Cycling Vs Jump Rope – 11 Key Differences


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Jump rope seems to be a big thing in the gym I’ve started going to. Everyone’s in on it! They all think they’re Rocky Balbao. And there’s a few fancy tricks on show here and there too.

But it has got me thinking about how useful jump ropes might be to us cyclists.

Do cycling and jump rope complement each other?

What are the differences?

How does one impact the other?

From what I can see there appear to be 11 differences between cycling and jump rope which are:

  1. How they affect the building of bone density
  2. The respective muscles used
  3. Low impact vs high impact
  4. Calories burned in both
  5. Back pain issues
  6. Arthritis and how each might affect this
  7. Existing injuries
  8. Budget
  9. Daily Routine – how to fit them in
  10. Impact on knees of both
  11. Female period issues

In this post, I’m going to dive into all of these 11 differences, so you can work out if jump rope or cycling (or both!) are right for you.

cycling vs jump rope

1. Cycling Vs Jump Rope – Building Bone Density

Let’s start with an issue that really shows up quite a stark contrast between the two (a lot of the other differences are smaller).

We’re going to be talking about bone density, and how to build bone density.

Well, what is this, you may ask? Basically, activities that provide repetitive impacts to bones over and over cause the bone to strengthen.

It is a bit like the way muscles are strengthened. You tear the muscles slightly with weights and things like that, and they grow back stronger each time.

Bone density is similar. Lots of continual impacts make the bone stronger and denser.

Here’s the thing – jump rope is great at building bone density. When you are bouncing, there are continual impacts on bones such as those in the legs, making them much stronger over time. (Source)

There are quite a few benefits to greater bone density, such as:

  • It makes it less likely you will break a bone
  • It strengthens weak areas like the hip bones
  • It reduces the risk of dangerous falls later in life

But what of cycling? Well, it’s no good apparently. Because it lacks those continual impacts, there is no increase in bone density provided.

Perhaps surprisingly, it actually appears that cycling can even sometimes be bad for bone density. (Source)

This is particularly the case in committed road cyclists, who will spend a lot of time with the weight off their legs if training for several hours a day.

So, all in all, it’s one nil to jump ropes as far as bone density is concerned.

2. Cycling Vs Jump Rope – Muscles Used

When it comes to the types of muscles used between the two activities, the big difference is the wider range of muscles jumping rope activates, over the more specific muscles activated by cycling.

Put simply:

Jump rope activates more muscles, but is less intense in the majority of cases.

Cycling activates fewer muscles but acts in a more strenuous way on those specific muscles.

Jump rope in particular will focus on these muscles:

  • Calves
  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Abs
  • Oblique Muscles
  • Forearms
  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Shoulders
  • Back Muscles
  • Chest Muscles

Basically all over! Of course, some of these will be getting a bigger workout than others.

Calves, quads, hamstrings and your core will be getting battered, while the other muscles are only moderately activated.

Cycling, in fairness, uses many similar muscles but is not quite as full a body workout.

Its main muscles are:

  • Glutes
  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves

The driving power of pedaling comes especially from the glutes. But all four of the muscle groups I’ve just mentioned will be receiving an intense workout during cycling. Cycling is an excellent method of strengthening and toning each of these muscles.

Cycling has some impact on other muscles, like arms and shoulders, but less so than jump rope.

However, I should say that it does depend on the type of cycling. If you’re cycling over rocky terrain, for example, you will be using pretty much every muscle group.

But for simple cycling on a machine in the gym, then jumping rope has slightly the edge for a full body workout.

Main cycling muscles are calves, hamstrings, quads, and glutes
Cycling really focuses on the calves, hamstrings, quads and glutes

3. Low Impact Vs Medium/High Impact

This is a big one out of the list because of the many knock-on effects it has.

Cycling is one of the classic low-impact sports.

The pedaling motion is a smooth one, with no jolts or jerks. This basically means that it has minimal impacts on your joints, and avoids all the health implications that can lead from this.

This is good for the long-term health of all us all, but particularly for any of these people:

  • The elderly
  • Those with muscle or joint issues
  • Those with back issues
  • Anyone with arthritis

Jump rope is nowhere near as low impact as cycling. It is not truly high high impact, but it’s not low impact either. It’s kind of somewhere in the middle – but tending more toward the high side!

The surface that you choose to jump on is important.

Jump Rope Chris says, ‘Hard surfaces like concrete will increase the impact on your joint regardless of what level you are. Always try to jump on softer surfaces with a little spring in them such as the wooden flooring of a basketball court (the holy grail of flooring in freestyle competition).‘ (Source)

All those repetitive jumps on a hard surface will add up and can have an impact on your muscles and joints.

Cycling is definitely the winner where this issue is concerned.

Here are a list of other high-impact and low-impact exercises to help you understand this differentiation further:

ExerciseLow ImpactHigh Impact
WalkingX
SquatsX
CyclingX
Jump RopeX
YogaX
HIITX
RowingX
LungesX

4. Cycling Vs Jump Rope – Calories Burned

In terms of calories burned, jump rope skipping will burn a lot more calories in the same amount of time that you cycle. However, most people will be able to cycle for much longer than they could skip.

In a nutshell:

Jump rope exercise burns about 20 calories every minute. This equates to 300 calories over 15 minutes. In theory, this would mean 1200 calories over an hour (but is that even possible?!) (Source)

On the other hand, cycling burns about 10 calories every minute (half of the jump rope). This equates to 150 calories over 15 minutes, or 600 calories over an hour (much more achievable!).

Of course, this is a generalization, and these numbers will depend on your age, weight, gender, and all that.

But for rapid calorie burn go jump rope!

But if you think you can cycle for hours on end, then you’ll burn more calories doing that than you ever could with a rope!

Here’s a video that gets right into the facts of which burns more calories – jump rope or cycling (Peloton in this case):

5. Back Pain

Most physios will recommend that anyone suffering from back pain should not use jump rope as a form of exercise.

This is partly because of its non-low-impact nature. All that repetitive pounding on your joints and muscles is the opposite of what you need.

On the other hand, cycling is recommended for those with some types of back pain. This is because cycling is an exercise where the weight is taken off the legs.

This reduces tension, particularly in the lower back.

So, if you have back problems, it’s more likely that cycling is the one for you (but seek the advice of a professional first.)

6. Arthritis

For anyone with any issues around arthritis, this is another area where there is a big difference between the two.

In short, jump rope is generally not recommended if you have arthritis. (Source) All the pounding on your joints can exacerbate the condition and cause issues.

Any of the following exercises are not recommended for those with arthritis:

  • running
  • jump rope
  • jogging
  • HIIT
  • any exercise where both feet leave the ground at any one point

Cycling seems in many ways the polar opposite. It is actively recommended by medical professionals for those with arthritis. (Source)

It helps in the following ways:

  • It gets the weight off your legs
  • You choose your intensity – from fast pedaling to cruising down a hill
  • It is low impact (as I’ve said about a gazillion times before) and so kind to your joints

7. Existing Injuries

This is an area to be mindful of whichever type of exercise you choose. Both can exacerbate previous injuries, but the types of injuries will be different.

For jump rope, existing injuries that can be exacerbated and cause problems include:

  • Any injury to the knees
  • Any injury to the foot or tarsals
  • Any injuries to any part of the leg

Using a jump rope with any of these pre-existing conditions can lead to further straining the injury.

On the other hand, with cycling, a different set of issues are involved. Common pre-existing injuries that may be worsened include:

  • Piriformis pain (the piriformis is a muscle in your butt that can cause sciatica pain)
  • Some types of knee pain
  • Pain in shoulders and neck (which can be exacerbated by poor cycling posture)
  • Numb feet

Of course, every individual is different. Some people find relief from injuries through unusual exercises. But at least refer to a health professional if you have any of the above issues before you try any activity out.

8. Budget

One of the beauties of both of these exercises is that they do not break the bank!

Jump rope probably comes out on top! All you need is a rope and away you go. The only downside might be that you don’t have the space to do it in your home. Then you may need a gym membership, and those are not cheap!

Of course, cycling is not necessarily expensive either. The main piece of gear is obviously the bike (duh!), but when you’ve got that you’re mostly covered. You can of course go completely crazy with accessories and top-end gear and the rest of it. But is it all completely necessary?

Plus, if you cycle to work, that will save you thousands a year.

So, it’s a tough call on which comes out on top of the budget question!

9. Daily Routine

One thing that makes sense for lots of people is thinking about how any activity is possible in your normal daily routine.

An exercise can have the greatest health benefits in the world, but if you’re not able to do it much because of practical restraints, then it will have no impact!

In general, I hear lots of people saying how easily cycling fits around their daily routine. Many people can:

  • Cycle to work
  • Cycle to the store to get groceries
  • Cycle at lunchtime
  • Cycle in the office or with an under-desk cycle
  • Cycle early in the morning or at night

Many of these will be trips they are doing anyway, like cycling to work or the store, and so cycling just naturally happens.

To an extent, the same may be true of jump rope exercises. But there are probably a few obstacles. These are:

  • It’s not realistic to do in many offices
  • You can’t do it during a commute
  • You need a reasonably high ceiling and space to it at home
  • You may not be able to do it outside during certain times of year (such as in rain or snow)

Overall, I think cycling definitely edges it on the convenience side of the argument.

10. Impact On Knees

This is linked to the low-impact vs high-impact issue.

In general, jump rope will take a toll on your knees. That is the joint that will receive the biggest pounding. Jump rope is relatively high-impact (yes that again), and has a repetitive strain on joints and the muscles around them.

The issues of cycling and knees are more complex.

In general, cycling is good for the knees. However, there will be people that experience knee pain through cycling (and this is one of the most common cycling injuries).

Usually, because cycling is low-impact, it has a positive effect on the knees, strengthening the muscles around them while being kind to the knee joint. However, some people may suffer knee pain as a result of over-exertion, poor posture, or other reasons, so this is at least something to be mindful of.

Here is a video that shows the link between cycling posture, bike size, and knee pain:

11. Impact On Periods

There are some studies that show that using a jump rope can lead to the risk of exacerbating and elongating female periods.

Apparently, during menstruation, the ligaments around the uterus can weaken. Skipping at this time can damage these tissues, which will already contain more blood. This can lead to an increase in bleeding. (Source)

However, it appears the opposite is true with cycling. Low-intensity cycling can sometimes relieve pain or the ill effects of periods. (Source)

Martin Williams

Martin has been tearing up all sorts of trails on a range of bikes ever since he was young. He once cycled across France, and once fell into a canal on a hybrid. He writes about everything to do with cycling on our site. You can find out more about him at bicycle2work.com/about-martin-williams/

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