Tip: The Most Underrated Conditioning Exercise

You did it as a kid. Here's why it needs to make a comeback.


High-school PE classes might have scared you off for life, but jumping jacks are one of the simplest and best forms of total-body conditioning out there. Time for a lesson in PE for adults.

We're not talking about some fancy jumping jacks that require more skill and coordination than Dancing With The Stars. We're talking about the sort of exercise you're more likely to see in old military movies, but remastered just a little.

First, here's what basic jumping jacks should look like:

Stay light and springy on your knees. Focus on landing mostly on the balls of your feet. It's that simple.

Unlike the traditional jumping jack, in the video you might have noticed a difference in arm and hand position. Although it's a minor modification, performing jumping jacks where your palms are facing more inwards at the top will put your shoulders in a better position when going overhead.

Some instinctively modify the overhead position anyway because it's more comfortable. But most end up with their arms overhead and palms facing out, thumbs down, shoulders internally rotated and in more of an impinged position.

Don't worry, this isn't likely going to stop you from bench pressing anytime soon, but you'll get more shoulder longevity out of using the modified "palms facing in" method.

Seal Jumping Jacks

These are a good chest opener and a potentially better option if you have trouble going overhead. Only reach your arms as wide as you can handle without pain or discomfort. Clapping like a seal is optional.

X Jumping Jacks

With these you finish like a big "x". They take your arms and shoulders through a different range of motion when raising overhead.

Your arms will start in front of you, thumbs up, then as you jump out will raise using the scapular plane of motion (think shoulder Y-raise instead of lateral raise). At the top, your palms will still be facing inward. This is a more open and natural position for your shoulders to be in.

Crossover Jumping Jacks

If you want to add some complexity, then these are a good way to condition while developing some rhythm and coordination.

Jumping Jacks with Presses

Jumping jacks with presses can be done with a lightweight implement like a medicine ball, or just punching the air with your fists. Keep in mind that you'll not just be loading the punch here by holding an extra weight; it's extra weight you'll be landing with too.

Jumping Jacks with Depth Progression

Using a slight elevation further challenges your ability to absorb forces through your ankles, knees, and hips. It's harder and it'll definitely get your heart rate up.

But you should only use plyometric progressions if you know exactly why you're using them and you've got a good base to work from. If you do, then taking your jumping jacks one inch off the floor at a time will pay off big time for your lower-body athleticism.

Jumping Jacks with Band Pull-Aparts

Try combining jumping jacks with band pull-aparts to load your upper body and get an even bigger burn. Grip the band so that in your furthest inward arm position the band still maintains tension.

X Band Jumping Jacks

Step on the band, cross it over, take a thumbs-up grip, and jump. The band will do wonders for the bottom half of your body (loading it more in the frontal plane) while your upper body will get some extra shoulder stabilizer activation.

The band can add an element of explosiveness to the exercise too. Just watch where the band crosses in the middle and make sure there's nothing important in its way.

Battling Ropes Jumping Jacks

Combine one effective conditioning tool with another. Battling ropes are a good way to add resistance and get your heart and lungs working harder. The thicker or longer the ropes, the harder these will be.

As a fat loss and conditioning tool, aim for 30-60 second work intervals with 30-60 seconds of rest depending on your fitness level and intensity. Tabatas or half-Tabatas work well too.

Use them as a finisher at the end of a workout, as part of a conditioning circuit, or try super-setting them with a strength exercise for a combined strength and fat loss protocol.

1. They condition your heart and lungs.

Pick your favorite conditioning protocol – let's say some Tabata intervals (20 seconds on and 10 seconds off for 8 rounds).

2. They're a frontal plane movement.

Coaches talk about how everybody needs more frontal plane loading – you need to be doing more stuff going sideways for both muscle balance and injury prevention. Jumping jacks work you in the frontal plane just like side lunges or lateral jumps do. Also, a lot of daily life and sport require you to be strong, powerful, and resilient in the frontal plane. So they make sense.

3. They're a joint-friendly conditioning tool.

Jumping jacks are more joint-friendly than many other forms of bodyweight conditioning. Even pro-burpee folks would have to admit that jumping jacks would be a far better option for many with back or knee issues.

4. They work as a warm-up and primer.

Pick a few of your favorite mobility activation exercises and then pair them in supersets or circuits with jumping jacks. This'll get you warm, primed, and ready to go. Not only will they raise your heart rate, they'll also potentiate your nervous system for a more productive workout. For this purpose, keep your sets short to minimize fatigue. Sets of 10-20 seconds work well.

5. They'll help you develop pliability of muscles and connective tissues.

Jumping jacks are a plyometric exercise. The require short ground contact times and help develop the fast stretch-shortening cycle. Simply, jumping jacks help to develop the elasticity of your muscle and tendon structures, and efficiency of your nervous system. This allows you to develop force through your ankles and knees much quicker. If you want to run further or faster, jumping jacks are a good place to start.

6. They're not complex.

Because they don't require too much thought, jumping jacks are scalable for everyone.

Gareth Sapstead is a leading strength and physique coach from the UK. He specializes in problem solving and breakthrough training techniques.

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