I've been jumping rope a lot more lately as part of crossfit-type exercises I've been doing.  I used to do it quite a bit in college as part of a similar exercise routine; when I was a junior, I took a marine ecology research class on Appledore island off the NH-ME border.  On that wonderful island, I did two forms of exercise.  First, I would jump rope in a gazebo with panoramic Atlantic ocean views. Then, avoiding aggressive nesting seaguls, I trail ran with two girls from the Cornell University XC team.  (Those seemingly kind, nerdy science girls unleashed a pace of abuse for that entire summer) What I started to realize, in rare states of lucidity on those lung-searing runs, was that I felt "springier" that summer.  It was part of a transition that I began at that time:  get off the road and onto the trails. This helped change my gait to a shorter-stride, land-beneath-your center-of-gravity, midfoot  strike.  This was done completely unconsciously; the trails forced me to make this transition.  What I didn't quite realize then was that the jumprope was making this transition easier.
    As many minimal/barefoot converts know, achilles and calf pain/strain is the top complaint when making a gait switch from heel to mid or forefoot.  Landing here turns your achilles into an effective spring, aiding in forward momentum, but if you've never used this complex of muscle and tendon in this manner, it can suffer overuse quickly.  
    This is where the jumprope comes in.  Jumping rope is like running with a mid or forefoot strike, but not actually going forward.  It helps train that gastrocnemius/soleus/achilles tendon into an effective spring.  That springy feeling on a run doesn't come unless you're using this group of muscles/tendon properly.  
    So, in addition to eccentric calf exercises, one legged stands and squats, and the other prepatory exercises mentioned before, jumping rope is ideal to help you in that transition of heel to midfoot (or forefoot) striking.  Add in double unders, one-legged skips, shuffle skips to add some variety, and have fun!!

In the western world, we tend to think about exercise like we live the rest of our lives:  set goals! confirm to a rigid schedule! try really hard for success and personal bests.  That shouldn't be your primary focus!  Not to say that goals, schedules and hard work are bad things; in fact, most of us need them to stick to a training regimen.  Unfortunately, if your focus is on the goal, or the obsessive need to conform to that daily schedule, or the desire to attain a certain placing or PR, we fall into the same patterns that make us unhappy in society.  The lifestyle of training becomes as confining and demanding as the grind of daily life.  Most of us exercise to lessen the stress from this type of lifestyle we live in the western world, not add to it!
    This post is inspired by a similar one by Mark Sisson of Primal Blueprint (read here: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/detaching-yourself-from-the-outcome/#more-28094).  My own experiences are similar to Mark's (though I was not nearly as good an endurance athlete as he was).  The firm necessity of keeping to an intense schedule can take the fun out of experiencing exercise.  I had this type of revelation twice with running and neither of those times included any wins, PRs or sub 10% body fat. The first was when I took a solo cross country trip in 2002 after not engaging in regular cardiovascular exercise for approximately one year.  Trail running in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado was exciting and gave me a new desire to run primarily for the pleasure of being in nature.  After a similar period of endurance inactivity in 2008 at the end of med school in Florida, I moved to new england for residency and began running the trails of central MA with newfound love of being in the moment and truly enjoying running. 
   This love of the journey itself is important to overall health and wellness; goals and schedules may be used, but not that they become so overbearing to cause injury and depression.  I see patients, especially runners, who are so focused, and have such tunnel vision for running that they are self-destructive--mentally and physically.  Telling an avid runner that they have a stress fracture and shouldn't run for a minimum of 4-6 weeks can elicit a response like telling them a favorite aunt has just died or worse.  This inflexibility is not healthy.  Neither is the refusal of these focused endurance athletes and full time workers to do resistance training.  The simple act of just running or just biking defines them completely.  Humans weren't meant to perform only one physical repetitive task; elements of picking heavy things up, climbing, fighting are all part of our ancestral physical developement.  In doing one daily repetitive task such as running (especially after sitting or standing in one place for 10 hours) we leave ourselves susceptible to physical imbalance and injury.  Incorporating whole body resistance exercise is key to preventing injury in endurance athletes.  In addition to that, a yearly schedule incorporating more and less intense cycles, periods of rest and periods of cross training can combat injury, and mental fatigue.
    Goal set and create schedules that are exciting and bring enjoyment on a daily basis; you shouldn't be focused on one or several possible end results. Your first goal should be to enjoy thoroughly the activity you pursue, and if you are a focused "one-sport" endurance athlete, to add variety and find alternate forms of exercise that you can fall back upon in times of injury.

"Live in the NOW, man"  Garth from Wayne's World

With the push of the barefoot/minimalist ideas over the last several years, there has been attacks from either sides.  Barefoot/minimalist proponents disregard, disrespect and generally don't believe what podiatrists have to say.  On the other hand, podiatrists are not very open to this new trend, and frankly most think this group a bunch of nutters.  Though I fully support the barefoot/minimalist (B/M) movement and live it myself, in practice I use tools from both sides depending on the patient's specific situation.
Here are some thoughts for both sides:
1.  B/Ms:  You're not a doctor!!  Podiatrists are highly trained! (4 yrs med school, 3 years of surgical residency.)  We don't do internet research on your job and then tell you how you should be doing things!   A good sports medicine podiatrist will be your best friend when things go wrong!
2. Podiatrists:  No need to judge and cling to preset ways!  There is plenty of research emerging that supports midfoot striking for decreased injury rate, and much anectdotal evidence from the barefoot running community.  In addition, the evidence showing traditional running shoe design and fit (neutral/stability/motion control) can be potentially harmful is so overwhelming, it should have already pointed us all away from making certain shoe suggestions.  In all other areas of the body, clinicians prescribe physical therapy after an acute period, but why do we put people in orthotics for life?  (We all know specific diagnoses/situations for which we definitely do need permanent bracing, but not EVERY person needs to be in orthotics permanently, and just because they're a runner with overpronation, doesn't mean they need orthotics)
3. B/Ms:  Yes, there is some good research pointing towards certain running styles/footstrike, low incidence of foot problems in habitually barefoot populations (see all of these in my LIBRARY section), but there is also (GASP!!!) good research on using orthotics for running injuries--it's why podiatrists use them so much!!  Here are just two that show effectiveness of orthotics for runners specifically.  (Readers: search in google scholar and you can read the abstracts):
Effectiveness of orthotic shoe inserts in the long-distance runner. 
Gross,M et al. 1991 
Clinical effectiveness of customized sport shoe orthoses for overuse injuries in runners:
a randomized controlled trial.  Hirschmuller, A. 2011.
(Fellow Podiatrists:  Yes, I have cherry picked my reference section.  This website is meant to be about promoting good research and analytical thought on minimalist and barefoot lifestyle, which is definitely not for everyone--or, frankly, most of the patient population we see!)
4. Podiatrists:  Please don't accuse people (biomechanic researchers, fellow podiatrists) of being in bed with certain shoe companies when many of you are part (or complete) owners with financial stake in using orthotics/bracing products. 

In summary:  Many B/Ms act like teenagers that "know it all" and there are many complexities and specific biomechanical conditions that podiatrists deal with on a daily basis.  Podiatrists, we need to be open to new research and even anectodal evidence from our own patients.  B/Ms, please seek out the help of a podiatrist who specializes in sports medicine (and is a runner him/herself) who will give you thorough attention.  Podiatrists, resist the urge for that "I told you so" moment when a B/M comes in with a stress fracture, but encourage moderation and slow transition. Let's continue to evaluate all the literature and be as critical as we can!