Squats are a staple for every workout routine. The barbell squat is, in my opinion, the perfect compound exercise. However, sticking with the barbell squat forever is not as effective at improving leg strength as a varied workout routine. Variety is the spice of life, and it's also the perfect ingredient for fast-tracking your progress. If you’re looking for some variety, try squat jumps (jump squats).
Squat jumps are exactly like squats until your hips reach their lowest point. After which, instead of coming up slowly, you explosively push up with your leg muscles and finish with both feet leaving the floor like a rocket heading for the moon. It looks cool, makes you look athletic, and it's fun to do. Jump squats are in a class of exercise known as plyometrics, which involves performing explosive movements to develop power and muscle.
Muscles adapt to the stress we put on them. So if you are doing the same workout routine, week after week, the muscles of your legs are going to get stronger and stronger (this is a good thing) but they will also grow accustomed to this stress and require more of it to continue growing.
Simply put: Make progress by mixing things up! Incorporate squat jumps, jump lunges, and pistol squats into your routine, even if you're not a basketball player or gymnast.
Before we go into more details on how to do the squat jump, let’s talk about the raw benefits of this exercise and why everyone should be mixing this one into their routines.
Here's you should be doing these exercises as part of your training now.
Benefit 1: Get bulletproof joints
Look at what's involved in a squat jump and the potential impact on the body, and it's tempting to think it cannot be healthy for your knees and ankles.
However, studies have shown that squat jumps (performed correctly) are beneficial to our joints and can reduce the likelihood of joint pain later on in life. A meta review cited that out of the 12 relevant papers reviewed, not a single paper found any adverse effect on joints or pain in individuals who performed plyometric exercises, including those over 50.
Naturally, older athletes and fitness fans aren’t pushing quite as hard as younger folk. That said, if the older population doesn't complain about joint pains from plyometrics, we definitely don't want excuses from the younger crowd.
Benefit 2: Improve your cardio
Strength or cardio? Why not have both? Squat jumps have the added benefit of raising your heart rate as the movements are more rapid than traditional squats. Studies show that both aerobic and anaerobic power production increase in athletes that perform plyometric training like jump squats.
Additionally, you'll burn a few calories doing these exercises.
Benefit 3: Increase bone density
Both resistance training, as well as jump squats or other plyometrics, are shown to improve bone density to counter the effects of osteoporosis (a bone-weakening disease) in older people.
Benefit 4: Improve your regular squats
The lack of power in your weighted squats progression can be one of the factors that cause your progress to plateau; therefore, switching things up with squat jumps can either accelerate your progress or help you break through a growth plateau.
Benefit 5: Improve performance in sports
Let's face it, outside of bodybuilding, weightlifting, and other similar sports, most other sports do not involve shifting ludicrous amounts of weight around. Popular sports like football, tennis, martial arts, rugby, and even golf (no hard feelings, golf, we love you too) favor athletes who can move their bodies in the shortest amount of time with the most force. In other words, most sports, with the exception of endurance sports, reward athletes with fast-twitch muscle fibers that are explosive and quick to react.
Plyometric exercises like squat jumps enhance agility, balance, and overall speed, giving athletes a performance edge regardless of whether they are professionals or hobbyists.
How to perform the squat jump
It's probably clear now that squat jumps have a lot to offer, so here are some tips on how to do the squat jump with perfect technique.
Squat jumps are like air squats except that you push through your legs with enough force to hop into the air.
- Get into the starting position by keeping your feet shoulder width apart.
- Bend your knees and go down to a quarter squat position, or however far you would go down for a max vertical jump. Inhale during this portion of the movement.
- When you reach that position, push through the balls of your feet and jump up as high as you can go with your legs extended like a spring. Exhale during this portion of the movement.
- Descend as gently as possible and in the quickest time possible reset your position and repeat the next rep.
Fairly simple in theory. Just jump as high as you can, right?
However, there are numerous ways in which simple jumping and landing can be performed incorrectly, resulting in inefficiency or even major setbacks.
Mistakes to watch out for when performing a squat jump
Mistake number 1: Overloading.
Yes, you read that right. The addition of more weight (such as a weight vest, dumbbells, or otherwise) may not offer increased benefits and can possibly reduce performance.
In fact, research done on a group of male collegiate athletes found that doing jump squats with just bodyweight was where they produced significantly higher peak power and peak velocity compared to using loads of 40%, 60%, and 80% of their 1 rep max squat.
Studies also show the optimal loading range is 10-20% of your 1 rep max. Another study analyzing the effect of plyometrics on sprint performance determined that adding weight above this range would not improve performance.
Mistake number 2: Not warming up.
In addition to increasing the risk of injury, failing to warm up muscles properly before an exercise as challenging as bodyweight jump squats run the risk of missing out on potential gains. Studies have shown that mechanical power increases by as much as 6.8% when participants warmed up prior to performing the jump squat compared to those that did not warm up or perform mobility drills.
Mistake number 3: Exerting too much pressure on the knees.
When performing a move as explosive as this, a minor change in form can pose a significant threat to the health of the knee joints. Make sure your knees don't go too far past your toes, and push your buttocks back to distribute the load more evenly (especially the glutes). In addition, on both the ascending and descending portions of the exercise, make sure the knees do not cave inwards.
Mistake number 4: Bending the spine or rounded shoulders and back.
Because your lower body stops much faster than your upper body, it can be tempting to let your upper body almost get ‘whiplashed' into rounding or bending over, especially on the descending portion. Maintain a neutral spine by keeping your back and shoulders straight.
Final note: If that's a lot to take in, it's worth noting that if squat jumps are new to you, you should definitely start on softer ground. Don't go hard on concrete only to wreck your body after the first session. Treat this movement with care and start on a mat or other softer surface before attempting it in your local parking lot.
How to incorporate the squat jump into your routine
Now that all the do's and don'ts have been checked off, it's time to talk about how to incorporate this exercise into our weekly routines.
If you’re already squatting heavy, it’s probably best not to mix maximum weighted squats that go close to failure with jump squats in the same workout since both aim to tax the nervous system. If you perform a circuit of jump squats on one day, leave at least 24-72 hours before you move onto maximal-effort squats with weights. If you do the maths, that means you can train the lower body at high intensity up to 2-3 times a week.
That’s not to say you can’t do both weighted squats and jump squats in the same workout. You just need to decide which one should be the maximum effort and which one should be a supporting exercise.
How often you train jump squats is entirely up to you and depends on your needs.
If you are an athlete who prioritizes speed over strength, you may want to do more jump squat variations at the beginning of your workout at full effort. The two exercises are complementary, and although weighted squats have been discussed, the same applies to deadlifts and Olympic snatches.
You can try these workout routines to help you digest this information:
Workout A: Jump Squats, 3×5 reps (max effort)
- Back Squats, 3×4-8 reps@70-80%
- Lunge squats, 3×4-8 reps @70-80%
- Bench Press, 3×4-8 reps@80-90%
- Bent-Over Rows, 3×4-8 reps
- Standing Military Press, 3×4-8 reps
Workout B: Power Clean, 3×3-6 reps@80-90%
- Snatch Pulls, 3×3-6 reps@80%
- Jump Squats, 3×6 reps
Notice that for workout A, the emphasis is on the jump squat being the main power driver and for workout B the jump squat becomes a supplementary exercise.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who should not do squat jumps?
If you have any lower leg injuries, whether that's arthritis, tendonitis, or bone injuries, you should probably avoid this plyometric exercise or consult your physician.
How many squat jumps should I do?
The ideal range is 2-3 sets with 4-5 reps each. More than that, and technique can deteriorate, which can lead to injury. Besides, the focus isn't on failure here, it's on maximum speed and power.
Should I do jump squats every day?
Jump squats is quite taxing on your nervous system because you're asking for everything in every single movement. In order to let the system recover, you should leave a minimum of 24 hours up to 72 hours. As mentioned previously, studies show more is not necessarily better.
Do jump squats make your thighs bigger?
Definitely. If you don't regularly train your lower body, you'll notice the difference immediately. Even those who consider themselves regular squatters will find that their weighted squats improve, adding that juicy extra bulk and mass to your quadzillas.
How can you modify jump squats?
The squat jump can be transformed into a box jump by hopping onto a box or some other raised, sturdy platform. Studies have shown that adding extra weight has no additional benefits, as mentioned previously. Incorporate jump lunges by getting into a lunge position and switching your leg position while in the air before hitting the ground and starting over again.
What muscles do jump squats involve?
Gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hamstrings, and gastrocnemius (calves) are the main muscles worked in jump squats. This squat exercise also works the core muscles including the abdominal muscles around the stomach and the erector spinae that runs along the spine.
Which is more effective, squats or jump squats?
The answer to this question depends on what you mean by effective. Regular squats with weights are better at producing greater overall strength whilst jump squats are best for developing explosive power.