The Ultimate Guide to Double-Unders
Written by Michele Vieux & Nichole Kribs
Some of us grew up jumping rope, participating in events like Jump Rope for Heart and other jump-a-thons. Double Dutch was a common game on the playground for many. Boxers and other fighters are known for their crazy rope skills as well – crisscrossing the rope while spinning in circles and jumping on one foot.
Then there are those of us who get tripped up even looking at a rope but WANT to be able to perform fancier versions than the sloppy single jump, not only to look cool but so that we can get the biggest bang for the buck on our workouts.
No matter where you are in your jumping journey, there’s always room for improvement. This guide will help advance you to the next level of Double-Under Ninja whether you’re already knocking out 10 in a row or if you’ve set your sites on your first rep.
Let’s start from the beginning. If you are past this point in your journey, you can skip down to the skills and drills portion to refine your jumping and spinning technique.
Double-unders, or dubs, as they are also known, is a way of jumping rope but instead of the rope passing under the feet once for each jump, it passes under twice. The speed of the jump remains the same, but the speed of the rope must be much quicker to execute these.
1 Jump + 2 Rope Revolutions = 1 Double-Under
What better way to increase the heart rate with little equipment and space needed, especially if the weather outside is not conducive to running or you don’t have access to the outdoors? This exercise requires only you, a rope and a tiny bit of floor space but gives you one of the biggest bangs for the buck as far as cardio and more!
The double-under provides many benefits for athletes, like providing a great neurological stimulus, improved general physical fitness (cardio) and assists with agility, balance, accuracy and coordination. Why is developing neurological adaptations important? Well this can help neural pathways linked to muscles be more efficient in transmitting messages!
Although some of the benefits are similar between double-unders and running for improved general fitness, dubs offer more for neurological adaptations than running does. The two also have some things in common when it comes to technique, however, it is still possible to run with poor technique but improper technique on double-unders usually means that you aren’t able to consistently complete reps and/or that you leave the gym after a workout that includes them with whip and lash marks on your arms and legs.
With both running and double-unders, poor technique can lead to injury, so it is recommended that you manage your volume and get a coach’s eyes on you before attempting too much distance or too many reps.
Of course, dubs work your feet, calves, quads, abs and even forearms and shoulders. But, the number one muscle worked in this exercise is the heart! Just a short burst of dubs – or even just ATTEMPTING them – gets your heart pumping like no other exercise out there (other than the Assault Bike).
Not all of our athletes should be attempting to master this skill. If you have plantar fasciitis or arthritis of the knee, hip or ankle then the repetitive jumping will have too much of an impact on those joints and the foot, possibly worsening those injuries. Check out the section below on alternative movements if you fall into this category.
There are so many rope manufacturers and pretty color combinations to choose from when selecting a jump rope to do double-unders. But all are not the same, especially when you’re first starting out.
The length of the rope is important regardless of which type of rope and which weight you choose. There are two ways to determine the proper length of the jump rope. The first is “static” rope length.That’s the actual length of a rope not in motion. Stand on the middle of the rope and pull up either side. The handles should be about armpit height or if you’re new a little bit higher.
The second is “dynamic” rope length. That’s the rope in motion where the athlete’s mechanics can influence the effective length of the rope. Again, for those who are newer, a little bit longer rope is usually desired. When standing, there should be a little bit of slack on the floor, but not so much that you’re going to trip all over it. Most places you may purchase a rope can help with that.
The weight of the rope also matters. If you are just starting on your double-under venture then a heavier rope may be more beneficial for you. A heavier rope allows for more feedback so you can ‘feel’ where the rope is when jumping.
For those who have double-unders but are looking to improve in efficiency and speed then a lighter rope with ball bearing handles is recommended. The light rope, coupled with a ball bearing handle, will allow you to whip your wrists quickly for a fast turn over on the rope, making for very speedy double-unders.
And yes, you should purchase your own rope so that it is the perfect size, weight and speed for you! This is crucial for those looking to master this skill.
Just like when we are learning any new movement, we start with the basics. Beginners, do this first, even before you pick up a rope!
Without a rope…Start by practicing jumping on the balls of your feet with a tight, straight midline and neutral spine.
While you are jumping, review the concept of pulling the knees up and landing on the balls of the feet with the heels gently kissing the ground.
Take a video of yourself to see if you are performing any of these faults so that you can correct them BEFORE you add the complexity of a rope in the mix.
These faults disrupt the ability to jump efficiently, as well as losing the midline stability during the jump. You should be jumping with your feet under the hips and toes pointing forward. Your jump should be virtually silent so no stomping!
Once you have a solid and consistent jump that is free from the errors above, you can begin using your rope. Keep these things in mind.
Even the single-under is challenging for many so until you are a single-under ninja, don’t move on to attempt the double-under as the neurological component isn’t there yet. Continue to work on the single-under before moving on to Step 3.
Solid with your singles? Now it’s time to turn up the speed – of the rope, not the jump – and hit some dubs! Most beginners will still need to mix in singles with their doubles for a while before they are able to string together multiple reps of dubs.
If you are not getting consistent double-unders on the 4th attempt, keep working on progression #3. Once the double-under is happening consistently (about 10-15 reps, with singles in between) you can start to take away the singles.
Check out coach Nuno Costa’s tips video for becoming more comfortable with the jumping rhythm for double-unders:
Got a good rhythm with your single, single, single, double and you’re consistently hitting every double you attempt? Time to start stringing together doubles without singles in between reps. You are well on your way to being a double-under ninja!
Start to take one away at a time, that means single, single, double-under.
If you are proficient at the double-under with two singles between the dubs, then take another single away until you’re attempting to make you doubles without singles in between.
Keep removing singles until you are proficient at double-unders without single jumps in between.
Practice! If you’re still working toward dubs then spend time a few days a week working on the drills above. Remember, you are not only creating muscle-memory with this movement, you are laying new neural pathways and that takes repetition i.e. practice!
For those who can do consecutive double-unders but larger numbers escape you, do them before you workout each day. Maybe the first few days it’s going for 30, then the next time it’s 40 and so on. Before each jumping session you should perform 10-20 reps of each of the drills as a warm-up. If this is the case for you, it’s likely that you just need to improve your cardiorespiratory conditioning a bit and guess what will do that? Yep, more reps – practice!
It may sound crazy or patronizing, but the more you relax, the easier these will be to pull off. When we tense up while attempting dubs, we end up changing our good technique, shortening the length of our rope and even forgetting to breathe. None of those things will help you get better at dubs.
When doing double-unders in a workout, take two extra seconds at the end of your set to place your rope on the floor in a U-shape so that you can easily get into your next round. If you don’t do this, you will waste time trying to untangle your rope and get into your set next time you get to that station.
Annoying, right? But there is NO way to get better at double-unders unless you practice. And, practicing double-unders will help you get better at other movements as well. Five minutes a day is all it takes to see improvements in a very short amount of time.
In competition, or if you are doing double-unders as “prescribed” (Rx), then you count ONE rep for every ONE jump that the rope passes under your feet TWICE before they hit the floor again. This can be a tricky movement to judge so if you find yourself in the position of having to count someone’s reps for them, just watch their feet and count every time they catch air. You will begin to learn how to “hear” the double reps while watching them jump, making it a little easier to judge the movement.
Check yourself for the common faults above and make any necessary adjustments to make sure your dubs are as efficient as possible. Yes, they are tiring, but your arms and shoulders should be excessively tired to the point you lose your grip or have to stop. And you shouldn’t feel like your calves, achilles or knees might explode on your next rep due to the pounding.
If you’ve checked your technique and are fault-free but are still struggling, then it’s likely due to your cardiovascular conditioning. There are many ways to improve that – practicing your dubs is one!
Feel like neither of those is the problem? Or have you suddenly stopped being able to do double-unders when you’ve previously been able to do them? Then your central nervous system (CNS) could be fried. This is usually a temporary condition so make sure you’re getting good rest and just give yourself a mental break, including testing one rep maxes, which use a lot of CNS function, and then see where you are in a couple days.
If you shouldn’t be doing double-unders or jumping because of an injury, this is a good opportunity to get creative! Some examples of substitutions for the double-under are Russian Step-Ups, Assault Bike, Kettlebell Swings or Rope Whips. What you should be looking for is something that gives you the same stimulus for accelerated heart rate, explosive movement and for the same amount of time that it would take someone who had good doubles to do that amount of reps.
So what do you do when double-unders come up in the workout of the day but you don’t have ANY yet, or you aren’t quite the ninja with them that you aspire to be? There are a few options, depending on where you are with them.
Single-unders should only be a focus if they continue to be a challenge for you. If that’s the case for you, do singles when doubles come up in workouts and spend time practicing doubles as part of your warm-up or supplemental work (instead of during the workout). A 3:1 or 2:1 ratio is a good plan depending on the your ability. For example, if the workout calls for 50 double-unders, you will do 150 single-unders if you are using the 3:1 modification ratio.
If you have some double-unders but they are still few and far between, set a time limit for you to do attempts in your workout instead of spending all of your workout at that one station trying to get all of the prescribed reps. For example, if the workout calls for 30 double-unders, a very proficient athlete should be completing 30 double-unders in no more than about 30 seconds and an someone who is average with the movement might take 60 seconds to complete the 30 reps, so give yourself no more than a minute to work on double-unders – the amount that the average group coaching athlete would take – and then move on to your next exercise. This will allow you to get the practice of doing them in a workout but also allow you to do other parts of the workout too.
Another modification is to do the double-unders but cut the reps in half. This is a good modification for those who can do single, single, double fairly proficiently. So if the workout calls for 50, you will do 25 and it will probably take you about the same amount of time as the average person doing 50 which means you are keeping the intended stimulus of the workout.
Another option for those who can do single, single, double fairly proficiently but sometimes still miss the doubles is to count “attempts” of doubles. So you will go for the prescribed reps (or even cut them in half) and count every time you ATTEMPT a double, whether you make it or not. So it would look like this: single, single, double attempt (1); single, single, double attempt (2)…and so on. Only count the DOUBLE attempts, even if you don’t actually make them.
There are a number of ways to test yourself and your improvements made on double-unders. Here are a couple of sample workouts you can do to monitor how much of a double-under ninja you are becoming. Besides the time it takes to complete these workouts, also make note of how your body feels during and after. Are your shoulders less tired than the time before? Did you stay within your circle while jumping? How are your calves and knees feeling? Any soreness? Give them a try and retest every few months. Happy jumping!
(or 50, or 30…depending on where you are in your journey)