The Health Benefits of Trampolining

10 minutes on the trampoline is equivalent to 30 minutes of running — and the benefits don’t end there

Photo: Pavel1964/Getty Images

While backyard trampolines are death traps dearly beloved by children (and strongly discouraged by the American Academy of Pediatrics), their miniature counterparts are safe, inexpensive, and easily stowed in a corner of your home. Not only does jumping on one allow you to experience the thrill of near-weightlessness, as force is required to launch yourself into the air, bouncing also gives you an excellent lower body workout.

Trampolining — rebranded “rebounding” in the fitness industry — does wonders for your cardiovascular, respiratory, and musculoskeletal system, as well as your mental health. Rebounding has been shown to improve your proprioception, balance, and muscle coordination, and encourage the flow of lymph fluids throughout your body.

Best of all, although rebounding can be an intense aerobic form of exercise, the elastic trampoline bed absorbs much of the impact of your landing, making it gentle on the joints. Unlike running or jumping rope, rebounding spares your knees and ankles. This makes it an ideal form of exercise for any age or fitness level.

NASA’s research into trampolining

Space travel really does a number on the human body. Even on short voyages, astronauts find their muscles atrophy, bones weaken, and blood flow to the brain becomes sluggish — all due to the effects of a low-gravity (“microgravity”) environment.

While searching for a way to combat the ill-health effects of space travel, NASA investigated trampolining as a means of exercising returned astronauts’ muscles, while helping them restore their balance. NASA’s research revealed that bouncing on a trampoline increases blood flow and oxygen consumption at a rate far greater than running on a treadmill. It turns out that just 10 minutes of trampolining is equivalent to 30 minutes of running.

This study launched a short-lived exercise craze in the 1980s — one that’s experienced a bounce back in popularity, if the sheer quantity of current exercise videos and newfangled variations on the humble trampoline (hexagonal with a stability bar) are any indication.

Benefits of trampolining

Balance

When you jump on a trampoline, you expend energy to push off the trampoline bed — cycling between up to 5 G-force and near-weightlessness. Hence, rebounding requires responsiveness to a constant change of gravity, enhancing your powers of proprioception, and improving your balance, stability, and muscle coordination.

Rebounding is low-impact so it’s suitable for older adults. Studies show trampoline training can improve dynamic stability in older adults by increasing plantar flexor muscle strength, as well as their ability to regain balance during forward falls.

Rebounding is also well-suited to rehabilitating injuries, aiding in improved balance following a lateral ankle sprain. Next time you’re miserably hobbling about on a tender ankle, give treading or gentle single-leg bouncing on a trampoline a go. Use of a trampoline has been shown to be more effective in correcting postural sway due to ankle instability than the use of a dura disc (balance cushion).

NASA’s research revealed that bouncing on a trampoline increases blood flow and oxygen consumption at a rate far greater than running on a treadmill.

Bone density

If you’re of advanced age, exercising on a trampoline might help you avert the risk of a hip fracture, in more ways than one. Not only will trampolining improve your sense of balance, but it will also slow the loss of bone mass.

The trampoline’s elastic surface absorbs much of the impact of your landing, making it gentle on the joints. Rather than your ankles bearing the brunt of impact as running or jumping on an unyielding surface, rebounding results in a fairly equal distribution of force experienced by the body.

Despite being low-impact, rebounding places “osteogenic load” on your skeleton, helping you to strengthen not only your muscles but also your bones. Although we associate osteoporosis with older people, the uncomfortable truth of the matter is that bone mass begins to decline in both men and women by 35–45 years of age, with women — who have less bone density to begin with — losing bone mass more rapidly than men.

A reduction in bone density can be counterbalanced with adequate levels of calcium and vitamin D, but engaging in weight-bearing activities is also essential. Walking, running, yoga, and aerobic dance are all effective means of preventing osteoporosis. However, as rebounding makes more demands of your leg muscles than any of these activities, it’s the more efficient means of strengthening bones and muscle in your lower body.

Aerobic dancing on a hard wooden surface and a trampoline are both effective ways to decrease bone resorption and increase bone formation, meaning both are effective in preventing osteoporosis.

However, studies show exercising on a trampoline’s elastic surface, rather than an unyielding one, leads to a greater improvement in leg muscular strength, balance, and foot plantar pressure, the latter indicating that the foot and ankle are providing the necessary support and flexibility for bearing a (shifting) weight. In this facet of health, as in many others, it seems the trampoline does double duty, its benefits varied and manifold.

Body composition

After 12 weeks of a mini-trampoline rebounding exercise program conducted three times a week for 60 minutes including warm-up and cooldown, the study’s (overweight, female) participants significantly improved on measures of body composition, such as fat mass and lean and muscular mass. Participants also reported improved mental well-being and feelings of vitality.

Trampolining is ideal for improving leg strength as the elastic bed aids in the upward thrust as you accelerate your body through the air. The trampoline bed lessens the need to crouch before a jump, thereby reducing loss of elastic energy and resulting in maximum leg power during the jump. For this reason, training on a mini-trampoline is an effective means of increasing the height of one’s vertical jump for sports such as basketball.

Cardiorespiratory fitness

Bouncing to a musical cadence of 135 beats per minute raised participants’ heart rate to an average maximum of 189 beats per minute, with oxygen consumption increasing to 64%–81% of maximum capacity.

Even with movement restricted to the lower limbs, trampolining to songs including MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” (a 135 bpm song) for 10 minutes is enough to meet the recommendations set by the American College of Sports Medicine for “maintenance or improvement of cardio-respiratory aptitude.”

Lymphatic system functioning

I think there is good reason to be skeptical of the claims that rebounding “flushes out toxins.” However, the lymphatic system is stimulated by movement, and we know rebounding encourages the flow of lymph fluids throughout the body. Lymph fluids carry essential nutrients and lymphocytes (immune cells), while also disposing of waste products such as “stagnant proteins, bacteria, viruses, and other cell waste.” So perhaps it is not too much of a stretch to say that rebounding boosts immunity, considering it increases lymph fluid circulation throughout the body due to optimal cycling between large acceleration and free fall.

Mental health

We know that exercise is an effective intervention in the treatment of mild to moderate depression, provided that one is both willing and able to partake. Any form of exercise is likely to have a beneficial effect on mood, however, the mental health benefits of rebounding are best reaped high in the air.

Studies show happiness on a trampoline is associated with increased air time. The bigger the bounce, the bigger the mood boost was the consistent report from participants in a study of the biomechanics of trampolining. Given our predilection for roller coasters and skydiving, it’s not surprising that we find near-weightlessness thrilling.

Rebounding requires responsiveness to a constant change of gravity, enhancing your powers of proprioception, and improving your balance, stability, and muscle coordination.

Trampolining 101

Here are some tips and trick for getting the most out of your rebounding workout:

  • To improve cardiorespiratory aptitude, bounce to 135 bpm music for 10 minutes — you’ll reap the same benefits as from a run that lasts three times as long. Here’s a list of suitable songs that are set to 135 beats per minute.
  • I find bouncing for just one to two minutes is a good way to de-stress and rid myself of pent-up energy even though it’s not equivalent to a full workout.
  • Inhale when landing and exhale in the air — it’s what professional athletes do intuitively.
  • Rebounding mostly serves to strengthen leg muscles; after 10 minutes you’ll really feel the burn in your calves. For this reason, it’s important that you incorporate core and upper body moves in your workout, either as part of, or in addition to, rebounding.
  • A jump where you twist 360 degrees (both clockwise and counterclockwise — one direction will be easier than the other) in the air will strengthen your core stability, targeting your obliques in particular. As for your upper body, there’s no reason you can’t get creative with dumbbells while you bounce.
  • While trampolines absorb a lot of shock and distribute force fairly evenly through the body, extended bouncing may exacerbate neck or lower back pain in preexisting conditions. (There are days when rebounding leaves me feeling a little “compressed” in the lower back.)
  • From slow and gentle to full-on aerobic workouts, YouTube is chockablock with exercise routines to inspire you, featuring treading, (single-leg) bouncing, jumping jacks/star jumps, tuck jumps, and twists.
  • There’s a mini-trampoline (“rebounder”) out there for all fitness levels and budgets, be sure to choose the right model for you. A tauter mat surface will provide the most tension, and ensure the most efficient workout. You might like to check out the pricier, whisper-quiet bungee-cord kind, though traditional coil spring trampolines work too.

Glutting myself on all that life has to offer and writing about it. Art, language, science, humour, and whatever else takes my fancy…

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