Hate running? Need a break from the bike? Working out with a trampoline can provide an equally effective calorie burn and cardio boost, according to new research—but it might feel easier and more fun.
We’re not talking about those big backyard trampolines linked to injuries and ER visits, though; this study focused specifically on mini trampolines designed specifically for fitness. They’re available commercially for home use, and can be found in gyms and fitness studios, as well.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE), which sponsored the study, says this non-conventional exercise may be beneficial for people who don’t enjoy traditional cardio workouts, who want to try a different type of cross-training, or who are looking for a low-exercise alternative to pounding the pavement. (Trampoline workouts can be easier on joints, says ACE Chief Science Officer Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D., although you should still get cleared by a doctor or physical therapist if you have injuries or ongoing issues.)
This isn’t the first time scientists have studied the effectiveness of mini trampoline workouts: Their benefits were first touted by NASA researchers in the late 1970s, which led to a surge in trampoline-based exercises classes and fitness videos. “We know that this type of workout engages the whole body and involves a lot of muscle mass,” says Bryant, “and the more muscle mass you can dynamically engage, the more calories you’re going to expend.” Plus, he says, the instability of a bouncy surface also provides strength-training benefits.
But research in subsequent decades has been mixed: Two studies in the 1990s, specifically, questioned whether such programs really provided as good a workout as they claimed.
So ACE, the world’s largest health and fitness nonprofit certification organization, decided to conduct a study that would lay the matter to rest. To do so, the group teamed up with researchers at the University of Wisconson–La Crosse and recruited 24 healthy, active college students. Before the study began, researchers measured each volunteer’s maximum heart rate and oxygen intake—indications of how physically fit a person is—as they ran on a treadmill.
Then, all of the volunteers completed a 19-minute full-body trampoline workout, set to motivational music and designed by JumpSport a company that sells fitness trampolines, accessories, and DVDs. Their heart rates and oxygen-update levels were collected every minute during the workout, which the researchers used to calculate their calorie burn.
Those calculations showed that men and women burned an average of 11 and 8.3 calories per minute, respectively. That put the workout on the cusp between moderate and vigorous intensity—similar to running on flat ground at six miles an hour (or a 10-minute-mile pace), biking at 14 miles per hour, or playing football, basketball, or ultimate Frisbee.
Interestingly, though, the workout didn’t seem to feel intense as it really was. Based on calorie burn and intensity level, researchers expected participants to give the activity a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) or about 13. Instead, their rankings averaged 11.7—which translates to a workout of light to moderate intensity.
“This may be because, while the muscles are working hard, the trampoline makes the activity less jarring,” said lead author John Porcari, PhD, professor of exercise and sport science, in an article published on the ACE website. “The enjoyment factor may make things easier, as well.”
The study also found that during the workout portion of the trampoline routine (not including the warm-up and cool-down), participants averaged 79 percent of their maximum heart rate and 59 percent of their VO2 max, a measure of how much oxygen the body can utilize during exercise. These values both fall within the ranges stipulated by the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines for improving cardiorespiratory fitness.
“That means that, yes, the workout is sufficient to improve endurance,” Bryant says. “We also saw that participants consistently thought the workout was easier than the measured heart rates and oxygen uptake levels, which should likely have a positive impact on long-term exercise adherence.”
When people perform other types of exercise within the moderate-to-vigorous intensity range, they tend to report significantly higher rates of exertion, Bryant adds. “This may be due in part to the fact that trampolines are a unique form of exercise and participants felt comfortable on them very quickly,” he suggests.
Indeed, the study participants did report that exercising on the mini-trampoline was a lot of fun, and that the JumpSport choreography was easy to learn. And while having fun may not be the top priority for someone looking to burn calories and improve their heart health, Bryant says it’s key to making successful long-term commitments.
“We must not undervalue the enjoyment factor,” he says. “We can do things out of sheer determination for a finite period of time, but if we want to develop long-standing exercise habits, we need to find things that we actually like doing.”