Jump Rope vs. Running: Which Cardio Exercise Is Better For You?
Think back to the last time you picked up a jump rope: Were there pigtails and a playground in the picture? If so, you might be missing out on a killer workout.
While running may come to mind as the best cardio workout, jumping rope also has its benefits—but which one is better?
Here's what personal trainers have to say about it.
Benefits of running
As an aerobic activity, running supports both lung and heart health.
"Running will build cardiovascular endurance, as well, but you need either a treadmill or space outside," NASM-certified personal trainer Jaclyn Sklaver, M.S., CNS, CDN, LDN, tells mbg.
With proper form, running can also build lower-body muscle.
Along with physical benefits, running can also promote mental well-being—regardless of your speed.
"If you can take it outside, it can be meditative and connect you with nature," says fitness trainer BB Arrington, NASM-CPT.
Benefits of jumping rope
Jumping rope is a great exercise for anyone who wants the lung, heart, and calorie-burning benefits of running, without having to spend so much time doing it, or even leave the house.
"The best thing about jumping rope is that you don't have to go anywhere to do it," Arrington says: All you need is the right equipment.
While sprinting can help build lower-body strength, jumping rope targets the upper body.
"[It] helps shape shoulders and strengthen core while improving power output and endurance," Sklaver says.
On top of that, "It's also an opportunity to work on your rhythm and coordination—fitness is more than just duration, speed, and load," Arrington says.
Which cardio workout is better?
Both running and jumping rope are effective and accessible cardiovascular exercises.
"Both activities cost very little, and you can do them without a gym membership in any location," Sklaver says.
According to family medicine physician and certified personal trainer Michele Reed, D.O., both exercises can lead to benefits in how you walk or stand.
As for which one is better? Well, that depends on the individual and their circumstance.
"If you do not have any knee pain or arthritis, you are the perfect candidate to run," Reed says. "If you are working with limited time, jumping rope is good—especially to improve agility and flexibility," she adds.
Specific goals, like calorie-burning, muscle building, etc., will also help determine which exercise is best for you.
For example, Sklaver says running (particularly sprinting) will build more leg muscles, including glutes and quads, than jumping rope.
Is one better for burning calories?
Jumping rope will burn the same calories per minute as running an eight-minute mile, Sklaver says.
If you can maintain that pace, and have the endurance to run long distances, then running may ultimately burn more calories since "you can run for a longer period of time than you can jump rope," she explains.
If endurance and speed aren't your strong suits, then jumping rope at a high intensity may be more efficient. "When you jump rope, you can actually burn more calories in a shorter period of time," Reed tells us.
Is one easier on your knees and joints?
"One could argue that jumping rope is better for your joints because it takes them through a smaller range of motion," Arrington says. "However, knowing that our bodies are exposed to larger ranges of movement in our day-to-day lives, it would be advantageous to train in ways that strengthen our weaknesses," she adds.
Unless you have orders from your doctor or physical therapist to avoid it, running may be a good way to strengthen those areas.
"If you have a choice with the surface for running, try running on a track as opposed to concrete," Reed suggests. "Other great running surfaces are wood chip trails or groomed grass, as they will absorb more of the load and take the strain off of the body," physical therapist Meghan Cass, P.T., DPT, previously told mbg.
In addition to terrain and form, wearing supportive running shoes can also make a difference.
If running is painful for you, Arrington recommends switching to jumping rope—and vice versa. "But don't forget to uncover why the other movement isn't agreeing with you," she says.
How to incorporate a jump rope into your workout routine.
Jumping rope can either be the cardio workout itself or the warm-up to your workout. Here are a few ways to incorporate it into your workout regimen.
Try this warm-up, recommended by Arrington:
- Jump rope at a moderate speed (2 minutes)
- Rest (1 minute)
- Repeat for 3 rounds
Try this warm-up, recommended by Sklaver:
- Jump rope with both feet (1 minute)
- Jump rope with your right foot (1 minute)
- Jump rope with your left foot (1 minute)
- Skip rope with both feet (1 minute)
Try a 20-minute interval workout:
For a jump rope interval workout, Arrington recommends cycling between fast tempos, moderate tempos, and rest. "Play with the durations to increase or decrease the challenge," she says.
For more inspo, try these four routines:
Of course, the best exercise is the one you'll do. So if endurance and escapism is your jam, running may be for you; and if quick and convenient is more your style, then you may want to pick up a jump rope.
Since it's gentler on the body, more efficient at burning calories, and easy to do from just about anywhere, we argue jumping rope is the better form of exercise when compared with running.
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.