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Drowning On Dry Ground
It had been one of the first times I had heard actual wheezing come from my throat. The feeling of drowning on dry ground wasn’t so much disturbing as it was the assurance that I was doing something right. As soon as I caught my breath, I couldn’t help but chuckle about hitting a wall that day in my driveway.
No More “Skinny Kenny”
In my late twenties, I first noticed that I was no longer a candidate for the nickname of my teens: Skinny Kenny. Despite having this nickname, I hadn’t paid any mind to exercise or a healthy diet aside from eating kosher (definitely not synonymous). Beer and other carbohydrates were close friends. My body had become a shape that I’d later hear fitness personalities refer to as “skinny fat” — the illusion of skinniness…until take off your shirt. Still, it didn’t quite come to a head until Passover 2019.
After a delightful Passover, I noticed a tagged photo of me from before the seder. In the picture, I’m holding my then-ten-month-old son. Just below my adorable son was the most substantial belly I’d ever seen on my frame. My button-down shirt was divided toward the bottom, revealing my undershirt. Wow, ok. For the first time, I realized that I was pushing the bounds of a weight limit I didn’t know existed in my mind. It was the sign I needed — an indication that I needed to “clean it up.”
As the month progressed, my weight continued to ride in the backseat. Instead, I began to realize how much I was squandering all of my free time. While parenthood didn’t allow for oodles of unbridled hours of self-paced leisurely delight, my free evenings and early mornings were engulfed in utter useless nonsense — social media, YouTube clips, and anything else that illuminated my stupid face.
Recognizing this, I quickly consumed heaping piles of content related to living a controlled, minimalist lifestyle and forming better habits. The first big push in this direction was a reading of Atomic Habits by James Clear.
In the process of taking control of my life and my attention span, I wanted to develop a habit of daily meditation. While I never found a single YouTube meditation tutorial that made it click for me (that would require reading Meditation For Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris), I stumbled upon a video that outlined some of the benefits of meditation. In the video, a fella probably a decade my junior discussed how he especially liked to meditate following a jump rope workout.
Wait, jumping rope? People actually do that as exercise?
Even though the video only mentioned the terms “jump rope” and “jumping rope” maybe as many times as I just did, something clicked for me on a level unrelated to meditation. Jumping rope fit the middle of the Venn diagram of “something good for your body” as well as “something fun to do.”
In my elementary school days in the ’90s, The American Heart Association was on a veritable crusade in gym classes to get kids jumping rope. Being naturally skinny with decent rhythm, I took to jumping rope pretty quickly. After a few months, I was pretty darn good at it — even one of the only kids in my school able to perform double-unders (two rotations under a single jump). Soon, elementary school was over, and any interest in jump rope was replaced by garage jam sessions, skateboarding, and, ahem, girls. Somehow, five seconds of jump roping in this YouTube video seemed to bring me right back to jump roping in my school gym.
Before that YouTube clip had finished, I was already scoping out jump ropes on Amazon. About $10 and a few days later, my first jump rope in over 25 years arrived. I was ready to get started.
“That’s a Keeper”
Figuring that an interest in a particular exercise was the beginning of something monumental, I stepped into the bathroom. Awkwardly clutching my phone, I snapped a quick shirtless “before” image in the mirror. If the aim of a “before” picture is to incite disgust, mission accomplished. I scarcely recognized the pasty ogre reluctantly looking back at me from my phone screen. While the image is quite educational, that one stays hidden until the paparazzi hack my Google Drive.
Donning swim trunks, recreational sneakers, and t-shirt, I stepped onto my driveway — jump rope in tow. Once I found a place where I was sure not to smack any of the wires connecting my house and that of my neighbors, I began to jump.
And then stopped. Whoa, is there someone sitting on my shoulders or something? They made it look so easy on the videos.
Well, I wasn’t that bad. I could jump for a good 15 seconds before my legs would burn and I’d gasp, struggling to throw air down my stupid throat fast enough. Despite being May, the air felt like spring. Still, it wasn’t long before I was utterly drenched in sweat, panting like an idiot who just tried to outrun a car. I’d never felt like such a winded mound of dough.
Blame it on the Gear
Another problem I was experiencing was my rope getting caught on the tread of my shoes.
“Oh, I just need a longer rope.”
I got a longer jump rope, which still got stuck.
“Oh, I just need different shoes.”
I got different shoes, which still caught the rope.
I also got a foam-rubber mat to jump on.
Oh, my technique is garbage, you say? Ah, why didn’t you say so?
That lesson cost about $106.
- After the first week, my calves quit burning all of the time and I could walk normally.
- A few weeks later, I started jumping for five minutes, each minute spaced out by a minute of rest.
- A few weeks after that, I decided to up it to 10 minutes of jumping, each minute spaced out by a minute.
- A few weeks after that, I started ending sessions with 2 divided minutes with a weighted rope.
- A few weeks after that, I began my jump rope sessions with 2-minutes of continuous jumping.
Boxer Skip = Cool Points
Around this time, I finally started to learn the “boxer skip” — a move where you casually shift weight from leg to leg. You may recognize this move from the background of any boxing gym scene in a movie…or, you know, an actual boxing gym. While it looks like more work, when performed correctly, the boxer skip is a lifesaver for stamina — giving each leg a split-second micro-break as you go. It also makes you look like you kind of know what you’re doing.
Here’s a link to my own boxer skip tutorial.
“Well, that’s a first.”
As more pieces started to fall into place, something bizarre started to happen — I began to look forward to evening jump rope sessions. What had started as the dry-land-drowning sprees had become “Let’s see what I can do” time. During the day, I would catch myself occasionally daydreaming about jumping rope. When I didn’t think anyone was watching in the bathroom or waiting for the microwave at work, I’d practice ropeless heel taps, boxer skips, and seeing how long I could hop on one foot (obviously, not while I was using the bathroom). Starting to see results on the scale and in the mirror only intensified my anticipation of evening jump rope sessions. 230 pounds became 225, 220, 215, 210, and then 205 pounds. My wife also said that my core seemed less flabby and my “man boobs” seemed less evident. Hey, how much more empowered can you get?
It’s a Big Deal…For Me
This may seem pretty bland to many of you, but the concept of craving exercise is entirely new to me. While I’ve enjoyed physical activities whose side effect is exercise, craving the exercise itself is not a feeling I can recall having in my over 30 years of life. Looking forward to out-jumping the shadow in my driveway is something I’m still getting used to.
I also feel tremendously grateful to have discovered that one of my favorite exercises is one of the best ones in existence. Seriously, check out the health benefits of jumping rope.
More than anything, jumping rope fits my personality.
- Introverted: I can do it by myself, whenever I want, wherever I want — provided there aren’t any ceiling fans, low-hanging light fixtures, or people I could accidentally sweat on.
- Challenge-seeking: More than another hampster wheel, it’s a skill I can continuously work to master. I find myself taking notes after almost every session.
- Cheapskate: It’s ridiculously cheap. There’s no required gym membership. Seriously, for the cost of some cheap sneakers and a $3 rope, you can be making puddles of sweat today.
- Sustainable: I can keep doing it into old age…provided I keep doing it now.
In James Clear’s Atomic Habits, one of the methods of forming a good habit is casting votes towards an identity you want to have based on what you do.
I think I’m finally to the point of being able to say, “I’m a jump roper.”
First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do. – Epictetus
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