Double-Unders: Grinder Friend or Foe?

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CrossFit Double Under

CrossFit Double Under

Photo by Robert Reiff

There are movements in CrossFit that can make or break a WOD. The double-under (two rotations of a jump rope per jump) is one that can separate you from the class in either direction. If you have it down, you can take an average score or time and really establish yourself as a top dog. If you struggle with them, you’ll probably consider not even going in to train that day.

I have been very much on both ends of this spectrum.

This is my story.

When I began in 2010, I had lifted, played various sports, coached, run, trained, etc. While I struggled with new movements such as pull-ups and Oly lifts, I was doing fine adjusting to transitioning between sets in a WOD and knocking out the basics like box jumps, presses and sit-ups. I could jump rope. Not like a lot, but I could do it and do it at a decent level for someone my age. Because I did not grow up a female, I had not spent much time in my youth jumping rope during recess. My coach, Brian, showed me double-unders and explained that they were a fundamental movement in CrossFit and especially important in terms of competing.

So I tried a few.

My attempts would later be described as “a monkey going through electric shock” or “someone who was choking and decided to jump around to get the food out of their throat.” These were not taken as compliments. The initial look of shock on Brian’s face was also concerning to me. I looked around to see if maybe I had knocked something over or that I had hit someone with the rope. His open-mouthed gaze seemed to be a cross between astonishment and horror. I took this as a bad sign. As a good coach, Brian suggested things like jump a little higher but with less knees up to your armpits, faster rope swings, it’s really in the wrists, snap the wrists — and things of that nature.

I listened. I nodded. I tried again.

I heard him mumble, “Oh man.” And not because I suddenly “got it.”

At this point, he had closed his eyes and was shaking his head as if to try to pry free the image he had just been forced to watch. I again took this as less than a good sign.

So I tucked this experience away and over the next year or so, whenever DUs popped up in a WOD, I’d just opt for the scaled version and do the 2 to 1 ratio (i.e., 50 DUs in a WOD would mean I did 100 single-unders — you get the idea). I did try occasionally to throw in a couple of attempts here or there, but the look on my fellow CrossFitters’ faces combined with the severe whipping my hands, forearms, back and toes (that’s right, I would famously whip my toes so badly they often bruised) was enough to get me to abandon the effort quickly and plod along with my dinky singles. But then, Brian called my bluff.

One day, out of nowhere, he announced that from now on we all could still scale our DUs to singles, but that the ratio would be 5 to 1 instead of 2 to 1. I felt like he was looking at me the whole time. This would mean that if there were 100 DUs through the WOD, I would have to tackle 500 singles. Hell no!!

So I did the unthinkable. I spent a couple of months beating myself almost to the point of breaking the skin, practicing double-unders over and over. I watched Chris Spealler knock out over 200 DUs in videos and watched videos from Again Faster and other CrossFit instructors as they broke down the movement step by step, over and over.

During one of my WODs, I grabbed one of the new ropes without a second thought. As we began to train, I got my spastic first DU then cruised through a couple of singles, but then I did five DUs in a row. Next I did seven, and followed that with a set of 10. I wasn’t sure what was going on. Brian explained to me that the new rope was a little heavier. It was honestly a few ounces if that, but that slight bit of weight made all the difference. Whether it was mental or that extra ounce, something caused the things I’d spent months working on to finally click.

This is no fairytale, and I didn’t walk out that day busting out sets of 50 at a time. But each training session I did after that, I’d go early and grab that rope. I got better. First I got 20 unbroken, then 30, and a month later I was hitting 40 unbroken. I took some Christmas money and bought a custom Rx Rope from Rogue with nice padded handles; it’s a heavier rope and customized to my height. Earlier this year I knocked out a PR of 73 unbroken DUs. My new goal is to get 100.

Now when I see DUs as part of a workout, I am eager to get in there and tear it up.

There are lots of people being beaten down mentally and literally by the elusive double-under. I don’t have a magic fix that will work for everyone, but here are some tips:

  1. Try a heavier gauge of rope.
  2. If you’re getting close, getting a rope custom-fit to your needs and height could help.
  3. Practice, man! No matter how lame you think you look, everyone was there at some time.
  4. Do your research. There are tons of videos and instructors out there to help.
  5. Try training aids. There are various half ropes and handles with wiffle balls on them to teach you how to use your wrists and learn the rhythm you’ll need to balance out the spin and jump timing you need to bust out some high-number reps.

I’m sure many of you have dealt with the successes and failures of this movement. Share them with me at jtolgrinder @ gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you. Stay on the grind. — Jamie Toland (JTol) @JTolgrinder (new Twitter name)