Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review: Ropix jump rope shoes

*Draft * 11-22-11

This review looks at some jump rope specific footwear called Ropix. The first question one has to ask themselves is am I willing and is it worth it to pay $XX for a jump rope specific shoe? Don't go by my answer as I am a true gear head. Whether is is bike parts, snowboard parts, rainwear, watches, or tools. If there is a product that will improve any part of my experience that is a good value for the money and designed well, it is a no-brainer for me.

My perspective is that the connection between my hobbies and the rest of my life is closer than you think. A good day on the bike, or the gym translates over in small was into the rest of the day. I've been doing certain activities for years and years, so a high upfront expense for a product that will see continuous long term use will amortize itself across many years. I spend a long long time researching a specific item, balancing out the value for the money, and magic bullet potential. Sometimes the product works out great, other times it was a bust.

So with this product, my answer is yes, it is worth it.

Why jump rope specific shoes? I've been jumping rope off and one since college. Every winter when the bikes goes away and my weight lifting routine starts (all hail the Morris plan), I also pull out the rope. I hate to run. treadmills, outdoors anywhere except when playing soccer. For whatever reason my connective tissue just cannot get over that initial pain when starting to run. I've tried at least half a dozen times over the years and never make it past a few weeks. Jumping rope on the other hand is an insane workout and the bang for buck in terms of work performed compared to time is high. All with minimal impact compared to running

I love the mechanics of jumping rope and footwork and crossovers. Combined with some good music and it is the closest to dancing that I get. Just jumping up and down on two feet can be inherently boring. However when you start getting efficient and realize that the rope is only a 1/4 thick and learning the timing between your jumping rhythm and the rope it can get really really fun. It's all about timing and knowing when, and how high off the ground you need to be in association with when the rope is going to be underfoot. I do this a lot. Take a simple concept and complicate it. You should see me work with my 13 year old on algebra!

Most people think it's all about the calves and jumping high. It's really a lot more of some of your smaller muscles like this Tibialis Anterior

I also have a good rope. Same question as earlier. Why spend a $30+ on a jump rope? when a $5 special at Dicks will work? no question here. I'd rather jump well than whip myself every time with a crappy rope. Buddy Lee is lord king buddah in this area. I've had a Rope Master for more than 10 years. Replaced the bearings and the rope once.

Anyway, back to the shoes. What makes these shoes a application specific design, and what is wrong with regular alternatives like running shoes or cross training shoes? Two major things: 1) running and crosstraining shoes are designed for heel impacts. there is very little major heel impact in this activity. 2) Running and cross training shoes are also designed with wide forefoot sections. This is a pain in jumping rope as the widest part of the shoe catches on the rope.

The designer of Ropix wanted something that wasn't a compromise. Narrow cross section combined with the specific loading of jumping rope as opposed to adapting a running shoe. This is what he came up with. I think they created some technospeak that wasn't really necessary. Why get caught up in the hype of marketing speak when there is no other shoe that is competing with you in this space. Leave that to Nike and Asics. Plain and simple, it's designed with jump-roping in mind.

I ended up ordering the Sonic White/Black leather lace up. If I were doing it again, I'd go for the mesh style with the velcro as I'll talk about in a bit.

On first glance they seemed really narrow and long. Part of that is the comparison with my other shoes and most running shoes. They just have a real narrow profile which is awesome when doing cross overs. I can really tell that I am catching the rope on the shoe much less. This gives an extra margin for error when tired and sloppy.

Sizing seems a tad big. Meaning a tad long in the toe. I typically wear 8M. I've got a bit more gap at my toe, and wonder if going a 1/2 size small might be good sort of like climbing shoes or snowboard boots. Not a big deal.

The laces on the lace up model are too long. I have to stuff them into the shoe to keep the rope from catching on them. Hence why I'd suggest the velcro model. The leather is pretty nice. Looks tough and able to stand up to anything. But it also makes the shoes warm. My feet sweat a lot anyway, so would have been better with a mesh style. I don't think they offer a mesh/velcro model. It looks like the velcro is in a nubuck material

The sole material is where this shoe is really different. Super tough material, Minimalist everywhere except the ball of the foot.

It is really weird at first. And I must say, you have to give these shoes at least 2-3 weeks to get used to. It feels like you've got a big wad of gum on your shoes. Or like you are standing uphill. If you look close, the section also has a rounded profile as opposed to a flat profile. This forces you to use extra stabilizing muscles that you don't normally use. So at first it feels awkward and unstable. When jumping with both feet on the ground it isn't as much of an issue, but as soon as you start doing some foot work and alternating between one foot and the other, you notice real quick, that you have to stabilize yourself a little more. My muscles in the front of my shin were pretty soar for a two weeks as I got used to it.

The shoes come with a sock liner that has some gel in the heel

If you've read any of my previous blogs you know of my universal hatred for sock liners on almost all shoes. They are worthless in my opinion. I have flat feet and have to use an orthotic insert of some kind and took these out and put in some Superfeet Blues. I'm a special case I'd say. One thing is if you are just going to use them for jumping rope, then there really is no need for any arch support. But I like them better with aftermarket insoles, and the designer said that was their approach. Replace them if you want, otherwise you might be fine with them.

I weighed them (w/o sock liners) and they are decently light. I didn't weigh my other shoes, but can immediately tell they are lighter on the feet.

Performance wise, it has taken a good 2.5-3 weeks to get used to the shoes. The feeling of the extra padding on the forefoot and the rounded profile has taken a while. My muscles, especially on the front of the shin needed some time to grow stronger, and were burning a lot during the first week. I love the low profile and the rope catches on my foot a lot less.

I would say that this design works very well. I am jumping better than I have in years. As some of these minor stabilizing muscles got used to the extra work, lifting off the ground is effortless. Double jumps are easier, footwork is easier. What is really weird, is swapping back to my other shoes to jump rope. It feels so crazy. Like I'm almost jumping in a little decline because that extra padding in the sole isn't there. That lasted all of about 5 seconds and changed back to the ropix immediately.

The lighter weight is noticeable. It's is like cycling which is a repetitive activity. Thousands of RPM over the course of a ride, so a small difference in weight at the pedal or shoe creates a cumulative impact. So while these shoes might be just a bit lighter than other shoes it adds up over the course of the routine.

Changes I'd suggest would be making a mesh/velcro model available, shorter laces on the lace model. Sizing down by half a size possibly. Buyers might want to swap the sock liner for an aftermarket model.

Yes, a significant investment for a piece of equipment that will get used for 20mins 2-3x week between November and February. With the few hotel gym travel days thrown in throughout the year. But for any gear head who cares about sport specific improvements, well worth it. I also just appreciate someone with entrepreneurial spirit to take the initiative to see a gap, and fill it with a specific design. That takes a lot of guts, work, and money I'm sure. Whadda-country I say, where if you want you can find jump rope specific shoe or an aftermarket lever for your Juicy 7.