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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Punk Rope brings jump rope and punk rock to virtual fitness training

Punk Rope

Punk Rope's Tim Haft and Shana Brady at Otto's Shrunken Head

As it says on the Punk Rope website, “We give a skip.”

So much so, in fact, that the New York-based jump rope-cum-punk rock exercise program, now unable to hold actual classes during the current coronavirus pandemic, is offering “Virtual Punk Rope” instruction via the Zoom remote video conferencing service.

Last week’s class starred Shana Brady, who holds a BS degree in exercise physiology along with certifications from the American Council on Exercise, American College of Sports Medicine, National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), and Functional Movement Systems (FMS), and is Punk Rope’s director of training since 2005.

Brady led viewers in the various jumps, interspersed with calisthenics including mountain climbers, lunges, squats and pushups with rotation.

Programming the background music offscreen was Punk Rope founder Tim Haft, himself certified by the American Council on Exercise, TRX (total resistance exercises), Precision Nutrition, USA Track & Field, the USA FIT training organization, ISCA (International Sports Conditioning Association), and the Resist-A-Ball stability ball.

During the hour-long class, Haft played everything from Howlin’ Wolf, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Judas Priest, Blue Oyster Cult, Detroit Cobras, and a samba percussion track that allowed Brady to incorporate some energetic air drum moves into the routine.

Haft, actually, is a rock ‘n’ roll DJ, not to mention decluttering consultant and member of the Twin Towers Wrestling Club. As for calling his fitness regimen “Punk Rope,” he invokes the jumping dance form that originated with 1970s punk rock bands and audiences: “Just pogo!”

Expanding on his system’s roots, Haft explains, “I’m partial to punk rock.”

“I’m 59-years-old,” he says. “In 1977 I was 17—and that was a big year: There are some interesting theories that the music you hear when when you’re 17, 18, 19, 20 is what sticks with you as you get older. The Music & Memory organization [a non-profit that helps people with cognitive and physical conditions through personalized music playlists] has a great documentary about their work [Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory] and research showing that when people start showing signs of dementia, one of the best things for rekindling memory is hearing music from their youth, and for me a lot of that music—The Clash, Sex Pistols, Ramones, Buzzcocks—still resonates.”

Equally significant, as regards Punk Rope, is that “with fitness, you want the tempo of the music to match the tempo of the movements,” continues Haft.

“With jump rope, when you’re watching Shana, she’s going at 160 RPM—and that’s punk rope! But the truth is, I love the blues, jazz, funk, disco, zydeco—and last week’s class was electronica!”

Haft also plays ska music when he DJs at Otto’s Shrunken Head Tiki Bar & Lounge in Manhattan’s East Village, where he used to meet monthly for a Punk Rope happy hour before starting a class there.

“Hopefully when it reopens we’ll do a metal class there!” says Haft, noting that Punk Rope has also held classes at music venues including CBGB’s Gallery in New York, The Ottobar in Baltimore, Asbury Lanes in Asbury Park, N.J., and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. But he notes that the classes are really “more like recess!”

“They’re a little more structured now that we’re online, but we’ll make them goofy again when we can hold them outside or in music and fitness places,” he says.

The goofiness quotient comes from breaking up the jumping routines with games like tag, “and we play a lot of games with stress balls like one we call ‘Not in My Backyard’: We have a whole bunch of stress balls in the room and break students up into two groups, one on one side and the other on the opposite side. The idea is that the stress balls represent pollution, plutonium, or whatever you want to get out of your yard. So you take the balls and throw or kick them out from your side to the other side, and at the same time your opponents are doing the same thing--so balls are flying back-and-forth and everyone’s running all over the place!”

“Generally, no one wins,” Haft adds, because “Not in My Backyard” is not really competitive. “But it’s so much fun—and a great way to share music and get exercise and socialize. It’s a community thing, which has always been a big deal for me: We do classes and do happy hours, or go to an exhibit together—like when The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had an outpost in New York.”

A one-time career counselor at New York University (NYU), Haft started Punk Rope in 2004.

“I’d been a running coach starting in 2000 and a personal trainer for a couple years and always enjoyed athletics and fitness--but especially in New York, the idea of building community,” he says. “People tend to live in their own bubble here, but there can be a lot of camaraderie in a workout setting.”

The Punk Rope concept evolved out of setbacks due to injuries.

“I’d had severe back pain for many years to the point where I couldn’t get out of bed or off the floor for days,” says Haft. “I went to an orthopedist who told me I’d never run again and should take up swimming, and I said, ‘F off. I’ll show you,’ and took up running seriously to prove him wrong, and trained for a marathon and did it! Then I got into coaching and got licensed as a USA Track & Field coach and started coaching groups and did marathons in Dublin and Chicago and New York.”

But after three years of coaching, he tore his knee playing basketball.

“I had surgery, and running wasn’t an option. But I could still jump rope—which I did as a teenager. So the quest was to find an activity I enjoyed similar to running in terms of gratification and community, and I went around to gyms all over the city, checking out different classes. But everybody was staying in their own space and not talking with anyone, and the exercises were kind of boring.”

And one other thing: “The music in these classes was unlistenable! So I figured, ‘If I can’t join them, beat them!’: I decided to create my own class, making jump rope the centerpiece because it was something I could do, and it offers a good and varied workout with unrivaled health and fitness benefits-- improved cardio, strength, coordination, balance, quickness, timing, rhythm, bone density, and body composition--and goes great with punk rock! And I could mix in games, partner and group drills, and calisthenics.”

So Taft conceived Punk Rope, and pitched it successfully to NYU and taught his first class there in 2004.

“Kids were really into it, and I printed out the playlists so they could go back to their dorms and check out the bands! And it just grew over the next few years. We brought a class to the 14th Street Y and then the Greenpoint [Brooklyn] Y, and at one time we had classes in 13 states. We started at Otto’s in 2018, though I taught a class there in 2016 called MoshFit.”

Haft has also taught Punk Rope classes in gyms, churches, bowling alleys, art galleries, breweries, city parks, roller skating rinks, community centers, and even correctional facilities. He remembers teaching a Punk Rope class of mostly 80-somethings at a senior center in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, that “was obviously scaled back,” and training instructors at a YMCA in Green Bay where University of Wisconsin mascot Bucky Badger showed up and participated.

Punk Rope

Punk Rope at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

“We did a supercool workshop for educators at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame fo mostly elementary school educators, and taught them how to jump and play certain games. And we’re an official Dept. of Education vendor in New York City and have gone to public schools to train Phys Ed. teachers and school staff--and sometimes working directly with kids.”

Punk Rope has trained some 1,200 instructors over the years, including Heather Wagner, the organization’s graphic designer--and a karate black belt and accomplished rock drummer who’s worked with the likes of the Holy Modal Rounders’ Peter Stampfel and New York anti-folk star Jeffrey Lewis.

“We’re getting some new fans now, partly because more musicians are becoming aware of what we’re doing,” says Haft, adding that Punk Rope once had a booth at the Warped Tour. “And over the years, we’ve reached out to different record labels for CD and T-shirt giveaways, and have worked with Blackheart, Asian Man, Whoa Oh, Gearhead and Chuunksah Records.”

Punk Rope

Punk Rope at the Warped Tour

Record companies helped out, too, in generously licensing tracks for an aptly titled Never Mind Aerobics Here’s Punk Rope DVD, noteworthy artists including Stiff Little Fingers, Bouncing Souls and The Fleshtones.

But Punk Rope is generous, too, having supported over the years the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, 11th Street Family Health, and numerous other not-for-profit charities. And for every custom Punk Rope jump rope sold on its site, it donates one to a child in need via the Toy Bank Foundation.

It also stages the Punk Rope Games—an annual charity-driven jump rope competition in New York City, where teams in costume vie for the coveted Punk Rope Trophy by performing classic jump rope moves. All skill levels are eligible to participate, with past beneficiaries including the International Rescue Committee and the Children's Museum of New Hampshire.

Additionally, Punk Rope offers various seminars and workshops on its website, as well as instructor certification training. There are also classes in Beatanetics, a high-intensity interval training class consisting exclusively of body weight exercises with specific work-to-rest ratios, which Haft created in 2009 and first taught at Google, later at locations including the 14th St. Y and McCarren Park in Brooklyn.

“Now we’re offering it virtually via Zoom on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings,” says Haft, who’s getting the hang of Zoom thanks to Virtual Punk Rope.

“It’s the new normal!” he concludes.

A typical Punk Rope class



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