Jumping Jacks Are an Excellent Addition to Your Workout—Here's Why

Ariel Belgrave

Jumping jacks are one of those exercises that you’ve probably done your fair share of, starting back in elementary school PE class. They’re a great, quick way to get your body moving and your heart pumping, whether you’re off to recess or preparing for a hard HIIT class. Despite being seemingly simple, jumping jacks are an effective exercise for your whole body, and they don’t require much, other than a little room to jump around. 

Here’s what two trainers had to say about the benefits of jumping jacks, how to do them properly, and how to modify them to your needs. 

Meet the Expert

What Muscles Do Jumping Jacks Work?

Jumping jacks are “an awesome bodyweight exercise that works many of the main muscle groups at once,” says Aliyah Sims, CPT, trainer at Rumble Boxing and Rumble TV in NYC. Obviously, your legs and arms are moving, but jumping jacks also work your whole body. They’re “a full-body plyometric exercise that mainly works your glutes, quadriceps, hip flexors, and calves. They also activate your core and shoulder muscles,” says Ariel Belgrave, a Tone It Up trainer. Plyometric exercises generally involve jumping or explosive movements, which can help improve your strength and speed.

What Are the Benefits of Jumping Jacks?

These deceptively simple exercises pack a lot into a short amount of time. Here are some of the benefits:

  • They’re easy: “Jumping jacks are easy to perform,” says Belgrave (hence doing them as kids). She adds that you can do them anywhere, and they require no equipment. They’re low maintenance and flexible — you can do them inside, outside, morning or night, before a workout, or in between household chores.
  • They’re a great way for your body to warm up: If your body needs a little encouragement before launching into a workout, jumping jacks can help. Belgrave says they can help get your blood flowing, speed up your heart rate, and relax the muscles in your limbs. “Jumping jacks are one of my favorite warm-up exercises because they help improve your coordination and work your upper and lower body at the same time. They also help with shoulder mobility,” says Sims.
  • They’re good for your heart: All that jumping around isn’t for naught. “Jumping jacks are a great cardiovascular exercise that strengthens your heart and lungs. Incorporating them into your workout routine can also help reduce your blood pressure,” says Belgrave. Sims agrees that jumping jacks can help improve cardiovascular health and get your heart rate up to burn more calories. 
  • They build muscle and bone strength: “As you do jump jacks, you're working against gravity and using your body weight for resistance,” says Belgrave. “The impact of the jump not only improves your muscle strength but also the strength of the bones in your lower body.” A 2015 study in Bone showed that various high-impact jump training exercises 3x a week was associated with increased bone mineral density in men with low mineral density.
  • They improve your coordination and balance: “Jumping jacks require both a perfect rhythm between your arms and balance when you land from your jump,” says Belgrave. Even if you consider yourself coordination-challenged, you can likely master a jumping jack.
  • They are a stress reliever: The benefits of jumping jacks may go beyond the physical. “Jumping jacks are an aerobic exercise that releases endorphins, the happy hormones in your body,” says Belgrave. 

How to Perform a Proper Jumping Jack

Ariel Belgrave

Jumping jacks can take various forms, but here is how to do a basic one, says Belgrave:

  • Stand with your feet together, knees soft, and arms down by your sides.
  • Simultaneously jump both feet apart and bring your arms out to the side until they're overhead. Hop both feet together and bring your arms back down to the starting position to complete your first jumping jack. 
  • Repeat, staying light on your toes.

How to Modify Jumping Jacks

By making a few modifications, you can dial up or down the intensity of standard jumping jacks. To change up your routine, try one of the following variations.

Lower Intensity

Seated Jacks 

  • Sit tall on the edge of a chair with your knees bent. 
  • Step both legs out laterally from the chair and bring your arms overhead at the same time.
  • Bring your legs back together and arms down toward the floor. 
  • Repeat.

Step Jacks 

Ariel Belgrave

  • 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. 
  • Bring your arms overhead at the same time. 
  • Return your right foot and arms to the starting position. 
  • Shift your weight to your right foot and tap your left foot out to the side, bringing your arms overhead at the same time. 
  • Return your left foot and arms to the starting position. 
  • Repeat.

Step jacks eliminate the intensity by removing the jump and replacing it with an alternating step out, adds Sims. You can swing your arms out to shoulder level instead of overhead if you have shoulder injuries or limited mobility. 

Higher Intensity

 Squat Jacks

To burn out your legs, Sims says to try squat jacks, which will recruit your glutes, quads, and hamstrings.

  • Drop down to a squat position with your legs wider than your shoulders and toes turned out. 
  • Place your hands behind your head
  • Jump your feet in together.
  • Jump your feet out and lower back into a squat.
  • Repeat.

Dumbbell Jumping Jacks

Add a little extra weight to make the jacks more challenging, says Sims.

  • Stand with your feet together, knees soft.
  • Grab the head of one dumbbell with both hands. 
  • Shoot the weight straight up with a pushing motion while jumping your feet out.
  • Return the weight to your check as you jump your feet back in.
  • Repeat.

Twerk Jack

Ariel Belgrave

Belgrave created this move for her Hip Hop Booty class in the Tone It Up app, which throws in a dance move between jumping jacks.

  • Stand with your feet together, knees soft, and arms down by your sides. 
  • Simultaneously jump both feet apart and bring your arms out to the side until they're overhead. 
  • Bring your arms back down and place your hands on your knees. 
  • Shift your weight to your right foot, hinge at the hips, and lift the left leg. 
  • Pop your butt while your left leg is in the air. 
  • Go back to the starting position. 
  • Repeat jack and twerk with the weight on your left foot. 
  • Repeat.

Star Jumps

Star jumps really plus up the “jumping” part of jumping jacks. Belgrave explains how to do them:

  • Start in a crouching position, with your feet together and knees bent.
  • Keep your back flat and your arms by your sides. 
  • Jump up into a “star,” with your arms and legs wide and out to the sides. You will form an “X” in the air. 
  • Land gently with your feet together, then return to the crouching position. 
  • Repeat.

Plank Jacks 

Belgrave suggests trying plank jacks if you want to add more core. 

  • Start in a high plank position, with your hands under your shoulders, feet together, core engaged, and glutes strong. 
  • Keeping your hands in place and core strong, jump your feet out just wider than shoulder-width while keeping your hips as low as possible. 
  • Jump your feet back in. 
  • Repeat.

Who Should Avoid Jumping Jacks?

Most people can safely do a basic jumping jack, but it is a high-intensity exercise that may be difficult or dangerous for certain types of people, including:

  • Injured people: If you have any shoulder or knee injuries, a lower-body injury (e.g., ankle sprain, knee tear, hip injury), or a weakened pelvic floor, you should avoid or modify jumping jacks or consult a doctor to reduce the risk of a greater injury.
  • Pregnant women: “It’s not safe for pregnant women to do this exercise as they should stick to lower intensity movements or modify them,” says Sims. Belgrave suggests these other exercises recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (but discuss with your doctor or health professional first).
  • Have a chronic joint issue: Belgrave advises avoiding or modify jumping jacks or consult a doctor if you have a chronic joint issue like osteoarthritis.

Sims says you can find many other calisthenic exercises that target the same muscles if your joints or body don’t allow you to do jumping jacks comfortably or safely. 

How Many Jumping Jacks Should You Do?

Individual fitness levels vary, and there is no magic number of jumping jacks you should do, so listen to your body. Says Sims, “I would start with a goal of eight to 12 reps and then add on from there. You can also time yourself for at least 30 seconds.”

For beginners, Belgrave suggests doing just a few at a low to moderate intensity and then work your way up to doing two sets of 10 or more reps. “If you’re regularly active, you may do as many as 150 to 200 repetitions of jumping jacks in a session,” she says.

Article Sources
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  1. Hinton PS, Nigh P, Thyfault J. Effectiveness of Resistance Training or Jumping-exercise to Increase Bone Mineral Density in Men With Low Bone Mass: A 12-month Randomized, Clinical TrialBone. 2015;79:203-212. doi:10.1016/j.bone.2015.06.008

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