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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- I kept doing it. As frustrating as it was, and as silly as I sometimes felt, I told myself to keep it up.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…