Thursday, February 11, 2010

Punk Rope review

When I think back to the days of jumping rope on the playground at my elementary school, I don't remember much about it except some of the goofy little rhymes we'd say as we jumped. Fond memories.

I'd heard that jumping rope is actually one of the best cardio exercises you can do--it burns a LOT of calories--and I had been meaning to remember to get a jump rope and take it to the gym with me when I was reading this blog one day and the blog's author, Sheryl, was writing about a class she takes called Punk Rope.

Whoa! I thought. A class all about jumping rope? Set to punk music? How cool!

I wanted to find out more, so I went to the Punk Rope website and browsed around a bit. I looked to see if there is a class near me because I really wanted to try it out, but the closest class is nearly an hour and a half away, so not really an option for me. I noticed they also had a Punk Rope DVD, so I contacted Punk Rope creator Tim Haft and asked if there was any way I could check it out and review it here. He agreed, and shipped a rope and a copy of the DVD to me right away (at no cost to me, I must add), warning me that it was really difficult to translate the essence of the Punk Rope classes to DVD.

I got the DVD and started to test it out. Ouch! I whipped myself in the leg with the rope! Tried again. Made it a couple minutes and was panting like a dog. Yes, the experts were right, jumping rope is a great workout, holy cow! I'm definitely going to keep it in my rotation, and hopefully with some work, my jumping skills will improve greatly because right now they're just sad!

But Punk Rope isn't ALL punk and it isn't ALL rope, either. The classes are, as far as I can tell, a cross between elementary school gym class and Spirit Week, often with themes and participants who are dressed up to match the theme. Basically, it looks like a lot more fun than your typical exercise class, and unlike any class I'd seen before.

I sent Tim some questions I had about Punk Rope and how it all came about. Here's the interview:

Q: I see you started Punk Rope in 2004 after some personal injuries. I'm surprised jumping rope doesn't aggravate those injuries! Why did you choose jump rope as the basis of your exercise program?

A: Most people are surprised when I describe rope jumping as low impact. But it really is gentle on the joints as long as you have good technique. In fact, it wasn’t long after my knee surgery that my physical therapist encouraged me to start rope jumping again. And jumping doesn’t bother my two herniated discs at all. In fact, it makes them feel better. About 12 of Punk Rope’s 55 minutes involve rope jumping so I like to make it very clear that Punk Rope is NOT a rope jumping class. It’s an interval training class that incorporates rope jumping. I selected rope jumping as a key ingredient because it’s safe, fun, and challenging, and leads to unparalleled fitness benefits including increased aerobic capacity and bone density, and improved coordination, body composition, balance, and strength. To top it off, a jump rope is ridiculously inexpensive.

Q: The web site mentions you are/were a personal trainer/coach. How long have you done that? How did you get involved in the fitness industry (personal training, etc.)?

A: I became a personal trainer in 1998 and organized and led long distance running programs from 2000 until 2004. Prior to working in fitness held positions as a career counselor, editor, and social science researcher. My primary motivation for becoming a trainer was to help my dad become a better marathoner and to understand more about physiology and human performance.

Q: Why punk? Have you always been interested in this style of music? How did you choose the particular songs for your classes/DVD/CD?

A: In Punk Rope we play music of every genre imaginable including jazz, hip hop, zydeco, ska, reggae, classical, metal, and, of course, punk rock. Punk happens to work well for a high energy interval style class because many of the songs are short and fast and match the pace of the movements. Each week’s class celebrates a different theme (e.g., 1960s, Valentine’s Day, etc.) and it’s the theme that determines which songs we’ll play. For example our Bastille Day class features bands from France whereas all the songs in our World Cup class relate to soccer. Our DVD is a different story. For that project we came up with a short list of songs by bands that we admire and crossed our fingers that they would license the tracks for a reasonable fee. Long story short: they did.

Q: I see you have a number of different themes, such as superheroes, Super Bowl, the beach, the Fifties and Tartan Day. What themes have proven to be the most popular with the students in your classes, and why do you think that is?

A: We’ve created approximately 50 themed classes and are constantly trying to come up with new ones. The purpose of the themes is to increase the fun factor of the class, distract the participants from how hard they’re working, and give us an excuse to dress up. The most popular themes, like our 80s class, feature songs and story lines that are familiar to everybody. Students laugh, smile, and sing along.

Q: How many different cities are offering Punk Rope classes? How big would you like to see this get?

A: Right now there are approximately 40 Punk Rope classes offered in 16 states. We would love to see the class get huge. We want to share it with people all over the US and across the world, but we want it to grow organically. We rely on word of mouth rather than marketing dollars.

Q: I see Punk Rope is also offered in schools. Is this a new thing or has that been going on for a while now? I would imagine the kids really enjoy it. It's got to be better than dodgeball!

A: Our school-based program, Hopping for Health, was created in late November 2009 so it is extremely new, however we have been training PE teachers and working informally with schools since 2006. I wouldn’t argue that Punk Rope is better than dodgeball, which, by the way, has been banned in many school districts, but we know from our regular classes that some kids really enjoy our take on fitness. It’s important, however, to keep in mind that Punk Rope in the schools will rarely resemble Punk Rope, the adult fitness class. PE teachers tend to take bits and pieces of what we do and adapt those for their existing curriculum.

Q: Can people who are "rope hopeless" do Punk Rope? I guess what I mean is, do people who think they can't jump rope find it easy to learn, or can people get just as good of a workout without the rope?

A: There are a lot of misconceptions about rope jumping. One is that it’s difficult to learn. It’s not. Most adults can pick up the basics fairly quickly and with a bit of practice will progress rapidly. Young children, on the other hand, may struggle more because they’re still developing the necessary motor skills to turn the rope and jump over it. That said, it is possible to for anybody to get a good workout jumping without the rope, but doing so will not improve one’s coordination. Fortunately Punk Rope instructors are typically very generous, empathetic people and will go out of their way to help a beginner learn rope jumping.

Q: What is your personal favorite part of Punk Rope and why?

A: There are many things that I love about Punk Rope, but the three that come most readily to mind are:
1)Using the class as a vehicle for building community
2)Seeing students laughing, smiling, and having fun while still getting a great workout
3)Working with my partner Shana to create new themes, games, drills, and playlists.

Q: How much time each week do you spend doing Punk Rope? Has it changed your fitness level since you began doing it?

If you mean “doing it” and not just thinking about it I would have to say that I spend about 4 hours per week. Two of those hours are teaching the class and two are practicing. Punk Rope has done wonders for my fitness. At age 49, I’m at a healthy weight (just about where I was in high school) and I feel strong and agile. My anaerobic capacity has definitely improved and because jumping is gentle on my joints I haven’t aggravated any old injuries.

Tim also wanted to add the following information about Punk Rope:

People should know about the charitable and community-oriented work that we’ve done over the years for a wide range of organizations. They should know that Punk Rope may be the only play-centered fitness class for adults in the country. They should know that Punk Rope is one of the only fitness classes that advocates for musicians and gives them the credit they’re due. And lastly they should know that Punk Rope is a grassroots movement the goal of which is to give the individual control over their own fitness. We need to get away from the gym mentality. Fitness can happen anywhere so long as you have the tools and knowledge to pursue it. A friend to hop with wouldn’t hurt.

After I tried out the Punk Rope DVD and interviewed Tim, I also wanted to get a perspective on Punk Rope from someone who takes the classes in person, so I contacted Sheryl, who was more than happy to answer a couple questions.

Q: How long have you been attending Punk Rope classes, and where do you attend?

A: This month (February 2010) makes it exactly 3 years! I attend the class weekly at my local YMCA in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Q: How would you describe the classes to someone who hasn't seen Punk Rope?

A: I'd sum it up as "Adult Recess." First, there is obviously rope jumping--but even if you're not a proficient jumper, don't let that stop you! The songs are short and you can go at your own pace. But don't be intimidated, it's not just an hour of rope jumping--the class also includes fun relays and drills. They're similar to the activities we did in grade school gym class, but without the anxiety or self consciousness of that time (I wasn't the only self conscious kid, was I?)

Q: What's the best part of a Punk Rope class--What keeps you coming back for more?

A: I'd say three things: 1) The fun! It's a workout but you won't even think of it that way because it's just so enjoyable and 2) The people! In class, you often have to be on a small team for a relay or drill, so you interact with the other punk ropers. I've met amazing people and have so many friends as a result of this class. 3) Seeing my progress/improvements--when I first started, I could barely jump through a whole song at a basic jump. Since that time, I have improved tremendously. I am a much more consistent and fast jumper now and do many of the complicated jumps with ease!

Want to see some examples of what Punk Rope is all about? Check out these videos!

Punk Rope on the Practical Guide to Healthier Living from Tim Haft on Vimeo.

Punk Rope Salutes March Madness 3-31-09 from Tim Haft on Vimeo.

Punk Rope in action from Tim Haft on Vimeo.

Punk Rope was also recently featured on the Martha Stewart exercise show! Click here to see the clip.

From my interactions with Tim for the purposes of this review and from what I've seen on facebook and on the Punk Rope website, these are people who know how to look for the joy in life and grab it. I would love to have the opportunity to try a Punk Rope class in person sometime, and I urge anyone who is near a place that offers classes to try it out. It looks like so much fun!

Click here to find a list of Punk Rope class locations.

Thanks to Tim for allowing me to try out the Punk Rope DVD!


MarciaG said...

What a great review! I am intrigued and want to know how to get certified!! I think my YMCA would love this class.

Thanks for sharing.

Krystal said...

Marcia, I was thinking about getting certified, too, once i go back to work. Email Tim and talk to him abbout it. He is SO nice!

*Bitch Cakes* said...

Krystal- what a great job you did! Tim's interview was great! I'm going to link to this in my next blog. I hope you do keep it up because I was severely "jump rope challenged" when I began and now I'm so much better!

Stephanie said...

Ok, I am intrigued. I love yoga myself, but sometimes I want a really fast paced, fun, high intensity workout. This sounds like a great time.
BODA lose weight

jvada said...

punk rope rocks. we have a team competing in the punk rope games this saturday in brooklyn...cant wait.
you can find nyc punk rope classes on