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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Low tech, inexpensive and versatile, the jump rope has long been a staple of boxers training for bouts and children chanting in schoolyards.
But fitness experts say it can also be a springboard to adult workouts as varied and inventive as any playground rhyme, even among grown-ups who will never throw a punch.
At Aerospace, a luxury fitness center in New York's trendy meatpacking district, you won't find treadmills, steppers or elliptical machines.
"We're not a machine gym. Jumping rope is our main cardio workout," said Michael Olajide, Jr., co-founder of Aerospace. "We have a ballet and boxing workout, a body sculpting workout, a shadow boxing workout. But whatever it is, we like to put a little jump rope in there."
Olajide, a former middleweight boxer, is convinced the humble jump rope is poised to become the next great cardiovascular workout.
"We're getting to the tipping point where people are discovering jump rope," he said. "It's very simple, you burn a lot of calories, it helps focus and coordination and gets your legs in shape. It really is the one exercise that covers everything."
Olajide said his advanced class, which features such jump rope maneuvers as double turns, crossovers, low motion jumps and lunges, can burn up to 1,200 calories an hour.
"Jumping Double Dutch was a lot easier," he said. "Two jumps every one turn of the rope is easier than one revolution one jump, when you really get that cardiovascular workout."
Olajide said a serviceable jump rope can cost as little as $20.
"You don't want braided cotton. Synthetics cut through the air and as soon as you turn your wrist they'll respond," he said, adding that the rope should be long enough so that when you step on it the handles are around the armpit area.
"You definitely don't want it any shorter," he said, or you risk jumping too high and elevating your heart rate too fast. It's just a simple instrument to use but if not done properly you could hurt yourself," he said.
Fabio Comana, of the American Council on Exercise, said 60 minutes of jumping rope can be a great cardio exercise, but for most people it's out of reach.
"It is possible? Yes. Is it feasible for most people? No," said Comana, an exercise physiologist based in San Diego, California.
"Most people will do it for a few minutes and take a break. It's not cardio in a conventional sense, where you run, jog or ride a bike for 20 minutes."
He doubts the jump rope will enjoy the popularity of running, stepping or bicycling.
"It's a very unique activity," he said. "It takes skills, conditioning and some coordination. And although it is low intensity it is repetitive, which puts impacting forces into the joints."
He said boxers jump rope precisely because it mimics what they do in the ring.
"Boxers are always on their feet and moving around in a three-minute round, so its creating agility," he explained.
But Comana said, it's worth a try.
"But don't just grab a rope and start jumping. Make a plan. Create intervals of 15 to 20 seconds, then take a break. Jumping rope can tax your energy system pretty quickly," he explained.
"It can be a pretty effective tool," he said. "With the jump rope you're limited by your imagination."
Reporting by Dorene Internicola; editing by Patricia Reaney