Chances are squats are part of your weight-training routine. After all, the benefits of doing squat are too many to be ignored. Few exercises work so many muscle groups at the same time. Squats are a classic example of a compound exercise. Plus, when you do squats you’re working large muscle groups. This burns more calories and creates more of an anabolic environment for muscle growth. Squats are also ideal for shaping your legs, buttocks and core muscles.
There are lots of squat variations you can do to work the muscles in your body a slightly different way. Examples are one-legged squats, sumo squats, pistol squats, wide-stance squats and goblet squats. Changing the position your feet slightly changes the exercise too. There’s another squat variation you should include in your routine if you want to build power – the jump squat.
The Benefits of Squat Jumps
You may already be familiar with jump squats if you do my workouts. To do this exercise, squat down as if doing a standard squat with your feet shoulder width apart. Descend into the squat position. Instead of slowly rising as with a traditional squat, jump into the air with your core engaged and land in a squat position. Then repeat.
Squat jumps are an example of a plyometric exercise, movements that build power. Other examples are box jumps, tuck jumps, repeated long jumps, frog jumps and split squat jumps. You can even do upper body plyometrics by doing an explosive version of push-ups. Plyometrics were originally developed to help Olympic athletes improve their athletic skills. They can help you too.
What makes squat jumps, and other plyometric exercises, so special? Standard squats help you build static strength while jump squats develop explosive power. Explosive power is the ability to generate force quickly. If you play almost any sport you need explosive power – but that’s not the only reason to them.
Power training is important for successful aging. Studies show that power training may be more important than static strength training for maintaining functionality as you age. Even something as simple as rising from a chair has a power component to it. How much power training are you doing? It deserves a place in your workout just as strength training does.
There’s another advantage to power moves like squat jumps. These dynamic movements increase your heart rate. One way to give a strength-training session a cardiovascular component is to do a set of squat jumps between each strength move. By doing this, you’ll burn more calories and build strength and power at the same time. You can use squat jumps to add a dynamic, cardio component to any training session.
What about at the office or when you’ve been sitting at your computer too long? Use squat jumps to shake up your metabolism. Stand up and do a set of twenty jump squats before getting back to work. It’s a sneaky way to slip in some exercise and avoid the unhealthy effects of prolonged sitting. The more you get up and move around during the day – the better.
You might think plyometric exercises like squat jumps are bad for your knees. Actually, plyometric exercises like jump squats are incorporated into training programs to help prevent knee injuries, particularly ACL tears in women. Plyometric exercises strengthen the muscles that support the knee and improve communication between the nerves and the muscles that control the knees. This reduces the risk of knee injuries. On the other hand, excessive plyometric training can lead to patellar tendinitis, especially if you use poor form. During the land phase, your lower extremities, especially your patellar tendons, absorb a significant amount of force, so do jump squats in moderation. Finally, doing plyometric moves like jump squats can enhance your strength work by increasing motor unit recruitment. They’re a good way to begin a workout, after you’ve warmed up, of course.
Advanced Squat Jumps
As with all forms of exercise, plyometric training has to be progressive to yield maximal benefits. One way to challenge yourself with jump squats is to descend low and jump explosively each time. One-legged squat jumps are another way to increase the intensity, although the risk of injury is higher. Don’t try one-legged squat jumps until you’re comfortable with two-legged ones.
When jump squats start to feel easy, hold light dumbbells in each hand while doing them and gradually increase the weight. If you’re incorporating squat jumps into a strength workout circuit style, don’t use weights when you jump. The risk of injury will be higher if your muscles are fatigued and you’re jumping holding weights. It’s important not to overdo weighted squat jumps. When you hold weights and jump, it increases knee flexion when you land. This puts you at greater risk for patellar tendonitis.
The Bottom Line?
Squats help you develop strength, but jump squats add an element of explosive force that helps you build power. The power you develop from plyometric moves like jump squats will increase your vertical jump, improve your athletic performance and enhance your overall functionality. You can also combine jump squats with other plyometric moves for power development. It’s a good way to add variety to your workout too.
Int J Exerc Sci 2(2): 131-151, 2009.
Am J Sports Med February 25, 2014 0363546514523388.
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