Jumping higher takes a blend of strength training and power exercises. Lower-body muscle groups like the quads and hamstrings give the most power when you jump. These muscles and others that help them can be trained with slower strength exercises like leg presses or bodyweight exercises like squats and lunges, but if you want to improve your jumping ability you also need to include explosive plyometric exercises.
Like most other fitness routines with a specific goal, jump training works best when you emulate the movement you want to improve. So your squats will work even better if you turn them into jump squats.
Read on to find out the 7 best exercises to improve your jump height and overall athletic ability.
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What Muscles Are Used for Jumping?
If you’ve read up on the best leg day exercises, you’ve likely already heard about the main jump training targets. Here’s a quick list of the muscles that see the most activation in the 7 best jumping exercises to come.
Located on the front and sides of your thigh, the quadriceps is a muscle group consisting of 4 individual muscles. The quads stabilize the knee cap and are also supportive of hip flexion.
When you walk or run, the quadriceps are responsible for swinging the leg forward and slowing it down as your foot approaches the ground. In a vertical jump, the quads exert downward force to propel you up, although this generally works differently between genders.
The hamstrings are the opposing muscles of the quadriceps. They’re located on the back of your thigh. One of the most important muscles in the hamstring muscle group is called the semitendinosus and it works to build a forward and downward acceleration, allowing the knee extensors to build up force.
Your semitendinosus is longer than other hamstring muscles like the biceps femoris which is why it is more important for jumping height and power in plyometric exercises like the squat jump.
Most people think primarily of the aesthetic appeal of a well-rounded booty, but strong glutes are also essential for stabilizing your lower back and upper body. While they help more in horizontal jumping than in vertical movement, the glutes are still important for several parts of the vertical jump as well.
If you’re trying to increase your jump strength so you can dunk a basketball or spike a volleyball from a distance, the glutes are going to be even more important in your exercise routine.
Your calf muscles are on the back of your legs and they help move the top of the foot away from the leg, which is crucial for jumping. The calves also transfer energy from the ankle and stabilize the lower leg when you jump and when you land.
There are a few calf isolation exercises such as calf raises which are perfect for a warm-up or filling in gaps during a HIIT routine. For the most part, though, you can give your calves an incidental workout with exercises that primarily target your hamstrings, quads, and glutes.
Core & Upper Body
Try to jump with your arms at your sides and you’ll get some idea of how the upper body also helps you stay balanced and create force going into a jump. Core muscles provide tons of power for jumping. While the arms, shoulders, chest, and back muscles don’t match that level of energy output for jumping, they do play an important stabilizing role.
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Optimizing Your Jumping Ability
In one interesting study, researchers used a model of the human body to move muscle mass around and find out where additional mass would be most effective. The results state that the vastus lateralis in your quadriceps and the gastrocnemius in your calves produced the most jumping power when muscle mass was added, while muscle mass removed from the rectus femoris, also in your quadriceps, was beneficial for jump height.
While we can’t exactly alter our muscle mass with a digital model like those researchers did, it still gives some useful information about training to increase your jumping ability. One of the most important takeaways from the study is that the model they started with, which mimicked typical human muscle construction, already accounted for 90% of the maximum jump height.
So while targeting your quads and hamstrings is important, building even functional strength across all the muscle groups mentioned above is the best way to increase your jumping ability. You can use the 7 exercises below to give all the most important jumping muscle groups a challenging workout.
7 Best Exercises for Jump Strength
Whether you’re trying to get into the NBA, the Olympic Games, or just have a better athletic performance overall, add a few of these jumping exercises to your training program to build speed and agility while increasing your jump strength.
1. Box Jumps
The box jump is a simple exercise but it’s incredibly effective and more versatile than you might think. A basic box jump will keep your heart rate up and improve your jumping ability but you can also change the height of the box if you want to make things more challenging.
Some people also prefer to keep the box at a lower height to build their endurance and change to a higher box height to build their top jump height and more explosive power. While you can certainly find room for high reps of low box jumps and low reps of high box jumps, take care not to do them back to back or you might risk falling.
How To Do Box Jumps
They call this move the box jump because it’s normally done with a box that’s specifically designed for the purpose. You can also use a bench or pretty much any other flat raised platform as long as it’s wide enough.
Start by standing in front of the platform with your feet shoulder-width apart. Sink without bending your back almost like you’re about to go into a squat position, then move your arms behind you.
Swing your arms forward for momentum and balance as you explode upward and forward. Land softly on the box with both feet. Your knees should be slightly bent at the beginning and the end of the jump. To get back into the starting position, reverse the movement.
2. Depth Jumps
To get things going a bit faster than you can with box jumps, try depth jumps. You can start from the same platform you used in the box jump, but this time you’ll be stepping down from it before you go into the rest of the exercise.
Depth jumps and all their variations train your muscles to store energy for an explosive movement shortly afterward. It’s ideal for people who want to improve their overall athletic performance.
How To Do Depth Jumps
Start from a standing position on the edge of a flat platform or box a short distance off the ground. Step off the platform with one foot leading the other. Land as softly as possible and immediately explode upward into a vertical leap.
Alternate the leading foot in the step-down with each rep. The traditional depth jump is just a step-down followed by a vertical jump, but you can also continue with forward leaps over small hurdles or lines made with masking tape.
Another variable of the depth jump has only one additional jump. Rather than doing several distance jumps in a row, the goal is to land after the step-down and then jump forward as far as possible. The vertical jump will build strength in your hamstrings and quads while the forward leap will get your glutes involved as well.
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3. Tuck Jumps
If you don’t have a box or other flat surface available or you’re trying to sneak some plyometric exercise into a break at work or a home workout routine, tuck jumps are the way to go.
This bodyweight exercise is ideal if you don’t have any other equipment available and it does a great job building lower-body strength. As a bonus, it’s also a tremendous calorie burner, which makes it great for a cutting phase or weight loss program.
How To Do Tuck Jumps
Begin in a standing position with your feet about hip-width apart. Put your arms out in front of you at shoulder-height with your elbows bent and palms facing the floor and then bend your knees to prepare for the jump.
Right before you get as low as you would for a squat, explode upward and raise your knees until they touch your hands. Let your legs fall without bending your back or moving the level of your hands. Land softly to complete one rep.
If you want to get the best possible workout for your lower body with this exercise, go into a full squat before the explosive movement.
4. Jumping Rope
There are many ways you can use a jump rope to build strength in your core and lower body. Thanks to the swinging motion you have to make with your arms, all the upper body muscles get a workout alongside the lower body ones you need to improve your jump height.
The basic jump rope move is a series of vertical jumps. You can also use lateral jumps to build jump strength in different directions, which is important if you want to improve your overall athletic ability.
How to Jump Rope
Perhaps you jumped enough rope in your school days to remember the vague motion, but nailing the form is vital when you’re jumping rope to meet a fitness goal like improving your jump strength.
Start in a standing position with the center of the jump rope on the ground behind your heels. Hold the handles the same distance from your midline on each side. Swing the rope over your head and jump just before it reaches your feet.
You want as little movement of the arms and shoulders as possible. The arc of the jump rope should come from your wrists instead. Don’t pull your feet back or tuck your knees as you jump. Most importantly, you want to swing the jump rope at a pace that has you bouncing, so to speak. Land softly and then get right back into the next jump to keep your heart rate up and challenge your muscles as much as possible.
If you want to try the lateral version, try moving your body as you swing the rope. Your feet can land slightly to the right and then to the left as you swing the rope. The side-to-side motion will build more functional strength as well as improve your jump height.
You can also buy weighted jump ropes to make this exercise even more challenging.
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This oddly-named exercise combines the lower-body workout of a squat with the arm and chest workout of a push-up. Since both areas are used for jumping, the burpee is well-suited for warm-ups, cool-downs, or bodyweight routines that aim to build explosiveness and power for jump height.
Burpees can be done in a few different ways to target different muscles. The traditional burpee is one of the fastest and a fantastic cardio workout.
How To Do Burpees
The starting position for a burpee is the lowest point of a standard squat position. Your feet need to be shoulder-width apart, your back straight but torso forward, and your knees bent so that your thighs are parallel with the floor.
Place your hands in front of you inside your feet. Lean forward so your body weight is on your hands and kick your feet out behind you into the push-up position. Keep your back straight and your butt down while you do one push-up.
Lift your feet and kick them forward so that they’re more or less back in the starting position, then prepare to rise. Get into a standing position while you raise your arms into the air and then explode up into a jump. Land softly and lower into a squat to get back into the squatting position.
That might sound like a ton of complicated movement, but once you get the form right it will get easier. Essentially, you’re just doing a squat and then a push-up and then a vertical jump.
Many people already feature deadlifts in their training program in one way or the other. Increasing your jump height is far from the only advantage to performing deadlifts. They’re a full-body compound exercise that activates virtually all the big muscle groups.
The only thing to remember about deadlifts is that doing them in tandem with the other exercises in this guide could lead to disaster if you do them in the wrong order. You don’t want to exhaust your muscles and then finish with deadlifts but you also don’t want to tire yourself out deadlifting before you can do the other exercises.
Start with a small number of light deadlifts. Better yet, try banded deadlifts and move up to find out how much you can take.
How Do Deadlifts
You’ll need a barbell for this exercise, although you can mimic the movement with dumbbells or a resistance band as well.
Stand over a barbell with your feet about halfway under the bar. Hinge at the hips and bend your knees so that you can lean over and grab the bar without bending your back. Your hands should be outside your legs. Pull up slightly so the bar locks and you feel resistance.
Lift the bar to your knees with a flat back and then straighten up so the barbell is in front of your thighs. Slowly lower the bar back to the ground by reversing the movement.
7. Bulgarian Split Squat
Almost all of the exercises in this guide have a single-leg variant that will allow you to put more strain on your muscles and build more jump strength. The Bulgarian split squat is a one-leg exercise from the beginning, which makes it great for targeting uneven muscle development or exhausting your muscles before you end your routine.
How To Do Bulgarian Split Squats
You’ll need a slightly raised platform for this exercise. If you’re at home, you can use a sofa or a chair. It only needs to be a couple of feet high.
Stand in front of your raised platform of choice and put one leg behind you so the foot is resting on the platform. This should put your forward leg in charge of supporting your full body weight.
Lower your butt as you would in a traditional squat until the thigh of your leading leg is parallel with the floor. Drive through the leading foot to rise back to the starting position. Make sure to do the same number of reps on each leg to maintain matching strength.
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Jump strength helps with dunking and spiking but there are many advantages outside of sports as well. For one thing, the muscles used to jump are also used for walking, running, lifting, and pivoting. The key to building jump strength is an even mixture of strength training and plyometric exercise.
Use the suggestions in this exercise guide to build maximum strength in your lower body and core. You’ll have a high vertical and better athletic performance in no time.
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