Mobility – Strength – Skill
To maximize your potential, capacity and efficiency for Double Unders you must master its specific mobility, strength and skill demands: the three-headed monster every athlete must conquer. Let’s take on the monster one “head” at a time.
Up front, when compared to overhead squats or pull-ups, it seems as though double unders have no mobility requirements. However, mobility does not equal flexibility.
Just because an athlete is flexible does not mean they will move well. The difference is being able to express torque (i.e. power) through the required Range of Motion.
To execute Double Unders efficiently, an athlete needs to have mobile, strong calves. This means you must have the ability to repeatedly rebound without losing power or breaking down. Again, expressing torque through the Range of Motion is mobility. Developing the elastic qualities of the calves, ankles and feet is critical to expressing power, strength and eventually skill.
Improving the elastic qualities of the calves can include: 1) stretches 2) rolling and smashing tissues and 3) reducing inflammation.
The Elevated Achilles Stretch (below) targets lower on the calf to the heel cords and soleus.
The Calf Stair Stretch (see below) can be easily done on a box, curb or stair and it targets the higher, outer muscle of the calf, while bending the knee targets lower on the calf and the deep muscle underneath.
Also, using a lacrosse ball, foam roller or manual massager (see example) to relax the neural input to the calves will make them feel less stiff and more relaxed.
In order to solidly hit the positions needed and be safe the following strength baselines are suggested:
1) 100+ “Pogo” Jumps (Repeat Jump Ability): [view video]
Don’t assume because you have a several double unders you have the ability to sustain them. The ability to rebound to the same height with the same amount of ground contact time, over and over, requires a lot of strength endurance.
2) 2-min Wiffle Ball Spin (Wrist Strength & Stamina)
This is another strength endurance test. Many gyms have jump rope handles that are attached to wiffle balls. This allows you to spin the rope and get the feel and timing of double unders without having to jump. It’s common to see people who aren’t solid with double unders having the wiffle balls flying all over the place. Ideally, the wiffle balls should be perfectly synced, spinning quickly and symmetrical relative to your body.
You can also call skill “coordination” or “timing” …it’s learning the movement. It takes time. There is no Voodoo for mastering double unders. You must consistently put in practice. As you do here is what to focus on…
Technique Focal Points
(1) Hand Position
The ideal hand position for double unders is right at your pockets. Arms long and relaxed with the rope handles pointed straight out the the sides. Pointed directly out to the sides is especially important if you have a cheaper rope that doesn’t allow for two way bearing action (both the spin and a swivel).
This is a position that you could be comfortable in all day. Using a relatively short rope forces you maintain this relaxed, efficient position with the hands tucked in close to your hips and spinning the rope quickly.
Hold the rope lightly, using your fingers, rather than grasping it with a fist. Pinch the handle between your thumb and index finger, allowing for much better dexterity.
After all, would you draw by holding a marker in your fist?
(2) Spin from the Wrists
This is only possible if you have already addressed and fixed hand position. If your hands aren’t at your pockets then it gets much harder to spin from the wrists. Try beating your eggs with a straight elbow… pretty awkward, right?
Keep those hands in tight to the body.
Still having issues with your wrist action?
Pretend like instead of a jump rope you were holding two Expo markers and you were drawing little circles on whiteboards. The smaller the circle, the faster the rope, the less high you have to jump and the faster reps tick by.
(3) Elbow Position
An important thing to remember is you want the apex of your rope’s swing to be aligned with your ground contact point.
In other words, you want your wrist over the balls of your feet.
Too often athlete push their elbows forward so the rope contacts out in front of their feet, or they might even pull the hands behind the midline of the body, resulting in the rope catching on their toes.
A helpful cue to remember is “Hands in Front, Elbows in Back.”
This ensures a relaxed shoulder position and a correct ground contact of the rope.
(4) Rope Ground Contact
A good goal is to have your rope just barely graze the floor on each pass under your feet. Think of your rope similarly to your heels. You don’t need your heels to slam into the ground to know where they are in space.
Having your heels just barely kissing the ground each jump is plenty of feedback. Same goes for your rope, it doesn’t need to slam into the ground.
The harder your rope hits the ground, the more your rope slows. The goal is to keep that rope moving quickly the entire way ‘round the circle. It should just barely touch the floor under the ball of your foot.
This ensures that it is staying as low as possible while at the same time slowing down minimally.
And lastly, that subtle ground contact gives you a little auditory feedback which helps you maintain your double under rhythm.
(5) Body Line
We’ve all seen a person who stays “long and relaxed” during single unders, but as soon as they transition to double unders they pull their feet up or pike at their hip.
This change in alignment causes you to lose rhythm and fatigue quickly. There are two main causes for this change.
First, the athlete often believes that lifting their feet gives them more hang time to be able to clear the rope under their feet. It doesn’t. I promise.
Second, they are trying really hard to spin the rope quickly. But this prevents you from relaxing and allowing your body to be long and extended in the air.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t have a cool drill or anything to fix it.
Continue to practice double unders with the goal in your mind to minimize all movement in the air and be as relaxed as possible. Maybe instead of breaking your record for most consecutive jumps you can attempt to be the most relaxed you have ever been doing double unders. Sexy, I know.
(6) Breathing During DUs
Breathing during double unders can follow one of two cadences, also known as breath ratios. Either you can choose 4:1 or 2:1, that is double unders per breath.
2:1 | Inhale for one jump, exhale for one jump. This is for athlete who are slower at double unders, lower fitness level and in setting with high fatigue and metabolic demand.
4:1 | Inhale for two jumps, exhale for two jumps. This is for athletes who are fast at double unders, with a higher fitness level and in settings with low fatigue and metabolic demand.
My recommendation for beginners would be start with 2:1 until you can do 100 unbroken double unders in less than a minute. This will allow you to minimize thinking about the breath because you are working to build movement proficiency and consistency. Once you can do 100 per minute when fresh, you can begin to play with switching to the 4:1 breath ratio.
Treat it as a new skill (because it is) and first practice in unfatigued settings before trying to hold to 4:1 in a workout. You will be breathing twice as slow but if you are really fast with the rope, the cadence often feels comfortable and allows you to stay more relaxed. I will often do 4:1 in the first round of a workout, and then switch back to 2:1 once I come back around to double unders when I am tired.
The goal should not be to do one or the other all the time. The goal should be to give yourself movement options so you can pick which is most appropriate in a given setting. Just like you should have at least two techniques for Bar-Facing Burpees or Box Jump Overs (one fast and one sustainable) based on fatigue and workout pace, you should also have options for breathing if a movement allows for it. Double unders really only allow for efficient breathing at 4:1 or 2:1. Therefore, practice both.
Want to listen to my podcast episode on Double Under Development?
Click here to listen to that Episode of The Fitness Movement.
Progressions & Drills
This is a 12-step Program. …No not that kind. *face palm*
Let’s call it a 12-Step progression, and it is meant to take you from zero to hero. The goal is to meet you wherever your current fitness and skill level is and move you over the course of several months (possibly years) to being able to complete big, unbroken sets in a workout with other movements with relative ease and speed. Since this progression is comprehensive not every drill is beneficial, appropriate or even possible for a certain athlete.
You do not have to do every single drill / step every time you practice. My recommendation would be doing a minimum of a 10-minute block of time to practice a minimum of three times per week. This is ideal for motor learning / skill acquisition. As you begin practicing, spend almost all your time on steps one through six.
As you gain experience spend more and more time on attempts (Step 7 & 8) and sport-specific attributes (Steps 9-12). If you find a particular drill isn’t helpful or you don’t understand it, skip it.
For example, I personally never do Step 8: Double-Single-Double, but I know several athletes who found this drill very helpful. Treat this 12-step progression as a template or guideline…not gospel.
It is important to know beginners who are older (e.g. Master athletes) and have a lower training age (have not been training long) will like spend significantly more time on steps one through six.
Athletes who are new to double unders but have a much older training age and a much younger biological age will need to spend much less time on the first have of the progression and quickly progress to steps six through twelve. [Of course a ex-Division I high hurdles star will learn a bounding movement quicker than an ex-couch potato empty-nester.]
This is not good or bad…it is. Be realistic with yourself and be patient. Skills take time to appreciate, much like stocks.
Sometimes they ‘click’ right away and you get the hang of it, but often they take lots of practice and time for small incremental gains. And like stocks there will be up days and down days. Don’t be a ‘day-trader’ by getting excited or frustrated (emotionally dependent) on how you perform on a given day.
Understand that skills & stocks are meant to go up and down and it doesn’t matter if you are in it for the long haul. Rather, care about the trend. When you get frustrated, ‘zoom out’ and put things in perspective. Ask yourself, where were you at six months ago at this time?
Some days things will go well and you will move through the progression quickly and hit a new personal best in unbroken reps. However, there will be an equal number of days (if not more) where you feel uncoordinated and everything simply feels ‘off.’
What is your #1 piece of advice for Double Unders?
Step 1: Calf & Wrist Prep
Short Hops, Wiffle Ball Spins & the Double Down Drill
The first step every time you practice is getting warm. Your tissues in the calves, forearms and shoulders do the most work during double unders so you need to make sure you prep them accordingly. The easiest way to do this is by doing easier version of the double under. The most basic version is small hops in place alternated with spinning wiffle ball jump rope handles. Two or three sets of 30s each should do the trick. Single unders can be subbed for step one if you don’t have, want to buy or want to make wiffle ball handles.
The wiffle ball jump rope handles are an excellent tool for learning how to spin a jump rope quickly without having to worry about the lower body or timing. You should be able to spin the balls quickly so you can hear them zipping through the air and they should be perfectly synced. The plane from the balls should overlap several feet in front of your body, if the rope were about six feet long each.
If you don’t have wiffle ball handles, here is a great substitution you can do with your rope.
Step 2: Single Unders
Single unders are the most fundamental version of jumping rope. It’s likely that before starting Functional Fitness, unless you were in MMA, Boxing or Wrestling, the last time you skipped rope was grade school. So its very possible this is where you pick back up, many years down the road. When doing single unders make sure you rebound rather than land and jump. In other words, the total time you are in contact with the ground should be very short because you are springing back up right away. While landing softly and jumping again is a sustainable method for doing single unders, the goal is to do double unders and it is impossible to do double unders unless you rebound. Again, the goal is minimum ground contact time.
You can also play with the speed of your single unders while maintaining the rebound jump. Play with manipulating speed both faster and slower (see Step 5 below).
Watch: How should a beginner best learn all the skill in CrossFit?
Step 3: Pogo Hops (to DU Height)
Not to insult your intelligence here, but double unders require you to be in the air long enough for the rope to pass under your feet twice. This means you must be able to sustain a higher jump than you can for single unders for large, unbroken sets of double unders. Look back to the strength requirements. The baseline requirement is 100+ Pogo Jumps. I encourage you to actually test it. That means 100+ where ground contact time doesn’t increase and height is consistent. If you have never done double unders before, guess on how high you need to jump each rep to get a rope under your feet twice, and ask an experienced athlete or coach to watch you.
Pogo Hops should be just like a Pogo stick…straight up and straight down like a piston. I recommend holding your hands by your side (or even some expo markers) while you do them so you don’t use your arms for momentum. After all, you can use your arms to jump when doing double unders.
Pogo Hops are a great tool for reinforcing double under jump mechanics because the jump technique often breaks down (arching, piking, high knees, etc.) when doing double under attempts.
Step 4: Penguin Hops
Penguin Hops are Pogo Jumps with a double hip tap added in the air of each jump. The jump height should be the same as your double under. Pay attention to the rhythm of the sound. It will repeat in sequence: the punch of the feet into the floor followed by an audible two slaps on the thigh in quick succession. “Punch, Clap-Clap, Punch Clap-Clap.” If you feel like penguin trying to fly, your probably doing it right. Also, turn down the music so you can hear your body.
Shoulders should stay down away from your ears, arms straight the whole time, slap using wrist-action and gaze straight ahead at a focal point on a wall.
Step 5: Slow, High Single Unders
This drill is just as it sounds. There are two focal points. One, make sure the lower body movement stays consistent and resembles your Pogo Hops. Two, since the rope turns very slowly, it encourages you to turn the rope with your shoulders and arms rather than your wrists. Don’t let it. Spin from your wrists by drawing tiny circles.
Step 6: The Invisible rope
The is exactly like the Penguin Hops. The only difference is instead of slapping your thighs twice, you flick your wrist twice in the air. You can hold expo markers or you can simply pinch your thumb and middle fingers together in both hands. It should be snapping and light…as if you were shaking your hands dry because the bathroom didn’t have any paper towels. Elbow should be slightly bent with your hands near your front pockets. Now you are developing feel instead of sound. You will need to develop both to get double unders.
Step 7: Double Under Attempts
Start each double under attempt with at least one single under before attempting doubles. It is much easier to transition from 1 to 2 than from 0 to 2. This will help with consistency.
As you get better at double unders, complete only one single under initiating your set of double unders. Consider the single under to be part of the set up.
Allow this step to be fun rather than frustrating. You don’t see an infant learning to walk and each time she falls shake her head in disgust. Children stay out of their own way, which allows them to learn much faster than adults. We can learn a lot from children. Be child-like when you learn a new skill. Have fun and be okay with messing up because that is how you learn. It’s not about getting X amount of unbroken double unders today, its about learning as much as possible so over time you get better.
That being said, feel free to celebrate a little bit when you hit a new number, you’ve earned it.
Step 8: Single-Single-Double
This drill is working on rhythm and consistency. Sometimes athletes are unable to sustain double unders more than a few reps, but than can master doing a few single unders and then throwing a double under in every so often. Much more than 2:1 single to double under ratio makes this drill awkward so stick no more than one double under for every two single unders. Pivoting between singles and doubles is helpful for some athletes to learn timing, while others find it throws off their rhythm when doing straight doubles. If the drill works, great. If it doesn’t, no worries.
Step 9: Unbroken Sets
Next it is about developing a consistent cadence for both jump height and the rope spin speed. The more consistent you can be attempt-to-attempt the more success you will have with building unbroken sets. Allow yourself to relax and have a soft focus, allowing your gaze to fall on a specific point out in front of you. Relax your face and shoulders, which will help your wrists be more quick and snappy. Over time you will begin to hit significant double under milestones…10, 25, 50 and 100.
Once you have hit 100 unbroken double unders, it is time for step 10. Do not move to step 10 until you have 100 unbroken.
Step 10: Rope Accelerations
You have a solid base of unbroken double unders and it’s time work on getting quicker at them. Start completing about ten double unders at your normal cadence. As you continue past ten, begin to spin your rope faster and faster while simultaneously jumping lower and lower. The faster you spin, the lower you must jump. When you mess up, rest fully and repeat.
Once you can hit 100 unbroken double unders in 54 seconds or less you are ready for step 11. Do not move to step 11 until you can do 100 in 54s or less.
Step 11: Training Protocols
Now, it is time to build fitness. One way to define fitness is maintaining skill through fatigue. There are a number of ways you can accomplish this. Play around with different protocols because you will see all different types of workouts. Think of step 11 as interval and EMOM work. It is much easier to control work and rest factors and total volume when doing this type of work. Feel free to experiment and use double unders to spice up your other strength or conditioning work.
EMOM 12: 6/4 Calorie Row + 25 Double Unders
Every 2:00 x 5 Rounds (10 Minutes)
-5 Chest-to-Bar Pull-ups
-20 Double Unders
-5 Handstand Push-ups
-20 Double Unders
EMOM 15 (5 Rounds)
1) 15/12 Calorie Assault Bike
2) 9 Overhead Squats 95/65 lbs
3) 60 Double Unders
-5 Back Squat @82%
(15s Rest / Transition)
-30s for Max Double Unders
Step 12: The Sport of Fitness
The final step is putting double unders into your normal workouts. Putting double unders into your workouts before ‘graduating’ from steps 9, 10 and 11 will result in you getting poor workouts. Since you goal likely doesn’t involve being the double under king or queen at the expense of other aspects of your fitness, avoid doing double unders in workouts until they are “easy.” If you lack skill and are constantly tripping over your rope in a workout, you aren’t getting better at double unders, and you aren’t getting more fit.
On the contrary, once you have earned the right to do double unders in workouts your skill will be sustainable and resilient through fatigue, resulting in improved fitness. Oh, and of course those all-important bragging rights!
(1) Not Owning a Rope
If you don’t own a jump rope, good luck learn double unders. Each time you pick up a rope a the gym, it’s a different length. Imagine trying to learn to walk on your hands by practicing each day on a different surface. Craziness. …so is not having your own rope.
If you are in the market for a good jump rope, I recommend the RPM Session 4 Jump Rope. I own two. The selling point for me in RPM’s no kink technology in their cables. It’s a game changer if your rope will go into a gym bag at some point.
(2) Sore Calves? Look to Your Wrist Speed.
We’ve all been there. Tender calves the morning after double under day. But provided you are doing double unders fairly consistently and in a reasonable amount, you shouldn’t be getting super sore. If you are it is likely a sign that you jumping too high.
With a skill like Box Jumps, there is one set height that you must cover every single rep. This isn’t the case with double unders. There are some people who jump 9 inches off the ground, some who jump 6 inches and still others that jump 3.
Imagine if you could cut the total height you jumped in a double under workout in half. Your time spend doing double unders would be cut in half as well. And oh yeah, your calves wouldn’t get sore either. Win-win.
But here is the deal. If you jump less high you have to spin the rope quicker. Working on intervals of double unders where you spin as quickly as possible. This will show you how little you really have to jump if your rope speed is lightning fast.
Check out this slow motion video of me doing Double Unders.
More slow motion & full speed videos of me doing Double Unders.
(3) Loud Music. Scale off Sound.
One of the best tips for people who haven’t mastered double unders is turning off music. Loud music prevents you from hearing the rope move through the air. When learning a complex new skill, like double unders, you brain needs get as many senses involves as possible. Using your ears to hear where the rope is allows you to get in better quality practice.
Lastly, the same thing goes for a crowded room of jump ropers. Having a dozen or more other people jumping at the same time as you might be worse than music. Try to get some practice time alone in a quiet place (maybe before or after class) for the best learning to occur.
(4) Your Jump Rope is Too Long.
As a coach, I constantly see people with a number of double unders getting tripped up early in a set. One of the biggest causes for this is having a rope that is too long.
A long rope throws off ideal double under positioning in a few key ways.
(1) Hand Position (2) Rotating from the Elbows & Shoulders (3) Rope Friction & (4) Pre-set Jump Ropes based on height can be inaccurate
#1: Hand Position
The ideal hand position for double unders is right at your pockets. Arms long and relaxed with the rope handles pointed straight out the the sides. This is a position that you could be comfortable in all day.
A long rope forces you to hold the handles out to the sides in order to keep the rope from being too long. People often exaggerate putting their hands out as they get tired, which further shortens the rope.
And then they think, “I need a shorter rope because it keeps getting caught on my feet.” The opposite is true.
A shorter rope will force you to keep your hands tucked in close to your hips and spin the rope quickly.
Here is a great drill to fix an improper hand position…
#2: Shoulder & Elbow Action
The spin of the rope should be generated from the wrist. If our hands aren’t at our pockets then it gets much, much harder to spin from the wrists.
Tomorrow morning attempt beating your eggs with a straight elbow held away from your body. Pretty awkward right? Don’t do it with double unders either. Keep those hands just in front of the body and spin from the wrists.
Pretend like instead of a jump rope you were holding two Expo markers and you were drawing little circles on whiteboards. The smaller the circle, the faster the rope, the less high you have to jump and the faster reps tick by.
#3: Rope Friction
If your rope is long you will have way more friction than someone with a short rope.
The ideal jump rope is short enough where is just barely ever touches the floor even with your arms long by your pockets.
A rope that barely touches the floor produces very little friction.
Most gym-goers have ropes that are so long they slap the ground out in front of their feet and then bounce / slides under. That’s a lot of friction. Basically the rope comes to a stop every time it hits the floor and you have to get it spinning again. Not efficient. The goal should be to do the least work possible.
Again, I’ve seen people with very long ropes think their rope is too short because the rope hit out in front of their feet and bounced off the ground catching their toes.
Related Read: What I learned from 15,000 Double Unders in 30 Days
#4: Pre-set Jump Rope using Height Can Be Inaccurate
I’m 5’7”. If I use the ropes provided at my gym I use the ones that are marked for a person who is 4’6” to 5’0”. Long story short you can’t assume that because the label on your gym’s jump ropes says to pick up the orange rope that you should do it. First of all, not everyone who is the same height will have the same limb length and even if they did, in my experience most pre-set jump ropes are much too long.
Determining Rope Length
Holding your jump rope handles, take one foot and step on the middle of the rope. When you pull the slack out of the rope and stand tall you should have the end of the rope (where it meets the handles) be at or slightly below your nipples. Bottom of armpit or higher is way too long.
Now that I’ve convinced you to shorten your rope don’t run off and shorten it six inches all at once. That’s the perfect way to lose your dubs completely. Slowly, over the course of weeks or months, take an inch or two off at a time. Patience will allow you to learn how to find better, more efficient positions with a shorter rope.
A 12-Week Row, AirBike, Run Program
If you want to reach your potential in the Sport of Fitness, you must have elite fitness. In other words… conditioning.
That’s why this program focuses on the “3 Kings” of Cyclical Movement: Rowing, AirBike & Running.
Are you ready to build a massive engine and reign as Cyclical Supremacy?