Double unders, the phrase itself is enough to make many CrossFitters groan in frustration with thoughts of whip marks and welts. There is perhaps no other movement in CrossFit that elicits pure, unbridled anger. Sure, we all miss heavy Olympic lifts all the time, and we say to ourselves, “I know why I missed that lift, it was too heavy…landed on my toes….I didn’t keep the bar close enough”. We have a million reasons why we miss lifts, or why we are unable to do pull ups, or hit toes to bars. Those dastardly double under though, they continue to elude. “I should be able to do this!” followed by a rope being unceremoniously thrown across the Box is not an uncommon sight. I perfected that particular method of jumping rope.
The fact of the matter is, double unders are actually rather difficult. They involve much more than swinging a rope really fast. They require many of CrossFit’s 10 general physical skills such as endurance, accuracy, balance, coordination and others. If double unders were as easy as some seem to believe, we probably would not recognize them as a functional fitness exercise. Beyond the physical requirements needed to be successful with a jumprope, there is a mental element to double unders that can make or break how long it takes you to become proficient.
Double unders are not programmed every day. So if your primary double unders practice time is the five minutes before the warm up for a WOD with double unders, there is a distinct possibility that you’re going to spend a majority of your time as a CrossFitter doing single unders, or muttering colorful language under your breath (or in my case, rather loudly). Some people can pick up the movement pattern for consistent double unders quickly, but for most, myself included, it took weeks of constant, frustrating, painful practice to nail the correct motions. Progress requires practice, its that simple. Coupled with that practice is a need for Zen-like patience, swinging a jump rope twice under your feet is hard enough, swinging it with great vengeance and furious anger is not the path to smooth double unders. If you’re struggling, put the rope down, walk away for a minute to collect yourself, only then should you start practicing again.
Teaching others the illusive art of the double under has taught me a few key concepts you should keep in mind when practicing on your own. First of all, learn the solid mechanics of single unders before you try double unders. Keep those elbows tucked and flick the rope with your wrist. If you are making wide arching circles with your forearms like an 80s country line dance (this may be a fallacy, but its what I see when people swing the forearms instead of the flickadawrist), you’ll never get the rope moving fast enough for successful doubles. Secondly, make sure you are not jumping forwards, backwards, and side to side. We have all seen the “I Can’t Do Double Unders” show, so there is no reason you need to bring it on tour around the Box. Learn to hop in one place before you even begin to attempt double unders. Lastly, double unders should look similar to single unders, you should not have one movement pattern for single unders, and look wildly different for doubles. So if you feel yourself drastically changing body positions for double unders, there is a good chance you are not implementing good jumping habits to string many double unders together.
Spoiler alert, reading this is not going to cure your double under woes, in fact, after reading this, you may be excited to get to the Box and give it a go with that jumprope, and about fourteen seconds in, you’ll be cursing the rope, and me, out even more. That’s fine, because you’re practicing, and that’s what matters. If you take just one thing away from this, let it be to practice, practice, practice. For many, double unders are a light switch moment scenario, one day it just clicks on and they are stringing a bunch together. I won’t guarantee that if you practice you’ll have that light switch moment, but I will guarantee that if you do not practice consistently, and do not fight the urge to quit at the first sign of frustration, that you will absolutely not have that moment, you will have whip marks to explain to your coworkers for the foreseeable future.