CrossRope: Navy pilot invents, markets new jump rope

Swish, swish, whirl, slap, slap, slap. The rope turns into a blur and takes on the sound of an approaching tornado. Hampton, Va., resident Dave Hunt, 31, barely breaks a sweat as he demonstrates his invention: a weighted, changeable jump rope called CrossRope.

The Navy pilot, stationed at Newport News Shipyard with the USS Enterprise, started work on the ultra-portable fitness equipment some years ago. He concedes it's more familiar to playgrounds and boxing arenas than regular gyms. However, as a lifetime athlete who often found himself in out-of-the-way places, he wanted something that would give him a rapid, full-body workout.

Hunt set to work, fiddling with materials and weights to come up with a rope system that would suit everyone, from the casual jump-roper to the elite athlete. The simplicity of the resulting patent-pending product belies the hours of work that went into finding just the right material, the correct weights and the change-ups. For example, the color-coded ropes each come in a handful of lengths — there's a 2-foot difference between the shortest and longest — and in gradually increasing weights. He has invested $17,000 in the product, which is made of galvanized steel cable covered in nylon or PVC with wood handles wrapped in cushioned grip tape. The handles have ball bearings at the end that allow the user to clip in different ropes.

The workout

Hunt describes it as the best possible cardio exercise with a calorie burn that's one-third more than running. "The ability level of the user is a natural protection against hurting yourself. Any jump rope, if moving fast enough, will sting," he says.

The lightest of the seven weighs just 2 ounces and the heaviest 3 pounds. Hunt, 5 feet 11 inches, starts the demonstration with a yellow, 1.25 pound medium-weight rope that he clips in to the wrapped handles. (The handles come in two sizes.) His feet skim the floor as the rope whirls over and under; he hops, he skips, he jumps sideways and crossways, all the time his arms not appearing to move.

"It's a good quick workout," he says, after moving at sprint speed for several minutes. Typically, he explained, the medium rope would be used by someone shorter than he is, those under 5 feet 9 inches, but experienced users prefer the smaller sizes.

To demonstrate a different workout, he picks out the 3-ounce pink rope and does a high-speed drill to incorporate coordination, footwork and hand speed with timing and rhythm. The heavier the rope, the more it engages the upper body and core, he explained.

It's also easier for beginners, he says. Oregon resident Michael Harper, 47, attests to that. "I didn't learn to jump rope properly until I was in my 30s," he said. "I'm 6 foot 3, and the ropes tended to be too short. I'm very much a beginner."

Harper bought two ropes after seeing them at an exercise equipment fair in Las Vegas in March. He has since added two more ropes. "I've improved dramatically," he said. "Before I was hitting my feet every 15 jumps, now I can do 50 or 60." He's learning the "double under," when the rope passes under the feet twice for every one jump.

The "double under" is part of the workout at CrossFit Stimulus in Hampton, according to owner Cortney Cunningham. CrossFit, she explains, has three elements: Olympic lifting, gymnastics and metabolic conditioning. The latter includes rowing, vertical leaps and jumping rope. Hunt recently gave her instructors a "double under" seminar to improve their skills, including fast wrist movement and how to rebound higher in the air.

"Some ropes are heavier, faster, lighter or thinner. Athletes in my gym use all kinds of ropes," Cunningham said.

A love of jumping

From his school days, Hunt was always taken with "jumping" sports, whether as a starting middle-hitter in volleyball for a New York State championship team, or clearing 6 feet 7 inches in the high jump as part of the track and field squad for the U.S. Naval Academy. "Fitness has always been a priority," he said, though he only started jump-roping late in high school. "You have a lot of time to work out on military deployments."

With several shore deployments in the Middle East — Djibouti, Iraq, Qatar and Bahrain — he always had access to base gyms, but in Djibouti, he managed to wear through three heavy ropes that were never replaced. It took him only a couple of weeks to wear through the lighter ropes.

Using his engineering background, he started experimenting. Hunt tried rubber rope screwed into plastic handles, but the screws would come undone, and shards would present a safety hazard. CrossRope handles are guaranteed for one year, but there is no guarantee on the cables, because wear and tear is natural with any jump rope, he said, while advising that they're intended for indoor surfaces only.

The CrossRope website, CrossRope.com, includes instructional videos and recommendations for proper jumping surfaces and techniques to reduce the impact on joints. "You should leave the ground by about an inch," he said.

A different rope

What's different is the system that allows the user to change rope weights and lengths and to buy them separately; they cost from $39.99 to $149.99. "In most gyms, you can vary the weight and resistance on machines, but I've never seen that with a jump rope," Hunt said.

In July 2011, recovering from surgery after a bench-pressing injury in which he tore his pectoral muscle, he got serious. He went to the library in order to find out how to submit a provisional patent. He spent hours and hours searching the Internet to find pre-existing parts and components that he disassembled and reconstructed. He took cues from martial arts, sailing and fishing equipment. Then, he had to find a cable manufacturer who would make them in small quantities.

The energetic entrepreneur came up with a 3-pound cable — "you could tow a truck with it" — and spent 10 months building and testing it, until it was ready in May 2012. He has sold 2,000, mainly to those who want to work out at home, and the next segment (20 percent) to mixed martial arts and boxing aficionados. Ninety percent of his sales have been online.

"My intent originally was to start local and grow organically. It feels almost backward," he said, speaking of the national recognition he's had for his invention from GNC, and magazines that include Shape and Men's Fitness.

The father of two young children, Hunt doesn't have much time to hit the gym. His ropes, which he incorporates into workouts three or four times a week, allow him ultra-quick exercise wherever he is.

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