7 Jumping Jack Variations That Work for Any Fitness Goal and Need

Dealing with shoulder pain or looking to test your power? These jumping jack variations will give you what you want and need from the cardio exercise.

MTM: Jumping Jack Variations
Photography by Jena Cumbo.

Welcome to Modify This Move, the ongoing series where you'll find everything you need to amend a standard exercise to meet your goals, your body, and your mood. Each story breaks down how to perform a foundational fitness move, then offers various modifications based on your current fitness or energy level, present or prior injuries, or the muscles you want to target most. So check your ego at that door and ensure every workout meets you where you're at today.

Once you say goodbye to high school gym class and start getting your doses of movement in at high-tech gyms, you might not think to practice no-frills cardio exercises — particularly jumping jacks.

But mixing the basic exercise back into your fitness routine can do you some good: Jumping jacks serve as a full-body cardio workout, helping to boost your cardiovascular health and challenge your major muscle groups, says Jill Goodtree, an NASM-certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor and RRCA-certified run coach. “They really target everything — your legs, arms, core,” she says. “Your whole body's working together.”

Reminder: Cardiovascular training elevates your heart rate, gets your blood pumping, and, over time, helps your circulatory system work more efficiently to deliver oxygen to your muscles. In turn, you’re able to work harder without feeling as winded, as Shape previously reported. But unlike your Peloton cycling classes and treadmill runs, you can do jumping jacks (and score those health benefits) anytime, anywhere, says Goodtree. 

What’s more, the exercise can be tweaked to meet your fitness level, abilities, and goals, making it truly accessible. For example, folks who find the move too challenging, are dealing with joint discomfort, or are in need of a chill cardio workout can use a scaled-down jumping jack variation to score their daily hit of cardio. And individuals itching to target particular muscle groups or test their coordination can try jumping jack variations that are designed to help them meet their specific fitness goals. Regardless of your reason, you should feel comfortable adjusting the classic jumping jack so it’s painless, just the right level of difficulty, and fun — not a chore you need to push through mentally and physically. 

Ready to give the cardio exercise a shot? Follow the instructions below to master traditional jumping jacks, then watch as Goodtree demonstrates how to mix up the move with seven different jumping jack variations that can work for all abilities and fitness goals.

How to Do a Jumping Jack

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms hanging at sides.

B. Quickly jump both feet out to sides until wider than shoulder-width apart. Simultaneously, raise both arms out to the side and over head, palms facing forward.

C. After feet hit the floor, quickly jump both feet back to center while lowering arms back down to sides to return to the starting position.

7 Jumping Jack Variations

The basic jumping jack may not be your cup of tea — and that’s totally okay. Whether the exercise feels too uncomfortable, challenging, or misaligned with your fitness goals, you can ditch the classic version and try a jumping variation instead.

Here, you'll find jumping jack variations that scale the exercise up or down, including options that target your core, lower body, and coordination. Plus, Goodtree shares jumping jack variations that are easier on your joints if you’re experiencing discomfort in your knees or shoulders. 

No matter which option you choose, continue checking in with your body as you power through your reps and try a different exercise if it doesn't feel right. And remember to land softly by rolling through the balls of your feet, which helps reduce the impact of the move, says Goodtree. 

Jumping Jack Variation to Scale Down: Step-Out Jack

In this toned-down jumping jack variation, you’ll ditch the hop and instead step your feet out to the side one at a time. This adjustment reduces the impact and makes the exercise more accessible to folks with knee and hip issues, as well as beginners nailing down their form and folks in the mood for a low-key workout, says Goodtree. That said, “when done correctly, this exercise can be the same level of challenging," she adds.

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms hanging at sides.

B. Quickly step right foot out to right side, simultaneously raising both arms out to the side and over head, palms facing forward.

C. After right foot hits the floor, quickly step foot back to center while lowering arms back down to sides to return to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side.

Jumping Jack Variation to Level Up: Star Jump

To perform this plyometric-style jumping jack, you’ll quickly push through the floor to launch yourself into space, so expect to feel seriously powerful after a few reps, says Goodtree. Heads up: Plyometrics as a whole isn’t typically beginner-friendly, and you’ll want to build up your physical strength, flexibility, and proprioception (your ability to sense the position and movement of your body in space) before giving this move a shot.

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms hanging at sides.

B. Slightly bend knees into a partial squat, then jump up toward the ceiling, simultaneously spreading legs out to the sides and lifting arms out to the sides and over head.

C. Quickly reverse the movement of legs and arms and land softly in a partial squat.

Jumping Jack Variation to Build Core Strength: Plank Jack

This plank and jumping jack combo will get your heart rate up while building core strength, says Goodtree. “Adding the jack in and out to a plank really emphasizes your core to engage — if it's not engaged you'll wobble and fall,” she says. 

A. Start in a table-top position on the floor with hands stacked directly under shoulders, knees bent and stacked directly under hips, and feet hip-width apart.

B. Lift both knees off the floor and straighten legs to come into a high plank position on palms, squeezing glutes together and engaging core. Actively push away from the floor and maintain a straight line from head to heels. This is the starting position.

C. Hop feet out wider than hip-width apart without allowing butt to pop up above height of shoulders. Then, quickly hop feet back to center.

Jumping Jack Variation to Target Lower Body: Squat Jack

“If someone's craving extra lower-body work, this exercise is a great way to get in cardio and still engage your lower body,” says Goodtree. Specifically, you’ll light up your quads and glutes, she says. As you power through your reps, remember to stay in a slight squat and avoid popping up to standing in between jacks.

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, hands clasped in front of chest and elbows tucked into ribcage

B. Bend knees slightly, then jump both feet out to the side as far as is comfortable. As feet touch the ground, bend knees slightly to lower butt into a half squat.

C. Quickly jump both feet in to center and bend knees slightly to return to the starting position.

Jumping Jack Variation for Shoulder Pain: Half-Jack

Dealing with shoulder pain or limited mobility? Try the half-jack variation, which involves raising your arms just to shoulder height, says Goodtree. “By raising them only to half height, you reduce your range of motion [to prevent discomfort] but still complete a jack,” she adds. While you can raise your arms out to the side like a traditional jumping jack, lifting them in front of your body may be more comfortable for some folks who have shoulder impingements or other joint issues, says Goodtree.

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms hanging at sides.

B. Quickly jump both feet out to sides until wider than shoulder-width apart. Simultaneously, raise both arms out and up in front of body until aligned with shoulders.

C. After feet hit the floor, quickly jump both feet back to center while lowering arms back down to sides to return to the starting position.

Jumping Jack Variation for Coordination: Boxer’s Jack

Not only will this jumping jack variation sync up perfectly with your workout playlist, but it will also challenge and build your coordination, which can improve your performance in the gym and your everyday life, says Goodtree.

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms hanging at sides.

B. Quickly jump both feet out to sides until wider than shoulder-width apart. Simultaneously, raise both arms out to the side and over head, palms facing forward.

C. After feet hit the floor, quickly jump both feet back to center while lowering arms back down to sides to return to the starting position.

D. Then, quickly step right foot forward while rotating body to face the left. Lift left arm to shoulder height at left side, bending left elbow to a 90-degree angle and hovering left hand in front of cheek. Simultaneously, punch right arm out to right side. Keep gaze locked on punching hand.

E. Step right foot back to center, rotate body to face forward, and lower arms back to sides. That's one rep.

Jumping Jack Variation for Knee Pain: Front Jack

If all the hopping involved in a jumping jack aggravates your knees, try a front jack, says Goodtree. Extending your legs forward and back — rather than out to your sides — eases the impact on your knee joints, she says. 

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms hanging at sides.

B. Quickly jump both right foot in front of body and left foot behind body, simultaneously raising left arm in front of body and over head and driving right arm down and behind body.

C. After feet hit the floor, jump into the air and switch feet so left foot is in front of body and right foot is behind. Simultaneously, raise right arm in front of body and over head and drive left arm down and behind body.

Credits

Photography and art Jena Cumbo

Model and fitness expert Jill Goodtree

Activewear Girlfriend Collective

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