Leg Exercise: Jumping Squats

What is it for?

The Jumping Squat is virtually the same as the standard squat. However it is far more intense, uses far more energy and requires a lot more skill. It is a functional movement as it uses the same muscles we use in our day-to-day lives but takes it above and beyond what a normal day may consist of. It is far more functional to the sports person who needs to improve on power in their legs (power is the speed with which you can access your strength).

It is a good example of a plyometric exercise as it really does spring-load the muscles ready for an immediate surge of power. The muscles it focuses on are the thighs (front and back), the glutes and the calf muscles (the normal squat uses the calf and surrounding muscles just for stability). It uses the same supporting muscles as the standard squat but even more so due to the jumping movement, time in the air and impact on landing. We use the muscles in the lower leg and around the ankle for support in take off and landing and also our core muscles (hip, stomach and spine muscles ) during the whole exercise to help with balance and control throughout the movement.

In the diagram I have shaded the main muscles used in red and the secondary supporting muscles in yellow.

Technique

With the standard squat it is very important that you put your weight through your heels; with the jumping squat you will have difficulty jumping without coming up on to your toes. Not that it can’t be done, but our bodies have just learnt to jump using our leg muscles in a certain combination. It is now embedded in our ‘muscle memory’ which is very difficult to change. So with the jumping squat you will find that your knees will come forward more than the standard squat but should still not go over the line of your toes.

To start the movement off you will need to squat down first, lowering your body by bending your knees (trying to put as much weight through your heels as possible so that your knees don’t come too far forwards). When you reach the lowest position – which is when your knees are at roughly 90 degrees and your bum is sticking out behind you. Your upper body will be leaning quite low and forwards to counter balance.

At this point you need to power up and launch yourself into the air. You won’t be spending much time in the air so you need to prepare yourself for the landing. It needs to be as quiet as you can make it so that it is nice and soft and controlled. This ensures that the forces through the body of the impact are absorbed by your legs and not jarred through your spine. So just before your feet hit the ground make sure your knees are slightly bent (called ‘soft knees’ in the trade). This will help make the landing soft. As your feet touch the ground you should feel your legs fold under you in a nice controlled manner as you enter the downward movement of the squat. Use your muscles to slow the descent until you stop at the same lowest point of the squat that you started from. Then immediately power up into a jump again and continue until you have completed your set of pre-determined repetitions.

Video Guide

As with many plyometric exercises this is not going to be an exercise you can do quietly in a corner of the gym and not be noticed. Plan ahead and pick an area of the gym where you have lots of room and won’t interfere with other people’s workouts.

The start of my jumping squat begins by lowering myself into the squat position and I power up from here. You should see that my knees don’t cross the line of my toes which helps protect my knees and ankles through this movement, especially on the landing phase. As I come in for the land my knees are soft and absorb the impact well without taking too much pressure.

I use my arms throughout the movement: not for willing myself into the air but for added stability at the lowest position. If I have my arms forward at this position then my knees won’t come as far forwards, so it is an essential part of the exercise – make sure you incorporate it into your exercise.

The final bit that the video doesn’t show is the breathing. At no point am I holding my breath and nor must you. Make sure you get a good breathing pattern going otherwise you will fade pretty quickly. I exhale on the way up and inhale on the way down. You can reverse that if you like and breathe in on the way up and out on the way down as it doesn’t make a huge difference, the most important part is that you are breathing and taking good deep regular breaths.

The Do’s

Lower yourself into a squat to start
Breathe
Power straight up
Use a mirror or fitness pro to perfect your technique
Jump immediately when you reach the lowest point
Land with soft knees
Use your arms to prevent damage to your knees

The Don’ts

Don’t land with straight legs
Don’t rest at the bottom of the movement
Don’t let your knees travel over the line of your toes
Don’t hold your breath
In Your Program

Plyometric training is very extreme and if you want to introduce it to your workout I would only bring in one or two of these styles of exercises to each session. Start by doing 20 repeats and build up from there.

And a Warning…

This is a very hard exercise and should not be taken on by anyone who has high blood pressure (more than 135/85), is unfit, has asthma, carries an injury, is very overweight or knows of any reason why a heavy impact and very hard exercise will be damaging to their health. If you are unsure please check with your doctor before undertaking any form of exercise. If you are ever unsure whether you are capable of a certain type of exercise then my advice is don’t do it as there are plenty of different exercises out there that you can do instead.

Enjoy this exercise but make safety a priority, you can’t achieve your goal if you can’t exercise due to injury. Exercise within your limits.

If you have any comments on this exercise then please feel free to leave them. Good luck with it!