It only takes one look at someone doing jumping jacks to realize they work a variety of muscles. Find out which ones.
Jumping jacks will mainly work the calves, quadriceps (front thighs), deltoids (shoulders), latissimus dorsi (middle/upper back), inner thigh muscles, outer thigh muscles, and heart muscle.
Of the skeletal muscles, your calves, shoulders, inner thighs, and outer thighs will have to work the hardest compared to how strong they are.
Besides all of these, your core muscles, gluteus maximus, hamstrings, and hip flexors will have to work to a certain extent to keep you upright.
Something to note is that jumping jacks are typically not challenging enough to actually grow these muscles. To do this, you want to look into specific resistance training exercises.
Primary and secondary muscles used in jumping jacks
Jumping jacks target a variety of muscles over your entire body. More specifically, they primarily work your calves, quadriceps (front thighs), shoulders, latissimus dorsi, inner thigh muscles, outer thigh muscles, and heart muscle.
You can also find what movements these muscles are responsible for and the secondary muscles used in jumping jacks below.
Primary muscles worked
The primary muscles, aka the prime movers, are the muscles that are responsible for the main movements in the jumping jacks exercise.
If you look at how to do jumping jacks, it becomes clear that the primary muscles are responsible for jumping up, raising/lowering your arms, and moving your legs outward/inward:
- Calves: The muscles that push the front of your foot down to generate upward force and absorb force when landing.
- Quadriceps: Responsible for stretching (extending) your legs to generate upward force.
- Deltoids (shoulders): Especially the middle parts will move your arms sideways and upward.
- Latissimus dorsi (middle/upper back): Together with gravity, these muscles pull your arms down again.
- Hip adductors (inner thighs): While being in the air the second time, these muscles pull your legs inward.
- Hip abductors (outer thighs): After the first jump, your hip abductors pull your legs outward.
- Heart muscle: During jumping jacks, your heart has to pump harder to transport enough oxygen, nutrients, and waste products around your body.
Compared to their relative strengths, your calves, shoulders, inner thighs, and outer thighs will generally have the hardest time during the jumping jack movement.
Secondary muscles worked
The secondary muscles are not responsible for the main movements but they do have to work to a certain extent to keep your body in the right position.
In jumping jacks, these secondary muscles include:
- Core muscles (abs, obliques, erector spinae): These muscles around your waist are responsible for keeping your upper body upright in relation to your hips.
- Gluteus maximus (main butt muscle): Responsible for hip extension aka moving your thigh back. In the case of jumping jacks, these make it so your upper body + hips don’t tilt backward.
- Hamstrings (back thighs): These muscles have multiple functions. In jumping jacks, they help the gluteus maximus with the same goal.
- Hip flexors (between thigh and hips): Responsible for moving your thigh to your chest. In jumping jacks, these keep your upper body + hips from tilting back.
While jumping jacks do use these muscles to some extent, you want to do other exercises to really warm them up and train them.
Can jumping jacks build muscle?
To build muscle you have to challenge the muscle with enough weight and repetitions. If you can do more than 50 jumping jacks in a row, this exercise is not challenging enough to build muscle to a significant extent.
That means the muscle-building results of 500 jumping jacks a day or similar workouts and more will be very small and potentially zero.
In theory, you could do jumping jacks with weights to get to a point where the 50 repetitions become too hard. In practice, the weighted version of this exercise typically becomes too awkward or painful to do.
Benefits on your muscles of doing jumping jacks
Just because you likely don’t grow the muscles you work with jumping jacks does not mean there are no benefits in this area.
First of all, jumping jacks can still help you improve the endurance in some of the muscles you use.
This tends to happen the most in the calves, shoulders, inner thighs, and outer thighs because they have to work hard compared to their strengths.
Additionally, engaging your muscles can make them healthier and prevent (or at least slow down) degradation (1).
Most of the benefits of jumping jacks are related to the cardiovascular system but the full-body muscle engagement deserves at least some attention too.