The Benefits of Jump Training
Watch a group of kids and you will likely see bobbing heads – kids love to jump and there are good reasons for them to jump. A key aspect of human movement is learning to store energy and then reclaim it as part of a movement cycle. For example up to 40% of the energy required for movement during walking and running is created by storing energy in the leg muscles as the foot lands and then using it during the push-off phase. The technical name for this cycle is the “Stretch-Shortening Cycle” or SSC. The SSC takes advantage of the fact that muscles can act as springs: they store energy as they are lengthened then rebounding in the opposite direction as they get shorter.
Efficient movement takes advantage of the stretch-shortening cycle and muscles are designed to store and release energy in a rhythmic pattern of loading and unloading just like loading and unloading a spring. In addition, power for all athletic movements is generated by taking advantage of the SSC. A key aspect of getting the most from this cycle is rhythm and timing which are learned through repetition.
There are three distinct phases to jump training:
Jumps can be little – like jumping rope or big – like box jumps. Start with little jumps. A great place to start is jumping rhythmically in place with both feet with short fast jumps. You want to land on the ball of the foot and flex your knees when you land and let your heels just kiss the floor then jump up again and repeat. Start with really tiny jumps and try to let the elasticity of your calf and quad muscles do the work – done properly it should feel relatively easy. It will take several weeks to condition the muscles of the foot and calf to be able to do longer sets so take your time. In addition there are many benefits to performing this training without shoes so the muscles of your foot get conditioned and you have a better feel of the ground.
It is also important to insure your knees track over your toes and do not collapse inward so do short sets (30 seconds or less) of low, fast jumps on both feet and learn to feel the rhythm of the cycle of landing and push off.
Once you master this you can add more height to your jumps after you are warmed up. Stop each set if you start feeling tired or feel unstable, and recover completely between sets. Do NOT do jump sets to failure. Eventually you can progress into full squat jumps. However remember the key to capturing the benefit of the stretch-shortening cycle is a quick rebound after landing. So if you go too low in the loading phase the pause between landing and rebounding will be too long and you lose the benefit of the stretch-shortening cycle.
Over time you can even progress to single leg jumps or box jumps where you jump down off a height to the ground/floor then land and rebound up. Take these progressions SLOWLY – it is important to build the elastic strength of the muscles in your foot, lower leg, and thighs over time and stopping BEFORE you are exhausted will prevent injury. This is why kids naturally like to do short sets of jumps repeatedly – it feels good when done properly!
There are many benefits to jump training including:
Toning the lower body – jumping recruits all of the major muscles of the lower body while at the same time being the ideal stimulus to build bone strength.
Jumping burns lots of calories – once you can build up to being able to do 1 – 4 minutes of continuous jumping like jumping rope you can really rack up the calories!
Jumping pumps up the cardiovascular system – as above once you can jump safely and in good form for 1 – 3 minute sets you will not believe how high your heart rate gets!
Jumping also demands great balance and stimulates fast-twitch muscle fibers. Fast-twitch muscle is the type of muscle we lose quickest as we get older. Fast-twitch fibers are not just important for athletes – they are important for preventing falls because the ability to produce force quickly is important to be able to react quickly when your balance is unexpectedly challenged like stepping off a curb you do not see!
Jumping is the best way to build the strength of bones – bones need impact and force to stay strong. The key is starting with small jumps and gradually building the height of jumps and time spent jumping.
There are many ways to build jumping into a workout such as doing some skipping drills which can even be done on a treadmill safely once you get the hang of it.
It is also worth working with a trainer to help you develop proper jumping mechanics and the stability you need to land properly which are pre-requisites for safe and effective jump training.