Here’s what I’ve found are the most important components of a great speed rope:
- 90-degree handle angle. It’s simply the most efficient way to spin a rope quickly. You won’t see a single serious speed jumper using anything but a jump rope with handles attached to the rope at a 90-degree angle.
- Cable rope. As explained above, this is a “must” for speed ropes. The stiffness, weight and thin diameter of cables make them much faster than PVC, leather or beaded ropes.
- Ball bearings in the handle. The two fastest ropes in the world are the RPM Rope and the Elite Surge Speed Rope. These are the ropes most frequently seen at speed jumping and double under competitions, and they both feature ball bearings in the handles.
- Easily cable replacement. Even the best cables will wear out. You want a rope that makes it easy to swap out replacement cables, and that has the ability to accept different cable styles. For training or exercise, it’s most common to use a 3/32" nylon-coated steel cable. (Make sure you get a nylon coated cable as the vinyl coated cables wear out much quicker.) With this size, you might get 4-6 months use out of a quality cable. If you jump outdoors, you’ll want a heavy outdoor cable, which will last much longer if jumping on hard surfaces.
- Simple length adjustment. An easy-to-adjust cable length is extremely important, as it will probably take some tweaking to find your optimum personal cable length.
- Accepts a bare wire cable. If you enter any speed skipping or double under competition, you’ll use a 1/16” bare stainless steel cable, which is the fastest cable available. These will wear out quickly, but will last a little longer if you use a rubber mat or on inside surface (stay off the concrete!).
- Good grip. Look for something with a foam or padded grip. You’ll hold the handles fairly lightly as you get better. When you add sweat, it’s easy for simple plastic handles to become slick and slip out of your hands (if you opt for a plastic handle, use some grip tape).
- Weight. Every serious speed jumper will tell you that it's the arms that wear out before the legs. That means every little bit helps when we're talking handle weight. Look for something under 5oz total weight. The lightest speed rope out there (that we know of) is the Ultra Light Speed rope, which is only 2.4oz including the cable. While this rope doesn't have a ball bearing handle, it is still extremely fast. To reduce weight, the handle features an unbreakable plastic dowel instead of metal ball bearings.
Learning to Speed Jump?
For those just starting out (beginners), I recommend a jump rope that accepts a heavier cable or a PVC cord. These ropes will spin a little slower, but will help you get your timing down, and are more forgiving as you get started (missing with a thinner cable can be painful and leave “tiger stripes”).
Improve Your Speed Scores
The best “speed skippers” in the world make about 7 jumps a second. Last year at the World Jump Rope Championships in Hong Kong, Zongfei Duan of China set a new world record with 210 jumps in 30 seconds. While you might not get to the level of Jake or Zongfei, you can certainly learn to become a proficient speed jumper. See the three techniques for improving your speed jumping scores or our guide to double unders.
About the Author
Matt Hopkins is a former competitive speed jumper and jump rope coach. Matt has won numerous national championships in speed jumping, and his athletes have won several national speed and freestyle titles and have broken world and national speed records. He also taught middle and elementary school PE in Leavenworth WA for 23 years.