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What are jumping jacks?

Jumping jacks are an efficient total-body workout that you can do almost anywhere. This exercise is part of what’s called plyometrics, or jump training. Plyometrics is a combination of aerobic exercise and resistance work. This type of exercise works your heart, lungs, and muscles at the same time.

Specifically, jumping jacks work your:

  • glutes
  • quadriceps
  • hip flexors

Jumping jacks also involve your abdominal and shoulder muscles.

Read on to learn more about the benefits of jumping jacks and how to incorporate them into your exercise routine.

Plyometric exercises, like jumping jacks, are intended to help people run faster and jump higher. That’s because plyometrics work by rapidly stretching the muscles (eccentric phase) and then rapidly shortening them (concentric phase).

Other examples of plyometric exercises:

  • burpees
  • squat jumps
  • box jumps
  • lunge jumps

Jumping jacks may be a good alternative to logging miles on a treadmill or stationary bike. All of these exercises help raise your heart rate, but jumping jacks also get you to move your body out of its normal plane of motion.

By taxing the muscles in these ways, movement can become more explosive, gaining both strength and agility for sports that require multidirectional movement.

Jump training may be good for bone health, too. In one study, rats were put on a jumping exercise regimen for eight weeks (200 jumps per week with 40 jumps per day for five days).

Their bone density was measured before and after the jumping regimen and showed significant gains over the control group. The rats were able to maintain these gains over a 24-week period with training reduced to as low as 11 percent (21 jumps per week) of the initial test period.

Regular exercise in general may also provide the following benefits:

  • weight management
  • reduced blood pressure
  • reduced low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol
  • increased high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol
  • increased insulin sensitivity

What about calories burned?

A 150-pound person doing just a single two-minute session (approximately 100 repetitions) of jumping jacks may burn around 19 calories. Doing jumping jacks for a total of 10 minutes broken up in spurts throughout the day would burn 94 calories total.

Jumping jacks and other plyometric exercises are associated with a risk of injury, especially to lower body joints like the knee and ankle. As with most exercises, the risk is higher if you don’t start out with a base level of strength and conditioning.

If you have joint issues, muscle injuries, or other health concerns, check with your doctor before starting such a program.

Most people can safely do plyometric exercises like jumping jacks. This includes children, adolescents, and older athletes.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends pregnant women get 20 to 30 minutes per day of moderate-intensity activity in all trimesters of pregnancy. The ACOG notes that exercise helps keep up physical fitness, maintain a healthy weight, and may even reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes.

While the ACOG doesn’t specifically say not to do jumping jacks, they do list “low-impact” aerobics as a safer alternative to higher-impact sports, like gymnastics. Talk with your doctor about the types of exercise you can do during the different trimesters of pregnancy.

If you have an uncomplicated pregnancy and have been regularly doing jumping jacks before becoming pregnant, speak with your doctor for guidance on whether or not to continue. Pregnancy affects your joints and balance, so proceed with caution.

Some women may be able to safely continue vigorous exercise up until delivery with clearance from their doctor. It’s especially important to get the OK for vigorous exercise during the second and third trimesters.

The key is to pay attention to your body and adjust accordingly based on any pregnancy complications and your doctor’s recommendations.

If you’re new to exercise, it’s a good idea to discuss plans with your doctor. Start slow, and keep your repetitions and sets short to begin with. You can always increase as your fitness improves.

Basic jumping jacks

Photography by Active Body. Creative Mind.

  1. Begin by standing with your legs straight and your arms to your sides.
  2. Jump up and spread your feet beyond hip-width apart while bringing your arms above your head, nearly touching.
  3. Jump again, lowering your arms and bringing your legs together. Return to your starting position.

Squat jack

There are modifications you can make to dial up the intensity of jumping jacks. For the squat jack, do the following:

  1. Begin by doing a few basic jumping jacks.
  2. Then lower yourself into a squat position with your legs wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes turned out.
  3. Place your hands behind your head as you continue to jump your feet in and out, as if you’re doing a basic jumping jack in a squat.

Rotational jack

via Gfycat

The rotational jack is another alteration you can try to increase intensity:

  1. Begin by standing with your feet together and your hands at your chest.
  2. Jump up and land your feet in a squatting position. Your feet should be wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes should be turned out.
  3. As you land into this squatting position, rotate your upper body at the waist and reach your left hand toward the floor. At the same time, reach your right hand up to the sky.
  4. Jump back into your starting position.
  5. Repeat on the other side to complete one repetition.

Low-impact jumping jacks

via Gfycat

For a gentler alternative, Chicago-based celebrity trainer Andrea Metcalf suggests trying low-impact jumping jacks:

  1. Begin with your right arm reaching toward the corner of the room as you step your right foot out at the same time.
  2. While your right side is in the out position, reach your left arm out toward the corner of the room as you step your left foot out at the same time.
  3. Bring your right arm and foot in followed by your left arm and foot to center. This is one repetition.
  4. Continue this marching motion, alternating sides, until you’ve completed 5 repetitions leading with the right. Repeat leading with the left.

What about repetitions?

There’s no standard for how many repetitions or sets of jumping jacks to do. You may want to begin by doing just a few at a low to moderate intensity. Work up to doing two sets of 10 or more repetitions.

If you’re an experienced athlete or regularly active, you may do as many as 150 to 200 repetitions of jumping jacks and other jumping moves in a session.

While you don’t need complicated equipment to do jumping jacks, you still need to practice some basic safety measures while working out. Follow these tips:

  • Warm up and cool down. A brisk walk around the block may be a good start.
  • Do your jumping jacks on a flat, even surface. Grass, rubber, and other surfaces that absorb shock are preferred over cement or asphalt.
  • Wear supportive shoes. Choose athletic sneakers instead of sandals, heeled shoes, or boots.
  • Learn proper form. Consider having a trainer show you proper form to ensure you’re doing the moves correctly.
  • The faster, the better. Consider favoring speed of repetitions over the total length of the workout (endurance) to avoid overuse injuries.
  • Pay attention to your body. If you feel pain, take a break or stop your session completely.

Jumping jacks can help mix up your current exercise or even motivate you to start fresh with a new program.

Whatever activity you choose, aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.

You may do bursts of jumping jacks throughout the day on their own or incorporate them into a more varied plyometric routine. It’s a good idea to give your body two to three days of rest between sessions and to mix up the types of exercise you to do avoid overuse injuries.