I was lost in Vegas, bobbing in a sea of vendors hawking gizmos and gadgets at the annual IDEA Health & Fitness Association's convention. My head spun from all the bands and tubing, and covers for that tubing, and from a NIKE supermarket and dueling Pilates demonstrations, the fashion, and a half-dozen fitness music vendors.
I nearly lost my bearings in the cacophony of pounding bass and shrill instructor orders from the dueling demonstrations. (Note: Pilates and spinning do not mix.)
I had listened with a reporter's patience and frozen smile to pitches about weight vests and supplements and recessed shoes and juices and some cool stuff I'll pass along in the coming weeks. But it was getting overwhelming all at once, all Spandex and hyperactivity.
Then, Buddy Lee saved me.
He was dressed in a snow-white sweat suit, a neatly rolled American-flag bandana around his forehead. He sells jump ropes and a book and video on how to do it correctly. Normally, I'd be interested, but I'd been through a lot and was halfway past his booth before I decided to listen.
I learned he wrestled in the Olympics, was a 10-time World and Pan Am Games medalist, 20-time U.S. National and Armed Forces Champion, and twice US Marine Athlete of the Year. He has trained Olympic athletes in two dozen different sports. OK, I thought, maybe there is something here.
Think you know how?
Buddy Lee forwards these tips:
• Hold handles at waist level with a firm grip, elbows close to your sides.
• Make small, quarter-size circular movements with the wrists while turning the rope.
• Keep torso relaxed, head erect, and look straight ahead to maintain balance.
• Choose a good jump rope (Lee, of course, recommends checking out www.buddyleejumpropes.com), which adjusts to your height, has a comfortable grip and turns smoothly at the handles.
• Wear cross-trainer shoes with forefoot padding because you will be bouncing and balancing your weight on the balls of your feet. Most running shoes put the padding in the heels.
• Never sacrifice good form for speed.
• Avoid concrete in favor of a wooden floor or other more forgiving surface.
He explained the anatomy of his jump ropes with their "patented swivel bearing system." He told me what I could learn by reading his book and watching his video. He didn't seem to be selling as much as letting me in on a secret that we all know, but dismiss. Jumping rope is great exercise.
He began jumping rope at 14, used it to become a top athlete, and at 49 still makes it the core of his life.
Perhaps he thought I was ready to walk away because he grabbed a jump rope and carved out a little space in the aisle. He could have jumped rope in a phone booth. The movements were compact, fancy and a blur. He criss-crossed, sidestepped and performed a number of other maneuvers I could hardly track. I don't recall the rope ever even clipping the floor. He didn't have to worry about hitting passers-by. They were all frozen and gawking.
The biggest seller of his impromptu demonstration, though, was his heaving chest afterward. He looks like he could still wrestle, but that 20-second burst had put his whole body to the test.
And that is the point of all this stuff around me, I remembered. It's about health and exercise, not logos.
Jumping rope is efficient, easy and low-impact when done right. To keep the exercise low-impact don't jump more than an inch off the ground and keep the ankles and knees loose. Land lightly on the balls of your feet and be mindful of absorbing the impact of each landing.
His sport is ideal, he says, both for the old because it provides enough ground force to increase bone density and for kids because it improves concentration and focus.
Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.