The Joy (and Benefits) of Skipping

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Doubtless, you remember skipping as a child. Some of the moments of happiness you had as a child were surely when you were skipping. I don’t mean happiness as in content, or satisfied or feeling good or nice. I mean happy as in joyful. If you look around any playground, you will notice that any child who is skipping is also laughing — or at least smiling a big, broad grin. Skipping induces happiness; it did when you were seven, and it will have the same effect on you now that you are an adult.

Skipping and running are close cousins to each other. But if running generates from our fight/flight reflex in the brain, skipping originates more from our pleasure center. Running is akin to an animal intentionally moving away or toward an object; skipping is more akin to an animal frolicking in a field with unparalleled freedom and joy. Think about it — do you ever see runners laughing? Usually they are grimacing. Skipping is exercise, but it is also play. The National Institute for Play believes that it is essential for play to be woven into the fabric of our social interactions, and that doing so transforms our personal health, our relationships, the education we provide for our children, as well as the capacity of our corporations to innovate in creative ways.

There’s virtually no learning curve for skipping. As a child, you learned it simply by observing someone else doing it. As an adult, you still remember how to do it, even though you may not have done it for 40 years.

Skipping burns about twice as many calories as walking and is aerobic like running with none of the disadvantages. It has less impact on joints, as it’s all done on your toes and the front of your feet, and this area has great natural padding. This cushioning protects all the bones and joints in your legs as well as your back. Skippers do not generally get injured to the extent that runners do.

The health benefits of skipping are as good as rebounding — which is generally considered to be the number one premier form of exercise for over-all health benefits. In both skipping and rebounding, there is the flight up to the top of your journey: all fluids in your body are moving downward as your body leaps upward. Then, there is the instant of glory, the moment that you’re in the air, suspended, defying gravity, countering the law that keeps us bound to earth’s surface as well as defying (if only for that instantaneous moment) the major force that ages us. And then you begin your descent downward and suddenly, all fluids in your body are moving as your body was the instant before — upward. Your fluids and your body contradict each other — one moves up as the other moves down, and vice versa.

Skipping is versatile: it can be done in large outdoor areas, or indoors in your cramped-size kitchen.

Skipping is a serious form of exercise training in Eastern Europe. Skipping, as a training technique for superior athletic performance, started in the 1970s when the Eastern bloc countries began to produce competitive athletes in track and field and gymnastics. American trainers began to study the training techniques of these athletes, and discovered the secret of their success: plyometrics.

What distinguishes plyometrics from other training techniques is that it links strength with speed of movement to produce power. Plyometric exercises enable a muscle to reach maximum strength is as short a time as possible. The coupling of speed with strength results in an increase in power. Many plyometric exercises involve jumping. All forms of jumping are included: jumping after running; jumping while standing still; jumping straight up in the air; jumping laterally; jumping over boxes. Skipping is a low-impact variation of plyometric jumping, and is included in most conditioning programs in Eastern European countries.

Beginning skippers usually try to put a lot of bounce into their skips. They quickly discover that a long or high skip takes a lot of energy. An alternative to a big skip is one that is slower and lower to the ground. Skippers can make up creative skipping variations: you can try ones that I have created: the “butterfly skip” (flap your arms while skipping); the “airplane skip” (arms go straight out); or, try the backwards skip or the sideways skip. Another cousin of skipping is galloping — another fun activity. Galloping (I call it the “horse skip”) involves not switching back and forth from leg to leg.

Skipping can be combined with other exercise programs. It works especially well as an adjunct to walking and running. Skipping should be an essential part of play with children, but unlike other children’s sports, the adults shouldn’t be watching from the sidelines. It’s a participatory sport, and when you skip with children, you will immediately enter into their child-like mood of feeling care-free.

The best shoes to skip in are running shoes in which the fronts of the shoes angle up. Some of the more expensive running shoes don’t have this feature. You need maximum flexibility for the front half of the shoe, and the upward tilt at the front will give you that.

Skipping is as a form of exercise and means of movement is as old as the Bible. It is mentioned in several places: for instance, Songs of Solomon says, “Behold he comes leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills”. The book of Malachi says, “But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with healing in his wings; and you will gambol like calves out of the stall.” (Webster’s defines “gambol” as “skipping or leaping about in play: a frolicking movement.”)

Recently, there has been a vigorous interest in adult skipping. Skipping advocates declared July 31, 2011 to be the official Skipping Up and Down the Street Day, and there was a Skip-Fest in Toronto in celebration. Ashrita Furman is the fastest skipper in the world. He holds more Guinness World Records than anyone and two of the recoords are skipping related. In August of 2003, he set the record for skipping the fastest marathon (26.2 miles) in 5 hours 55 min 13 sec in Canada. In February 2007, Ashrita set the world record for skipping the fastest 5K in 35 minutes and 19 seconds. This skip was a bit unusual, as Ashrita ran the race in Thailand at a monastery while holding a tiger on a leash. The beast and man did fine up to the end of the race, when Ashrita did his usual end-of-race spurt; the tiger misunderstood, and thought Ashrita was running away from him and went into attack mode; it took four handlers to restrain the animal.

Don’t get discouraged — even if skipping with a tiger is not your particular challenge. Skipping is so aerobic, and uses muscles that are not used to being used so strenuously that you’ll only be able to do a little at a time. But that’s another one of its beauties. It’s so magnificently efficient.

“The opposite of play is not work, it is depression.”
Brian Sutton-Smith