If you ever catch New York City native Bernadette Henry jumping rope, you’ll find that she has a huge grin on her face for two reasons.
“You’re not supposed to jump with your mouth open because the air will increase in your lungs quicker and you’ll be out of breath,” she told us was the first reason. The other? Because jumping rope has provided her with a lot of joy.
“I always tell people, if it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable,” she said. The 38-year-old mother of three (9, 7 and 1-year-old boys) has been sustaining her jump rope workouts for many years, with her beginnings dating back to childhood.
“Back in my day, like in the ’80s, double dutch was our thing,” she said. “When we would go outside for recess we would either be playing double dutch or the single-rope games like Trip Around the World. There were a whole bunch of jump rope games that we used to play and there was a song for all of them. So primarily in school and at lunchtime, this is what Black girls did in Harlem and in the Bronx.”
And while many moved away from their love of jumping rope as they entered into adulthood, Henry continued and only got better. In fact, she got amazing at it.
She trained with middleweight boxers like Michael Olajide, Jr. and the late Stephan Johnson. She started learning tricks that, to this day, drop jaws. And in the midst of enjoying her favorite old hobby, she managed to drop 50 pounds. From there, she took her talent online, amassing a following of more than 20,000 people on Instagram, ended up in an Advil commercial, and inevitably, started teaching others through her program, Make It Fun NYC, how to burn fat and achieve overall fitness through jumping rope.
“Jump rope is the number one conditioning tool out there,” she said. “The stamina, the balance, the coordination, the timing, your reflexes. It just has so many wonderful benefits physically.”
So we talked to Henry about her how she became so skilled at jumping rope as an adult, why people should stop sleeping on it as a fitness alternative, and how a simple rope changed her physically, mentally and emotionally.
MadameNoire: How did you take up jump rope as a form of exercise as an adult?
Bernadette Henry: Transitioning into adulthood, I was walking down Union Square with my friend, we were just hanging out in Manhattan. I walked into Equinox gym, and this was when I was 19 years old. They had the class schedule and it said “Aerobox, Aerojump.” I said, “Is this a jump rope class?” And they said yes. “Oh my God, sign me up for the gym!” I started taking that class with Michael Olajide, Jr. Basically, the first 30 minutes was an aerobic boxing class, and then the next 30 minutes was a jump rope class. In that class, I learned conditioning and form and things like that. At that same gym there was middleweight boxer, the late Stephan Johnson. He had a class at the time, I wasn’t taking it. But he saw my passion for jump rope, so when he was available, he would work with me. With him, I learned more like tricks. I actually have a trick dedicated to him. But basically, at that time at Equinox, jump rope became my best friend. I was jumping rope and walking on the treadmill, so I just kind of cardio’d my life away. I realized about a year later that I had dropped so much weight and the thing is, I didn’t even realize that I was big. My reason for going to the gym wasn’t because I wanted to work out. It was because I wanted to see the gym and it just so happened to have a jump rope class. I continued working out and jump rope was always a staple in my workouts because it’s fun. You cannot think of your workout as a chore or else, you’re just not going to do it. You have to go into it with that mindset that this is something you actually want to do because it helps you physically, but also because it helps you mentally and emotionally.
How many calories can you burn doing jump rope?
Within 10 to 15 minutes, depending on your weight, you can literally burn between 200 to 300 calories. And then in an hour’s time, you should have at least 1,000. I always tell people coming in, a jump rope workout is equivalent to a 30-minute jog on the treadmill at 6.5 miles an hour. People ask me, do you have to jump straight the whole time? No. But there are a lot of techniques you can implement that increase the intensity of your workout. I tell people, do a minute on, a minute off. Or 100 jumps and then 30-seconds off. Things like that.
How has your body changed or overall health improved with jump rope workouts?
Basically, jump roping just has so many phenomenal benefits. I would attribute my legs to jumping. Because of the form that I use and the different techniques, I’m able to change the look of my legs. So I can go without squatting or doing leg weights for a considerable while. It’s good for your whole body, though. Your core, your shoulders, your back, your triceps. It’s an overall, great workout. I just finished a bout of physical therapy and every time I went to see my therapist he was like, “Oh my gosh, your shoulders!” It’s basically through jump rope, because you can tone your body. I implement a weighted rope, so I’m basically swinging the weight in my rope around my body. It’s been so effective that I kind of had to take a backseat. So instead of jumping with weighted ropes five times a week, I had to scale it down to one time a week because my shoulders were really getting buff. I was like, “Oh, whoa…” [laughs] It’s not only good for changing my body, but it also helps with your mental. Jumping rope, you’re doing so many things with different parts of your body at the same time. You can be jumping in front of me right now and you can do 20 jumps straight. As soon as I say, “Open and close your legs” you’ll start fumbling. Because now it’s like your legs are moving in one direction, but your arms are moving in another. So, if it’s not second-nature, you’re going to trip up. Because I’m so used to it, it’s second nature. I don’t have to think about it. And emotionally, jump rope just puts me in a good mood. I could have the worst day ever, but all I need to do is get my jump rope and some music, and I’m good to go. So for me, jump rope is very good physically, mentally and emotionally.
Whether you’re jumping rope, dancing on the treadmill or just busting out salsa moves, you genuinely look like you’re having so much fun. What’s the key to that?
I would attribute it to the music. Music literally runs my workout. It has to be music that’s in my ear. I can’t do background music unless I’m recording and I need that overhead music. But when I’m in the zone and I’m working out, the music needs to be in my ear. If I walk to the gym and I forget to bring my headphones and I don’t have money to buy new ones, I have to leave [laughs]. I have a workout list and it has so many different kinds of songs on there. So I prep the shuffle button and whatever comes up is what I’ll do. If you see me in the gym, people think I’m crazy. But it could be one of my favorite jump rope songs that comes on, and I’ll walk or dance on the treadmill until that certain part of the song comes on that I want to jump to. Then I’ll literally jump off the treadmill, go for a quick 30 or 45 seconds, however long that part of the song lasts, and then I’ll jump back on the treadmill [laughs]. Music literally drives my workouts.
Why should people consider jumping rope as a fitness alternative as opposed to the usual cardio routines of hitting the treadmill, going on the elliptical and hopping on the Stairmaster?
Number one, if a person is pressed for time, especially if you’re like a mom or a wife or you just don’t have that hour to sit in a gym and you really need to do something quick, you can jump rope for 15 minutes. Not saying that if your goal is to lose weight that jumping rope for 15 minutes will make it happen. You’re going to need more than 15 minutes. However, in that 15 minutes of jumping rope, you’ve probably burned more calories than you would on the treadmill, elliptical, bike, etc., because you’re using your whole body. With the jump rope, it’s you against that rope. So you have to turn the rope and you have to jump over it. You turn the rope and you don’t jump, you’re going to fall. So jumping rope, and this is why a lot of people steer away from it, it’s hard. I make it look easy but it’s not easy [laughs]. It’s like doing push-ups or pull-ups or dips or squats. YOU have to do that for yourself. Nobody can do that for you. No machine can do that for you. So same with jumping. You have to actually be an active participant. On a treadmill, you can automatically slow it down. You don’t have to use your arms as much. On the elliptical, if you get tired you can just hold on. With a jump rope, you work your whole body. And there are different things you can do in that workout so you don’t have to stay just stationary, and that’s what a lot of people see. I don’t like to run for instance, but I can jump back and forth with the rope while running across the room. I feel better doing that. Or me, I don’t like burpees. But if you give me a jump rope, I’ll do jump rope burpees [laughs]. It’s almost like anything that you can do without a jump rope, you can kind of do it with. It’s so versatile. You don’t necessarily have to stand in one spot and get bored. You can never get bored because there is always something to do with the rope.