Active children are always on the move, running and jumping everywhere. That means calisthenics exercises like jumping jacks fit naturally into their playtime, and kids might even do them just for the joy of it as a fun way to burn off excess energy. But just because you've grown up doesn't mean you have to stop doing this type of fun, lively exercise. Jumping jacks can still be fun and, perhaps even more important, they pack useful health benefits at any age.
Check Out the Calorie Burn
Jumping jacks fall into the loose category of calisthenics, or exercises that emphasize using your entire body as a unit with your own body weight providing the resistance as you get your heart rate up or build muscular strength and endurance. That kind of full-body muscular exertion translates to a great calorie burn.
The calorie usage varies depending on a number of factors, including body weight and exertion level. Although it's difficult to peg a precise calorie burn for each individual, a series of estimates from Harvard Health Publishing yields a great estimate: If you weigh 155 pounds, they estimate that a half-hour of moderate calisthenics burns about 167 calories; if you weigh 185 pounds, the same half-hour of exercise will burn about 200 calories.
If you crank the dial up to "vigorous" intensity, a 155-pound individual will burn about 298 calories in a half-hour, while the same exercise would burn about 355 calories for someone who weighs 185 pounds.
- How do you know what counts as moderate- or vigorous-intensity exercise, especially with something like jumping jacks? Try rating your workout on a scale of zero to 10, where zero is sitting idle with no activity and 10 is the hardest exercise you can imagine.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, a moderate-intensity activity will usually clock in at a 5 or a 6 on that zero-to-10 scale.
Jumping Jacks Are Free
One of the biggest benefits of exercises like jumping jacks is that you can do them almost anywhere, and you don't need any special equipment or gear to do them. The same is also true of other calisthenics exercises, such as mountain climbers, burpees and push-ups, which can easily blend with jumping jacks as part of a comprehensive, full-body workout.
The Benefits of Weight-Bearing Exercise
The typical jumping jack is classified as an impact workout because your feet leave the ground; this type of workout is known to be beneficial for bone density, with a 2015 study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology as one of the more recent affirmations.
While impact exercises can be useful, the repeated impact can also be harmful to some individuals with joint conditions or low bone density. That's one reason why it's always important to consult a medical professional before starting an exercise program.
If you choose to do lower-impact jumping jacks, stepping one foot at a time out to the side instead of jumping, you greatly reduce the concussive aspect of the workout — but you still reap the benefits of a weight-bearing workout, which can also help reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
How Long Should I Do Jumping Jacks?
Even if you really, really love jumping jacks, doing about 30 minutes of moderate jumping jacks five days a week, or 15 minutes of vigorous jumping jacks each day, could get old fast. But that's about how much exercise you need to meet the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' physical activity guidelines to improve your health. And if you're trying to lose weight or meet other fitness goals, you'll probably need even more.
Mixing in other calisthenics exercises will do a lot to amp up your fun and interest levels. A few popular exercises you can add to your jumping jacks workout include dips, pushups, burpees, mountain climbers, side jumps and more.
Different Types of Jumping Jacks
To do basic jumping jacks, stand with your feet together and arms down by your sides, knees soft. Simultaneously jump both feet apart and swing your arms out to the side until they're overhead. Hop both feet together and swing your arms back down to the starting position to complete your first jumping jack.
You can add a lot of variety to your workout by incorporating different types of jumping jacks beyond that basic version. For example, if you're doing high-intensity intervals to lose weight or build conditioning, you can do step jacks during the lower-intensity recovery intervals that come between the high-intensity bursts. Step jacks are also a great low-impact way for beginners to get started.
To do step jacks, stand with your feet together, knees soft and arms down by your sides. Shift your weight to your left foot and tap your right foot out to the side. At the same time you do this, swing your arms out and up until they're over your head, or nearly so — just like for a normal jumping jack.
Bring your right foot back in to the center. As you do this, swing your arms back down to your sides. Repeat the motion on the other side, standing on your right foot as you tap your left foot out to the side and simultaneously swing your arms out. Keep alternating back and forth until you've reached the desired goal of repetitions or time.
You can also do step jacks by shifting your body weight to the foot that "taps" out to the side, then shifting your body weight back to the midline as you bring your feet back together; but these weight shifts will usually oblige you to slow down.
For another variation, tap your feet to the front or even behind you instead of moving them out to the side.
What if you've been doing jumping jacks for a while or already have a high level of fitness and find that they're not challenging enough? Trying adding intensity by doing star jumps, an amped-up version of jumping jacks.
Did you know? In some countries you may find jumping jacks referred to as star jumps, or vice versa. Sometimes star jumps are also called plyo jacks.
Start by squatting slightly, bringing your arms together and down in front of you, near your knees. Then explode into a jump, spreading your feet out to the sides and extending your arms up and away from each other, as if each limb were the point of a star. Return back to the starting position and continue jumping until you've met your desired goal of time or repetitions.
As you try different versions of jumping jacks, you'll notice that the more intense the version of jumping jacks you do, the fewer repetitions you can manage. But if you keep at it, your body will adapt to the challenge — and you'll quickly find yourself able to do more.
Other Types of Jumping Jacks
There are near-endless ways to spice up your jumping jacks workout. Other variations to explore include press jacks (pressing a medicine ball overhead each time you jump your legs apart), squat jacks (jumping your feet in and out, as with a normal jumping jack, but maintaining a continuous "down" squat position throughout) and crossover jacks (you allow your arms, legs or both to cross over as you return to the midline of the exercise).
- Health.gov: Dietary Guidelines, 2015-2020: Appendix 1. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
- Harvard Health Publishing: Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights
- Swork It: How to Do Star Jumps
- Training With Bill: How to (Do) Jumping Jacks / Star Jumps Correctly
- Shape: What Is Calisthenics (and Should You Be Doing It?)
- American Heart Association: Moderate to Vigorous — What Is Your Level of Intensity?
- European Journal of Applied Physiology: Impact Exercise and Bone Density in Premenopausal Women With Below Average Bone Density for Age
- Mayo Clinic: Aerobic Exercise: Top 10 Reasons to Get Physical