For those of you that are unfamiliar with what a double under is, well, I can’t really say I blame you.
A double under is the passing of a high speed jump rope not once, but twice under your feet in a single jump.
This is a common movement in the sport of CrossFit, which has recently taken the fitness world by storm, and a sport I participate in frequently.
But this story isn’t just about double unders. While it does involve the execution of 10,000 double unders in 30 days, it’s about much more than that.
This is a story about:
- Skill acquisition hacking
- Self-image hacking
- Psychology of change
- And the creation of time for a goal
Before going into the full story, I want to share with you a few reasons why I set out on this challenge for myself, as well the rules I followed, the inspiration I kept with me, and the skill hacking method I learned from Tim Ferriss’s ‘The Four Hour Chef’ that really helped catapult me from beginner to borderline expert in just a couple of weeks.
I’m going to explain that method in this post.
Why Did I Do It?
It wasn’t to lose weight. It wasn’t to increase my vertical. It wasn’t to increase my cardio. And it definitely wasn’t for the fun of it.
All of those things (except the last one) were just cool side effects.
For me, this was more about the challenge of doing something a little crazy. It was not only to see if I could crack 10k in 30 days as a personal challenge, but also to see if I could hack the skill enough to operate at an expert level in that same time frame.
Plus, if I could do this in 30 days, what other cool stuff could I accomplish in just a few weeks?
But it wasn’t just that either. It was also about forging self-discipline and continuous life progression. This challenge was not something I looked forward to doing every day, but I knew if I stayed with it, I would get better, and that was a really satisfying reward.
I’ve always been someone who wants to continue to improve, and that’s what Academy Success is all about. Always Be Improving.
- For a double under to count towards the total, it had to be during an unbroken set of at least two consecutive double unders. Single double unders did not count. Unsuccessful DU attempts did not count.
- After week two, any set of less than 5 unbroken double unders did not count.
- After week three, any set of less than 10 unbroken double unders did not count.
- All 10,000 double unders had to be completed within 30 consecutive days starting from day 1
- Double unders performed during CrossFit WODs did count towards the full total (including all coaching sessions and classes)
- If illness or injury occurred during the challenge (which it did), double unders must be made up upon recovery within the initial 30 day time frame. No exceptions.
All of these rules kept me progressing, kept me honest, and made sure I had no excuses or ways to procrastinate during my challenge.
And there’s a lesson in that. If you want to achieve something, create a system to hold yourself accountable to. You’ll have a much higher chance of success.
The Equipment and Supplements
There has been a lot of interest about the equipment and supplements I used for the challenge, so as to not distract from the main point of this post, learning double unders, I added a section at the bottom that details the full equipment list.
You can also download this list along with a comprehenisve one-page summary of this post here, for future reference.
The reason I’m such a big proponent of inspiration is because inspiration hits you on an emotional level, where motivation is often on a logical level.
Motivation is most often derived from inspiration.
During the challenge, I found myself returning to this video of CrossFit Champion Chris Spealler several times to keep me going, as well as to study his technique.
Just try not to be emotionally affected by this.
Pretty awesome isn’t it? I didn’t get quite that far, but as you’ll see in a moment, Ferriss’s method paid off, and I got pretty darn good.
Next, I’m going to explain how this method of skill hacking works, and how it helped me through my challenge.
I may have been able to complete it without this framework, but I can guarantee you it would have been a hell of a lot more difficult.
Get ready for meta learning!
Hacking the Double Under Skill – Tim Ferriss Meta Learning in Action
If you haven’t read Tim Ferriss’s The Four Hour Chef, I highly recommend it.
While 2/3 of it is a cook book (moreso how to cook efficiently, not necessarily a traditional cookbook), the rest, in typical Ferriss fashion, is a life hacking manual to teach you how to learn basically any skill you want to learn at record pace, not just cooking.
I used the Meta Learning method in The Four Hour Chef throughout the challenge to make incredible leaps in progress throughout. Without it, it would have taken me A LOT more time to finish, and time is something I value very highly.
The method Ferriss teaches involves a chronological sequence of key steps that can be applied to any skill, in order to learn it to an expert level in the least amount of time. It takes into account many productivity principles, including elimination, streamlining, and accountability, to name a few.
The basic steps in order are:
- Deconstruction – Learning what the key parts of the skill are
- Selection – The MED (minimum effective dose) in order to get to an expert level
- Sequencing – The most effective order to learn the key pieces
- Stakes – Setting up accountability to enhance follow through
Deconstructing the Double Under
The first step in Meta Learning is Deconstruction. In this phase, you isolate the separate pieces, or learnable units, of the skill to stand on their own.
This is the phase in which you understand what it is your dealing with, and begin to understand how they all fit together to ultimately create the skill.
For double unders, a relatively simple movement composed of a jump and a violent wrist flick, there were very few minimal units.
The mastery would come later in the details of each. Once I officially started my deconstruction phase, (in week 2) I began asking many questions to my coaches and counterparts.
I also observed many of the more adept double under performers I knew, including Chris Spealler from the video above. This would help later in the Sequencing video. Eventually, I was able to isolate the double under to these key skills.
More to come regarding these in the selection and sequencing sections.
- Body and Hand Positioning
- The Jump Takeoff
- The Jump Landing
- The Jump Cadence
- The Rope Setup
- The Rope Grip
- The Rope Flick
- The Rope Cadence
Selection for the Double Under
In selection, Ferriss teaches to isolate the MED (minimum effective dose) of the parts discovered in the Deconstruction phase. What can be eliminated, or streamlined to make the learning process quicker?
I decided all of the parts I identified were important, so none could really be eliminated altogether, but what I could do was master some of the easier and more important pieces up front for some quick wins to keep me motivated, and to simplify the rest along the way, significantly streamlining the learning process.
I decided that body positioning, and rope setup were going to be first. Those were areas I could master without the need for movement. Spealler does a great job of explaining those two keys in this video, and the rest is basically him kicking ass.
He doesn’t say it outright, but I did find this video helpful to understand the jump technique as well. Note the minimal movement of his body, and how his foot strike is more on the ball of his foot than the toe. Then he always transitions to his heel to absorb the impact.
It might not seem that important, but this is an absolute key to sustained high reps, especially thousands over the course of a week, which I learned the hard way.
At first, I was rebounding from my toes without much of a heel tap, and it was wrecking my feet and calves.
If you don’t release the tension by tapping your heel, you will destroy your foot arches and your calves in the process. Remember that.
Sequencing for the Double Under and Eliminating Failure Points
Sequencing is the basic idea learning things in the proper order to progress as quickly as possible. You have to crawl before you can walk, so to speak.
But there is a sequencing problem with the way most people learn double unders. I believe this is where most people get in trouble.
The double under jump can be done at an intermediate level (20-25 reps or so) without proper technique, but eventually the body will become fatigued and fail to perform.
Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that the way most people learn double unders inherently results in failure.
Here’s the problem with the typical way double unders are learned.
The vast majority of jumpers will go straight into attempting to turning the rope while jumping simultaneously. It’s even often taught this way. I’ve observed that this is the big failing point with double unders.
If you’re a beginner, it’s extraordinarily difficult to turn the rope correctly, AND jump correctly at the same time, because in order to master your jumping technique, you have to turn the rope correctly. In order to master turning the rope correctly, you have to jump over it…
So you see the dilemma.
If you don’t know how to do either one, you’re fighting an extreme uphill battle and you’re learning bad habits in the process, which I unfortunately already had.
You either rush your rope turn and end up flailing your arms wildly in the process, or you mis-time your jump and try to compensate by lifting your knees or legs awkwardly.
It’s nearly impossible to learn this way, and it’s a HUGE failure point for most people, especially if you haven’t done a lot of jump rope in your life.
I knew I had to eliminate this failure point (as Ferriss suggests) in order to progress to an expert level, and so will you. So I found a way to sequence these correctly.
Learning the Jump in Isolation Before Anything Else
First I learned the jump by eliminating the rope from the equation. Any steady cadence will do here. The technique is what matters. I jumped in place focusing on my landing, a steady rhythm, and staying on one general spot.
Large emphasis was put on landing on the balls of my feet and ensuring I tapped my heel before jumping again. I found that it really helped to close my eyes so I could feel everything I was doing.
Here is a side by side of how my jump progressed throughout the challenge.
You can see at first I was splitting my feet pretty badly. Why, I have no idea. It was likely a bad habit from learning incorrectly.
But in order to get back in alignment, this was causing me to absorb the impact of the landing with mostly my toes. I was tripping up after 5-10 reps due to eventual fatigue as well as misalignment of my feet.
Through isolating the jump technique, I eventually was able to correct this, allowing me to get to much higher rep counts far easier.
Do this for at least 5 minutes a day during the initial couple of weeks of your challenge if you’re inexperienced.
Learning Hand Positioning and The Rope Flick
Next, I learned hand positioning, and the rope flick, two more very related keys to the double under.
If you’re going to be proficient at double unders, you need to minimize the movement in your arms and shoulders, using mostly your wrists to flick the rope around the axis of your body from slightly out in front.
The large muscles of your arms and shoulders will tire much quicker than your wrists. This is another key to longevity and higher rep counts.
But how can you learn to flick the rope correctly without having the jump mastered yet?
The Ultimate Double Under Hack – Speed Balls
Enter my homemade “speed balls”, made from an old rope I had lying around, two small wiffle balls, and a couple of zip ties. These proved to be extraordinarily helpful in helping me learn how to perform the rope flick better without having to worry about jumping at all, thus eliminating that failure point completely, as our good friend Tim Ferriss recommends.
Working with these about 5-10 minutes per day is immensely helpful. I highly recommend either making a set for yourself, or picking up a set from Again Faster Equipment in their double under training pack (it’ll be much cheaper to make your own, but the quality may not be as good.)
If you want to make your own, just pick up a basic speed rope and cut the cable to about 18 inches from each handle, then wrap the cable through the wiffle balls and tie them off with a zip tie. Pretty simple, and an extremely effective training tool.
With these, I had the rope turn down in a few days and my rate of fatigue during workouts went WAY down.
So with those two somewhat different training techniques, I was able to learn these two key parts of the double under separately, to pretty high efficiency, making it far easier to perform them together.
Stakes for the Double Under
The last piece of the Meta learning technique is setting up stakes for yourself so you’ll stick to what you want to learn. Without stakes, it’ll be much easier to give up during difficult times.
For me, The 10,000 Double Under Challenge that I created was obviously at stake, but there was something else at stake as well. If I failed, I wouldn’t, in good conscience, be able to release this story to the world, and have it help CrossFit communities all over with their double unders.
To me, success was a must if I was going to inspire others to take this challenge as well. That motivated me more than anything else.
Stakes within stakes – Along the way I also found myself having to set up “stakes within stakes”, so to speak. Thirty consecutive days of one thing can get a little boring at times, and I also needed something to motivate me to keep pushing for higher rep counts to continue to improve.
So I started doing a WOD (workout of the day) called “Flight Simulator” mid way through Week 3.
This WOD is 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 45, 40, 35, 30, 25, 20, 15, 10, 5 double unders, all unbroken sets, with a requirement to stop and reset after each set.
It’s a brutal WOD which is very frustrating at times, but also very rewarding when you finally finish it. It also keeps you moving and working towards a time-boxed goal, which helps speed up your workouts.
It definitely helped me to keep pushing. My best time on that was 24:48 during the challenge, which I have since beaten by a few minutes, but for never even coming close to finishing that before, I couldn’t complain too much.
The Comprehensive One Pager
Ferriss also recommends that in order to have a simple reference, to summarize the key learning points from your sequence into a one pager that you can easily consult. I’ve taken the time to do that for to use for your own double unders. It also includes the full equipment list along with it if you’re interested.
Feel free to grab that here. Let me know if it helps. You’ll also get free weekly content from Academy Success by opting-in here.
A Word of Caution: So before you move onto the story of how I progressed, if you’re going to embark on this challenge or just want to get better at double unders, make sure to use the DiSS framework that I laid out above. It’ll thoroughly accelerate your learning process. If you don’t, you’re going to have a pretty frustrating month.
And make sure you tweet Tim Ferriss (@tferriss) that you found this post. He will appreciate a solid success story like this using his work.
I kept a log of each day during the challenge. Here’s how things progressed, and the lessons I learned along the way (these will make your challenge a lot easier).
Week One of the 10,000 Double Under Challenge
Now that you’ve got the meta learning tactics under your belt, here’s the story of my 10,000 Double Under Challenge and the lessons I learned throughout.
When I started, I had already been doing double unders on and off during CrossFit classes, but had never really taken the time outside of class to learn how to properly do them (most people don’t because they are ridiculously frustrating).
Like most people, I struggled during WODs that called for them, and it was starting to annoy the shit out of me.
Needless to say, my form was a bit rough. My arms were way too involved, causing my shoulders and forearms to get tired after about 20 reps, and my jump was improper as well.
I was landing on my toes only, and splitting my feet as you saw above (I have no idea why).
As I mentioned above, all of these hinder higher rep counts.
Basically the more movement you have in anything other than your legs and wrists, the worse you are going to be at double unders. Through a bit of coaching at Four Barrel CrossFit in New Albany, IN, I got to this point in a few days. I was capping out around 20 reps or so.
Still a lot of work to do…
Total Double Unders in Week 1 = 1,390
Lessons Learned in Week 1
Week one was a proof of concept test (always test your ideas before fully committing to them).
Could I really do this, or should I cut the cord and call it a wash? I found out that I most likely could, but I needed to make some significant adjustments if I was going to be successful, and if I didn’t want to two hours each day on this challenge. As you guys know, I tend to value my time 🙂
Here are some lessons I learned during the first 4-5 days of my challenge.
Not stretching / warming up is stupid – After the first couple of days, my legs were really sore, and began to cramp around 75 double unders into a set. This made jumping really difficult because my legs would not fire as quickly.
I wasn’t drinking enough water throughout the day, or stretching well enough before and after. I was also not using the foam roller I picked up yet (see equipment below), which helped immensely after I got it. I ordered that on day three and started using it before and after each set.
I may not have made it otherwise.
Mental toughness was going to be just as important as physical toughness – Double unders can be frustrating. Even experts trip up now and then, and I was just a tick above a beginner when I started this challenge. During the beginning, it was common that I tripped up two or three times before getting a good set going, and even then they often ended at 5-10.
On a set of 300+, that’s annoying to say the least.
It wasn’t until halfway into week two that I consistently started turning sets of 20-25. If I was going to make it to 10,000, I had to stay focused and positive, and keep visualizing myself getting better. There are a lot of failures on the path to success in that large of a goal.
Supplements help – My muscles got sore, and stayed sore. I needed to eat better, and get a little supplement help. On day three, I started taking a simple supplement regimen composed of Fish Oil, L-Glutamine, Amplified Creatine, and BCAAs to help my muscles hydrate and recover quicker.
This helped immensely and also improved my regular workout performance at the same time. This was a slight adaption and simplification from the method listed in the Adding Muscle chapter of Tim’s, The Four Hour Body. I also drank a crap load of water.
I took two capsules of Fish Oil in the morning, two L-Glutamine, three BCAAs, and one Creatine. Then I repeated this at lunch and before bed, without the Creatine and Fish Oil. I also downed a 16 oz. protein shake following each double under session.
I won’t say that the supplements are necessary, but they did seem to help quite a bit.
Strong Double knots – Self-explanatory. 🙂
Technique is vital – My double under technique was lacking quite a bit during week one. I knew if I was going to be successful, I had to improve immensely. As my test was now over and I was fully committed to The 10,000 Double Under Challenge, I enlisted the help of expert coaches, and began using the meta learning technique laid out above to speed up the learning process from here.
The beginning of week two was the vital turning point in my challenge. This is when I started to use the methods in Tim Ferriss’s DiSS method to evolve my beginner jumping style into a more expert cadence and my arm-heavy rope turn into a much more aggressive and powerful wrist flick.
Through coaching, videos, and my own personal observation, I deconstructed the main movements of the double under that I listed above, and began examining them for the minimum effective dose. I also fabricated my ‘speed balls’ during this week that your read about above, shown again here.
This helped me practice the wrist turning motion required to maintain double under pace for sometimes 50+ repetitions. The skills were beginning to develop nicely, and my style was starting to look pretty decent. If it wasn’t for being sidelined for a few days with a stomach bug, week 2 would have been a much larger progression.
Total Double Unders in Week 2 = 2,102
Running Total So Far = 3,492
Lessons Learned in Week 2
The big two lessons I learned in week 2 both involved the main movements of the double under. The first was that my grip was too much into all of my fingers when it should have just been in-between my index finger and thumb, with the rest of the fingers as support mechanisms.
This helped me immensely with developing a more aggressive flick motion to more easily get the rope around two rotations in each rep. It helped not only with the rotations, but also with fatigue because it was much easier to perform the motion.
Here is a picture of how my grip was, and how I ended up adjusting it to get a better flick motion. You can really notice this position in the final video (hold your horses).
The second was a reminder from my coaches to make sure to “kiss the heel” of my foot on each rep. Absorbing all of the impact of a double under with my toes only was really fatiguing my calves quickly.
I kept working on this without the rope and eventually got better, but still needed work for it to stick. These two lessons helped immensely, especially on the Saturday of this week when I was able to get in two sets and hit 1100+ reps in a single day.
This is where meta learning went into full effect. The sequencing of learning a proper jump cadence and wrist flick, coupled with eliminating the failure point of jumping while turning through those skill progressions helped me get to a point where I could hit 50 double unders fairly consistently.
However this had some side effects. I was still having a bit of trouble with my recovery time and my legs were cramping during workouts, so I had to take a few recovery days to make sure I wasn’t overdoing things. This was a low rep week because of that, but I had a three day stretch where I hit 500+ reps on each day, which was a nice mental barrier to get over.
The Foam Roller I got from Amazon came in very handy this week in helping me get back into action.
Double Unders in Week 3 = 1,857
Total Double Unders So Far = 5,349
Lessons Learned in Week 3
All in all, this was a fairly uneventful week in terms of additional lessons beyond what I had already learned. This week was more about honing the main movements and maintaining my body than it was about learning additional skills.
I flat out crushed it this week. The jump cadence had set in. The wrist flick had set in, and I was performing double unders at a near expert level.
DiSS had paid off. I finished the Flight Simulator WOD referenced above for the first time, and set in at a total of 3204 in only five days of workouts. My legs were also recovering a lot quicker as well. I was no longer getting sore after workouts.
The only thing holding me back at this point was my stamina. I struggle with cardiovascular endurance, so after 500-600 reps I was getting pretty winded. Otherwise I may have gotten 5000 in this week alone.
Double Unders in Week 4 = 3,204
Total Double Unders So Far = 8,553
Lessons Learned in Week 4
I did learn one very key lesson in this week that a lot of people struggle with, which was how to get the double under cadence started effectively. For some reason I was having trouble getting my rope turn started at the end of week three and into week four.
What I discovered through some video footage was that I was really rushing and tensing up on my first one or two reps.
I was losing my form, pulling my hands back, and tripping up. What helped me through this was an effort to set my hands on the first turn, then get straight into my wrist flick, staying relaxed. This kept the rope in the correct position and allowed me to begin the flicking motion with a lot more stability.
Week 5 – The Final 1,500
Week 5 was the home stretch to 10k. I needed about 1,500 reps in four days to finish out the challenge, which I wasn’t too worried about given I was capable of sets of 700 without too much trouble at this point.
I took Saturday and Sunday off to spend some time with my family, which was nice to help me recover from the previous week. This set me up for a three day stretch of 1,500 reps to finish out.
- Monday – 715
- Tuesday – 515
- Wednesday required less than 300 reps to hit 10k.
This was my final set, where I hit 72 unbroken reps to break the 10,000 mark.
Needless to say I was a little bit winded after that, so I apologize for the lack of excitement and commentary. My wife was also quite proud. 🙂
Double Unders in Week 5 = 1,512
Total Double Unders for the 10,000 Double Under Challenge = 10,065
So there you have it. How Tim Ferriss taught me to do double unders, and how I did 10,000 double unders in 30 days.
Some Cool Stats From the Challenge
- Jump ropes used – 2
- Cables used – 3
- Pairs of shoes worn – 3
- Week 1 total – 1,390
- Week 2 total – 2,102
- Week 3 total – 1,857
- Week 4 total – 3,204
- Week 5 total – 1,512
- Total double unders counted – 10,065
- Unbroken PR – 72
- Best Flight Simulator time – 24:48
- Total number of workout days – 21
- Total number of rest / travel /sick days – 9
- Average double unders per day – 479.3
- Ants squished – Countless
Also, in case you think I made all of this up, here is the Google Doc spreadsheet that I used to track my progress. There are some notes in there as well that may help you as well.
Feel free to make a copy to use for yourself as well.
Now the 10,000 Double Under Challenge is Yours
I knew this challenge would test me mentally and physically, and even though I questioned it many times during, it was a great experience.
So now I challenge you.
If your DUs need improvement, this challenge will help you in an extraordinary way. And the method I’ve laid out above will help you get through it in a scientific manner that uses psychology to motivate you. You wouldn’t question Tim Ferriss would you? 🙂
If you’re in, tell the world with this tweet, prepare yourself using the information in this post, and get started.
If you’re not up to it, that’s cool. It’s not for everyone, but I’d still like to thank you for reading this far and I would like to invite you to become part of the Academy Success community. You can do that by using any of the email signup forms on the site, and you’ll also get some cool free stuff.
Would you also do me one more favor and share this post with your friends who you know do CrossFit?
One of the main reasons I did this is because I had a lot of trouble learning double unders from the beginning, and I know a lot of other folks do as well. So I wanted to create a framework for learning. Now that the framework is complete, I hope it can help to inspire a way for many others to learn double unders the way I did within the CrossFit community.
So spread this around a bit, and then go, learn your double unders!
Be sure to let me know how it’s going and feel free to ask any questions in the comments.
PS: Here is the link again to the one-pager and the equipment list if you would like a copy. You’ll also get free weekly content from Academy Success.
Full Equipment List
When I started out, I only had a couple of these things. Throughout the challenge, I developed the need for more of them.
If you’re going to give it a go, I recommend picking up most of these items before you start if you don’t have them already.
Shoes – I alternated between the Inov-8 F Lite 195 Lightweight CrossFit Shoe the Vibram Komodos, and my regular Asics tennis shoes, depending on how my feet were feeling. The Asics had the most padding for shock, but the least amount of feel.
You get a lot more feeling from the Vibrams, but sometimes the rope got stuck in my toes on misses, hurting my time a bit. You don’t need special shoes unless you want them. Tennis shoes will do just fine here. Just make sure you can feel your feet. Padding also helps in the 1000’s of reps. I swapped to tennis shoes a few nights when my feet were hurting.
Jump Rope(s) – For the challenge, I actually used a super basic ultra lightweight bushing speed rope for most of them, but at my CrossFit gym I cranked out a few hundred with the Rogue SR-1 Bearing Speed Rope, which I found to be pretty easy to use, but honestly probably not worth the cost.
I also picked up some replacement cables in case I needed them, but the cable actually held up really well.
Rubber Mat – I knew if I was going to do 10,000 double unders, I needed to protect my feet and legs. I also needed a smooth surface on which to turn the rope. Otherwise it was going to hang up and wear pretty easily as well.
In true life hacking fashion, I picked up an 6′ x 4′ horse stall mat for $25 and slapped that puppy in a flat spot in my driveway. Bam, instant padded gym floor!
This one from Supermats is about the closest thing you’ll find online, but I recommend checking our your local Tractor Supply if you have one. These things are heavy to ship.
Foam Roller – Absolute Lifesaver… Using this Foam Roller before and after each session, and once during the day, really helped iron out the tight spots in my calves from each day of bounding. It helped to speed up the recovery process and made pre-workout prep and post-workout recovery a lot easier.
I highly recommend grabbing one of these if you do any sort of physical activity and find yourself getting tight.
Like I said, you don’t have to use any of these, but they do help with recovery over sustained periods of time. Make sure you also drink plenty of water.