Life sure has its ups and downs, doesn’t it? On Sunday, you’re going on a hike with your family and enjoying the great outdoors. The next day, you’re back in your routine of heading off to work or to school, wishing you could keep the weekend going.

Some people really enjoy making ups and downs a favorite part of their spare time, though. When they want to get some exercise, they head out to the backyard to jump up and down and do flips on a fun contraption. What are we talking about? The trampoline, of course!

The origins of the trampoline are likely hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. The Inuit peoples are known to have created a game in which children are tossed into the air by groups of people holding a walrus skin. Similar games may have been played in ancient civilizations using blankets.

The modern trampoline as we know it today, however, was invented by George Nissen and Larry Griswold in 1936. These two University of Iowa students were gymnastics and diving competitors. Inspired by the tight nets trapeze artists used to enhance their performances, they experimented by attaching a large piece of canvas to an iron frame with coiled springs. The trampoline was born!

They named their device after the Spanish word trampolín, which means diving board. At first, they primarily used their invention as a gymnastics tool to train tumblers. Before long, though, it became a popular form of exercise and entertainment in its own right. The two went into business in 1942 as the Griswold-Nissen Trampoline & Tumbling Company, manufacturing the devices in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Today, trampolines remain very popular. They’re still used widely in gymnastics, and they’re also quite popular as a form of exercise equipment. More than anything, however, they’re used for play by children of all ages in backyards and on playgrounds around the world.

If you’ve ever been on a trampoline or seen one in action, you know how they work. When you jump on the trampoline’s surface, it gives way briefly and then launches you into the air. The more force you jump with, the higher into the air you can fly. What’s going on here?

The trampoline effect, as it’s often known, results from a few simple laws of physics. Some people initially think that it’s the trampoline’s surface that works to launch you into the air when you jump on it. Instead, it’s actually the springs attached to the fabric and the frame that do the majority of the work.

When you jump on a trampoline, the springs stretch as your kinetic energy forces the trampoline surface downward. A law of physics known as Hooke’s law states that the springs will, in turn, work to return to equilibrium. In other words, the springs pull back against your weight. As they return to their normal position, they pull the fabric back into its original location and launch you into the air in the process!

As you jump higher and higher into the air, you will notice that you fall from greater and greater heights. As long as you continue to land on the trampoline’s surface, you’ll be fine. Unfortunately, people who aren’t careful may land on the springs, the metal frame, or even the ground. Such falls can lead to serious injuries, which is why trampolines can be very dangerous and often require advanced safety devices, such as pads and nets, to be used safely.

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