Girlhood games make for the best workouts

Sometime in our teens, when sluggish dial-up internet took over our lives, outdoor play time suddenly paled in comparison to snooping on Orkut. Screechy childhood games — jumping rope (with sing-along rhymes) or hopping across chalk-drawn boxes — didn’t sit well with our grown-up nonchalance. Fast-forward to our twenties and thirties, and we’re desperately hunting for exercises that match a simple brief: maximum results in the time it takes to eat a sketchy lunch. The solution, it appears, leads back to the playground.

According to The Jump Rope Institute in the US, just 10 minutes of jumping rope a day (at 120 revolutions per minute) provides the same benefits as 30 minutes of jogging, two sets of tennis singles and 650 metres of swimming. This basic, and strangely liberating, form of fitness works every muscle in your body, including your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, abs, lower back, hip muscles, shoulders, forearms and wrists, engages your core and gets your heart pumping. It’s a quick, no-fuss workout that you can do at home, or use to make gym time more exciting — a bout of vigorous rebounding aka jumping on a mini trampoline should do it. A stronger, tighter you is just a hop, skip and jump away.  


The exercise: Knees bent, shoulders relaxed, spin the rope from your wrists in a smooth arc and jump. Land softly on the balls of your feet; don’t slam down on your heels. Repeat. Once you have mastered the basics, get creative with foot patterns. You can also try these variations:

1. Start with a ski jump — squat and jump to the right, landing on both feet. Repeat and jump to the left. Next, try the running skip, where you jog in place with the rope passing under one foot at a time. Increase the intensity by raising your knees higher.

2. Sculpt your calves with the single-leg jump; or try the more intense variation with the squat jump.

3. No skipping exercise will get your heart rate up like the double jump. You need to jump high enough to pass the rope under your feet twice. (Psst: The trick actually lies in how fast you can spin the rope, not in how high you jump.)

The routine: Sixty rpm is a good starting pace. Do three or four sets of one to two minutes each, with short rest periods (or slow walking) in between. Go up to 15-minute sets.

Calories burnt: 100 in 10 minutes.

Safe landing: Jumping is no longer the carefree, instinctive thing you once did. For one, your body has aged. You need shoes with reinforced toes and cushioning for the balls of your feet. “To reduce risk of injury, do not jump on a hard surface like a marbled or tiled floor,” says Delhi-based fitness expert Kiran Sawhney. “A wooden sports floor or gym mat is ideal.” Finally, find the right-sized rope. Place one foot at the centre of the rope, pull the handles up — they shouldn’t go up past your armpits.


The exercise: To get familiar with the trampoline, start with heel lifts. Stand at the centre and bend your knees. Bounce lightly, lifting heels and toes alternately and move on to a light bounce, no more than four inches high. Next, start jogging at a brisk pace, gradually lifting your knees higher. Add arm movements that feel natural. Work up to a run by lifting knees high. Then try the sitting bounce, with heels on the trampoline mat and arms folded. Bounce gently. “As you get better and your stamina improves, you can twist, add alternate knee lifts, alternate kicks or a side leg lift,” says fitness and wellness expert Nawaz Modi Singhania. “But never bend your knees past your toes when bouncing, and do a minute of each exercise before moving to the next one. This way you won’t head into an overuse injury.”

The routine: Start with three sets of the easy exercises (a minute each) to make a 15-minute session. A week later, add the more difficult moves. As you get better, you can go up to 40 minutes.

Calories burnt: 37 in 10 minutes.

Safe landing: “Despite being high impact, a trampoline workout is safe because you are practically in the air,” says Sawhney. “The rebounder surface, which has springs, absorbs the shock, reducing the impact on your joints. Choose an advanced-spring model as cheaper ones can have low-quality mats and hard springs ( ships durable mini trampolines and accessories; the standard model costs Rs 18,500). Worried about losing your balance? Order front and/or side support bars alongside. Remember to stay centred on the trampoline and maintain rhythmic breathing.” 


The exercise: A form of plyometrics (exercises in which you exert maximum force at short intervals), jump training helps tone those leg muscles to build endurance. Start with these variations:

1. Do jumping jacks. Feet hip-width apart, knees bent, spread your legs and raise hands to shoulder level. Jump up and land in this position. Repeat.

2. Next, try the jumping lunge. Start in a partial lunge, and jump, switching legs mid-air. Land in a lunge. Repeat.

3. Raise the intensity with a jump squat. While crouched in a squat, swing arms up and jump high. Land as you started. This exercise also prepares you for box jumps, where you jump on a stable box, bench or any surface that’s knee high, landing softly in a squat position and jump back down to starting position.

The routine: Begin with 10 reps of the easy jumps and increase to 20 reps. Work towards 15 minutes of variations followed by a two-minute break.

Calories burnt: 80-100 in 10 minutes.

Safe landing: “Box jumps require your entire body to go through a chain reaction,” explains fitness and wellness expert Vesna Jacob. “So start with objects that are fairly low to avoid injury.” Also, these shouldn’t be done more than two to three times a week to prevent damage to muscles and joints. 


The exercise: As a fun variation to jumping, you can alternate between legs in your routine, to pay individual attention to each. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, balance on one leg with hands on your hips and hop. Gradually jump higher. Switch legs. And when you’re ready to mix up your routine, try these variations:

1. Try a four-way hop. Balancing on one leg, hop forward and backwards, holding for a bit after each hop. Now hop from side to side. Switch legs. If you’re up for a challenge, advance to the switch hop. Balance on your right leg and hop forward, but land on your left foot. Switch legs and repeat the four-way hop.

2. To do the bunny hop, keep your ankles and thighs together and hop with both feet from one end of one imaginary ladder to the other.

3.  Next up is a playground favourite: Hopscotch. Hop forward on your right leg, then jump into a low squat. Jump out and hop forward twice on your left leg. Turn around and repeat.

The routine: Start with 10 reps each and increase to 20 reps. Add variations and work towards a 15-minute session, followed by a two-minute break.

Calories burnt: 80 in 10 minutes.

Safe landing: “Hopping exercises make you work harder to maintain your balance, so remember to keep your stomach tucked in and get into a rhythm to make things easier,” says Jacob. 

Photograph: Mark Pillai

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