Ten days after she discovered skipping while in self-isolation, Naomi Barrett decided to document her progress on Instagram, “just to track” how she was doing.
The 29-year-old had recently come in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 and was quarantining at home.
“I couldn’t go to the gym or for a run, and I had this really cheap PVC skipping rope lying around the house,” she recalls. “So I picked it up, headed to my building’s terrace and began skipping.”
Barrett, it turns out, was a natural. Inspired by videos of others she’d seen on Instagram, she began to post her sessions daily last October.
As her posts grew, so did her followers. And it wasn’t long before brands took notice and sponsorship deals started to come in.
"I really don't know how it all happened. I don't understand algorithms or how any of it works. All I do is just post videos and interact with as many people as I can," Barrett tells The National.
Her account, @rai.jumps.rope, now has more than 7,400 followers.
Barrett, who works as a school teacher in Dubai, says she chose the name so her students wouldn’t find her.
“My fiancee calls me Rai so I picked that name to be more discreet. But some of my students have found me anyway,” she says, laughing.
Barrett fell in love with skipping because “it’s fun and there’s always something new to learn”.
“I do find going to the gym boring. Skipping is almost like dancing. It might look like just jumping up and down on a rope, but there’s a lot more going on in your brain because co-ordination is a huge part,” she explains.
The health benefits are another positive byproduct of the activity.
“It’s good for your endorphins. Even if it’s just five minutes, it makes you feel happy. And skipping for 10 minutes is apparently equivalent to 30 minutes of running,” Barrett says.
“If you have a short amount of time or no access to a gym, it’s something you can do at home if you have the space. You can do it anywhere.”
Instagram has also introduced Barrett to the UAE’s growing jump-rope community, which includes members such as Fatima Joy Ablen, who also discovered the activity last year.
Ablen, 30, started skipping at home in July because she didn’t feel safe going to the gym yet. She also began to record her progress through her Instagram account, @hophop_hurray.
"I never thought it was possible to make cardio look so cool until I saw people posting their Instagram videos," she tells The National. "Jump-rope workouts are so broad and a lot of fun; you will not easily get bored because there are a lot of things you can do.
"You can do it as HIIT workout, make flow sequences, tricks, releases, shuffles, wraps and dance sequences, and a lot more.”
The Filipina hotel administrator says skipping helped take her fitness to the next level.
“It not only helps me test the limit of my physical skills but also my mental strength, especially during these stressful times,” she says.
Skipping is great for socially distanced workouts, she adds, as you can do it alone.
“It’s a low-maintenance workout; you just need that rope and enough space to jump,” she says.
Ablen skips two to three times a week, for at least 30 minutes, and often joins meet-ups with fellow jumpers on weekends.
A growing community
Friends Airaj Isaacs and Michael Latti started Jump Rope DXB in June last year, a few months after the coronavirus pandemic broke out.
“A lot of my friends and family were not able to go their usual gyms and play their normal sports because everything was closed. I encouraged them to start skipping at home so they could preserve their fitness until they were able to go back to their gyms and participate in their normal sports,” Isaacs recalls.
“Michael and I then discovered that we were part of many global online jump-rope communities and there was not one in Dubai. We decided to come together and start a community of like-minded enthusiasts.”
Starting with just five members, the group now has more than 50 active jumpers who meet up for weekly sessions around Dubai.
"We organise group workout sessions for jump-rope enthusiasts, as well as people who are new to the sport. We aim to do a weekly session which happens over the weekend,” Latti says.
Sarah Mirza, a school teacher in Dubai who has been skipping for three years, says she’s been encouraged by the growing number of jumpers in the UAE.
"When I see this huge community on Instagram, it inspires me to do more,” she says. “I’ve already convinced my sister to get into skipping. I have also been pushing my friends to start and I'm not giving up.
"It’s such an exciting form of exercise and the fancy footwork can make it challenging, too.”
Barrett, whose followers include fans from the US and her home town in the UK, as well as the UAE, says she wants to make her Instagram page more educational.
“I get so many messages from around the world with people saying ‘you inspire me’ or ‘you encouraged me to buy a rope’ or that they didn’t know you could do so many things with a rope,” she says.
“I’d like it to be a place where people can learn. I want to be able to inspire and teach people.”
How to start skipping
Naomi Barrett shares her top five tips for beginners
1. Purchase a beaded rope and a PVC rope as they are both useful for different skills
2. At first, jump only for five to 10 minutes a day until you train your muscles (trust me, your shins will thank you)
3. Work on your form before anything else. Your hands should stay in ‘pocket position’, that is, in line at your sides, where trouser pockets would sit
4. Interact with other people in the jumprope community – they are all friendly and supportive.
5. Try not to compare yourself to others. You are on your own journey and it’s your progress that matters