The mention of jumping jacks likely brings back intense, and unpleasant, memories of high school gym class. The benefits of this classic exercise, though, easily outweigh any negative emotions you might have attached to the experience. Not only are jumping jacks easy to perform, requiring no equipment, but they also provide an effective full-body workout by engaging several large muscle groups. By understanding the usefulness of jumping jacks, and how to put them into practice, you can give your workouts a powerful boost.
Picture a jumping jack or, better yet, do one. Focus on how your calves work to adjust your footing and how your legs as a whole push your weight up. Feel how even your upper body is used to swing your arms and how your core tightens to keep you stable. Of course, your heart and lungs are also forced to work harder to meet the demands of the movement. It's obvious, then, that jumping jacks quickly and efficiently work your entire body.
Not a Cure-All
Although it's true that jumping jacks are a full-body workout, they have their limitations. For example, running will probably give you a more challenging, and more adaptable, cardiovascular workout. Jumping jacks also probably won't give you any noticeable improvements in strength or muscle mass, especially when compared with a more specialized weightlifting routine.
As a Warm-Up
Jumping jacks are far from useless, though. In fact, the total-body involvement of the exercise makes it an effective warm-up for your regular workout. Just a few minutes of jumping jacks will loosen up your muscles and tendons, get your blood flowing and prime your body for the real action to come. Your warm-up should take about five minutes.
Turn Up the Intensity
It may seem that jumping jacks are pretty straightforward, without much room for variation or growth. With a little creativity, though, you can ramp up the difficulty of jumping jacks so that they are consistently challenging. The most obvious way to make jumping jacks more difficult is to perform them faster. Find a pace that's challenging and keep at it as long as you can. Feel free to slow down once you're winded, but keep going at a slower pace. When you feel more energized, try to speed up again. By doing this, you can turn your jumping jacks into a high-intensity interval workout. You can also add weights to your ankles and wrists. Start out light, though, because heavy weights could increase your risk of injury.
Jonathan Thompson is a personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise and has extensive experience working with clients as well as teaching. Thompson holds specializations in longevity nutrition and muscle management for runners. He began writing in 2004.