Jumping is something that most adults don’t do often while children do it naturally and with a smile on their face! It’s a shame that we lose the desire and willingness to jump as we grow older, as propelling your body into the air offers substantial health and fitness benefits. The standard lower body exercises we do, like squats and lunges, build lower body strength and muscle size, but they’re less effective at boosting power capabilities, the ability to generate force quickly. That’s where jumping comes in! Adding a dynamic component, like jumping, to your workout can help you build power.
Jumping is an explosive activity, a form of a plyometric move. Plyometrics is an explosive type of training that stretches a muscle and then shortens it quickly. You’re probably already familiar with plyometrics. Some of the most popular plyometric exercises are bounding jumps, split jumps, tuck jumps, lateral jumps, vertical jumps, and single-leg take-offs. More advanced plyometric moves that involve jumping include box jumps, cone jumps, and depth jumps. Even upper body exercises can be plyometric in nature, for example, clap push-ups and medicine ball throws.
How Plyometrics Work
You can break down a plyometric movement into three phases. The first, called the eccentric phase, is where the muscle lengthens. The eccentric phase is followed by a brief rest called the amortization phase where no action takes place. Then, comes the concentric phase where the muscle shortens quickly and with force. The goal is to complete the cycle as quickly as possible. Over time, with practice, the three-phase cycle becomes shortened and you can perform the same amount of work faster. This means you’ve developed power!
Why should you care? If you play certain sports, like volleyball, basketball, soccer, baseball, or softball, plyometric exercises that involve jumping can improve your performance. They can even make you a better sprinter. That’s because they teach your muscles to work together in an explosive manner, one that generates force quickly. Plus, we lose the ability to generate power as we age, even faster than we lose strength capabilities. You need strength AND power to push yourself up out of a chair.
Other Ways Jumping Improves Fitness and Health
Plyometric moves that involve jumping tap into the fast-twitch muscle fibers, the ones involved in strength and power capabilities. Plus, the stress that jumping places on tendons makes them stronger and more resilient, thereby lowering the risk of injury. What about your bones? Jumping is a high-impact exercise. When bones are exposed to high-impact forces, it stimulates the activity of cells called osteoblasts and forces them to produce new bone tissue. Therefore, high-impact exercise can boost bone density.
Adding Jumping to Your Fitness Routine
If you want to build explosive power, jumping should be part of your routine. However, it wouldn’t be wise to start with advanced plyometric moves like box jumps, cone jumps, or depth jumps right away. Jumping onto a box safely requires a certain level of fitness and isn’t a move for beginners. Depth jumps are another advanced, high impact move. To do one, you jump off of a box onto the floor and immediately leap as high as you can into the air, definitely not a way to dip your toe into plyometrics as the injury rate is higher.
A safer way is to start with a jumping exercise most of us are familiar with – jumping rope. Jumping rope is a relatively low-impact plyometric move, especially relative to depth jumps and it’s an excellent cardiovascular exercise. How can you get the benefits? Add 30 seconds to one-minute sessions of jumping rope to your circuit workouts to keep your heart rate up between strength moves. Another option: jump rope at the beginning of a workout to warm up and get your muscles ready to work. Jumping rope also helps improve muscle control and coordination.
Another way to get the benefits of jumping safely as a beginner is to add squat jumps and split jumps to your routine. These jumps take advantage of the same stretch-shortening cycle that other plyometric exercises do, but you don’t have to jump on or off a box, which can be a bit intimidating at first. Squat jumps are simply a standard squat with an explosive component. Lower yourself into a squat position and then explode into the air. Upon landing, lower yourself back into the squat position and repeat.
Split squats are an explosive variation of the lunge. To do one, get into a lunge position with one foot in front of the other. Bend your legs and descend into a lunge. When you reach the bottom of the lunge, jump into the air with both feet and switch your legs. The leg that was in the front should now be in the back. Then, land in the lunge position and repeat the move.
More Advanced Moves
You can get the benefits of plyometric jumping by doing squat jumps and split jumps, but you might decide you want more of a challenge. That’s when you can experiment with box jumps. Begin your foray into box jumps with a lower box, no more than six inches in height. More advanced users typically select a box that’s 12, 20, or 24 inches but it’s safest to start at a lower height.
To do a jump, stand about two feet from the box and descend into a quarter squat. Swing your arms upward as you extend your hips and jump onto the box to land in a squat position. Land as softly as possible. Hold the position for a few seconds and step down off the box. If you perform box jumps, do them before lower body strength training to avoid fatiguing your legs and increasing your risk of injury.
If the thought of doing box jumps intimidates you, start by doing broad jumps to get accustomed to the jumping motion. Then, try jumping onto a low surface. For example, when you’re standing in the street, jump on to the curb. It’s a good way to ease into box jumps. But, make sure your knees are healthy before doing an aggressive plyometric routine. You don’t want to overdo the jumping if you’re prone toward knee pain.
J Athl Train. 2012 Aug; 47(4): 414–420.
J Appl Physiol (1985). 2006 Mar;100(3):771-9. Epub 2005 Dec 1.