Rope jumping has always been a great tool for rehabilitation because it involves synchronizing and combining many movements for improved strength, conditioning, and flexibility. In sports, of course, injuries are eminent and usually result from muscle overuse or imbalance, poor technique, trauma, poor nutrition, fatigue, or lack of concentration.
Rope jumping has been used as a rehabilitation exercise for injured athletes searching for a progressive method to get back in shape while minimizing impact. Rope jumping strengthens muscles that support the tendons and ligaments of the knees, feet, and ankles. Strengthening these supporting muscle groups reduces injury risk and contributes to recovery after injury. This strategy—strengthening muscles and muscle groups that support injured joints, tendons, or ligaments—is practiced in most rehabilitation programs.
When rehabilitating injury in the ankles, feet, or knees, first try a lower-impact activity such as the stationary bike, swimming, or jogging in order to build some strength. Then switch to rope jumping as a graded exercise for improving proprioception and strength in the feet, ankles, knees, wrists, and shoulders. Aim for low impact, low height, and short contact with the jumping surface. Be light on the balls of your feet.
In addition to minimizing ankle injuries, rope jumping also strengthens the calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. In addition to contributing to speed and explosiveness, these muscles also support ligaments and tendons that stabilize the entire knee structure, including the patellar tendon. As with other physical activities, rope jumping is not recommended while you are undergoing the early stages of an injury healing process. However, once the knee joint is strong enough to comfortably manage your body weight, you can incorporate low levels of jump rope training (ideally on a high-rebounding surface) to enhance the rehabilitation process.
Initially, a delicate and low-intensity (100–120 RPM) bounce step is the best rope jumping technique for rehabilitation. I recommend doing 3 of these sessions per week and slowly increasing intensity and duration levels every 4 weeks to allow the knee joint to stabilize while the supporting muscle groups are strengthened. It is important to consult your physician or other health care practitioner before incorporating rope jumping into your rehab program. Once you have done this, remember my cardinal rule of jumping: Jump no more than an inch (2.5 cm) from the surface and land gracefully on the balls of your feet. This technique allows your calves, quadriceps, and hamstrings to absorb the impact of each jump.
Rope jumping can also help athletes improve gripping strength and strengthen muscle groups (including stabilizer muscles) that support the hands, wrists, and elbows—especially important for athletes who play racquet sports or sports requiring throwing or tossing motions (e.g., tennis). These benefits are generated through the effects of the literally hundreds of repetitive wrist turns executed during each rope jumping session. These turns of the wrist draw upon muscle groups responsible for fine motor skills—those actions required for finger, hand, and wrist movements as well as eye-hand coordination, which carry over to catching, throwing, or tossing movements. In addition to developing eye–hand coordination, these movements develop fast-twitch muscle fibers in the forearms, deltoids, and shoulders.
Thus rope jumping can benefit muscle groups and muscle fibers required for execution in nearly every sport and every athletic or training movement. Rope jumping is not only an ideal training technique but also one that can prevent injury. If you jump rope according to my cardinal rule, you will strengthen muscle groups that support your feet, ankles, and knees—and therefore reduce your risk of injury.
Read more about Jump Rope Training, Second Edition.