Start Training Heavy Rope Double-Unders Now: Tips from Rx Smart Gear Founder, Dave Newman

August 31, 2023 by
Image credit: Rx Smart Gear
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Earlier this month at the Games, Roman Khrennikov did his heavy rope double-unders in a way you’ve never seen at the Games. After injuring his foot, the six-foot former frontrunner attempted the movement on just one leg as the arena crowd gave him a standing ovation. Amazingly, he finished the 30 required reps. 

  • Whether you’re injured or not, you may also struggle with double-unders, and now is the time to train for next year’s Open. To help you, few people are more qualified than Dave Newman, the founder of Rx Smart Gear, the longest running jump rope company in the CrossFit space. 

A 15-year CrossFitter himself, Newman has taught at the Power Monkey Camp for over a decade and has personally coached dozens of Games athletes, including Mat Fraser, Tia Clair-Toomey, Rich Froning and current CrossFit Games Champions Laura Horvath and Jeffrey Adler. In our conversation, Newman explains why your hands are in the wrong place, why you’re likely jumping rope using the wrong muscle groups, and why your rope is probably too long. 

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Morning Chalk Up: First off, why should we care about jump rope, especially when there’s so many other skills that we need to focus on in CrossFit? 

Dave Newman: It’s not just that crossovers and triple-unders will inevitably trickle down to the Open. I’d also argue that jumping rope has more impact on a person’s athleticism than any other piece of equipment. It’s great for agility, coordination, balance, accuracy, stamina, bone density and muscle development, and learning new skills like crossovers adds neuro-muscular strengthening to the mix, too. Plus, it’s so easy to change the stimulus. We sell arguably the fastest jump rope on the market (the Evo G2) and also the slowest (the Drag Rope), which completely changes the experience. 

MCU: When you first started CrossFit in 2008, you really struggled with double-unders. What were you doing wrong? 

DN: So I fell into the same boat as everybody else who’s just starting out: You get a rope, try to jump with it, and if it passes under your feet, great. If it doesn’t, then you grab a longer rope. I wasn’t even considering that my hands were misplaced, and that’s always what the case is. A hundred percent of the time, your hands are in the wrong place. 

MCU: Where should your hands be then? 

DN: You need to anchor your hands at the center of your body, which for most people is between the hip crease and the hip bone. This is fundamental. To me, seeing somebody jump with their arms wide out, far away from their body, is as gross as watching somebody catch an ugly snatch barely above their forehead and then press to lock it out. 

MCU: So how do we make that correction? Just tuck our elbows by our side, right? 

DN: That’s the cue that most coaches give, but it isn’t totally right. Instead, think of bending your arms slightly and then pulling your elbows back behind your shoulders. We tell people it should feel like you’re holding a barbell across your hip crease. That’s your hand location. And then you turn your thumbs outward like you’re in a bicep curl position. 

MCU: What about your shoulders? What work are they doing?

DN: Contrary to how you might feel at the end of a double-under workout, your shoulders, delts, and traps should be the least engaged muscle groups. Those are big, blunt muscles that you’re using to perform a more finesse movement, so relying on them will lead to inconsistent rope speed and inconsistent reps. 

Instead, imagine shaking water off your hands. You stand up, relax your arms, and then do this little snapping motion from your elbows, through your wrists, through your fingertips. Most people don’t shake their hands wildly up and down. They do a downward motion that flicks the water away from their hands, and that’s exactly what you want for double unders. Except that your wrists will guide the rope in a circular motion around your body.  We like to say elbows drive while wrists guide.

That’s easy enough, but the real problem comes when your biceps and forearms start to burn out. Then, the natural thing is to move up to the next joint that has mobility, which is the shoulders. But we want to practice the right way and build as much stamina as possible in order to delay that happening for as long as possible.  

MCU: What do you recommend in terms of rope length?

DN: We used to say “take your height and add three feet to it.” But as we’ve become more knowledgeable and seen hundreds of thousands of test cases, I’d really consider that more of a ceiling. It’s a good starting point, but it’s the longest you should ever use. “Your height and add two and a half feet” is a much better recommendation. If you think that you need much longer than that, I’m willing to bet that your hands are definitely in the wrong position. 

MCU: Now that we’ve seen heavy rope double-unders at the Games, how do you suggest we go about training them? 

DN: This year, they used the same rope that was first introduced at the 2016 Games, and I don’t find that rope very challenging, nor do most of the athletes.  The heavy weight of the handles counterbalances the heavy weight in the cable, making it easier to rotate. For that reason, I find it a much better stimulus to leave all the weight in the cable — and keep the handles lightweight — for a more dynamic jumping experience. 

The best way to train heavy jump ropes is to start with a moderate weight, using something like our Posiedon 4 oz or Zeus 8 oz cables. Focus on stabilizing your hand position outside your hip crease and don’t let them get thrown around by the rope. Make higher rebounds to allow the rope to move at a moderate pace. You don’t want to try and turn a heavy rope the same speed as  your speed rope. That would be self sabotage. Lastly, focus on controlling the rope’s contact point.  You still want to lightly graze the ground about 10-12 inches in front of your toes or we say about a shoe length. Try to avoid excessive friction that will slow the rope down even more.

MCU: Is that technique just for heavy double-unders? 

DN: That’s a constant. It doesn’t matter how tall or short you are or how long or short your rope is, and it never changes no matter what the skill is. Single-unders, double-unders, triple-unders, crossovers — the rope should always pass roughly in the same spot making light contact. 

MCU: What about the Games athletes? Can they “cheat” the movement a bit? 

DN: You can’t cheat efficiency. You either are or you aren’t. So, it’s the same recommendation for everyone. I’ve taught at the Power Monkey Camp twice a year for the last 10 years, and the cool thing is that, in the same class, I’ll teach elite CrossFit Games athletes and brand new beginners who’ve never tried a double-under.  They both get the exact same presentation material. The only difference is the beginner will learn their first double under that day and the Games athlete will perfect their triple under that day.  

MCU: Double-under crossovers didn’t come up again at the Games this year. Do you think they’ve gone the way of the Pegboard, i.e. something we’ll only see once in a blue moon? 

DN: I definitely hope not. I was messaging with [Competition Director Adrian] Bozman after the Games, and without giving too much away, he intimated there were plenty of opportunities to see new movements in future competitions. In my opinion, between crossover double-unders and triple-unders, there are a myriad of programming options to create some exciting races. I would definitely keep training those skills regularly — and use the best equipment for the job.

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