Jump Better, Squat Bigger – 4 Exercises to Make You More Explosive
- DAN NORTH
- Athletic Performance
In the world of strength training, dynamic explosive work is often left on the back burner. And I’m still trying to figure out why?
Maybe it’s fear of the unknown. A lot of lifters seem to have no problem stacking on plates and squatting ass to grass, but when it comes to performing jumps or other plyometric exercises, they look like a fish out of water. Literally.
While the general pop labels squats and deadlifts as “bad for your joints”, I think lifters and strength athletes tend to have a similar outlook on dynamic work.
All of the main lifts (squat, bench, deadlift) have one thing in common: your feet are rooted to the floor. Anything that requires you to be airborne is out of the realms of possibility. At least, that’s what some lifters think.
But what these lifters fail to understand is that, when performed optimally and incorporated strategically into your programming, dynamic work will not only not interfere with your strength, it will improve your lifts tenfold.
What’s more, dynamic work is one of the most effective ways to retain your strength and power output with limited access to equipment.
- Improve CNS stimulation. Explosive movements like box jumps enhance your neural drive which has direct implications on your ability to generate force.
- Increase total muscle fibre recruitment. You’ll get bigger and stronger. Nuff said.
- Retain and improve power output. Again, you don’t need much equipment to retain your maximal strength and power output with dynamic work.
- Transfer directly to athletic performance. Do you know any athlete that doesn’t want to be more explosive and powerful? Me neither.
- Transfer directly to strength training. More power = more force generated = stronger athlete = more weights lifted.
- Overtraining. You wouldn’t max out your squat every other day (I hope). So, don’t train explosive work that frequently either. Jumps and dynamic work, when done correctly, tax your nervous system and if overdone, can negatively impact your joints.
- Going to fatigue. CrossFit and other bootcamp-style workout classes tend to have their members perform insane amounts of box jumps. And usually at the end of their workouts! Taking an explosive movement and turning it into a “conditioning” exercise is a recipe for disaster, typically resulting in injury.
- No rest. Supersetting max effort squats and deadlifts sounds silly. Because it is. Trying to jump with proper form for 20+ reps for multiple sets is going to fuck you up. Your energy reserves deplete as you perform explosive movements like jumps, so adequate rest is needed between sets to restore your energy levels.
- Dynamic work should be limited to 2 sessions per week. Just like you wouldn’t lift heavy every day, you wouldn’t (or at least, shouldn’t) perform dynamic work every day. You need to recover between sessions.
- 2-5 reps for 3-5 sets is plenty. One of the biggest mistakes you’ll notice with dynamic exercises is overkill on rep ranges. No exercise or movement is innately explosive. It’s how you perform the movement that makes it explosive. Your ability to produce force gets lower and lower each rep. 8-15 reps is too high if you want to train explosiveness and power. 2-5 reps for multiple sets is more than enough. Think quality over quantity.
- Rest between sets. You have to rest between sets if you truly want to increase your explosiveness and power. How long? At least 1-2 min is usually a good starting point. Sometimes a little more depending on the intensity of the exercise.
- Use before heavy lifts. Louie Simmons said it best, “you can’t lift heavy weights slowly”. The faster the bar moves, the stronger the lift. Using explosive movements like box jumps before heavy squats, for example, primes your nervous system and muscles to contract fast and generate as much force as possible. It makes sense to incorporate them at the end of your warm-up given the similar demands and movement patterns. Because just like you can’t lift heavy weights slowly, you can’t jump slowly either.
1. BOX SQUAT TO BOX JUMP
This box jump variation closely mimics the mechanics of the box squat. As your muscles are stretched during the eccentric phase (in this case, lowering yourself to the box), passive tension is created and your ability to generate force increases due to the stretch reflex.
Try a few of these right before your heavy box squats and watch how fast the bar moves.
2. SEATED BOX JUMP
Your ability to generate force from a dead stop translates directly to your strength in the weight room and your athletic performance. A deadlift starts from, you guessed it, a dead stop. Similarly, you don’t “eccentrically load” your shoulder and wind up for a punch. Whether you’re pulling a heavy deadlift from the floor or landing a 1-2 combination in the ring, you need the ability to apply maximal force without eccentric loading.
3. DYNAMIC BULGARIAN SPLIT SQUAT
I have to give credit where credit is due and shoutout Joe DeFranco for this beauty. He was talking about training strategies for improving explosiveness and power, particularly within the realms of sprinting, on his Industrial Strength Show podcast.
He described it as one of those exercises you do once and almost instantly feel the benefits, and he was right.
The fast contractions between eccentric and concentric phases coupled with accommodating resistance will make your jumping and sprinting ability skyrocket.
4. EXPLOSIVE SPLIT SQUAT W/ STRIDE
Other than just looking pretty neat, this split squat variation has direct implications on your sprinting mechanics and overall explosiveness in the stride position.
Sprinting goes from short levers to long levers (hip flexion to extension; knee flexion to extension; ankle dorsiflexion to plantarflexion). This trains all of the principles of an optimal stride without the need for much space.
Explosive and dynamic movements improve power and strength output without need for much equipment. Use them sparingly throughout your training and reap the rewards.