Last updated on May 9th, 2023 at 04:14 pm
Jumping jacks and star jumps are both extremely popular exercises aimed at getting your heart rate up and burning calories.
However, the names of these exercises are often used interchangeably.
So, does this mean that they are in fact the same thing?
Or are they completely different to each other, and if so, how?
Jumping jacks start and end with you standing up straight. You should jump your feet out to the side, while simultaneously raising your arms overhead. Often this involves clapping your hands together at the top of the movement. Star jumps are a jump squat variation, therefore you should start and end the movement in the squat position. The same principles apply with jumping your feet out to the side and raising your arms overhead, although your feet should remain off the ground when out to the side.
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Jumping Jacks & Star Jumps are NOT the Same
As I’ve mentioned, the terms “jumping jacks” and star jumps” are often used interchangeably.
So, it’s easy to think that they are in fact exactly the same as each other.
Furthermore, the US military also refers to jumping jacks as a side-straddle hop.
I guess that this may cause some confusion, but in reality jumping jacks and star jumps are two different exercises.
Granted, there is a similar movement pattern, as you’ll jump your feet out to the side while raising your arms overhead.
However, this is where the similarities end.
When it comes to jumping jacks you start from a standing position, feet next to each other, arms by your sides.
From here you “jump” both legs out to the side, while your feet land on the floor wider than shoulder-width, and your arms out wide overhead.
So from the “arms out legs out” position you have effectively made a star-shape with your body.
That being said, some people choose to clap their hands together while overhead, but this choice is totally down to you.
However, in the spread out position your feet remain firmly rooted to the floor.
You then “jump” back into the starting position, whereby you’re once again standing up straight, feet together, and arms by your side.
This counts as one rep of a jumping jack, simply continue with your predetermined number of reps or for a specific time.
Star jumps are sometimes called explosive jacks.
And this in itself should tell you that there is a difference to jumping jacks.
Now, you’ll start once more standing tall with your feet close together and your arms by your sides.
However, from this position you should immediately squat down into a bodyweight squat.
That being said, this isn’t a full ass-to-grass squat, but rather your upper legs should be close to parallel to the ground.
From here, you should explosively jump so that your arms and legs spread to make a star shape.
But, in the fully extended “out position” your feet remain in the air and never come into contact with the ground.
When you “land” back on the ground your feet should be back together, arms by your side, as you drop into the modified bodyweight squat position again.
This is one rep of a star jump.
Should I Do Jumping Jacks or Star Jumps?
So, as I’ve mentioned, star jumps are much more of an explosive exercise.
This in turn means that they will hit your cardiovascular system much harder.
Essentially, if you were to perform the same number of reps of jumping jacks and star jumps you’ll feel far more gassed from star jumps.
Furthermore, due to the addition of a bodyweight squat at the start and end of the movement, star jumps are much more of a strength-based exercise too.
Don’t get me wrong, jumping jacks are still a full-body exercise and will activate various muscles in the body.
However, this won’t be to such an extent as with star jumps.
Realistically, from squatting twice per rep, and explosively jumping to the out position, before returning to the start position without allowing your feet to touch the ground, you’ll hit certain muscles much harder.
In fact, star jumps will activate the quads and glutes a lot more than jumping jacks.
This means that following a set of jumping jacks you’ll typically feel as though you’ve performed some great cardiovascular work.
But, following a set of star jumps, not only will your heart rate be through the roof, you’ll also feel as though you’ve really worked your quads and glutes hard.
Therefore, star jumps are definitely the more advanced exercise, and are better suited to intermediate to advanced trainees.
Whereas, jumping jacks are much more of a beginner exercise.
Additionally, due to the more explosive nature of star jumps you need to be much more careful about your landing.
Basically, aim to also land softly on your feet, otherwise there is the possibility of jarring your lower back or hurting your knees.
This is something to take into consideration if you’re someone who suffers with lower back pain or knee issues.
This being the case you’ll probably need to stick with jumping jacks, while you work on improving these weaknesses.
That being said, if jumping jacks also hurt your knees they’re best avoided too, although a quick form fix could be the solution.
Key Learning Points
- The terms “jumping jacks” and “star jumps” are often used interchangeably, but they are actually two different exercises.
- Jumping jacks require you to jump your legs out to the side and raise your arms overhead. In the “out position” your feet remain on the ground, as you form a star shape via your limbs.
- Star jumps require you to perform a bodyweight squat at the start and end on each rep. Plus, in the “out position” your feet actually remain off the ground.
- Star jumps are far more explosive and strength-based than jumping jacks.
- Both movements are great for cardiovascular fitness, but star jumps will work the quads and glutes to a far greater extent.
- Jumping jacks are more geared towards beginners, although anyone can perform them with great results.
- Star jumps are more of an intermediate to advanced exercise.
- Star jumps are best avoided if you suffer with lower back pain or knee issues.
Next, if you’re looking to perform either exercise to drop some unwanted pounds, discover how many jumping jacks are required to burn 3,500 calories.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.