Trampoline exercise to ease chronic pain & stiffness

A mini trampoline probably won’t solve your chronic pain issues. My JumpSport 550fi rebounder* has not cured my autoimmune disease, nor did I expect it to. What it has done is offer me is an opportunity to rise up from my seat and move in a way that doesn’t aggravate my sensitive joints.Hardback library book on JumpSport fitness trampoline to show relative size

JumpSport 550fi specs

I ordered my fitness trampoline from Costco.com and received it in mid-July, 2020. I believe the JumpSport 550fi model sold by Costco is simply the manufacturer’s 550f model with the optional Handlebar accessory included.

Here are the specs if you’re interested in the same rebounder I have:JumpSport 550f/fi specs including price, size, weight

My JumpSport 550fi came with two workout DVDs and a one year subscription for additional streaming content. The former was at an intensity too high for someone with my health issues, and I never attempted to access the latter. Watching the instructor led exercises on the disc was helpful for getting ideas about how I might adapt moves to my own level, however.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m “bouncing my way to fitness,” but I am getting up off my backside and moving vigorously more often than I did without the trampoline. When even common, everyday tasks present you with physical challenges, this feels like a big win!

Recent studies suggest that even very sedentary people gain massive improvements in health and longevity from fairly small amounts of exercise. My personal goal is to always—every day, no matter how bad I feel—get my blood pumping on purpose for at least ten minutes. During pandemic lockdown, my fitness trampoline has become a key component in achieving that.

Autoimmune disease leads to trampolines?

I wasn’t sure if a trampoline would work for me. Since my diagnosis with an autoimmune disorder, many other “gentle” forms of exercise have not. Before I got sick, I did strength training a couple of times a week with a personal trainer** and I often managed four days per week of cardio. I’ve never been sporty, but, in my mid-thirties, I was successfully ticking the “healthy activity” box.

So I sought out expert, one-on-one guidance to try to maintain my health in the face of chronic illness. I tried and failed to adapt sessions with my old personal trainer to my new physical reality. I paid for individual one-on-one sessions of yoga and Pilates with knowledgeable instructors briefed on my limitations. Performing the exercises would seem okay in the moment, but I’d end up thoroughly wiped out hours later, and in debilitating pain for days afterwards.

Before the pandemic confined most of us to home, the only safe form of activity I’d found for my current level of health was warm water based physical therapy.

swimming pool

The shuttering of my physical therapy office due to COVID-19 left me with the option of tele-health appointments, but no amount of skill on my therapist’s part would equate to the liberating effectiveness of immersion in warm water. Warm water PT has the power to buoy me up and let me move freely while simultaneously easing my joint pain.

Instead of twice weekly PT, the pandemic had me sitting around even more than usual just like everyone else.

Being sedentary is as bad for my arthritis as too much exertion. If I don’t move gently—but often—I stiffen up like the introduction to the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. It is embarrassingly common for me to require an assist from my teen to rise from the couch if I sit through a typical television evening without remembering to take motion breaks.

I have seriously considered the major investment of tens of thousands of dollars for a home version of the warm water therapy pool used at my PT office. Prices vary, but suffice it to say, a pool would cost more than the new model year of my minivan, not to mention permanently occupying a room of its own and requiring scads of expensive, time consuming ongoing maintenance. It’s an almost ludicrous purchase to consider, but I kept failing to find any other safe way to even approach a healthy amount of exercise.

Yet, still, I believe physical activity is the closest thing available to a magical elixir of health.

Enter the mini trampoline. Even a top of the line “rebounder” at several hundred dollars is a great bargain when compared to the cheapest therapy pool.

I knew my two kids would get some use out of a trampoline if I couldn’t, as well. I wasn’t the only member of the family who needed to adapt to a new routine and find additional ways to incorporate more movement into house-bound days.

child jumping on mini trampoline in living room

A fitness trampoline offered the possibility of gentle movement without undue pressure on aching arthritic feet. The springy surface can be joint-sparing, yet jumping is also a good way to move lymph through the lymphatic system and improve immune response. I knew I could at least walk softly or pulse in place on a rebounder, while vigorous activity would also be potentially achievable. Bouncing on a trampoline is, in addition—as any child can attest—often a lot of fun. The JumpSport 550fi seemed like a good bet for my household for all of these reasons.

Trampoline safety caveat

I feel compelled to mention at this point that I would not recommend any trampoline access for children younger than school age. The risk of injury on trampolines is fairly high, and smaller kids get hurt at a rate 14 times that of older kids. Additionally, never, under any circumstances, should more than one person—adult or child!—use any trampoline simultaneously. 75% of trampoline injuries result from multiple jumpers sharing the mat.

This may be a lesser issue with a mini-sized fitness trampoline vs. the larger backyard version, but I explained these risks to my kids before letting either of them near the JumpSport 550fi.

Set-up and storage of JumpSport 550fi

As is his wont, my hale and hearty teen made himself useful by carrying the bulky JumpSport shipping box up from the doorway where it was delivered, and by assembling the trampoline itself. I didn’t think to photograph or otherwise document the process, but he recollects it was easy to do.

My only distinct memory is that the instruction manual’s guidance to double check and tighten all bolts after initial set up was apt: one leg was ready to fall off after the first kid’s vigorous bouncing. A subsequent tightening has kept all of the removable legs firmly attaching in the months since.

The 550fi model fitness trampoline can fold in half for storage. Folding it requires more hand strength than I currently possess. It isn’t complicated, but it requires a bit of muscle and some care to avoid pinching oneself.

Make no mistake: a trampoline is large and bulky, even folded in half! For truly minuscule spaces, you may prefer to rely upon body weight exercises and fitness bands, or give up and join a gym when the pandemic is over. Instead of folding my rebounder away after use, I have opted for its permanent placement in our great room, directly behind the couch where we watch tv as a family. Until we are hosting formal parties again, I’m not going to bother putting my fitness trampoline away.

Even when I do, I’ll probably just move it—as is, not folded—into another room where it will continue to occupy π·(44″/2)² 1735 sq. in. or about 12 sq. ft. of space.

You can see in this photo how a relatively large 44″ rebounder compares in size to the depth of a standard “cushy” American sofa:

JumpSport 550fi with sofa to show size - 1

Take note that the legs on the JumpSport 55fi curve outward and extend beyond the 44″ diameter of the circular metal frame to which the bungee cords attach. You’ll need to allow at least 47″ of clear space to fit this size trampoline into your space.

The handlebar accessory does make the trampoline much more visible in a living space, but it is nice to have as a stabilizer for stepping up onto an unsteady surface. Step up height for my rebounder is about 12.5 inches.

I have the height-adjustable handlebar set to 30 inches above the trampoline mat; that’s about 42″ from the floor.

I don’t often use it during my bouncing sessions, but I do usually place a hand on it while mounting and dis-mounting from the rebounder. Unless your balance is seriously compromised, I don’t think the handlebar accessory should be considered a must have. In my situation, for example, I could just as easily steady myself against the back of the adjacent sofa.

The JumpSport 550fi is a “larger” size fitness trampoline; “standard” size from this company would have a 39″ frame and occupy a little less space (closer to 8 sq. ft. vs. 12), but the workout surface area is also correspondingly smaller (882 sq. in. vs. 1203 sq. in.) If I’m watching tv or otherwise distracted while exercising, I do sometimes come down with a foot on the skirted part over the bungee cords instead of the smooth area of the jumping surface. Because my feet are so sensitive, this is mildly uncomfortable, though I have yet to experience any situation on the JumpSport where I felt unsafe or near to any kind of injury.

Close up of bungee cords with jumping surface skirt lifted to show how they attache to frameOn the subject of the bungee cords, these are the flexible components that give the trampoline surface its bounce. Modern fitness trampolines are built with either metal springs or bungee cords; I opted for bungee cords due to their reputation for being quieter. I.e., they don’t squeak!

My in-laws have their own living room directly below the room where I’ve placed my rebounder, and they don’t hear me jumping on it. I can easily hear the television over the minimal noise made by my feet impacting the trampoline. This form of exercise is quieter than my experience of using a treadmill, elliptical, or rowing machine.

Elastic bungee cords may have a shorter life span than springs, but mine have a five year warranty, and replacement sets are available for $129. Bungee cords are also adjustable. A user can make the surface softer or firmer, according to preference. I haven’t felt the need to adjust my bungee cords at all.

Replacement bungees from JumpSport are offered in a variety of colors. While I have no expectation of wearing out my original black cords anytime in the near future, I’m tempted to order a replacement set just to make my fitness experience brighter and even more playful.

selfie shot of legs and torso doing sit up on fitness trampoline

Perhaps the teens know how to snap a selfie while doing a sit up, but this was my best middle-aged attempt at capturing the exercise

In addition to bouncing on the rebounder, I also use its sprung surface as a less painful place to do abdominal “core” exercises. I prefer doing a bent leg V-sit to standard sit-ups, mostly because it means less of my body touches a dirty floor, but both feel better on a spongy mat or thick carpet than they do on hardwood. The trampoline is even better; I don’t have to sit on any floor at all!

If you have room for a larger fitness trampoline, I believe even a small-to-average sized user would prefer the experience of the bigger workout surface, but I have no doubt that the standard size model would allow for a reasonable range of exercises for most users.

Placement in plain sight is key to frequent use

We are blessed to enjoy a lot of square footage in our unusual contemporary home, but modern design means fewer, larger rooms. This can make it harder to hide bulky, useful, kinda ugly objects like trampolines.

I didn’t want my new exercise equipment to become a laundry drying rack; I bought it to make sure it saw regular use. Because our house sprawls over three finished levels, but my joints don’t always take kindly to the stairs, my most sensible options for placing my trampoline were 1) in my bedroom or 2) between my desk  where I spend my days and the couch where I spend my evenings on the main level of our home. I opted for the latter, based upon where I spend most of my waking hours. This has proved a wise choice.

I can’t walk to the couch to veg out without noticing my JumpSport 550fi patiently awaiting my next visit. If I haven’t gotten in my day’s quota for movement, its presence is a gentle reminder.

I also send my kids over to bounce if they spend too long at a stretch playing video games on their computers at desks immediately adjacent to my own. I even make them set timers to remind them to take movement breaks about once per hour. Having the trampoline in the next room means far fewer opportunities to “just one more minute” one’s way out of doing the right thing, right away.

A time(r) to every purpose…Turn! Turn! Turn!

And speaking of timers, I feel compelled to make a case for my favorite activity timer of all time: the TimeCube. While not as vital to achieving my movement goals as the fitness trampoline itself, I have been amazed by how many simple, necessary tasks can be improved by the use of this gadget.

I had to look up the manufacturer for this post, having purchased my TimeCube(s) from Amazon, but here’s a link to the maker, Datexx. They have new and improved versions, but I’ve only tried five (5!) of the original style.

To set this timer, you simply turn it over so the desired duration is shown on top; the rotation initiates the timer sequence with no buttons to press. Some of us might knock it over with a backhanded swipe when feeling grumpy. Ahem. This is the chore timer I make my kids use, and this is the timer that encourages me to move, even if just a tiny little bit.

If I feel awful? Well, I can still pulse gently in place on the JumpSport 550fi for a mere one minute, can’t I?

Datexx TimeCube timers, white, purple, yellow & greenThere’s very little friction to starting a task with these incredibly simple TimeCube timers, and a born procrastinator like myself gains immensely from a reduction in inertial friction.

Gentle exercises to do on a trampoline

Having purchased a fitness trampoline, assembled it, set it up in a convenient place, and found a means of motivating myself to use it, about all that’s left to figure out is how to exercise on it without injuring myself. Happily, this is the easiest piece of this particular puzzle.

It’s worth noting that some people will feel dizzy when jumping on a trampoline for the first time. My older child actually got lightheaded the first few times he used the JumpSport 550fi, though he did also commence with immediate, vigorous bouncing.

I’m the sort of person who can get a head rush just by standing up suddenly, yet I have not experienced any dizziness on my rebounder. Then again, I started out slowly, took my time, and have a generally cautious approach to physical activity.

First piece of advice? Step carefully onto any new piece of exercise equipment, and begin slowly!

Second is to evaluate your footwear before starting to exercise. The forgiving surface of a trampoline means you may be able to exercise safely with bare feet. Socks can be slippery, however, unless you wear the yoga type or slipper socks with grippy textured dots for traction. Try bouncing with athletic shoes on to see if you require the additional support they provide.

Lowest intensity: standing for balance on a flexible surface

I gave myself permission to use the trampoline in any way that didn’t hurt me, including simply standing on its surface as a very mild balance exercise. This should be achievable by almost anyone who can stand, especially if a handlebar accessory is installed. Even the switch from standing up to watch television from sitting down to do it will benefit a very sedentary individual.

One of the side effects of my autoimmune condition has been a worsening of my formerly excellent balance. I believe this is due mostly to the inflexibility of my arthritic foot joints. Until your toes stop flexing readily, it can be easy to overlook all the tiny adjustments that occur when one stands upon only one foot!

Standing barefoot or in socks on the fitness trampoline causes my feet to stretch and flex in a tiny but important way. My feet have regained some flexibility simply by standing on the stretchy surface of my JumpSport 550fi.

Low intensity: pulse in place

On all but my very worst days, I can do more than simply balance on my rebounder. Next up for gentle exercise that almost anyone should be able to do safely is a steady pulsing movement. Don’t even lift your feet from the workout surface. Just bend your knees a little bit and pulse up and down. The trampoline will flex beneath you, but this should still feel stable and secure for most users.

This action reminds me of a chi gung class I took years ago. The martial arts teacher there would tell us to imagine “a toddler dancing at a wedding.” Babies naturally adopt this kind of pulsing movement that Eastern medicine sees as a way of distributing chi or life energy throughout the body.

As mild as this movement is, it bears remembering that every bit of motion is more beneficial to health than more time spent sitting still.

Low- to moderate- intensity: start walking

Because I’ve enjoyed a stretch of relatively good health since acquiring my JumpSport 550fi, I’m usually able to perform exercises on it at a moderate intensity. Turn on some inspirational music, or put on your favorite show, and start walking.

Walking on the fitness trampoline, even without athletic shoes, is gentler on my painful joints than taking a walk outside or using an elliptical machine.

For at least the duration set on my timer, I make a point of moving my arms in a wide range of motion as I walk. I have developed a tendency toward a frozen shoulder, but actively taking pains to extend my range of motion since addressing the problem with my physical therapist seems to have resolved the issue for now.

I tend to do the large and small arm circles that were a common warmup with my personal trainer while walking on the rebounder. I might also reach straight overhead and roll cycle? my hands around each other in a circular motion that feels like it matches the forward momentum of my walking feet. Bringing the arms up and down to the side of the body as if doing jumping jacks is another “natural” feeling motion I pair with walking.

Moderate- to vigorous movement: jog & jump!

There’s a whole industry of professionals who can offer better coaching than I, but I will offer my unique perspective on vigorous jumping on a fitness trampoline by a person with chronic pain and troublesome joints. I don’t spend most of my exercise time at such a high level of effort, but I do make a point to try for at least 30 seconds of serious bouncing at every session.

I’ve searched the internet for scientific papers to support the idea of jumping on a trampoline to activate the lymphatic system, but hype out-numbers data on the subject. That said, it is true that this important element of the immune system does not have its own pump like the heart which circulates blood. It relies upon the body’s movement and muscle contractions to operate. It does make logical sense that exercise—especially jumping—would aid this process.

So for myself, if I step onto my JumpSport 550fi without any pain at the outset, I warm up a little, and then incorporate as much vigorous bouncing into my ten minute session as I can. Some days, that’s only 30 seconds; on good days, I might jump and jog for most of my time and really raise my heart rate.

In addition to jogging just like I would on a street or treadmill, if doing so didn’t cause me excruciating pain in my feet, I like to do a kind of wide-stance, high stepping motion that reminds me of that thing I’ve seen football players do where they step into a row of tires on the ground. Is there a name for that exercise? I’m not sure I could do this particular motion if I had a smaller diameter rebounder. I think this exercise has helped improve the arthritis pain in my hip; I haven’t needed a cortisone shot for it since the pandemic began, and my sense is that the credit is due to this particular motion.

Jumping while doing a “twist” motion à la Chubby Checker or a side-to-side slanted “slalom” is something I always find myself wanting to do, but either definitely offers a much greater challenge to the less-than-fully-able. These movements are fun, but I have felt unsteady or as if my feet could slip from underneath me while attempting them.

I have greater success with a side to side motion where I extend each arm in succession, turning my head to match the side with the extended arm. This gives me some stretch and rotation around my spine without the fear of falling.

What all of these bounces have in common is a tendency to make me smile. I doubt I’ve ever gotten on the trampoline without starting to grin.

In the end, this is the greatest benefit, for me, of the JumpSport 550fi. Bouncing—even carefully—is an activity that feels joyful. Movement you enjoy is the most effective kind, because you’ll keep repeating it.

* Rebounder is just the fancy fitness industry term for a mini trampoline

This New York Times article, inspired by the study I linked to earlier in the same paragraph, has me thinking I’ll raise that goal from ten up to 11 minutes per day

** Before I developed an autoimmune condition, I was actually active enough to meet the U.S. Government Department of Health & Human Services’ guidelines as described in the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Prioritizing health and paying for appointments with a personal trainer was key to making it happen. I would recommend this extravagance to anyone with health concerns over any other discretionary spending. Members of my family can give glowing recommendations to two different franchises of the Fitness Together personal training organization.

“Safe”—by my own personal definition—meaning something I could do without suffering multiple days of intense pain and/or immobility due to joint stiffness thereafter.

2 thoughts on “Trampoline exercise to ease chronic pain & stiffness

    • Yes, I think I should pull out the TimeCube review to make its own post. I really couldn’t believe, when I first got one, how much I liked this simple timer.

      For Christmas, my father bought me the two versions with bamboo exterior, so I can now say from experience that they are much more attractive in person, too!

      In the kitchen, I think the bright plastic colors are still best, because you can immediately put your hand on the one you want (if you have several); for meditation or use in a living room, I would choose the more natural looking bamboo finish.

      But, of course, having the correct number of minutes for your purposes is also necessary.

What do you want to say?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s