This is not just another “jump higher, spin the rope faster” post on how to accomplish double unders. I should know, I have read every single article out there, bought every type of skipping rope and I spent nearly 4 years throwing ropes, having tantrums, swearing and getting almost to the point of quitting CrossFit with no success before I approached the problem differently and succeeded. This is an engineer’s approach on how to look at all of the different parts of the puzzle and correctly analyse where you may be going wrong.
Let’s face it, in theory a ‘double under’ is not a complicated movement from a ‘moving parts’ perspective. You jump and spin a rope under said jump twice, before your feet hit the floor again. Certainly it is not as complex as a Snatch or Clean from a technical perspective, but there is no doubt like myself that they are the number 1 cause of bad language and disappointment in CrossFit boxes worldwide.
There is a cross section of the CrossFit community that struggle with them and then there is an even smaller group that really really struggle with them (this was me). Whether it was because our mothers didn’t let us crawl enough or we cannot do the ‘pat your head rub your tummy drill, I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter, the outcome is the same – double unders suck for us.
After 4 years of trying I finally got them and now I have an Annie time of under 6 minutes. When I mean 4 years of trying, I mean 4 years of practice, focus, reading, practice, new rope, practice, try new things, practice. At the end of 4 years, standing at the finals of a competition with my rope by my side, not being able to do a single double under closely followed by Open Workout 14.1 where I got to the second round (just), I knew I had to do something different.
This is really a tale of two disciplines. The first is ‘practice and persistence’ but the second is that at some point if you keep doing the same things you will achieve the same results and there has to be a limit of trying something that is not working. So I treated this like an engineering problem, went back to its fundamentals, broke it down and rebuilt the skills to succeed in a few months where I had failed for years.
This is my progression to successful double unders.
In essence a double under is simple and as everyone used to tell me, just jump higher and spin the rope faster. Well that fundamentally is true. From an engineering perspective you need to jump high enough and then spin the rope with enough velocity (speed) to ensure that it passes twice through the space between your feet and the floor. There is two factors here, time and speed. You must jump high enough to ensure enough time elapses so that a particular speed the rope has enough time to pass under you twice. Drop the time or the speed of the rope and the equation collapses. And this is just to get one, never mind stringing them together.
One last thing before we start your progression and that is double unders must be done calmly to be done efficiently (I cannot believe I am saying this, I could kill those f#&$en things). That is really important though, in all the exercises below, be calm and breathe.
Let us look at the first part of the equation – Time
To enable sufficient time in the air you need to jump high enough, but how much of a time interval do you need to create? Well, that time can vary and it will depend on one single factor, how fast you can spin that rope and with some of the new ropes that is fairly fast.
The super-fast ropes are for more advanced athletes but as a starting point for beginners learning double-unders it is important to learn them correctly so that when you do master them you can string them together without re-learning technique. For this you need to learn the ‘pogo stick’.
Exercise 1 : Do 20 simple pogo stick jumps without flicking up your knees (calmly and breathing slowly)
For the pogo stick, get rid of your rope and standing straight and tall jump high without bending your knees significantly and with your hands by your side.
When you can successfully complete this unbroken, we need to try and work out a simple rhythm and work it across a time domain. To do this we need a metronome (you can get some apps for your smartphone, tablet by searching ‘metronome’ in your app store of choice). To get continuity and rhythm we need to not only train our body physically to do the jumps continuously but we need to train our bodies to achieve a rhythm and to do this we will combine the jumping with the metronome.
Exercise 2 : 5 sets of 15 jumps to a 100 beats/minute (b/m) metronome beat
The exercise above is the end goal and you may need a few weeks of practice to be able to achieve it, but start from the start. Set your metronome and get jumping. You should time the bottom of the jump to the beat of the metronome and every time the metronome clicks you should be at the bottom cycle of the jump (landing and taking off again). Again stay calm and breathe. When you can do 15 in a row, rest for a minute and do it again until you can do 5 x 15 sets with a minutes rest in between with perfect timing against the beat of the metronome.
If you are doing this you are automatically jumping high enough and generating enough time for a rope to pass under your feet twice. 100 beats per second is a great number, you may speed this up as you get better but based on our testing this is the best place to start.
Video yourself to ensure that you are not kicking backwards at the top of the jump, your hands are staying by your side and that you are perfectly calm with a slight bend in the knees and vertically efficient.
So you have successfully achieved this.? Hand me my rope and let’s go I hear you say. Not so fast grasshopper, if you get you rope now you will undo the good work you have done. You have successfully achieved the first part of our double under equation – time. By using the metronome set at 100bpm you are, by shear physics, spending enough time in the air to let an average speed fast rope spin under that gap twice. Now let’s get to the speed part.
To achieve the second part, we need a cheap rope (the cheapest rope you can find) and a medium level double under rope (personally I think the Rogue Speed Rope 2.0 is perfect as the longer handles allow a faster rate of rotation for beginners. I also love the RPM speed rope 2.0 but it is generally not for beginners).
One of the biggest things I have noticed in athletes that struggle with double unders is a deficiency or difference in their right and left movement mechanics that results in a difference in spin rates which throws the spin off. For our first exercise we are going to train our body mechanics to spin effectively before we do anything else. This not only trains your mechanics but is also teaches you the correct speed you are going to need to achieve. Join me in getting your cheap rope and cutting it in half!
Exercise 3 : Single sided, standing spins on a 100b/m metronome beat (3 x 1 min per side)
Standing on the ground (not jumping), and alternating between the left and right arms as required you are going to spin the freshly cut half rope twice so that it hits the ground on the second rotation at the stroke of the metronome. Work initially on 30 seconds per side and then work to 1 minute a side. Remember like the time exercised, to be calm and practice your breathing while doing this.
Depending on your body mechanics you may master this in an hour or a month. This was the secret to my success. When I first did this I could get my right hand no problems but my left would literally wrap around my hand and not spin after the first 1 to 2 revolutions. I spent over a month practising this. I had to literally re-teach my left hand to spin the rope correctly and at the right speed.
It is important to not let your hands come too far away from your body. Even at full speed your hands should be close to your body and not continually move away from your body while spinning the rope. If your hands come out from your body, you shorten the rope length in relation to the floor and may trip yourself up.
Exercise 4 : Double sided, standing spins on a 100b/m metronome beat
This time we are going to do both sides. Standing on the ground (again not jumping) with each half of your dissected rope, work up to a minute spins with both hands where the rope hits the ground every second rotation on the metronome beat. Work on this until you can do 5 x 1 min against a perfect metronome beat.
Exercise 5 : Double unders with your cut rope on a 100b/m metronome beat
So theoretically now you have both time and speed on your side. If you have hit the metronome beats then you definitely have both parts of the equation. We now are quite simply going to put the 2 things we have just mastered individually that fit perfectly together, together. So get the cut rope in both hands and do simulated double unders against the metronome beat. Do them just like a double under, and make sure the rope ends are hitting the ground on the second rotation at the right metronome timing.
Well done, we are almost there. All we need to do is put it all together…don’t get flustered, just be like Fonzie and be cool! Go and get your good rope (don’t cut it in half), unpack it carefully, set it to the correct height (see below) give it a light kiss on the handles and let’s do this.
Exercise 6 : Double Under That Bad Boy (but with a metronome first)
Set your metronome nice and loud to the same timer you have been using and with a few single skips to warm up close your eyes and do what you have practised. Yes, I said close your eyes, breath and listen to the metronome and match the jump and rope spin just like you did in Exercise 5.
Start initially at 15 seconds and if that works don’t get to excited and panic with elation, just remain calm and breathe. Work to 30 seconds and up to a minute. Yes, that is one minute of double unders with your eyes closed and listening to a metronome! Congrats you got double unders but since you cannot set the metronome up at your Box, the final progression is obviously to get rid of the metronome and open your eyes.
Once you have finished, high fiving your friends, bragging on social media and not fearing Annie ever again you can refine your jump, your rope speed and try new faster ropes. Remember the equation stays the same, it is time versus speed. The faster you can spin your rope the less time you will need to get it through the gap twice…and stay calm and breathe.
A note on rope length : There is a lot of different recommendations on rope length and you can refine it over time but as a general rule if you stand straight with your feet shoulder width apart and standing on the rope with one foot, the end of the handles should come up to between your nipples and your upper chest.