Thinking about double unders

Since early last year I have been practicing my double unders regularly. I bring my rope to every training session, regardless if it is CrossFit, running, globo gym rehab exercises for my shoulder, Tai Chi or anything else. And before session starts, I do a couple of sets of DUs.

Well. These days I do a couple of sets, but when I started practicing it was more like, jump, jump, stumble. Stop. Jump. Stumble. Jump, try to jump higher and spin the rope faster, whip my calf. Stop. Straighten out the rope just in case there is some sort of snag on it. Try. Stop. Fail. Chuck rope on ground. Pick rope up. Straighten rope. Try again. Stop. Moan. Try. 

You get the picture. It was really frustrating. Looking at other people around me, I am not the only one having to go through that experience.

Gradually, as I kept at it, I started nailing the little bastards. First just two in a row, major milestone right there, then stringing more and more together. Now, on average, I do 25-35 unbroken which is good enough to go into a WOD and feel somewhat efficient about it.

So thinking back, what did I do that got me there in the end? The actual technique required has been described in lots of places and there is a digital ocean of videos with coaching cues on YouTube to look at:

  • Straighten up, don’t arch your body like a banana, don’t kick your feet back, don’t lift your knees up
  • Look slightly upwards and keep the chest held high
  • Tuck the elbows in
  • Keep the hands slightly in front, so you can just see them from the corners of your eyes
  • Snap your wrists, don’t move the rope with your arms
  • Bounce using your ankles, knees and hips, not just on the balls of your feet
  • Get enough height to have time for the rope to move under you twice

But what actually made me succeed? Here’s a list of things that I think helped.

UPDATE: Also see this great debrief from the SE11 30 Day Challenge on Double Unders. Some great insights and thoughts from coach Colin.

  1. Best piece of advice came from Andrew at CrossFit London: get your own rope and practice as often as possible, every day if you can make the time. Sounds like a given, but up until that point I had only really practiced it when an instructor brought it up in a session, which just isn’t enough.
  2. As I started practicing properly, I asked instructors for advice and cues, and looked up a bunch of videos on YouTube. Based on that, in my mind I visualised what seemed to be proper posture and technique. Where should my feet be? Where should my hands be? Do I bend my knees, kick back my feet, arch my body (no, no and no!)? The elbows, where do they go? What generates the speed of the rope? Is it my arms or my wrists (it’s the wrists!). Do I look at the rope, at the ground, on the wall, on the ceiling…? I formed a mental picture of what I thought I should look like and feel like while jumping.
  3. I studied a couple of the people at the gym who have mastered the double under. Like Carolyn, another of the awesome instructors at CrossFit London. She is my double under goddess. When she skips it looks like she is completely serene, relaxed, almost moving in slow motion inside the circle of the very fast rope. Amazing. Not only did that provide lots of interesting information to process and try to mimic, it gave me lots of motivation. I want to look like that when skipping!
  4. I slowed down and relaxed. Somewhat counter intuitively, the double under is easier to do when jumping slower, I find. I see a lot of people doing the opposite, they jump singles at a certain speed and when it comes to attempting a DU they tense and speed the whole movement up. This was another piece of advice from Andrew: relax into it, jump higher and slower, keep the body relaxed and upright, make sure to not just bounce on the balls of the feet. Rather than just thinking of it as single jumps where I needed to spin the rope faster I thought of the double jump as an entirely new type of skipping.
  5. When I failed, I stopped and thought about it. What happened? In what way did I deviate from all the cues I tried to visualise? How could I make sure that didn’t happen next time? At first it just felt like too many details to think about, but gradually movements fell in place and became more second nature allowing me to focus on a new detail.
  6. I kept doing it. As frustrating as it was, and as silly as I sometimes felt, I told myself to keep it up.
  7. I took breaks from it now and then. Every other week I wouldn’t touch the rope. I have no scientific support for this, but I often feel that if I work hard on something I don’t really master, and then stop doing it for a while… …when I go back to doing it I have improved. As if the movement becomes internalised somehow and inefficiencies / flaws get edited out by the brain.
  8. I found a rhythm that allowed my wrists to whip the rope around me efficiently. This is the hardest part to explain, but I really started stringing double unders together when I realised that instead of moving my hands (and thus the rope) with a constant speed, I could wait until the right moment (just before my body is at its top height) and then snap my wrists twice to whip the rope around me as fast as possible. There are people not doing it that way, but I really don’t get how. :) Trying to stick to a steady speed of the rope makes my arms and shoulders so tired and I just can’t get the rope movement happen in coordination with my jumps.
  9. I set tiny goals. There is no point being annoyed about not having 100 unbroken when I haven’t even done 10 yet. For a long time my goal was 5 unbroken. Now my goal is to consistently do 50. Small increments.
  10. I kept a log and kept track of my PB, so I knew when I had improved and could pat myself on the back for it!

Right now I have reached a point where I have nailed the basic movement, and from here on it’s all about consistency, conditioning, and details to get volume.

Two things that I have realised recently I need to improve:

  • I need to build more stamina, and work on my breathing technique. Stamina will only come with time, and when that improves I know my current skill level will allow me to hit new levels of PBs.
  • My wrist aren’t loose enough. Last WOD we did had double unders in it, 5 rounds of 40. I decided to focus on my wrists and hand position, and think about how I snap the rope around. I realised that the looser I make my wrists, the faster I can whip the rope, and the longer I can go before I get tired. I did my longest unbroken set, 36, in the last round.

Lastly, I think there is another important factor in me finally getting my double unders. I really like skipping rope. It’s fun, it’s meditational, it helps me relax and clear my mind.

If I now only can apply the same thinking to my really sucky handstand…

Wicked WOD today at Sleven, followed by a group of us going for brunch at the Tea House Theatre. Becoming a very comfortable habit. We must be pushing their turnover up on Sundays!
Pretty brutal warmup, followed by push presses and double unders in my case.
Push presses felt very good! Didn’t go higher in weight than 35kg to be gentle on my shoulder, but posture and technique wise they felt better than ever. I’m assuming the thoracic spine drills I have done every morning (and before class today) are actually making a difference.
Didn’t feel any of the awkwardness I used to feel when doing push press, and none of the pain in my lower back. Progress!
Then ME double unders: 42. Did a number of attempts to beat that, but constantly stumbled at around the 25 mark. Alex suggested that there is almost a “Magical Barrier” around 45 which is really hard to break through. I completely agree…
The WOD was tough. Did the power cleans at 40kg, which was just that little bit too heavy for comfort, perfect to make me work really hard. Worked through them in 5s.
Annoyingly stumbled on the DUs at 41, so didn’t get them unbroken!
Second round of cleans was so tough. After the first 8 I had to start doing them in 2s up to 14, and then I got pissed off and did 6 and 4.
Went into the second round of running completely out of breath, but managed to find a slow running pace that let me catch some air for the first 400m and then picked up the pace for the final 800.
Finished in 22:48.

Wicked WOD today at Sleven, followed by a group of us going for brunch at the Tea House Theatre. Becoming a very comfortable habit. We must be pushing their turnover up on Sundays!

Pretty brutal warmup, followed by push presses and double unders in my case.

Push presses felt very good! Didn’t go higher in weight than 35kg to be gentle on my shoulder, but posture and technique wise they felt better than ever. I’m assuming the thoracic spine drills I have done every morning (and before class today) are actually making a difference.

Didn’t feel any of the awkwardness I used to feel when doing push press, and none of the pain in my lower back. Progress!

Then ME double unders: 42. Did a number of attempts to beat that, but constantly stumbled at around the 25 mark. Alex suggested that there is almost a “Magical Barrier” around 45 which is really hard to break through. I completely agree…

The WOD was tough. Did the power cleans at 40kg, which was just that little bit too heavy for comfort, perfect to make me work really hard. Worked through them in 5s.

Annoyingly stumbled on the DUs at 41, so didn’t get them unbroken!

Second round of cleans was so tough. After the first 8 I had to start doing them in 2s up to 14, and then I got pissed off and did 6 and 4.

Went into the second round of running completely out of breath, but managed to find a slow running pace that let me catch some air for the first 400m and then picked up the pace for the final 800.

Finished in 22:48.

Welcome Christmas WOD: Friskis & Svettis

Tomorrow the countdown to Christmas starts! I celebrated early this morning by doing a Christmas inspired WOD I found at Kill Fat Me: 12 days of Christmas…

Warmup

100 double unders for time: 3:25.

Felt more solid in the second half than I did this Monday, but still flagging. Unbelievably tiring.

Strength

Planned to do heavy squat cleans. Did a few warmup sets on 45kg and 55kg, then I suddenly lost my will to live… It just felt so heavy! Spark went completely AWOL. Stripped the bar and went for the WOD instead, which was a good thing considering the time it took to complete…

WOD

Promised myself to look for my spark and found it at the 9th round! The lazy bastard was hiding behind my lizard brain all along.

This WOD is like the song. You first do 1 Wall Ball. Then you do 2 Tuck Jumps, 1 Wall Ball. Then you do 3 Push Press, 2 Tuck Jumps, 1 Wall Ball… Until done.

12 days of Christmas, for time:

12 Turkish get ups (7kg dumbbell)

11 Toes 2 bar

10 Double unders

9 Sit ups

8 Push ups

7 Goblet squats (16kg kettlebell)

6 KB swings (16kg)

5 Burpees

4 Pull ups 

3 Push presses (25kg)

2 Tuck jumps

1 Wall ball 

Frak. Me. That was tiring. Total time: 41:59!

I did go easy on the weights, especially on the push press, but hey.

Things that worked well:

  • Pull ups - not a problem doing those 4s throughout.
  • KB swings - I really feel good doing these now. Technique massively improved.
  • Push ups - raced through them.
  • Double unders - all rounds unbroken, no stumbling!
  • Toes 2 bar - all (both…) rounds unbroken.

Not so well:

  • Wall ball - worked well, but I almost caved the ceiling in as that ball was so light! Control!
  • Burpees - kill me.
  • Turkish get ups - started on 14kg, couldn’t do it! Piss poor performance.

Very happy with myself that I finished. It can only get faster from here.

Skills practice: Friskis & Svettis

Went to the gym this morning to do some skills practice.

Feeling quite tired today as I stayed up last night to watch Revolver, a Guy Ritchie movie with Jason Statham. Started out really promising, beautifully shot throughout as always, but towards the end of it I really regretted spending two hours of my life on it and getting to bed after midnight… Avoid.

I like the quotes it’s built around though:

The greatest enemy will hide in the last place you will ever look.
- Julius Caesar

The only way to get smarter is by playing a smarter opponent.
- Fundamentals of Chess

First rule of business, protect your investment.
- Etiquette of the Banker

There is no avoiding war, it can only be postponed to the advantage of your enemy.
- Niccolo Machiavelli

Warmup

100 double unders for time: 5+ minutes! Atrocious!

Kept snagging the rope on my left foot and leg, on the first rep. Almost screamed by the end of it… I guess the 320 DUs I did already this week have taken their toll, my calves feel quite stiff and my shoulders are really tired.

Skill

Hand stands. Practiced kicking up to the wall and just standing there for a while. Feeling my balance, trying to find a good posture in an upside down dish position. Tiring, but I feel more confident now than before.

I keep falling out from the wall after a few seconds, and I am unable to figure out how to correct my position again. The upside down perspective really confuses me still.

Had this plan that I would start practicing pulling my knees to my chest to set up for a kipping HSPU, but clearly need to just practice balance and shoulder strength more.

Rope tricks. When I got bored with the hand stands I went back to my jump rope to see if I could figure out a few tricks that I’d like to be able to do. To my great surprise, I immediately managed to do the thing where you put both hands to the same side and swing the rope around, cross over to the other side, and then back to skipping singles.

Encouraged by that I tried figuring out how to jump with my arms crossing in front of me, and after a few attempts I realised that as long as I pull my legs up a bit I can do that too! Crazy.

Then, inspired by a video that Andrew recently posted on the CrossFit London blog I tried some variations on footwork. Skipping while jumping my feet out in a wide stance, back to narrow worked ok. Skipping while scissoring the legs forwards and backwards, much harder. A bit like patting yourself on the head with the left hand while rubbing your tummy with the right.

After that, I was just tired. Feeling a bit worse for wear after yesterday’s WOD and all these double unders I have been doing. Stretched a bit, including working on my shoulder flexibility with a rubber band, went home.

Since I was at the gym a bit later today (08:00) the sun was actually (almost) up as I walked home. Took the route along the river, nice. It really does get dreary here in the winter, with sun not coming out until 08:30 and setting again by 14:30…

Strength and WOD: Friskis & Svettis

Today I did strength and a WOD that they did back at the box last week.

Warmup

100 double unders for time: 3:53.

Not happy with that time, that’s a full 30 seconds worse than yesterday! Again, did well in the first half and then started flaking out. Clearly need to improve my stamina! After doing these I am gasping, and my shoulders are so tired.

What I definitely need to keep in mind in the second half is speed of wrist rotation. Speed, speed, speed.

Skill

Tried practicing kipping pull ups, but my calluses gave me such grief on the pull up bar at this place that I just couldn’t bring me to it. The bar is wrapped with tape that has started fraying, so instead of improving the grip it just has all these ridges and edges pushing on my sore spots. Fail.

Strength

Deadlifts:
WU 60kg 2x5
70kg 1 x 5
80kg 1x5
90kg 1x3
95kg 2x3
80kg AMRAP - 20 reps 

WOD

4 rounds for time:
15 toes 2 bar
30 double unders

Dreaded this a bit considering my 100 DUs warmup, but it went well! While I didn’t enjoy a single second of these 11:36, I managed to do almost the entire last round of DUs unbroken! 28 reps in a row before I stumbled.

The toes 2 bar were absolutely horrendous. Did first round unbroken, then had to break them down in 5s with a 15 second rest between each. Must admit I cheated a bit on the very last 5…

My forearms were completely numb after this. Hard like wood. Holding on to that pull up bar, with the fraying tape, sucks.

Skill session: Friskis & Svettis

Back in Ängelholm, Sweden, so training this week is all on my own going to the Friskis & Svettis gym.

My London gym recently decided to change the class structure around, dividing students in Level 1 to 3. Level 1 being “beginners”, Level 2 being “classic CrossFit practice”, and Level 3 being “CrossFit+”. Andrew explained the difference between 2 and 3 as whether or not you do CrossFit as complement to some other sport, or just want to dedicate all your training time to CrossFit.

Since Andrew kindly let me join the Level 3 classes I feel a strong obligation to rapidly improve most of all my hand stand push ups, kipping pull ups, and double unders.

Double unders I am doing quite alright with, but my kipping pull ups suck, and I don’t have a single HSPU. So this week in Sweden is all about skills practice.

Warmup

100 double unders for time: 3:26.

First 50 went fine, last 50 were a bit all over the place…

Skill

Hand stand practice. Lots of it. Decided to do a few kick ups, and film myself, to see what I actually look like. I know that I keep arching my back, and my shoulders aren’t flexible enough, but what does that mean? It means something like this: negative hand stand push up from the side.

Since I started practicing these my kick up and balance have definitely improved. It is obvious that I am not tightening up my core properly though. Tried lying on the ground and assuming the “dish” position (on the back, arms and legs stretched out and a little bit off the ground), but I find it stupidly hard to get that same feeling when standing on my hands.

Tried to keep in mind to push my shoulders up, keep my arms absolutely straight, and push my head out between my shoulders. Like when doing push press. Feel I am getting better at that part.

However, as is clearly visible when I am lowering myself down I need to remember to keep my arms more like when push pressing: don’t let the elbows drop out to the sides!

After half an hour of hand standing I then went over to a box and did a few push ups with my feet on the box and upper body as vertical as possible. I find that easy, I really should be able to get at least one hand stand push up in there.

Progress is being made, I’ll keep practicing this all week. Tomorrow is WOD time.

CrossFit Session: Kat is back

Kat is back from her 2 week break, and brought a few punishing WODs with her it seems.

Warmup

In pairs, wall balls over the pull up bars, one catches the other’s throw. 50 total.

Skill / Strength

Deadlift. 2 warmup sets of 3 reps, then 5 sets of 3 up to max.

Ended on 105kg, new PB.

WOD

12 minutes AMRAP of:
10 thrusters (35kg)
30 DUs

Since my right calf is still messed up from the cramp on Tuesday Kat regressed my DUs to ring rowing, 15 reps.

Finished 5 rounds.

CrossFit Session

Despite slight hangover from last night’s birthday dinner at Pollen Street Social, too little sleep all week, never ending depressing rain… …I did my heaviest ever deadlift today. 100kg, twice, solid!

Warmup

Hip stretches, ouch.

Strength

Deadlifts: 7 x 2, increasing weight. Started on 40kg, did last 2 rounds on 100kg.

Pre WOD WOD

3 x max dead hand pull ups, 1 min rest between.

I actually have 3 strict ones in me now!

WOD

15 min AMRAP of:
6 push ups
12 kettlebell swings (16kg)
18 goblet squats (holding KB to chest)
400 m run

I completed 4 rounds! Proud.

Post WOD WOD

5 min double under challenge / practice.

Finally figure out why I’ve been doing wrong! I’ve been bouncing on my toes, heels need to go down to ground for every jump. Then the rhythm is there, and with proper wrist action it gets easy to get the rope under twice.

Did a total of 9 unbroken! Total I think I did 40 or so DUs during the 5 mins.

Awesome day! So happy I didn’t give in to the last devil on my shoulder that’s been whispering all day in my ear to skip the class tonight…