Athletes in all sports need power. This is about exerting force quickly. This is important for sprinting, changing directions, throwing, hitting, kicking, passing, catching, etc.
In the weight room, the Olympic lifts are probably the most widely recognized type of exercise for training power.
The Olympic lifts require a barbell, a lifting platform, access to technical coaching, and lots and lots of practice. So despite their powerful benefits, they're not always the best option.
If you are looking for alternatives, or a good supplementary exercise for power training, then you should try Jump Squats (more specifically, Weighted Jump Squats).
Research has shown Jump Squats to be an effective alternative to Olympic lifts.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine found that 8 weeks of Jump Squat training led to "significant improvements in countermovement jump, squat jump, maximum isometric squat force and average force over 100 ms, as well as 50 (meter) sprint time" in moderately trained young men, while a 2015 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research concluded that Jump Squats are "a valid speed-strength exercise that relates significantly to jump and acceleration performance in rugby union players" and that "strength and conditioning coaches should consider the inclusion of (them) in the development of peak power output."
In addition, Jump Squats are very easy to learn and do not require special equipment. Really, they're a potent power exercise just about anyone can perform.
Having said that, there are a variety of moves that fit within the category of "Jump Squat."
Barbell Jump Squats
Barbell Jump Squats begin with the barbell on the back of your shoulders, just like in the Barbell Back Squat.
From there, space your feet roughly hip-width apart. Stick your chest out and pull your shoulders back. From this position, quickly move into a quarter or half squat. This should be done by pushing the hips back. Without pausing in the squat, explode up and attempt to jump off the ground as high as possible. Land on flat feet with the hips pushed back so the hamstrings absorb the impact.
When performing Jump Squats, it's important to perform them explosively. Otherwise it defeats the purpose of the exercise. Fast squat down, no pause, fast explosion. It is also important to keep the barbell fixed to the back of your shoulders throughout the exercise.
While the Barbell Jump Squat is one of the most popular forms of Jump Squats, another piece of equipment has actually been found to produce better results—the trap bar.
Trap Bar Jump Squats
Also known as a "hex bar," the trap bar is mainly used for deadlifting. But it's also the perfect implement for Jump Squats.
The execution is almost identical to a Barbell Jump Squat, but by positioning the load in your hands instead of across the top of your spine, some key changes occur.
A 2018 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that Trap Bar Jumps resulted in superior unloaded vertical jump adaptations compared to Barbell Jumps. STACK expert Jake Tuura, an assistant strength and conditioning coach at Youngstown State University, analyzed the findings in this article.
The likely reason for these differences is that the location of the load with the use of a trap bar seems to result in a more effective anatomical position than the location of the load with the use of a barbell. While a loaded barbell on your back can place excess stress on your lumbar spine, having a loaded trap bar in your hands takes pressure off that area while also better recruiting the glutes and hamstrings.
If you have the option, jumping with a trap bar seems to be superior to jumping with a barbell.
Pause Jump Squats
This exercise begins just like the Barbell Jump Squat. From here, squat down to a half or quarter squat. Pause for 1-2 seconds at the bottom of the squat. From this position, explode up and attempt to jump as high as possible.
By pausing at the bottom of the squat, you're eliminating the contribution of the stretch-shortening cycle, so you're not going to able to jump as high as you would with the same weight otherwise. Pause Jump Squats fit great into a specific preparation phase where an athlete is attempting to focus on strength and power development.
There's not as much research on Pause Jump Squats as there is more traditional Jump Squat variations, but there's little harm in using them if performed safely. You can perform them with body weight (as shown above) or most implements (barbell, trap bar, dumbbells, etc.)
Release Jump Squats
For this exercise, athletes should use dumbbells or kettlebells.
To perform this exercise, stand with the feet hip-width apart. Keep the arms straight and hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand. Stick the chest out and pull the shoulders back. From this position, quickly move into a quarter or half squat. Without pausing in the bottom position, reverse directions and jump as high as possible. As you are moving from squatting down to exploding up, release the weights!
By releasing the weights, you remove the extra force you subject your body to by landing with an additional load. This can make Release Jump Squats a good in-season move for an experienced athlete. You should also be able to jump higher than you would on a traditional Jump Squat.
How to Use Jump Squats
More is not better with this exercise. Because this is a power exercise, it needs to be performed explosively to provide benefits. This means that we want to avoid doing Jump Squats under fatigue.
I recommend 3-5 sets with no more than six repetitions per set, and plenty of rest between sets.
The weight you choose is also very important. While I've found 30% of your current one-rep Barbell Back Squat max to be a solid recommendation for Barbell Jump Squats (so if your current max was 300 pounds, you'd use a total of 70 pounds), how does that apply to other Jump Squats with different set-ups?
Mike Boyle recommends using whatever load allows you to hit 70-80 percent the height of your unloaded Jump Squat. So if your most recent Vertical Jump PR is 30 inches, you're looking at a sweet spot of 21-24 inches for your Trap Bar or Barbell Jumps. Lower than that, and the load's likely too heavy. Higher than that, and it's likely too light.
When in doubt, err on the light side. It does not take a lot of weight to make this exercise effective.
Because this is a power exercise, it should be done toward the beginning of a training session. It should be done while an athlete is still fresh and capable of peak or near-peak explosiveness.
Below are two examples of using the Jump Squat exercise in training programs.
The first program is a total-body training session where the Jump Squats are the primary power exercise.
The second program is a power training session where the Jump Squats are a supplemental power training exercise. In this case, the exercise is done after the more technical exercises.
Jump Squat Workout A
- Jump Squats, 3x6
- Back Squats, 3x4-8@80-90%
- Romanian Deadlifts, 3x4-8
- Bench Press, 3x4-8@80-90%
- Bent-Over Rows, 3x4-8
- Standing Military Press, 3x4-8
Jump Squat Workout B
- Power Clean, 3x3-6@70%
- Snatch Pulls, 3x3-6@80%
- Jump Squats, 3x6
The Jump Squat is a great exercise for training power, rate of force development and force production. It can be easily performed as a primary power exercise or as a supplemental exercise. It does not require special equipment and has variations that fit into different parts of the athlete's training year.
Photo Credit: SeventyFour/iStock
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