"How do you get double unders?" one of my athletes asked me the other night. Consistently I find that jumping rope annoys people. Whenever it is on the board, I get requests for substitutions or I see them roll their eyes.
And I know why. The funny thing about jumping rope--whether it's double unders, double dutch or any variety of trick--is the almost 100% of the people who walk into my sessions are physically capable of doing it. With the exception of a few injured people, everyone I train is strong enough and able bodied enough to jump rope.
But that doesn't mean that they can. Why not? Because they don't have the neuromuscular adaptations that allow them to do it. In other words, they haven't practiced. And they never learned. And people are so scared of looking ridiculous that they would rather substitute the exercise than learn the skill. Admittedly, you might not achieve the intensity you want if you are constantly tripping over the rope. But intensity isn't everything. Coordination and agility are two the most under trained areas of fitness. I think coaches and trainers are nervous to program these kinds of exercises because we risk frustrating our clients. But much like learning a new language is incredibly powerful for the brain, learning a new physical skill can take our fitness to the next level. When you force your brain and muscles and nerves to coordinate in a complex way, you are changing your entire system. A bicep curl requires very little skill and while it can make your muscles bigger, it doesn't challenge your brain in the same way jumping rope does.
In order to be truly fit, we have to challenge everything: cardiovascular strength, muscular endurance and strength, flexibility and mobility, balance, agility, and coordination. If we only ever train for cardio, strength, and endurance, we are missing out on the full capacity of movement.
Why does this matter? Well, you could argue that, as you age, coordination is key to maintaining a mobile and independent life. But it's really not--our lifestyle is such where you can really get around without needing much complex movement. It's good for your brain to train coordination, but that rarely motivates people when you have a finite amount of time and just want to get as much work in as possible. Personally, I simply find it rewarding to master a new skill--it's a concrete reminder that time in and focus yields results. I also think it's important to be humble and to constantly challenge yourself. If you can become comfortable with being a beginner, you won't limit yourself to the known. And then jumping rope becomes bigger than jumping rope: it becomes an example of how you can triumph and master the strange.
In answer to his question: the way you get double unders is you practice double unders. You whip the back of your legs with the jump rope a thousand times, you try different tempos, you jump on one foot, you get tight calves. You allow yourself to be terrible. And you must be terrible at first. But I urge people to do the thing you are terrible at--it's good for you in many ways. Be the person falling over as you try to get your handstand. Be the person working with the PVC pipe as you learn to snatch. Be the person who allows yourself to be a beginner.