If you’ve ever watched your favorite pro athlete clear a five-foot box in a single bound and wondered about your own capacity for air time, there’s good news: It’s a trained skill, and plyometrics (i.e., exercises that involve fast, explosive movements, such as jumping) can help you develop it. The jump squat is a great place to start.
Known interchangeably as a squat jump, it’s a simple, low-maintenance exercise that packs a serious power-building punch. All you need is a few feet of floor space, and weights are optional. You can start slow with lighter resistance and smaller jumps, and gradually transition to a faster pace, higher jumps, and heavier weights. But no matter how you do the jump squat, you’ll reap a variety of benefits.
Benefits of Jump Squats
Jumping in any form primarily works the glutes and quadriceps. But jump squats hammer those muscles harder than many other plyometric exercises because they require you to perform a full squat (thighs parallel to the floor), not just a dip of the knees as you might do when performing a forward or lateral hop. So if you’re interested in sculpting your legs and defining your rear, add the squat jump to your workout (you’ll only need about 30 seconds to feel the burn).
And weekend warriors take note: plyometric movements like the jump squat can help build explosive power, which may give you a leg up in your next friendly tennis match or pick-up basketball game.
How to Do the Dumbbell Jump Squat With Perfect Form
- Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell or sandbag at your chest with both hands. Alternatively, you can hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, palms facing in.
- Keeping your chest up, core engaged, and back flat, push your hips back and lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Push yourself back up explosively, jumping straight up.
- Land softly, lowering yourself immediately into your next rep.
How to Make Jump Squats Easier
If weighted jump squats prove problematic in any way, use lighter weights, or simply switch to the bodyweight squat jump. Another option: “Don’t jump,” says Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S., and Openfit’s senior manager of fitness and nutrition content, adding that this option is a particularly good one for people who are overweight or have joint issues. “Not jumping might seem like it defeats the purpose of the exercise, but studies show that performing a movement explosively while keeping your feet on the ground provides similar benefits to traditional plyometrics without increasing the stress on your joints.”
How to Make the Jump Squats Harder
If you’re looking for ways to increase the difficulty of the move, use heavier weights, jump higher, or add a pause at the bottom of the movement, suggests Thieme. That last option will eliminate the help you get from the stretch reflex, which is the rubber band-like tendency of a muscle to return to a shortened state when stretched.
However you perform the squat jump, try not to save it for the end of a workout. “The squat jump requires what it helps you build — explosive power — so you don’t want to save it for the end of a workout when your legs are tired,” Thieme says. “You want to perform it when your legs are fresh, during the first half of a training session.”
Muscles Targeted by the Jump Squat
You’re likely familiar with the biggest of the three major muscles comprising your butt: the gluteus maximus. It’s most responsible for the hip extension required in jumping. The other two — the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus — are more involved in hip rotation and abduction (outward movement).
On the front of your thighs are the four muscles comprising your quads. They all spring into action simultaneously to extend your knee during jumping squats.