"Count out your jumping jacks: One! Two! Three! Four!" That's not just the sound of a boot camp instructor at work. It's also the sound of your body burning up to 100 calories every 10 minutes — and sometimes even more.
Jumping Jacks Are Calisthenics
First, some real talk: Unless you're in a medical clinic with an exercise physiologist hooking you up to some very sophisticated machinery, any calorie burn estimates you can get are going to be just that — estimates. And most calorie calculators don't have a separate category for jumping jacks.
But they do have categories for calisthenics, and that's exactly what jumping jacks are. This lets you get down to some serious estimating. For example, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE) physical activity calorie counter, if you weigh 170 pounds and spend 10 minutes doing jumping jacks at a moderate intensity, you'll burn about 44 calories.
There are lots of variables that affect how many calories you burn, and some of them — in particular, your genetics — are entirely beyond your control. Two of the biggest variables you can affect are your body weight and body composition, but it takes weeks or months to make any noticeable change in those variables.
However, you can change the intensity of your jumping jacks workout right on the spot — and that has a huge effect on your calorie burn. For the same 170-pound person from the previous example, doing jumping jacks at a vigorous intensity will burn a whopping 102 calories in 10 minutes — more than twice as much as a moderate workout.
Although you can't affect your body weight in just one workout, having a little extra weight on you can actually work in your favor when it comes to your calorie burn. The same ACE physical activity calorie counter estimates a 200-pound person's calorie burn at 52 calories for 10 minutes of moderate jumping jacks, or 120 calories for just 10 minutes of vigorous jumping jacks.
Don't Eat Your Jumping Jacks
If you were to extend those calisthenics workouts to a full hour, you'd be looking at 600-plus calories burned in a vigorous workout, or a still very respectable 240- to 300-calorie burn for a moderate workout. That's nothing to sneeze at.
But if you're working out for weight loss or weight maintenance — which is usually the goal when calorie counts come up — then you must beware the pitfall of taking those jumping jack workouts as carte blanche to eat anything you like. If you're not careful, you might just find that you've eaten back all the calories you burned, and then some.
This gets right at the sometimes misunderstood core of weight loss: It's not just about burning lots of calories — it's about burning more calories than you consume, also known as establishing a calorie deficit. Need more proof that your diet matters? An impressive body of research from the National Weight Control Registry shows that the vast majority of people who lose weight and keep it off do so with a combination of exercise and diet.
That doesn't mean you have to starve yourself. Instead, focus on eating a nutrient-rich diet. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommendations for healthy eating are a great place to start. They recommend eating lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, high-quality protein sources like lean meat, seafood and nuts, and healthy unsaturated fats — while limiting your intake of _un_healthy saturated fats, added sodium and added sugar.
If you do that and still aren't seeing the results you want from your jumping jack workouts, you might need to count calories. The HHS provides a set of guidelines for how many calories you should eat to maintain your weight, according to your age, gender and activity levels.
If you eat a maintenance level of calories and increase your activity level but still aren't seeing results, try cutting your daily calorie intake by about 500. As the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute advises, in most cases you can safely aim for a calorie deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories per day to help your weight loss along.
Jumping Jacks for Health
What if you're doing jumping jacks not for weight loss, but to stay healthy? Regular cardiovascular exercise — like jumping jacks — is a key component of the HHS physical activity guidelines. They recommend that to stay healthy, you should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.
You're free to break that workout time up into multiple sessions and sprinkle them throughout the week however you like — or go for the gold and try to get double that exercise (300 minutes of moderate cardio or 150 minutes of vigorous cardio) every week for even more health benefits.
And of course, if you really, really love doing jumping jacks, you can put in all that exercise time with the one activity. But even the biggest jumping jacks aficionado can get tired of them after a few hours.
If you're ready for a change, consider mixing in some other no-equipment-needed calisthenics exercises to change things up. Just a few of your many options include:
- Mountain climbers
- High knees
- Side skips
- Skater jumps
- Bench dips
You can count to a certain number of repetitions for each exercise (for example, do 20 jumping jacks, then 20 mountain climbers, then 20 burpees and so on), or set a timer for intervals — they can be as short as 30 seconds — and move on to a new exercise each time the timer goes off.
How do you know if you're doing your jumping jacks or calisthenics at a moderate or vigorous intensity, anyway? The talk test is an easy, free way of gauging your workout intensity almost anywhere. At its simplest — if you can talk but not sing, you're working out at a moderate intensity; if you can get a few words out but not carry on a conversation, you're exercising at a vigorous intensity.
- American Council on Exercise: "Physical Activity Calorie Counter"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 1. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- Berkeley University Health Services: "The Johnson & Johnson Official 7-Minute Workout"
- National Weight Control Registry: "NWCR Facts"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Chapter 1. Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs Per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level"
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: "Key Recommendations"
- University of New Mexico: "The Talk Test"