Jump Rope Muscles Worked (And 4 Secrets to Building Bigger Calves)


Jumping rope is an incredible tool to work a variety of different muscles. There are certain muscles, however, that reap the most benefits. In this article I’ll share the muscles jumping rope works the most and a few secrets for targeting the calves.

One important distinction I want to make upfront is that jumping rope is a cardiovascular exercise. Cardio, alone, will not get you the muscle definition you’re likely looking for.

To truly build muscle, you will want to incorporate some strength training into your regimen.

That said, jumping rope in conjunction with weight training is probably the most ideal combination to build muscle and lean out. Especially if you can pair it with a clean diet.

So, let’s jump into it (pun intended)…

The 6 main muscles jumping rope works

While jumping rope engages both the upper and lower body muscles, it mainly targets the lower body. Specifically, the calves, quads, glutes, and hamstrings. Jumping rope also works the muscles in your shoulders and abdominal, especially when using a weighted jump rope.

The muscles that are engaged the most depends on how you utilize your jump rope. For example, there are certain movements that will target the calves more than the glutes, and vice versa.

I’ll cover that in more detail later in this article.

Here are the 6 muscle groups jumping rope primarily targets and how the muscles are utilized.

1. Calves

The calves are the primary muscle group worked when jumping rope. And, it works the calves in a way that many other forms of cardio do not. Both the gastrocnemius and the soleus (the two muscles that make up the calf) are engaged while jumping.

Additionally, with a jump rope you’re able to work the gastrocnemius and soleus from a variety of different angles which can help stimulate growth. Double-unders, the boxer step, in-and-outs, these all work the calves in slightly different ways.

Regardless of the movement you’re performing with your jump rope, the calves absorb most of the impact. Therefore, the muscle tissue and fibers in the calves reap the most benefits.

There are several jump rope tricks you can perform to focus on engaging your calves. I go into more detail on some of those strategies below.

Some of my favorite tricks are in-and-outs and scissor jumps. Both of which are incredibly easy to perform and do a great job at targeting the calf muscles. I’ve included an explanation of both of those jumps below.

2. Quads

The second muscle group that is worked the most are the quadriceps. The quads, in conjunction with the glutes, are what enable you to explode off the ground with each jump.

The Quadriceps Femoris (the large muscle group that makes up the quad) is made up of 4 smaller muscles. The rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius. Each one of these muscles play a role in helping you jump.

And, the stronger and larger these muscles are, the higher you’ll be able to jump.

How to Increase Your Vertical

One of my favorite movements to target the quads is the squat jump. This is a jump rope movement that takes some practice, but once you master it you’ll see how incredibly taxing it is on these muscles.

To perform the squat jump, all you do is lower yourself into a slight squat and then jump rope. You want to remain in this position with each jump. By doing this, you’ll be relying almost entirely on your quads. You should feel the burn in your quadriceps immediately.

While this is great for toning your thighs, you’ll also want to incorporate some weighted exercises into your routine as well. Barbell squats, dumbbell lunges, and box jumps are all great exercises for building these muscles.

3. Shoulders

One of the more underrated muscle groups jumping rope works are the shoulders. I have relatively large shoulders; I like to think my years of jumping rope are a big reason for that.

When you rotate the rope around your body, you’re engaging both your deltoids and your rotator cuffs. The deltoid is the largest muscle in the shoulder, followed by the rotator cuff which is made up of 4 smaller muscles (the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis).

One thing you can do if you want to put more of an emphasis on building your shoulders is work with a heavy or weighed jump rope.

Benefits of a Weighted Jump Rope

Either way, you should feel it in your shoulders after a good jump rope workout.

Another way to isolate your shoulder muscles is by pulling your shoulders back while you jump. Try and keep your shoulder blades as close together as possible. And, when you jump, focus on rotating the rope with your shoulders as opposed to your wrists.

4. Hamstrings

The hamstrings are another muscle group that is engaged when you jump rope.

Like the quads, the hamstrings are what enable you to explode off the ground with each jump. They also absorb some of the impact when you land. They aren’t activated nearly as much as the quads, but they are used.

The hamstring is made up of 3 smaller muscles. The biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and the semimembranosus. The biceps femoris is one of the most common injured muscles amongst athletes, which is why it’s so important to strengthen.

There are a variety of movements you can perform to work the hamstrings.

Some of my favorite jump rope tricks to work the hamstrings are scissor jumps and high knees. Both movements put a much greater emphasis on the hamstrings. High knees, in particular, are a great way to work both the quads and the hamstrings.

Its important to stretch the hamstrings, too. I’ll usually do a quick 5-minute stretch before I jump rope. Just to help lengthen these muscles and avoid injury.

5. Glutes

The next muscle group that jumping rope works is the glutes.

The Gluteal muscles are made up of several smaller muscles that abduct and extend the femur. These muscles, the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus, are all used when jumping. And, they’re an important muscle group to exercise for a balanced lower body.

The glutes are second to last on this list only because they aren’t utilized nearly as much as the other muscles. However, there are some specific movements you can perform to engage them in a greater way.

Some of my favorite jumps that require the use of the glutes, and oddly enough the calves as well, are scissor jumps and the double-under. Both of these jumps are great at targeting the glutes.

Additionally, the squat jump not only works the quads but is also great for building your glutes.

Similar to the rest of these muscle groups, strength training is key to seeing true growth. When it comes to weights, the standard squat, sumo squat, and box jumps are all great exercises to assist in the break down of gluteal muscle tissue.

6. Abs

You wouldn’t think jumping over a rope would work your abs, but it does.

One of the key elements to jumping rope successfully is keeping your core (abdominal muscles) tight and engaged. By engaging your core, you enable the rest of your body to work in sync with each other. It also helps prevent injury.

The abdominal muscles are last on this list, however, because they aren’t one of the primary muscle groups that are worked.

That said, like many of these other muscle groups there are certain movements you can perform to target these muscles. One of my favorite moves for this is the crossover.

The crossover is when you cross your arms every other jump, making an X with the rope. This move requires you to slightly hunch your back and flex your abs. The trick to performing crossovers is to hunch your back a bit and round your shoulders.

While this is a somewhat advanced jump rope move, it pays off to learn it.

4 secrets to building bigger calves with your jump rope

Strong, defined calf muscles are a largely coveted aesthetic amongst the bodybuilding community. Primarily because they’re one of the most difficult muscle groups to grow.

I’ve always had difficulty working my calves. Being somewhat taller (I’m 6’ 2”) makes it especially difficult as my calves are much longer. Fortunately, by implementing a few unique jump rope exercises to my routine I’ve been able to see great results.

I’m here to share those with you. To, open Pandora’s Box, if you will… 😉

Here are my 4 secrets to building bigger calves.

Jump higher (double-unders)

Explosive exercises are one of the best ways to break down muscle fibers. And, while jumping rope generally isn’t an “explosive exercise”, there are certain tricks you can perform to increase the explosiveness.

Double-unders are a perfect example of that.

The double-under is simple, in concept. With each jump, you rotate the rope around your body twice. It requires you to jump slightly higher and rotate the rope quicker.

By jumping higher, your calf muscles (the gastrocnemius and the soleus) are worked twice as hard. It’s noticeably more difficult, too.

You’ll find with only a few double-unders your body is significantly more exhausted than if you were to jump rope for three or four minutes.

Unlike scissor jumps, they’re a little more challenging to perform and may take some practice.

In-and-outs (and scissor jumps)

In and outs, as well as scissor jumps, target the calf muscles in a dynamic way. It’s probably the single most effective jump rope movement to seeing more size and definition in your calves.

They’re also incredibly easy to perform, making this the best secret for even the most novice jumper.

In-and-outs are simple. With each jump, you bring your legs in, and then out… in, and then out. It’s identical to what you would do when performing a jumping jack. The only difference is you’re jumping over a rope.

The scissor jump is also pretty simple. Instead of bringing your legs out to the side, then back in, you bring one leg forward and the other back. Return to the starting position, then repeat with the opposite leg forward and the other leg back.

Give it a try!

Single leg jumps

These are another great secret to building bigger and more defined calves.

With the single leg jump, you’re going to jump on only one leg for a specific number of jumps. Once completed, switch to the other leg. Alternate back and forth.

You’ll find by requiring only one leg to hold all of your body weight, your calves will get a much better workout than jumping on both legs.

One way to increase the intensity is by combining the single leg jump with double-unders. Essentially jumping over the rope twice with each jump while only standing on one leg.

This is definitely a more advance move and will take some time to master. It’s a great calf workout though if you can manage to learn it.

Jump rope barefoot

The last secret I have for building bigger calves is jumping rope without your shoes.

This might seem like a silly idea, but there’s a lot of data that suggests training barefoot can have a positive effect on the muscles in your foot, ankle, and even your calves.

The reason for this is because shoes provide unnatural support to your feet making you rely less on your muscles and more on the support from your shoes. Over time, this will weaken your feet.

Whenever possible, I jump rope without my shoes.

I wouldn’t do this at the gym, for example, where it’s common courtesy to wear socks and shoes. However, at home or outside I prefer jumping rope barefoot. After even a few jump rope sessions you can notice your feet, ankles and calves becoming stronger.

If this is something new for you, it’s best you ease into it. Try jumping for a few minutes without your shoes and increase it from there.

Will Holmes

Former personal trainer and athlete, currently working full-time as a health and fitness writer. Getting in shape, losing weight, and eating better, isn't always easy. It helps to have a friend... that's me, I'm the friend! Sincerely, Your biggest fan

Recent Posts