Lower body power is a key determinant of overall athletic ability, squat performance, and lower body power output. Developing powerful legs, however, is not as simple as performing squats, lunges, and leg presses. Instead, athletes and coaches may need to integrate velocity-based movements, such as plyometrics and accommodating resistance to enhance speed strength, muscle elasticity, and power output.
In this article we will discuss:
- Who Should Do Explosive Squat Variations?
- 3 Explosive Squat Variations to Build Lower Body Power
- How to Perform Each Explosive Squat Variation Type
Who Should Do Explosive Squat Variations?
Increasing lower body power via squat variations and plyometrics can be a useful key for many athletes across most sports. Below is a breakdown of what types of athletes and lifters can benefit from performing explosive squat training.
Strength, Power, and Sport Athletes
Strength, power, and most sport athletes rely heavily on acceleration and muscle contraction velocities. Increased explosiveness can result in heavier lifts (when trained in conjunction with heavy lifts), increase power production, and athletic abilities (jumping, sprinting, etc).
Functional fitness athletes can also benefit from explosive squat training in that in can help increase overall athletic abilities in the fitness setting, improve strength, and enhance muscular development.
Additionally, lifters who may have naturally lower percentages of fast twitch muscle fibers can use plyometrics and explosive squat exercises to develop a great capacity for explosive movements that otherwise would go untapped if not trained.
Using explosive based squat variations in general fitness program can increase athletic abilities, muscle development, and enhance overall fitness, however should be done only after the lifter has mastered less ballistic styles of training.
3 Explosive Squat Variations to Build Lower Body Power
Below are three (3) squat variations to increase lower body power for strength athletes, weightlifters, and sport athletes. Coaches can integrate these movements with training programs, often earlier on in the training session to maximize neurological recruitment and energy.
1. Barbell Jump Squat
The jump squats, which can be done with a barbell, dumbbells, weighted vest, and bodyweight all increases explosiveness and leg power. This movement is key for sports and strength athletes alike, as it can increase the rate of force production, muscle activation (target fast-twitch fibers), and enhance power outputs.
The jump squat is a movement that should be done with less weight than a standard barbell squat. Typically, loads range from 20-30% of ones squat max, or less, with the emphasis on aggressively extending the ankles, knees, and hips to jump as vertical as possible. This movement can help increase squat speed strength, vertical jump, and even running mechanics/speeds.
Muscles Worked – Barbell Squat Jump
Below is a listing of the muscles targeted by barbell squat jump. Note, that the muscles of the hamstring primarily contract eccentrically to support the lifter as descend into the bottom of the squat.
How to Perform the
Below is an explanation of how to perform the barbell jump squats.
- Step 1: Place a loaded barbell on the upper back, similar to how you would with a high bar back squats. The load should be light, roughly 20-30% of your back squat max. If you are a beginner, you can perform bodyweight jump squats to increase coordination and control in the laning phases.
- Step 2: Squat down at a moderate speed, until you reach the desired depth. Squat jumps do not always need to be done to parallel. In fact, doing half squat jumps, quarter squat jumps, and full squat jumps all have their place in training. For example, quarter squat jumps are key movements for athletes who sprint, jump, etc as the joint angles mimic the degrees of motion used in sport.
- Step 3: Once you have reached the desired depth, abruptly and aggressively change directions and jump upwards, minimizing the time it takes you to change directions from the bottom of the squat to the jump. The longer you stay at the bottom of the movement prior to jumping, the less effective your body will be at producing power output and elasticity (two attributes of lower body power).
2. Accommodating Resistance Barbell Squat
Accommodating resistance can be done by placing bands or chains onto a barbell squat to increase the rate of force production, leg power, and increase strength throughout the entire range of motion. To increase power output, you need to be sure to keep the loads moderate to light, often 50-60% of back squat max. Too heavy of loads will increase overall force output and strength, however overall movement velocity is key for neurological and muscular development of power.
A general rule of thumb is that the lifter should be able to maximally exert force and be fast doing it, with the external loading being used to slightly impeded top end speeds to force adaptations.
Note: For maximal leg power, it is recommended that the barbell back squat is used (low bar or high bar) to minimize any upper body and/or core instability in the overhead/front squat positioning. The goal is lower body power output, therefore the lifter should be able to solely focus on driving with the legs rather than be limited to other factors.
Muscles Worked – Accommodating Resistance Barbell Squats
Below is a listing of the muscles targeted by performing barbell squats with bands/chains. Using a high bar squat variation places more emphasis on the quadriceps than the hamstrings, whereas a low bar squat variation shifts more emphasis to the hamstrings and glutes.
How to Perform the Accommodating Resistance Barbell Squat
Below is a brief explanation of how to perform accommodating resistance barbell back squats with either bands or chains.
- Step 1: Place resistance bands or chains onto the ends of a barbell. The weight on the barbell should be around 40-60% of the lifters max, with additional band/chain resistance.
- Step 2: Perform a squat as usual, going to the desired depth necessary for sport-specific adaptations (see above section regarding full, half, and quarter squats).
- Step 3: Explosively stand upwards out of the squat, working to lift the barbell as explosively as possible with the legs.
3. Plyometric Split Squat / Bulgarian Split Squat Jump
Plyometrics are a great way to increase power output, rate of force production in a no-load movement domain (other than bodyweight). By performing plyometrics with bodyweight, you can work to bridge the gap between the weight room at the field/sport/life. Plyometric split squat jumps are a variation of a standard bilateral jump that works to address unilateral leg power, coordination, and performance.
Beginners can start performing speed split squats, working their way up to plyometric split squat jumps in place. As they progress, they can perform alternating plyometric split squat jumps to increase complexity and transfer to movements like running and sprinting.
Bulgarian split squat jumps can also be done by placing the back leg on a bench, forcing the lifter to place a large majority of their weight on the lead leg. In doing so, you can increase the leg strength and power needed to perform the jump without having to add external load.
Muscles Worked – Plyometric Split Squat / Bulgarian Split Squat Jump
Below is a listing of the muscles targeted by plyometric split squat/Bulgarian split squat jumps.
How to Perform the Plyometric Split Squat Jump
Below is a brief explanation of how to perform the plyometric bodyweight split squat jump.
- Step 1: Assume a kneeling position, with the left foot in front of the right foot.
- Step 2: Aggressively stand up by pushing through the left (front) leg, maintain sure to jump at the top of the movement. Allow your right leg to also lift off the floor.
- Step 3: Descend back into the lunge position, and repeat for repetitions. Then, switch feet.
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