When inventor Mike Mattox describes his Heavyrope as "the missing link in exercise," he means it more or less literally. A world-class decathlete in the 1960s, Mattox was known for his unconventional workouts, one of which included running around a track while dragging a section of chain link fence. "It was one of the few activities that could build up both muscle and my cardiovascular system, but let's face it, it wasn't terribly practical, safe or efficient," says Mattox.
The Heavyrope is simple enough—a weighted jump rope fashioned from an eight-foot-long piece of rubber that resembles a garden hose. Filled with sand and designed to stretch as it's being used, the Heavyrope, ads proclaim, "provides resistance that strengthens and conditions your upper body and your cardiovascular system at one time...in minutes (yes, minutes) a day."
Says Mattox, "There are several products on the market that can give you a good workout. But they take a lot of time and trouble. The beauty of the Heavyrope is that it works everything at once, quickly and easily."
Quickly, perhaps, but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, whose Heavyrope workouts consist of five 40-second sets of 60 jumps, says, "It's not easy. It's intense. It's hard just to control the rope." Mattox says that centrifugal force accounts for the problem described by Jabbar. The rope is available in weights of two, 3½, five and six pounds, but in use the laws of physics take over, and jumpers are suddenly laboring against anywhere from 40 to 100 pounds of force, depending on the weight of the rope being used and their jumps per minute.
Before he developed the Heavyrope, Mattox successfully marketed the Jumper, a machine designed to condition the legs through isokinetics, and the Roughneck, another isokinetic device that strengthens the neck. But the Heavyrope is already his biggest seller. Approximately 100,000 ropes have been sold, at $25 to $30, since Mattox and his wife, Marilyn, began marketing them a year ago. "If you've got a good product, people find out about it," he says.
The 6'5", 280-pound Mattox earned a degree in biology while playing basketball and competing as a decathlete at Oregon State and Graceland College in Iowa. At Graceland he roomed for a year with Bruce Jenner and participated with him in the decathlon. Mattox sees the invention of exercise products as an extension of his career as a decathlete, which ended at the 1968 Olympic trials when he was felled by an old back injury. "I wanted to continue in sports and give something back," he says. After several years of selling exercise and therapy equipment, he set off on his own, drawing on his background in sports and science. "I enjoyed athletics," he says. "I couldn't get my medal competing, so the Heavyrope is my gold."