Written by Eric Bach
– Training for performance is the key to building a strong, muscular, and athletic physique
– Training jumps will improve explosive hip extension which is a foundation of athletic movement
– Most people never have, or lose explosiveness after competitive sports stop
Being jacked and strong is nice, but expressing strength fast and generating tons of power separates the contenders from the pretenders on the playing field and the platform.
Rather than spending tons of time refining technique in the Olympic lifts (unless that’s your sport of choice), it’s best to use exercises with an accelerated learning curve to train the same qualities: explosive power and maximal neural recruitment.
After all, jumps are directly applicable in most sports, and are an awesome display of relative strength, power, and raw athleticism.
Problem is, hardly anyone moves outside of the squat rack. Rather than using the same monotonous training modalities, it’s time to bridge the gap between speed, strength, and performance.
In this article I’ll outline common issues with various squat jumps, how to do them properly, and how optimally program jumps into your workout for maximum gains in strength and power.
Why You Should be Doing Jump Squats:
Short Learning Curve:
Grab Dumbbells and jump, right?
Well, it’s not quite that simple, but it’s still much faster than mastering a clean progression. Once coordination, landing mechanics, and jumping technique are sufficient, you’re good to go.
Increase your Vertical and Athleticism.
To improve any skill, whether it’s your squat or vertical jump, you must practice it consistently and minimize weak points and maximize training returns.
Dumbbell jump squats take the vertical jump while matching the biomechanical demands of a squat and add a light load, as little 1-5% of squat max to improve explosiveness in the same movement pattern.
In the case of movement-based athletes, relative strength reigns king and provides a foundation for optimal speed and power. Implementing squat jumps bridges the gap between strength and speed, improving relative strength and improving movement performance in the presence of sound technique.
Programming Squat Jumps for Performance
If you’re stronger than you are fast 0-20% squat 1-RM is plenty of weight to get started and improve explosiveness. In most cases, take the conservative side with a micro progression to truly be explosive.
As an example, 20% for a 500lb squatter is 50lb dumbbells in each hand—you’d be hard pressed to have much explosive power with sound technique with that much additional weight. In most cases, 10-20lb dumbbells are plenty of weight even for strong dudes.
Auxiliary Training for the Squat:
Most lifters are so hell-bent on getting jacked and strong that they neglect explosive movement.
It’s a fair point—to maximize training for maximum strength it’s imperative to spend significant time under heavy load to follow the SAID principle. That said, even the strongest lifters will derive some benefit from incorporating squat jumps to fire up their nervous system.
If your main goal is a huge squat then you’re better off working at higher percentages, such as 15-20% 1-RM to maximize the training effects.
Specifically, with the barbell jump squat you mimic the biomechanical demands of your competition lift and add directly transferable power to your squat.
To start, begin with loads at 10% of 1-RM max using dumbbells or a barbell while reinforcing sound landing technique and maximum speed.
In time, start loading heavier with both dumbbells and weight vests to 20% of 1-RM. Once you reach 20% 1-RM, begin using a loaded barbell and keep sound technique.
Squat jumps don’t obviate the need for heavy squats, of course. However, should you find yourself entering a training cycle focused on maximizing explosiveness and bar speed, then jump squats fit the bill as a potentiating exercise before your heavier loading.
It doesn’t matter how hard you train—without attention to the body and joint mechanics, you’re grooving mechanics that open the door for injury to sideline your training.
Jump squats are an advanced jumping variety—if you’re practicing sound mechanics on every jump you’ll reinforce good behaviors to take place in more chaotic, stressful environments like sports.
Look for the following:
– Feet should be flat, rather than anterior weight displacement on the toes.
– Knees should be neutral, rather than in valgus or varus (diving in or diving out).
– Abs braced: any rounding of the back and trunk shows a power leak that will cascade down the kinetic chain and place stress on the hips, knees, ankles, and feet.
– Eyes up, chest up: If you land in sport looking at the ground bent over you’ll get lit up.
Potentiate the Nervous System for Strength and Size
You wont directly gain tons of muscle from squat jumps, but you’ll potentiate the nervous system for greater gains in strength, resulting in greater work capacity for building.
By training major movement patterns in an explosive manner you’ll prepare your nervous system for the heavy loads that follow.
Countermovement Vs. No Countermovement:
Counter-movement and non-countermovement jumps might look similar enough, but the subtle differences are important. Think of static-jumps as a non-counter movement jump that shows static explosiveness and strength.
A counter-movement jump displays an explosive transition from eccentric (negative) to concentric (positive or going up) and displays the ability to absorb, reverse, and generate force.
Sounds fun right?
Just because you can do something in the gym doesn’t mean you should—countermovement jumps are more advanced and too aggressive for most people to start with.
Novice trainees often lose body position, let the knees dive into valgus (inwards), and spend too much time loaded, allowing stored elastic energy to dissipate rather than use the stored energy from an eccentric countermovement.
Single Response Jumps VS. Multi-response Jumps
Single response jumps are exactly as they sound—a singular jumping performance. Single response jumps are a great display of pure explosive power and starting strength, very similar to the maximum effort strength. Single response jumps are the ideal style of jumping to begin any jumping program because each rep can be broken down and analyzed by takeoff and landing mechanics.
Dumbbell Jump Squats:
Multi-response Jump Squats:
Multi-response jumps are a combination of multiple jumps put together and place a greater emphasis on the stretch shortening cycle compared to single response jumps.
Multi-response jumps are more advanced and require greater control and jumping proficiency to perform safely and effectively. Because multiple jumps are performed together there is a greater chance for fatigue and technical issues with the jumps.
It’s best to start with single response jumps, but as proficiency increases, multi-response jumps can be used to provide an increased stimulus.
Squat Jump Considerations:
Squat jumps are no joke and should be progressed with care.
Single-response jumps should be mastered with sound technique, safe landing, and overall proficiency. Jumping into advanced strategies like multi-response jumps without mastering regressions is recipe for injury.
You wouldn’t pull heavy deadlifts from a deficit if you can’t pull from a neutral spine position on a deadlift would you?
Focus on quality of execution rather than quantity.
Performance is predicated on quality, not blitzing your workouts with as much volume as possible for street cred on instagram.
When you focus solely on height and speed the training response is limited and fatigue sets in. As a result, you’ll see the following:
- Minimized hip extension, which decreases carry-over to sport. Why use an exercise predicated on hip extension if you don’t achieve it?
- Bad landing mechanics—“why bother if we’re going for reps, bro”
- Bad Take-off mechanics—Pronation of the foot and the knees diving in (valgus collapse)
Programming Squat Jumps:
With any exercise there’s a checklist of factors that must be taken into account.
First, if it hurts, don’t do it.
If you can’t do it properly, regress to jumps with less or no weight.
If it the exercise doesn’t match your training goals don’t do it.
With those considerations addressed, dumbbell squat jumps are great beyond speed athletes—they’re a great tool to improve athleticism and power in strength athletes without excessive volume or taking time to learn a technical skill like the Olympic lifts.
Squat jumps are an explosive exercise and should be programmed before lifting and after a warm-up.
In order to increase your vertical and potentiate your body for better lifts start with static squat jumps for 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps.
High volume isn’t important; maximal performance for 2-4 sets of 3-6 reps is plenty for most athletes.
Height isn’t the most important factor—full hip extension on your jump and building sound landing mechanics are.
Increase loading once mechanics are sound. When progressing to multi-response jumps, drop the external weight and ensure sound takeoff and landing mechanics before adding load—there’s no point in building on top of a faulty foundation!
A progression of exercises would follow as such:
Bodyweight single response –> bodyweight multi-response –> dumbbell/vest single response –> dumbbell/vest multi-response
- Quality over quantity
- Static jumps –> countermovement jumps
- Start with no added weight. Progress external resistance slowly
- Start your workout with jumps
- Full hip extension must be achieved
- Prioritize ound landing with good joint position
Baker, D., S. Nance, and M. Moore, The load that maximizes the average mechanical power output during jump squats in power-trained athletes. Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 2001. 15(1): p. 92-97.