Go on vacation and come back in better shape than when you left? It happened to me last year when I went to northern Spain -- with a jump-rope. Packing more luggage-friendly fitness-per-ounce than any other exercise, skipping rope obliterates calories, rocks your heart rate and does wonders for your agility, posture, balance, reflexes and upper-to-lower body coordination. Always a boxing mainstay, it's increasingly being used as a warmup and tune-up for weightlifters, wrestlers, volleyball players, skaters and swimmers. Remarkably efficient and economical, these unique jump-ropes let you target your home workout to speed, strength and general fitness -- wherever in the world you happen to be.
-- Roy M. Wallack
Jump to light-speed
Aero-Speed Hyperperformance Rope Master: Ultralight speed rope, designed by Olympic wrestler-turned-jump-guru Buddy Lee, for serious athletic training.
Likes: Fearsome speed, with sound to match. The 1/8 -inch hollow urethane rope, coupled with smooth, low-friction swivel bearings, slices through the air with a wicked, wind-whistling whine that'll scare away dogs and tempt beginners to go for double jumps and fast-twitch-muscle interval training. Includes padded handles, five-ring Olympics decals and a wrench to help you custom fit the rope to your height.
Price: $35. (800) 953-JUMP; www.buddyleejumpropes.com.
Rope on a shoestring
Valeo JRO (jump rope original): Basic nylon rope with wooden handles.
Likes: Bang for the buck. Although not as fast as the Aero-Speed or solid-feeling as the segmented rope, it gets the job done. Makes less noise flying through the air and hitting the ground than the others do.
Dislikes: The rope itself, being softer and less dense than the others, does not hold a satisfying U shape through its rotation.
Price: $5.95. (800) 634-2704; www.valeofit.com.
In the rhythm
Olympic Jump Rope: Segmented jump-rope made of 1 3/8 -inch-long plastic beads strung over a nylon cord.
Likes: Very easy to use; for me, the best for maintaining a rhythm and error-free jumping. The plastic beads give the rope enough heft to hold a natural momentum and tunnel shape, even outside on a windy day. Five sizes.
Dislikes: Clackety impact may exile you to the garage.
Price: $7.95 to $10.95, depending on length. (888) 456-7802; www.jumpropestore.com.
JumpUSA Heavy Jump Rope: Thick, dense, heavy rubber ropes that weigh from 1 to 4 pounds.
Likes: Simultaneous aerobic and strength workout. Even the 1-pounder (which is several times heavier than a normal rope) puts pronounced stress on the wrists and shoulders compared with other ropes. The 2-pound rope hums through the air like a swarm of angry bees and left me out of breath after a minute -- it'd be a good choice for an ambitious hard-core athlete; a dozen swings of the 3-pounder should earn you a medal; six swings of the 4-pound rope is terrifying -- like wrestling a snake. All include an illustrated instructional book by jump expert Bobby Hinds.
Price: $19.95 (1 pound); $29.95 (2 pounds); $34.95 (3 pounds); $39.95 (4 pounds). (800) JUMP-USA; www.jumpusa.com.