Jumping: It’s a pivotal part of many sports and a helpful skill for daily life. Yet many people avoid it in their training.
“Jumping is a basic human movement,” says Life Time personal trainer Sammy Jo Evans, an elite-level triple jumper.
Jump training — also known as plyometrics — can increase your strength without weights, and it improves reactivity time. It also helps train your central nervous system, Evans explains.
“The gluteus medius is your powerhouse muscle that generates explosive power: Jumping will train it to fire faster,” she says. “Plyometrics also helps develop hip, quad, calf, and foot muscles — that’s half your body!
“And if you’re performing jumps correctly, you have to engage your core, incorporate your arms, and work on balance. It’s really a total body workout.”
By training your jump, you can spark athletic improvements in any number of sports, including basketball, Ultimate Frisbee, and Olympic weightlifting. And you can enhance your capacity to handle high-impact activities and ward off sports-related injuries.
Finally, jump training can also improve your resilience in the face of unexpected everyday motions like an abrupt change of direction or a fall.
“Practically anyone can benefit from jumping exercises,” says Mike Young, PhD, director of performance at Athletic Lab sports performance training center in Morrisville, N.C.
Young compares vertical-jump training to running. Lower-intensity exercises, like jumping rope, build cardiovascular and muscular endurance in the same way as an easy jog. Meanwhile, higher-intensity movements, like box jumps, develop power, speed, and tendon durability in a way similar to sprinting.
Improving your jump is straightforward. Most people will see results from incorporating one or two jump exercises into their resistance workouts once or twice per week. “It doesn’t take much plyometric work to see the benefits,” he says.
Our experts offer guidance to help you jump better — and reach new heights in your athletic performance.
“Jumping is the most powerful thing the human body can do without the help of equipment,” says sports-performance coach and vertical-jump expert Tyler Ray, co-owner of Project Pure Athlete in Windsor, Ont. Yet many people dread jumping exercises, despite their benefits.
One reason is that they’re hard: They require physical precision and mental focus, and they tax the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems.
And jumping can be scary. This is particularly true when the jumps involve a high vertical change (like box jumps), a challenge to balance (think one-legged hops), or an abrupt shift in direction (such as 180-degree squat jumps).
Jump training also stresses joints and tendons, the connective tissue that connects muscle to bone. This stress isn’t all bad; the impact helps the tissue become stronger and more powerful. The key is to increase that stress gradually and appropriately.
Two key factors determine how much impact a plyometric exercise will exert on your body: how far you drop before landing and whether you’re landing on one or two feet. Landing from a greater height or landing on one foot is more stressful than landing from a shorter height or using both feet to absorb the shock.
If you’re new to jump training, lower-impact variations can help lessen the intimidation factor and reduce your risk of injury.
Start with low heights and exercises that involve landing on both feet, advises Young. Small, two-legged, stationary hops introduce your muscles, joints, and tendons to the demands of jumping.
Other good beginner exercises include jumping rope, bouncing on a mini trampoline, forward bounds (jumping forward with two feet), and skipping.
As you gain more experience, you can add new challenges. Try:
- Single-leg exercise variations
- Jumping up onto or down from a higher surface
- Changing directions (side to side, forward to back, 180 degrees)
- Adding mini-hurdles and aerobic steps
If you’re not ready for a progression, Ray suggests, try these exercises at a lower height or intensity first. Instead of attempting a full set of single-leg bounds (jumping up and forward as far as you can on one leg without pausing between reps), perform a few reps at a slower pace to see how it feels. You may even spend a few weeks working at this intensity level. If there’s no discomfort or pain, pick up your pace.
Check out “BREAK IT DOWN: The Box Jump” to learn how to improve your box jump while avoiding injury.
Jumping With Health Issues
People suffering from bone-and-joint injuries or conditions like arthritis, osteoporosis, or pelvic-floor weakness should approach plyometrics with extra caution. Get clearance from your physician or physical therapist before adding plyometrics to your routine. Your healthcare provider may even be able to help you come up with a jump-training plan that’s appropriate for your condition and abilities.
Once you’ve been cleared to jump, follow the same guidelines for progressing your training: Start with small movements and gradually advance to more challenging ones.
Practicing plyometric exercises in a pool is also a great option for people with bone, joint, or pelvic-floor issues, Ray says. The water reduces the impact of gravity, allowing you to reap the cardio, strength, and calorie-burning benefits of jumping with less stress on your joints. (For a low-impact pool workout, visit “The Pool Workout“.)
This article originally appeared as “Jump to It” in the July/August 2022 issue of Experience Life.