When I was a kid jumping rope at recess was THE thing. And if you were really serious, you did Double Dutch. I loved it! If I wasn’t playing kickball, I was jumping rope. And I guess I thought that everyone knew how to jump rope?? But I suppose it’s like riding a bike or roller skating. You have to LEARN how to do it first, and then you have to practice it. Over and over, and over. Again, and again, and again.
In late September of 2018, I started personal training a new client. Let me give you some background about him. He’s 17 years old. He measures up to a measly little 6’5″, and weighs in at about 250. His name is Jackson, and he just happens to be my best friend’s son. When I started training him he had no clue how to jump rope. This is a story of how this simple little exercise is changing his life, and has opened my eyes immensely to power of the human mind and body.
When it comes to jumping rope one might think, “Who gives a flip! Why would you care if Jack can jump rope or not?” The truth is, I could honestly care less about the actual ACT of jumping rope. What I do care about is his health, his balance, his overall coordination, his self-awareness, and his confidence in himself. I don’t just want these things for him because he’s like a son to me, and I care deeply for him; or because it’s my job, and I believe in what I do. I want this for Jack for reasons that can impact him on a deeper, more substantial level than just getting him in “physical” shape. Jackson just so happens to be on the autism spectrum, and I know that full body exercises will not only increase his fitness level, but it will help him to engage in the environment better; increase his body awareness; and improve his motor skills. It may even just help him socially.
Jack is probably the hardest working client I’ve ever had. He’s also the most literal client I’ve ever had. Jack sees the world in a pretty organized, black and white way. He thrives on consistency, praise, and staying within the “lines”. So, when asked to do something new and different I often have my work cut out for me. He’s eager, and willing to try new things which is a reflection of the support system of his mom and her amazing family, but he still isn’t too crazy about having his boat rocked. But I’ll be damned if he doesn’t always stay on board and never give up!
At our first session I brought my jump rope with me and asked him to give it a try. He looked at me like I literally had 3 heads. “ummmm….Miss Amy, I’m not so sure about that”, was his response. But, being the compliant hard worker that he is, he gave it a shot. Poor guy couldn’t even get one jump. And if you recall, he’s not exactly a small gent. So, you can probably picture that this was not the most graceful of attempts. (Way to go, personal trainer–way to shut the poor kid down right out of the gate!) I was thinking, “uh-oh, not the best way to start off, here….” But we just laughed it off, and I really BELIEVED that teaching him to jump rope was important. So, I showed him how to do it, and the talked him through it. We practiced without the rope a few times, and then I left it at that. I didn’t want to put too much pressure on him, because I knew that his tendency to hyper-focus on getting things just right could set this whole thing up for not only being my first session with him, but quite possibly, my last. “Ok, Jack ” I said. ” I want you to just practice every day for at least 5 minutes. It’s okay if you mess up, but try not to GIVE up“. I also asked him to practice balancing on both feet, one foot at a time, every day. (On this first day, he could not balance on one leg for more than 3 seconds.) We went on with the rest of the workout, and had a great first session. As I was leaving I thought to myself , “Well, that whole jump rope thing was a good try. Better plan on something else for next time.”
Jump to our next session–just one week later. My honest expectation was that he would maybe get a couple of turns and a few jumps at best. I was ready to offer him all the praise in the world for at least trying. When we got started he had this cute little sheepish grin, like he was keeping a secret. He took the rope and started. I was stunned. He jumped for nearly 30 seconds! I literally got tears in my eyes, and gave him so many fist bumps and high fives that one might think he’d just won the olympic gold medal for jump roping. And not only was I over the moon excited, but more importantly, HE was beyond thrilled!! Smile so big I could just feel his self confidence oozing out of him. I immediately thought…okay…we might be on to something here…
I know that the body and the brain respond quite nicely to cross body work. Generally speaking, the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body ,and the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body. So, when we ask our brain to make a connection that involves coordinating the two sides of our body (i.e. swimming, or jump roping) we are absolutely strengthening the neural pathways of our brain. In an article from Velites Sports we read “Rope jumping stimulates your brain activity and eliminates stress. Rope jumping helps you develop both the hemispheres of your brain, which allows you to increase different skills such as spatial awareness, or memory.” BAM!!
Jackson has a daily workout plan that I write out for him each week after our session together. We go over it in detail, and he follows his exercise plan like a well-oiled machine. Along with a variety of body weight exercises, yoga, core training, and HIIT’s (High Intensity Interval Training exercises) I require him to do DAILY jump roping and balance work. Along with holding his one-legged balances for up to 30 seconds at a time, he has also learned a variety of jump roping “styles” that include the Ali Shuffle, “Rocky” style, high knees, feet together, running, and heel taps. He is sleeping better and has lost weight. He’s gained muscle mass and willingly makes healthier and wiser food choices. And he has an improved and “brighter” mood (although this is the kid who smiles at everyone, has a heart that oozes love, and is for the most part always cheerful). Bonus points: Jack has even gained a bit more of that teenage boy “hey ladieeeeeeeees” self-confidence demeanor that slays his parents.
Would I say that Jack’s overall health and well-being has been affected by rope jumping alone? Nope, I would not. But what I will say with 100% assurance is that jumping rope HAS given him the coordination, strength, and endurance that he’s needed to exceed all of the other demanding work that I have required of him. His growth is not only an improvement of his overall fitness, but a testament to the idea that a willing heart and a strong body can lead to neurological connections that far outweigh any bulging biceps or six-pack abs.
What’s the moral of this little story? That exercise can improve the symptoms of autism. (Nope! While that’s true, that’s not what I’m going for here.)
The moral of the story is: Go get yo’self a jump rope!
Jackson’s Progress: The first video is during his 3rd week, in early October. The second clip is from mid-November. Video number 3 is mid-December, and the final two videos are in mid-January. GO JACK!!!!!!!!