Who doesn’t want to be more athletic and powerful? One type of exercise that helps build explosive power is plyometrics, movements that involve stretching a muscle and then shortening it quickly. When you stretch a muscle before contracting it, you release the energy stored in the stretch with the muscle contraction that follows. This pre-stretch gives you the ability to generate more force than if you hadn’t stretched the muscle beforehand. By doing plyometric movements that take advantage of the stretch-shortening cycle, you can build greater explosive power. That comes in handy if you play sports and even in daily life.
You’re already familiar with many plyometric exercises, including squat jumps, lateral jumps, clap push-ups, and medicine ball throws. But there’s another plyometric variation you may not be familiar with – depth jumps. What you might not realize is that depth jumps are what started the plyometric movement. It was a man named Yuri Verkhoshansky, a former world weightlifting record holder and an expert on explosive strength training, who developed plyometrics. He called this new form of exercise shock training. The main exercise that made up shock training was depth jumps.
The goal of depth jumps and other plyometric exercises is to enhance power and improve athletic ability in sports that require explosive strength such as jumping or sprinting. To do a depth jump, you need a platform to jump off of and enough space to land safely. Here’s how to do one:
- Stand on an elevated platform with both feet together.
- Step down off of the platform onto both feet.
- Without pausing, jump into the air explosively after your feet touch the ground.
- Land softly on your feet.
As with any exercise you’re not accustomed to doing, start small and build up. Choose a low platform when you first start out. Then increase the height of the platform as you become more skilled at doing the exercise. Jumping off a platform is a high-impact exercise that places a lot of stress on your lower body. If you have osteoporosis or an orthopedic condition, depth jumps aren’t for you unless your physicians clears you.
Now, let’s look at the benefits of depth jumps and why they can be a valuable addition to your fitness training.
Depth Jumps Can Improve Your Vertical Jump Height
One reason that athletes do depth jumps is to improve their vertical jump height. As many experts point out, depth jumps are, arguably, the best exercise for improving vertical jump. When you step off a platform before jumping, it increases the eccentric load on your body and magnifies the stretch-shortening cycle of the muscle. As you step off the platform, your muscles convert the force generated from landing on the ground into elastic energy your muscles can use. When you jump into the air after landing, you convert that elastic energy into kinetic energy that propels you into the air to greater heights. So, stepping down off the platform before jumping primes the muscles in your lower body to contract with greater force. In fact, you’ll notice an increase in how high you can jump right away when you step off a platform before jumping.
They Can Make You a Faster Sprinter
Since depth jumps help you generate power, they can make you a faster sprinter, but depth jumps also increase lower body stiffness. That might sound like a bad thing, but not if you’re a sprinter. When you sprint, you need explosive, forward momentum. You can only generate that momentum if a limb is pressed against the ground, allowing you to push off. When you have more limb stiffness, it stabilizes your leg when it’s pressed against the floor and that gives you greater ability to push your body forward with force. Building greater tendon and limb stiffness can translate into better sprint performance.
Depth Jumps Help to Preserve Bone Density
Any jumping is high impact and the force of your body hitting the ground stimulates the laydown of new bone. Like other high-impact exercises, depth jumps boost bone mass. In fact, a 12-week randomized controlled study compared the effects of jump training and resistance on markers of bone health. The subjects were men with osteopenia, low bone density but not at the level of osteoporosis, in the spine or hip. The results showed that resistance training and jump training increased bone density in the lumbar spine while resistance training boosts bone density in the hips.
Precautions When Doing Depth Jumps
Due to the stress depth jumps place on your body, don’t do this plyo move every time you train. At most, do depth jumps once a week. Even better do depth jumps every other week and include other types of plyometric exercises during other sessions. Other options, if your goal is to build explosive power and improve your jump height are plyo lunges, squat jumps, star jumps, lateral jumps, and box jumps. It’s also best to start by mastering these exercises before doing depth jumps if you’re a newbie. Also, build up lower body strength before tackling depth jumps by doing squats and lunges first.
How high of a box should you use for depth jumps? People use boxes as low as 6 inches in height and as high as 50 inches. However, don’t assume higher is better. If you step down from a platform that’s too high, it can work against you by creating so much tension that the Golgi tendon organs fire and limit the amount of muscle contraction. The Golgi tendon organs are there to protect your muscles from sustaining so much tension that it leads to an injury. If the Golgi tendon organs sense too much tension, they fire and it inhibits muscle contraction. So, start low and increase the height over time.
The Bottom Line
Depth jumps are an excellent plyometric movement for building greater explosive power, but don’t over do them. They’re a high-intensity plyo move, so alternate them with lower intensity plyometric movements to avoid overtraining.
- On Fitness. July/August 2015. “The How and When of Depth Jumps”
- ACE Fitness. “Plyometrics: Controlled Impact/Maximum Power”
- Front Physiol. 2017; 8: 16. Published online 2017 Jan 25. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2017.00016.
- 2015 Oct; 79: 203–212. Published online 2015 Jun 16. doi: 10.1016/j.bone.2015.06.008
- Arthritis Foundation. “When Elbow Pain May Mean Arthritis”