Things high school gym class was good for: gossiping, checking out your wanna-be S.O. in track shorts, and kinda-sorta learning basic exercises.
Jumping jacks were one such staple of P.E., and for good reason: “Jumping jacks target the cardiovascular system, yet are safe and approachable, even for beginners,” says Keaton Ray, CSCS, trainer and co-founder of MovementX physical therapy in Portland, OR.
Still, if you’ve been half-assing your jumping jacks (been there, done that) ever since 11th grade, you might be doing your body more harm than good.
How To Do A Jumping Jack
How to: Stand with your feet hip distance apart, with your arms at your sides. Then, simultaneously raise your arms out to the sides and over your head, and jump your feet out so they’re slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Without pausing, quickly reverse the movement. That’s one rep.
Reps/sets for best results: Jumping jacks are so diverse, so your sets and reps will depend on what you’re doing. As a warmup, do 40 seconds on, 20 seconds off. During a HIIT circuit, try one set of 60 seconds as fast as possible in between your other exercises to seriously skyrocket to your heart rate, Ray advises.
Form tips: A lot of people jump out too wide which causes their knees to collapse inward and risks an ankle sprain, Ray says. Instead, jump just outside of hip distance apart. Also, try and minimize the amount of time you’re pausing—the quicker your calves can propel you between jumps, the more cardiovascular and muscular benefit you’ll gain, she adds.
The Benefits Of A Jumping Jack
Most people think of jumping jacks as a cardio move—and they are, in line with other plyometric exercises like high knees, butt kicks, quick feet, or ladder drills.
Jumping jacks help tone your glutes, adductors, and calves.
But they also help strengthen your lower body muscles. Your shoulders are just resisting gravity so they aren’t doing too much work, but your outer glutes muscle—the gluteus medius—is working to drive the hips apart, while your adductor muscles bring your legs back together.
The real workers here, though, are your calves and ankles—they’re taking the primary load as they propel your body up and down, and stabilize your legs in the process, Ray says. “It’s a lot of force for these relatively small muscles, so be prepared to be a little sore the next day,” she adds.
This is ideal for women: “Years of research has demonstrated that the way to prevent bone density loss in women is through loaded activities such as jumping or heavy weight lifting,” Ray says. “And jumping jacks are a great way to safely perform the repetitive jumping motion without risking injury or over-exertion,”
How To Make Jumping Jacks Part Of Your Workout
Ray recommends incorporating gentle versions into your warmup to get your muscles active and blood pumping through the body.
Speed them up and add them to a HIIT circuit, or superset them with box jumps for a serious lung burner. In a HIIT circuit, they’re great paired with similar high-impact exercises in different planes, like mountain climbers, burpees, or side plank crunches.
You have tons of other options for HIIT moves, so chances are you’ll only turn to jumping jacks once or twice a week. But if you love the move, you can do them daily with very low chance for injury risk, Ray says.
Bored of the regular variety? You can get super-creative with this move: Alternate a jumping jack with a pushup, burpee, or squat. Or try a squat jack for an extra challenge. You can also vary the cardio intensity by increasing or decreasing your speed, Ray suggests.
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