Benefits and Application of Jump Squats

By: Kelly Baggett

One exercise I am frequently asked about is jump squats. I use jump squats fairly often with athletes because they are quite a versatile movement and can be used to accomplish quite a few different things. They can build strength-speed, build power, improve rate of force development, and of course build up plyometric capacities. In addition they can be used at the beginning of a workout for no other purpose then to increase muscle motor unit recruitment and enhance subsequent strength work.

Try this sometime. When you're warming up for a squat workout progressively add load to the bar until you complete your last warm-up set. Then drop the weight down and knock out a set of jump squats.

Say you're warming up for a working set of 300 x 5 - your entire warm-up might look something like this:

45 x 10
135 x 7
225 x 5
275 x 3
300 x 1
325 x 1
Jump Squat- 115 x 10
300 x 5- (work set)

The high speed movement will fire up your nervous system thus increasing neural output and muscle recruitment. This will make the heavier load feel lighter then normal. This same scheme can also be used when preparing for a 1 rm attempt. In fact, the same sort've protocol can be used with the bench press but obviously a speed bench, bench throw, or upper body depth jump would replace the jump squat.

Specific Applications of The Jump Squat

Now let me talk about and show you some more specific uses for the jump squat.

I incorporate the jump squat quite often into routines for explosive development. The loading will vary and so will the movement performance and benefits. We can customize the loading to the athletes sporting requirements and needs.

A powerlifter needs to work more on the strength side of the power spectrum while a speed athlete needs more work on the speed side. This means someone like a powerlifter or lineman can benefit from heavier loads. By varying the load and the way the movement is performed we can focus on strength/speed or speed/strength.

Strength-Speed- Requires a combination of strength and speed with strength being a little more dominant. The loading will be 50% 1rm or greater which obviously requires more strength then a lighter load.

Speed-Strength- Requires a combination of speed and strength with speed being the dominant quality. The loading will range from 15-40% 1rm which requires more speed.

In addition, we can also use Jump Squats to build reactive strength, starting strength, or rate of force development.

A lineman or powerlifter might perform jump squats with loads in the 40-60% range since they have to be explosive while moving around loads.

A sprinter might work in the 15-40% range and initiate the jump out of a pause in the bottom position to build superior explosive strength and rate of force development, qualities which are necessary for the start of a sprint.

An Ideal Force Curve

Movements like running or jumping are characterized by 2 peaks of force. The first peak occurs during the transition phase. The transition phase is the reverse of direction from down to up that occurs as the foot hits the ground in the sprint, or the transition from down to up that occurs during the countermovement of a vertical jump. What occurs after this first peak of force is crucial. An athlete should move harmoniously out of the transition and then build up to another peak of force that occurs at toe off. This is known as the triple extension phase and it occurs as one extends the joints of the ankles, knees, and hips simultaneously and the body is projected into the air. One advantage of a jump squat is they enable a person to train and develop this peak of force that occurs with triple extension.

Regular squats and "strength" lifts will help develop the first force peak, the one that occurs at the transition from down to up. However, because the movement slows down during the ascent and movement is terminated before the triple extension phase up top, - they don't develop the 2nd force peak that occurs as one builds up velocity and force at toe off. In fact, over a period of time, many loaded movements can hamper this function because they can program a person to stop or terminate force just as they reach the triple extension phase.

It should be noted, however, that before you can develop the 2nd force peak you have to develop the first one. That is, without a base of strength then all the jump squats in the world won't do much for you. The advantage of jump squats is they enable you to demonstrate the type of force curve that occurs with explosive sporting movements.

The Olympic Lifts and Triple Extension

The olympic lifts (snatch and clean) are often presribed in sports training programs because of their ability to train the triple extension that occurs during the pulling phase. This triple extension not only mimicks the action of explosive sports movements but also develops whole body explosiveness and power, particularly in the lower body. The trouble with the olympic lifts is they do require a strong technical component. Qualified coaches are in short supply and the movements can be difficult to learn correctly.

Fortunately, we can get the same benefits with jump squats that we can with olympic lifts. In fact, since jump squats enable one to zero in on the triple extension phase, we can benefit from them to an even greater extent. We can customize the movement and load to train varying strength qualities needed for sports performance. Another advantage of the jump squat is it can be learned in 5 minutes or less.

Types of Jump Squats

I like to use 4 different types of jump squats. These are a 1/4 rhythmic jump squat, a paused full jump squat, a reactive full jump squat, and a 1/4 jump squat with reset.

1/4 rhythmic jump squat- This jump squat variation is performed rhythmically with each jump occuring immediately after the next. The performance will be just like the vertical jump, the only difference is you will have a load on your back. This variation is most effective for reactive development and to peak the vertical jump. You should quickly descend down into a 1/4 squat position and try to jump as high as possible on the ascent - focus on driving the balls of your feet through the floor at toe-off. As soon as you land you should immediately perform another jump. The loading should be 15-40% of max 1rm with anywhere from 5-15 repetitions per set.

paused jump squat- This variation of the jump squat calls for a deeper knee bend. Instead of only descending into a 1/4 squat position you go down into a 1/2 squat position with your thighs roughly parallel to the floor. From here, you use a 3-5 second pause and then explode up forcefully once again driving through the balls of the feet at toe-off. This variation is great for training explosive strength and rate of force development. The lack of reflexive plyometric rebound at the bottom emphasizes explosive voluntary force. It is a great movement to help develop the start of a sprint. Loading should be 15-50% of max squat with anywhere from 3-8 reps per set.

reactive squat- In this variation the focus is just as much on the negative eccentric contraction as it is on the "jump". Hold the weight tight against your shoulders and drop quickly from top to bottom. Focus on accelerating during the negative (down) phase so that you build up a lot of mechanical tension during the eccentric to concentric switch that occurs at the bottom. Your hips will get fairly low, somewhere around parallel. When getting started, think of finding the point where you get stretch reflexes from as many muscle groups as possible (glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, etc). Get low enough to accomplish this. After you relax and free fall you then quickly gain full tension to stabilize the force of the load at the bottom.

This will develop explosive power in the entire lower body musculature and teach you to really turn on the power. If all is done correctly you should feel your body want to rebound to the top after the initation of force absorption at the bottom. You should feel your body respond with a reflexive "bounce" at the bottom. It can be beneficial to just focus on the negative part with lighter loads until you get the hang of the movement. Once you do, simply carry the reflex out of the bottom all the way to the top and jump. Reset yourself for each repetition. The loading on this variation will be between 30-60% of max squat depending on the goals and needs of the athlete. The rep range will fall between 3-10 per set.

1/4 jump squat with reset- This variation is just like the rhythmic jump squat except you reset yourself prior to each repetition. This will enable you to fully concentrate on each repetition. So, on these, just like the rhythmic jump squat, the focus is on the takeoff and getting as high as possible. The performance will be just like the vertical jump the only difference is you will have load on your back. I prefer to use this variation most of the time. The loading will range anywhere from 15-60% again depending on the athlete. Heavier variations are used to develop more strength-speed and lighter variations for more speed-strength. The rep range will be anywhere from 3-8 per set with an average of 5 sets per session.

Now for a workout incorporating jump squats aimed at improving vertical jump capacities try this:

Session 1

Reactive Squat- 50% of max squat 5 x 5

Squat 4 x 5 (80%)

Session 2

1/4 rhythmic jump squat - 4 x 10 (20%)

Deadlift- 4 x 4 (80%)

Session 3

Paused Jump Squat- 5 x 4 (30% - 3 second pause)

1/4 Jump Squat with reset- 4 x 5 (40%)

Session 4

1/4 Jump Squat with reset- 4 x 5 (30%)

Depth Jump - 6 x 4 (18-inch box height)

Session 5

Test Vertical Jump

Rest 3 days in between each session.

Give some of these variations a try and you'll be pleasantly surprised.