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Jumping rope isn't that tough, which is why kids love it so much. Boxers use it routinely to build cardiovascular endurance and stamina needed to make it to the last round. It also helps improve footwork, coordination, and balance. Muhammad Ali said that he loved skipping rope as part of his training. It helped perfect what he called his "prancing and dancing" in the ring.

It's best to start out slow and steady, so you don't get tripped up—especially if you haven't jumped rope since your elementary school days. However, since our workout calls for quite a bit of jumping rope, building to 12-minute sessions, you'll need to mix it by learning some footwork and arm moves. Before trying any tricks, keep these guidelines in mind:

* Keep it simple, relax, and find your rhythm.
* Jump with both feet and land on the balls of your feet.
* Lift your feet off the floor just high enough for the rope to pass quickly. Avoid jumping too high or landing too hard.
* Wear sneakers with plenty of padding to absorb the shock of your body weight. (Lightweight cross-trainers or running shoes are best.) Always wear socks to prevent blisters.
* Bend your knees slightly, rather than locking them. This will help absorb the force of your body weight.
* Keep your shoulders relaxed and your hands at your sides and turn with your wrists—not with your arms.
* Be patient. Start out slowly, and then increase your speed once you become more comfortable.

The right rope

There are many different kinds of jump ropes. When choosing the right one for you, make sure the length is correct. Hold the rope and stand with your feet on the middle. If the length is just right, the handles should just reach your armpits. The handles should be thick and comfortable.

Once you've gotten the hang of jumping, try running in place while turning the rope for variety and an additional challenge. Turn the rope and step over it with one foot. On the next turn, step over the rope with the other foot. You should feel like you're jogging in place while jumping rope.

Coach's corner

Jumping rope improves footwork and balance. Skipping from foot to foot involved in jumping rope is great practice for shifting your weight into your punches.

"I used to hate jumping rope and not be able to do it. But after three months of getting laughed at, I now can jump for 20 minutes at a time!” —Alexis, age 23

How fast to go

It's important to gauge how hard your body is working, based on how you feel, not how you think you're supposed to feel. (For some people, walking up one flight of stairs is all it takes to get short of breath. For others, it'll take running up 10 flights to get that same response.)

That's why, when it comes to your rope skipping, we're not going to tell you how fast to turn the rope or how many jumps to squeeze in per minute. Instead, pace yourself based on your perceived level of exertion, using this one-to-10 scale:

1-2: Just barely moving

You're moving, but you're certainly not putting yourself out at all. Think window shopping or strolling through the park.

3-4: Easy

This is your brisk, warm-up pace. Your blood is pumping, and your muscles warm, but you're still breathing at or close to normal.

5-6: Moderate

Now, you're starting to work hard. You should feel your heart pounding and sweat forming on your forehead. You should also be breathing faster than normal, but not so hard that you can't hold a conversation without gasping for air between sentences.

7-8: Intense

You can feel your heart beating. You're breathing so heavily that you can't talk without pausing for air between phrases. In the ring, this is how you'll feel when you're going all out during the last 30 seconds of the last round.

9-10: All out

You are performing at your body's maximum capacity, which you can only sustain for a very, very short period of time. (If ever you're working this hard, there is probably a hungry bear running toward you.)

You should start out jumping at an easy pace, then move to a moderate level followed by an intense level. Because it's difficult to go "all out" for very long, that level is too intense. And if you're barely moving, you'll need to push harder to reap full benefit.