Thursday, September 4, 2014

Jumping to the Beat with Tim Haft (GSAS '86)

Tim Haft (GSAS '86) created Punk Rope in 2004 and nearly 10 years later, it has become the most popular rope-jumping based fitness class in the world. The first class was taught at NYU and now there are more than 1,000 certified Punk Rope instructors worldwide. We interviewed Tim about his unique and fun workouts and he was kind enough to offer NYU alumni a one-time free guest pass to a class.

How do you describe Punk Rope to people who have never heard of it and how did you come up with the idea? 

I keep experimenting with different descriptions, but the one that resonates the most is that Punk Rope is like “gym class” for adults. Unfortunately, some of us were traumatized by gym class. I also describe it as a mash-up of recess and boot camp. My favorite description was “recess on steroids” but that’s not PC. The idea for Punk Rope took shape in 2003 when I was sidelined after knee surgery. I could no longer play many sports or run long distances so I went back to the gym to check out group exercise classes, a completely new phenomenon for me. And the truth was I didn’t like what I experienced. There was very little social interaction, the movements felt forced, the music was horrendous for the most part, and there was no rope jumping. It didn’t take long before I recognized that I needed to create my own class.

How is a typical Punk Rope class structured? 

Punk Rope follows an interval training format to ensure that there’s plenty of variety and also that there’s rest after the more intense movements. Each class is themed — both the music and the movements — for maximal audience engagement. Popular themes include Talk Like a Pirate Day, Zombies, Cinco de Mayo, Oktoberfest, and Superheroes. There are 14 intervals in each class of which 5 involve rope jumping. The rest are split between calisthenics, group games, partner drills, and relay races.

What are the health benefits related to jumping rope and how does a Punk Rope workout compare with other cardio workouts? 

Rope jumping is one of the most versatile and effective exercise modalities in that it can improve cardiovascular capacity, coordination, agility, strength, power, hand speed, foot speed, balance, timing, rhythm, bone density, and body composition. Punk Rope compares favorably with other cardio workouts in terms of caloric expenditure, but more importantly in terms of overall fitness benefits. You get all of the above from rope jumping plus the positive conditioning effects from the various calisthenics, drills, games, and races that we incorporate not to mention stress reduction and community building.

Punk Rope will be celebrating its 10th Anniversary and the first class you taught was at NYU. What lessons have you learned over the past ten years while teaching Punk Rope? 

Many years ago one of my friends told me “Tim, Punk Rope is great. If only you didn’t play punk rock in class and if only you got rid of the rope jumping, it would be a really amazing class.” Over the years we’ve greatly diversified the type of music we play and toned down the rope-jumping element. Even so, the name of the class can be intimidating to some and unfortunately many folks are afraid of rope jumping. After several years in, I had to make a tough decision. Do I change the name and some of the content of the class or do I stick to my guns? I went the latter route and although that may mean Punk Rope will never be as popular as P90X at least I’m not selling out. After all, I called the class Punk Rope not Mainstream I’m Only After Your Money Rope. I imagine some songs are better to Punk Rope to than others.

Do you have a favorite song or a preferred playlist to jump to? 

Musical taste is so individual, but when it comes to rope jumping a steady beat in the 140 bpm to 180 bpm range can help to propel the jumper. I still love jumping to classic punk bands like the Ramones, the Clash, and the Jam, but lately have become fond of jumping to electronica, dancehall, samba, and merengue. One of my most enjoyable tasks is creating a new playlist each week. Right now I’m working on a “tribute to New York” which was inspired by the possible closing of the Subway Inn, a midtown pub. Subway Inn might be losing its lease after 77 years in business. I’m hoping to raise awareness that the erosion of “old New York” is not a good thing for our city and that the average citizen needs to take a stand.

 In addition to Punk Rope you have also created Beastanetics. Can you tell us about this workout?

Beastanetics, which I created in 2010, is a high-intensity interval-training program focusing on triplanar, body-weight movements. That’s a complicated way of saying it’s back to basics, functional fitness. The class is loosely based on the Tabata protocol, which was invented by Dr. Tabata, a researcher from Japan seeking to give elite athletes an edge in their training. Similar to Tabata, the work sets in Beastanetics are short — only 24 seconds — but so is the recovery — only 16 seconds. In each class, we typically do 4 sets each of 6 very intense exercises (which vary from week to week) for a total of 24 sets. That, combined with some basic calisthenics and a 400-meter run, makes for an extremely challenging workout. Many of our students have experienced phenomenal fitness gains so we’re encouraged by the results we’re seeing.

It's clear that you enjoy making fitness fun. What other advice would you give to someone who is looking to become more active and get back into shape? 

Don’t try to bite off more than you can chew. Begin with very simple and manageable changes. Walk a little more. Ride a bike. Join a sports league. Never lose site of the fun factor. If you tell yourself that you’re going to join a gym and start going three times a week, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Programs like Punk Rope and Beastanetics work because at their core they are all about building community. Once you have some buddies who are also trying to get fit and who will keep you accountable, the whole process becomes much more manageable. And lastly, it’s generally a bad idea to set weight loss goals. Instead of saying “I want to lose 20 pounds” set a goal of running a mile in under 9 minutes or doing 10 push-ups, over even a single pull-up. Often improved fitness will drive other positive behaviors like eating more healthfully, getting more rest, etc.

If our readers are interested in trying out Punk Rope or Beastanetics, how can they sign up?

We are always thrilled to have new students at Punk Rope or Beastanetics. Readers can email me at for a one-time free guest pass to either class.

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