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How to Do Jumping Jacks, Benefits & Alternatives

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It might have been a while since you last did a set of jumping jacks, and whilst doing star jumps might bring back memories of primary school PE lessons, they’re actually a pretty good exercise to raise your heart rate and burn some calories.

If you’re after an exercise to add into your warm-up, switch up your HIIT circuit or a move that you can sneak in a set of literally anywhere – you’ll see some major benefits from adding this exercise into your routine. It’s a really simple and basic move, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t effective.

Even if you think you remember how to do a star jump (a star jump and a jumping jack are the same thing), let us quickly explain how to them properly. Then, we’ll get to the benefits of jumping jacks like improved fitness and weight loss, and then we’ll show you some variations to increase the intensity of this full-body exercise.

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How to Do Jumping Jacks 

You probably know how to do a jumping jack already, but it’s worth having a look at our guide and tutorial video to check up on your form!

Starting position

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Stand upright with your arms by your side and your feet around hip-width apart.

Movement

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  • Bend at your knees and jump up whilst stretching your legs and spreading your arms out and up into the shape of a star.
  • Your feet should land wide apart and your arms stretched out, above your head.
  • When your feet land, jump straight back up, reversing the move so that you land in the starting position.
  • That’s one rep!

Jumping Jacks from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

To start, try doing 5 sets of 50 star jumps. To really push yourself, keep reading because we’ve explained how to do jumping jacks variations that are more difficult and we’ve listed some more challenging alternative exercises and how to do them. 

Muscles worked

This exercise mainly works your glutes, your quads, and hip flexors. But they are a compound movement, so they pretty much work every muscle in your body to some extent.

Benefits of Jumping Jacks 

Now you know how to do jumping jacks properly, check out these benefits and see why this isn’t an exercise you should have abandoned on the playground.

Raise Your Heart Rate

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Star jumps are a great form of cardiovascular exercise, they get your heart racing and your blood pumping. Cardiovascular exercise, in general, has plenty of benefits for your overall fitness and health.                               

Increasing your heart rate with regular star jumps benefits your aerobic capacity and strengthens your heart. Adding this exercise into your routine will improve your stamina and train your body to move oxygen and blood to your muscles more efficiently. This will make this move – and other forms of cardiovascular exercise – easier, as you’ll end up in better shape.

Compound Movement

This exercise is a compound movement because it engages all of the main muscle groups in your body. Compound exercises are a great place to start if you have fairly general goals like improving your overall cardiovascular fitness and increasing your strength.

Anyone Can Do It

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Jumping jacks are an exercise that is completely suitable for all ages and fitness abilities, mainly because they’re a really easy exercise to execute. You almost definitely did this exercise as a child, and they’re still a great move to have as part of your routine even if you’re a regular gym-goer.

Thanks to the low impact variation of the star jump – side jacks – which we’ll explain more about later, the move is also suitable for elderly people who want to keep fit, or those who are recovering from an injury.

If you think this exercise for your ability, stick with us and we’ll discuss some more difficult alternatives and variations, shortly.

 

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Coordination

Because this exercise involves moving your upper and lower body in muscles at the same time, it requires good coordination. So, learning how to do jumping jacks correctly will help to improve your coordination, rhythm, agility, and balance. All of the star jumps benefits associated with coordination have transferable benefits for other moves in your workout.

Burn Calories 

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Another one of the star jumps benefits is that they aid weight-loss. Because they are a high-impact cardio exercise, they burn calories. Burning calories will help you to create a calorie deficit – the key to fat and weight loss.   

Getting your heart pumping and your muscles moving by doing this exercise at the start of your workout will get you well on your way to achieving your weight loss goals.

If you’re serious about weight loss, you’ll need to work up a sweat to burn those calories. Try fitting in 10 minutes of jumping jacks a day – either in one session or a few shorter stints split up throughout the day.

Plyometric Exercise

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Jumping jacks (and the plyo jack variation that we’ll discuss shortly) are a type of plyometric, or ‘jump training’, exercise. Plyometric exercises have benefits for developing bone strength as well as helping you run faster and jump higher. 

Plyometrics combine cardio and resistance training, so they’re a great all-round move for improving your fitness and your physique. If your goals are to get fitter, lose weight, or tone up, star jumps are an ideal exercise to add to your training.

Uses Eccentric and Concentric Muscle Contraction

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Plyometric exercises, including jumping jacks, involve both eccentric and concentric muscle contractions. Stretching the muscles as you jump into the star shape involves an eccentric contraction, and then shortening the muscles as you return to the starting position is a concentric movement. Because the move uses these two types of muscle contraction, the exercise is more explosive and therefore has further benefits for strengthening muscles.  

Accessible 

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Because the basic version of this move is a bodyweight exercise, one of the benefits of jumping jacks is that it’s a completely accessible exercise. You don’t need an expensive gym membership and there’s no need for any kind of exercise equipment, you can literally fit a set in anywhere, at any time.

Calisthenics

Another benefit is that a jumping jack is a basic calisthenics move. Because of this, doing regular sets of star jumps will help to improve your flexibility. If you want to know more about calisthenics exercises and their benefits, check out our guide to Calisthenics for Beginners.

Tone Muscles 

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Thanks to the benefits of jumping jacks for weight loss, this move can help you to tone-up your muscles. The benefit of this cardio-move is that they get you burning calories as you start to work up a sweat which leads to you losing weight. But because plyometric exercises, including star jumps, are also technically a form of resistance training, and they use both eccentric and concentric muscle movements, they have further benefits for toning your muscles.

If muscle tone is your goal, we recommend using jumping jacks in your training as part of a HIIT circuit.

Versatile Move

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One of the best things about this exercise is that it’s really versatile. It’s really easy to learn how to do a jumping jack and you can incorporate star jumps into your routine in a number of ways depending on your goals. They’re a great way to burn some calories and get you on your way to shedding a few pounds and because they’re also a form of bodyweight resistance training, they will help you get toned up, too. 

Jumping jacks are also versatile when it comes to adapting to your workout preferences. For example, they’re perfect as part of a warm-up because they work pretty much every muscle in your body and they get your heart and lungs working, too. Tons of athletes start off with a few sets of jumping jacks as a warm-up for a variety of different sports.

For more ways that you can benefit from the versatile nature of this exercise, keep reading for the variations and alternatives that can make the move easier or more difficult depending on your current fitness level and what you want to achieve. 

Star Jump Variations & Alternatives

You can make standard jumping jacks more difficult by increasing the number of sets and reps that you do, or by adding resistance to the move by wearing ankle or wrist weights (or both!). You can also try standing on your toes as you execute the move. 

Whether you’re recovering from an injury and want a low-impact alternative, or you want to make the move more difficult to get all of the benefits and more, keep reading and give these variations and alternatives a try.

Press Jacks  

Whilst one of the biggest benefits of jumping jacks is that it’s a bodyweight exercise, adding resistance will make the move more difficult and more effective. For an alternative to a star jump that uses more upper body power, grab a medicine ball (preferably one with handles) and try a press jack. 

PRESS JACKS

Starting position:

  • Stand upright with your feet together.
  • Use both hands to hold a medicine ball at your chest.

Movement:

  • Jump up and move your feet out so that they land just wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • As you jump, raise your arms straight up to push the medicine ball above your head.
  • Jump your feet back together and lower the medicine ball to your chest
  • Now repeat.

press jack from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

Squat Jacks

Squat jacks are a cardio movement that will better tone your thighs and your glutes better than star jumps. Check out how to do star jumps and squats in one move, below.

Starting position:

  • Stand with your feet together and hold your hands at your chest.

Movement:

  • Jump up and move your feet apart, as you land, bend your knees into a squat.
  • Hold the squat position for a second and then push on your heels to jump back up into the starting position.
  • Repeat!

Squat Jacks from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

Side Jacks 

For an easier alternative to star jumps, try side jacks. This alternative is perfect if you’re recovering from an injury, starting out on your fitness journey or if you suffer with any kind of knee pain. This alternative is a stepping exercise rather than a plyometric (jumping) exercise so they’re a great low impact move. Check out the exercise video below for how to do a jumping jack variation that is suitable for beginners.

Starting position:

  • Stand upright with your feet together.
  • Hold your arms down by your sides.

Movement:

  • Step your right foot out to your side and raise both of your arms up to the sides in the same motion as for a normal star jump.
  • Bring your foot back in and lower your arms down to your sides.
  • Repeat the same movement by stepping your left leg out.
  • That’s one rep.
  • To make this move challenging, do a high number of reps per set and move quickly to really raise your heart rate. 

Side Jacks from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

Plyo Jacks 

If you enjoy the plyometric benefits of jumping jacks, try a plyo jack for a more explosive variation that will work your legs and your glutes even more.

Starting position:

  • Stand upright with your arms by your side and your feet together.
  • With this variation, the higher the jump the better so bend your knees into a slight squat to add power to your jump.

Movement:

  • Jump up high into the same star shape as you would for regular jumping jacks.
  • As you land, bring your feet back together and your arms back down your sides.
  • Land with a slight bend in your knee and repeat the move by jumping back up.

Plyo Jacks from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

Seal Jacks

So you know how to do jumping jacks, but you've probably never tried seal jacks. Seal jacks have all of the same benefits of jumping jacks but they work your muscles in a different plane of motion than the standard move.

Starting position:

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  • Stand upright with your feet together.
  • Position your arms extended out in front of you so that your palms are facing each other.

Movement:

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  • Jump up and move your feet out so that they land wide apart.
  • As you jump up move your arms out.
  • When you land, your arms are extended out to your sides so that your body makes a ‘T’ shape.
  • Jump up again, returning to the starting position.

Seal Jack 2 from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

Split Jacks 

Another move that will emphasise your glutes and your leg muscles more than a star jump is a split jack. Split jacks are also a lunge variation, here’s how to do them:

Starting position:

  • Step your right foot back into a lunge position.
  • Hold your arms down by your sides.
  • Your left leg (at the front) should form a 90°angle between your calf and your thigh.

Movement:

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  • Jump up and switch the position of your legs, bringing your right leg to the front and moving your left leg to the back.
  • As you jump, raise your arms up and out to the sides like you would for a star jump.
  • Land in a lunge with your right leg in front of you and hold your arms straight up.
  • Jump up, swapping your legs again so that you land with your left leg forward.
  • As you execute this jump, lower your arms back down to your sides.
  • Repeat the move, alternating your legs with every rep.

Split Jack from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

The Plank Jack 

For a jumping jack alternative that will get you on your way to sculpted abs, try a plank jack. The plank jack will really work your core muscles, benefiting their strength and your core stability. 

Starting position:

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  • Find a solid surface and an exercise mat and set yourself up in the plank position.
  • The front of your body should be facing the ground.
  • Extend your arms so that your shoulders are positioned directly over your wrists.
  • Stretch your legs out behind you with your feet next to each other.
  • Make sure that your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your feet.

Movement:

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  • Jump your legs up and move them out so that your feet land apart – the same distance apart as they would for regular standing jumping jacks.
  • Quickly jump again and bring your feet back together.
  • That’s one rep!

It’s important that you keep your body in a straight line throughout the movement, this will make sure that the move is working all of the muscles it is intended to and it will do wonders for your core stability. Avoid letting your hips rise up – this is a common mistake that a lot of people make when executing the plank and variations.

Plank Jack from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

Plank Jumps

For a high impact exercise that will really work your core muscles, swap jumping jacks for a set of plank jumps. 

Starting position:

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  • Grab an exercise mat and set yourself up in a plank position with the front of your body facing the mat and your arms extended out.
  • Position your shoulders directly over your wrists and extend your legs out straight behind you with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Your body should be a straight line from your shoulders to your feet.

Movement:

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  • Jump your feet up and bring your knees up towards your chest.
  • Land with your feet together at around hip height.
  • Jump your feet up again, this time extending your legs so that you land in the starting position.
  • That’s one rep – pause for a second and then repeat the move.

Advanced Plank Jumps

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You can make plank jumps more intense by adding a twist to the move. Instead of landing your feet underneath your chest, twist your torso so that your feet land to the side of your body. For the first rep, both of your feet should land to your left. For the second rep, both feet should land together on the right side of your body. 

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Like the plank jack, it’s common for your hips to rise up during this move. Plank jumps are a killer core workout that is most effective when you keep your body straight throughout the entire execution of the move. 

With plank jumps, it’s also common for your shoulders to move backwards as you get further into a set. Keep your arms straight so that they are perpendicular to the ground, and make sure that your shoulders are directly above your wrists. Keeping this position is preventative of injury and exercising in the right form will make the move more effective.

Advanced Plank Jumps from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

Burpees

Another intense alternative exercise is the burpee. Burpees are a brutal fat-burning bodyweight move with tons of benefits. If you want to stick to the jumping jacks theme, keep reading for how to do a jumping jack variation of the traditional burpee.

Starting position: 

  • Grab an exercise mat and find a spot in the gym with plenty of space.
  • Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart. 

Movement:

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  • Drop down into a deep squat with your arms reaching to the floor, just in front of your feet. Rest your hands on the floor, just in front of your feet and position your shoulders directly above them.
  • Keep that arm position and shift your weight onto your hands as you jump your feet and extend your legs backwards so that you land in a plank.
  • Jump your feet back up to the squat position.
  • Jump up into the air and reach your arms over your head so that you reach maximum height (or do a star jump!).
  • Land with a slight bend in your knee and your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • That’s one rep!

Burpees from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

Repeat this move and see how many you can do in 30 seconds, or, check out this burpee challenge.

Low Impact Burpee

The burpee can be a pretty explosive movement. if you’re just starting to get into fitness, or if you’re recovering from an injury, here’s how to do a low impact burpee.

Starting position:

  • Stand upright with your feet together and hold your arms down by your sides.

Movement:

  • Bend down and reach your arms out towards the floor.
  • Use your arms for balance and set your right leg out behind you.
  • Extend your left leg out behind you.
  • Bend your leg to bring it back underneath your body, and then do the same with your right leg.
  • Stand upright and then repeat the move.

Low Impact Burpee from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

Chest to Floor Burpee

If you really want a compound movement that requires a lot of effort but has huge fat-burning and fitness benefits, chest to floor burpees are a great option.

Starting position:

  • Stand upright with your feet together and your arms by your sides.

Movement:

  • Jump into the air and raise your arms above your head.
  • Land in the starting position.
  • Drop into a squat position.
  • Extend your arms to reach towards the floor.
  • Jump your legs back so that they are extended behind you and use your arms to support your weight.
  • Bend your elbows to bring your chest to the floor and then push yourself back up.
  • Jump your legs back to the squat and then repeat the movement.

Chest To Floor Burpee from OriGym Personal Trainer Courses on Vimeo.

Before You Go!

Now that you're all clued up on how to do jumping jacks, let us know where they fit into your workout by giving us a shout on Facebook or Twitter.

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Written by Abbie Watkins

Qualified Personal Trainer & Fitness Blogger

Abbie is a work-hard, play-hard qualified personal trainer and blogger. She loves a scenic run and a good upbeat exercise class. You can usually find her on the front row of a spin class on a Saturday morning.