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When browsing around the various articles linked in answers here, I keep stumbling over rope jumping in articles or blog post.
I was never good at rope jumping, at least that's what I thought. Actually I never tried to do it. The last time I did it, I was a kid and gave up pretty quickly.

Looking around on amazon gave me the expected results, far too many variations, far too many decisions to make for an item I don't even know how to use properly.

There are different materials for the rope, I've seen nylon, leather and steel.
Also of course different lengths, how do I know which length is right for me?
Some ropes are called speed ropes, is this just another name or is it really a difference?

There are weighted grips available and grips that explicitly mention that the grips are not weighted. I am somehow reminded of jogging with ankle weights here, which supposedly isn't useful.
Does it matter how the rope comes out of the grip: straight or sideways?
Some grips have ball bearings for the rope, sounds reasonable. To take a break just because the rope is twirled wouldn't be motivating, but is this really a concern?

Last thing I spotted was that there are indoor and outdoor ropes, I would definitely start indoor, but I would want to go outside, are there ropes that can do both or should I simply buy one for each purpose? They aren't that expensive after all.

  • I hope I am not asking too many questions at once, as this is a pretty narrow field it might be possible to write one complete answer to all the questions, instead of dividing the question in multiple parts with big overlap. If you think otherwise, please let me know. – Baarn Jan 2 '13 at 13:14
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Rope jumping is a great coordination and conditioning exercise. Here is my take at your parameters (based on countless hours of it..)

Material. As light and thin as possible, that is nylon or leather. Leather is nice but more expensive.

Length. there are a number of methods for finding the correct length. E.g. stand on the rope, pull the handles towards your armpits, for experienced it should be a little below, for inexperienced a little bit higher, see this Google: correct length for a jump rope. My method is to hold the handles, straighten the arms outwards to the sides, if the rope is a bit above my knees, it is right for me.

Weighted grip. I agree with your own analysis, that is, not a must.

Ball bearings. Good to have for faster spinning.

Indoor vs outdoor. Should not be a factor. You can use the same for both.

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I started skipping when I started CrossFit. If you are not good at skipping and are trying to get good enough for fitness, you should look for a rope that spins nicely, is moderately thick and isn't too heavy.

  • Spin: You want it to spin freely because it's much easier to maintain a rhythm. This is important when you are trying to get the intermediate skipping steps. Running on the spot, double-unders, cross-overs. Good skippers can skip with pretty much anything, but something with ball bearings really helps. Also makes it easier to go faster when you are ready.
  • Material: Material is not important because you may be skipping indoors or outdoors, but because you will whip yourself. If you get something heavy and thin, like those cable speed ropes, you will get a nice welt if you miss. So get something not too heavy, and not too thin e.g. PVC. The only concern with skipping outdoors is faster wear on the rope because of what you are skipping on, road, concrete etc.
  • Length: Don't worry about it. A decent rope will allow you to adjust the length. There are various methods that you can find by googling. Be conservative at first. Leave the rope longer than you need when you start out. You can always cut off more rope later.
  • Weight: I have never skipped with weighted handles nor have I ever seen anybody else.

Personally, I have one of the fancy Buddy Lee Aero Speed ropes. A little more expensive, but it's been a really great rope.

Edit: The typical material is PVC, not nylon!

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I like weighted handles and I ALWAYS go for leather rope. I tried nylon rope but it lacked weight to provide for consistent swinging pace. I recently got a Weider Adjustable Weight Leather Jump Rope and am very pleased.

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  • Could you explain why, especially the weighted handles? – Baarn Jan 2 '13 at 15:58
  • Because the weight of both the handles and the rope helps me stabilize the swinging pattern into consistency – amphibient Jan 2 '13 at 16:03
  • @Baarn the weighted handles give your forearms a workout in addition to your calves as the handles are harder to spin.. your arms will tire out eventually so if you want a good forearm workout it's great and burns more calories – Ace Cabbie Apr 28 at 3:05
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Useful elements in all answers so far, I'll just drop a few more suggestions. (Context: started a month ago, daily use since swimming pools and public parks are closed right now so I cannot swim or run.)

There are different materials for the rope, I've seen nylon, leather and steel.

I'd recommend leather, because it's resistant enough to sustain outdoors environments. A thick PVC (perhaps what you referred to as nylon?) rope will also work, but still wear out slightly quicker than leather if used on e.g. concrete or bad/rough asphalt.

For good short descriptions of several ropes in different materials, translate the rope products page from Excellerator (French website, but Google Translate will do a very okay job of it).

Jump ropes are cheap: buy a leather one and a heavier PVC one (see also further below).

(Steel is more violent when you will occasionally whip your back or butt, as I did around a dozen times in my first two weeks. I think it's best if you already have acquired technique and are aiming at a lot of strength gains, but you can get that too from heavy PVC ropes.)

Also of course different lengths, how do I know which length is right for me?

Crossrope's website has good advice about that, but it's a non-issue on most ropes, which are adjustable. I'm ~ 1.75m and the standard 2.85m ropes I bought from general sports stores in my country work perfectly.

Some ropes are called speed ropes, is this just another name or is it really a difference?

It's not just the name, it's really meant to go faster (look at how the rope connects to the handles: the angle is such as to allow for maximum rotation speed).

I have one of those, but as a beginner who's only learnt to do double-unders ten days ago, I believe that this rope will only become fun later. Right now, I'm much more happy using a standard unweighted leather rope, plus a heavy PVC one.

There are weighted grips available and grips that explicitly mention that the grips are not weighted. I am somehow reminded of jogging with ankle weights here, which supposedly isn't useful.

Don't know about jogging with ankle weights (which sounds like torture, I jog and would never do it). However…

Weighted (heavy) ropes are great. I swim a lot of front crawl, and was looking for a way to sustain my shoulder and arm muscles by jumping rope. Using a heavy PVC rope does that. It changes the amount of effort completely: check point 3 of this infographic.

(Crossrope does what looks like great heavy ropes. Most other brands I know of sell heavy ropes where the weights are in the grips, while Crossrope puts all the weight in the rope itself, with slightly different handles.)

A heavier rope is also slower -- great for learning. I really love it, and have bought weights for my previously-unweighted ropes. Note that using weighted/heavy ropes will require adjusting your workout time.

Does it matter how the rope comes out of the grip: straight or sideways?

See my point on speed ropes (sideways). For beginners, I recommend what you hint at in your next point:

Some grips have ball bearings for the rope, sounds reasonable. To take a break just because the rope is twirled wouldn't be motivating, but is this really a concern?

In my experience, it's not much of a concern. Most of my ropes, however, do come with ball bearings (example).

Last thing I spotted was that there are indoor and outdoor ropes […] should I simply buy one for each purpose? They aren't that expensive after all.

I've been using leather and heavy/thick PVC on rough asphalt, twice daily (25' each time) for over a month, and the ropes are doing fine. See my very first point: leather is really good.

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The number of jump rope variations is ridiculous for such a simple device. Like you, I tried jumping rope once or twice as a kid, sorta sucked at it, and gave it up. But I recently revisited the idea of jumping rope as a great winter time / bad weather cardio option. I generally prefer to get outside and do something fun for cardio, but if the weather doesn't cooperate, indoor options are good to have.

I ended up buying a "speed rope" for about $2.50.

The rope itelf is some sort of rubber, I guess, and really light, so you have to go really fast to keep it spinning.

No weights in the handles.

IMO, it's perfect for what I wanted it for. Awesome indoor cardio, though I suppose it'd be no problem to take it outside. I could see a rough concrete surface eventually eating up the rope, but at under $3, it wouldn't be a big deal to replace it once in a while.

As for length, mine is 9', and from what I saw, that seems pretty standard. I'm 6' tall and it's fine. I read somewhere that if you stand on the rope, the handles should come to mid-chest. If 9' feet is too long, you could easily shorten the rope by tying a knot at the handle. If you're really tall, I suppose you will need to seek out a longer rope for yourself.

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