The Jump Rope Workout You Didn't Know You Needed

If you haven't picked up a jump rope since recess, or you think a jump rope workout is just for athletes like boxers, you're missing out on an intense way to get cardio in a limited amount of time.

Jumping rope improves balance and coordination, and sculpts the upper body while you control and stabilize the rope (via TIME). What's more, it puts minimal strain on your joints while burning lots of calories, reducing belly fat, and boosting cardiovascular health — not bad for 12 to 20 minutes, three to five times a week, says New York-based psychologist and wellness coach Janine Delaney on her website.

Delaney (who also happens to be raising teenagers) especially recommends jumping rope if you're over 40. An exercise routine that can easily fit into most lifestyles, it also, for those in a certain middle-ranging age group, contains myriad benefits, such as improving mental clarity and mood, placing minimal strain on joints (as compared to a higher-impact exercise like running), and improving cardiovascular health.

"It can get your heart pumping," Tim Church, M.D., a professor of preventative medicine at Louisiana State University's Pennington Biomedical Research Center, told TIME. "But one of the nice things about it is the intensity can really be as high as you want it to be."

If you haven't jumped rope in a while, perhaps start with five minutes, then build from there, adds Michele Olson, a senior clinical professor of sports science at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama.

Twist your body and alternate feet for more cardio benefits

There's no room to be bored while jumping rope, either. Once you've mastered lifting both feet over the rope each time, Delaney offers these five playful moves that will get your mind working and pulse pounding (via Health):

  • The twist: Each time your feet lift off the ground, twist your body to face one side, then the other. (Jump twice facing each direction if that makes switching sides easier.)
  • The skier: You won't have to bundle up to hit these slopes! Each time your feet leave the ground, jump both feet slightly to the left, then slightly to the right, as if you're hopping over a small obstacle.
  • The switch: Scissor your feet each time they leave the ground, crossing one, then the other, in front of each other.
  • The open-close: Imagine this move as doing jumping jacks but without putting your hands over your head. Jump your legs open, then closed as you jump rope.
  • The crisscross: This is probably the most advanced out of the five moves, and it's impressive to see: As you jump, crisscross your arms and your legs.