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Tip 223: Perform Heavy Back Squats to Jump Higher: Complex Training Revisited

Friday, November 25, 2011 10:15 AM
Perform heavy back squats and jump higher by preconditioning the body for maximal performance. Research shows that complex training that pairs strength and power exercises can increase athletic performance by maximizing power and increasing neural drive. Complex training takes advantage of the muscle activation that is derived from a heavy strength exercise and will allow you to generate rapid force during a subsequent plyometric movement.

A new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research  shows that heavy back squats prime the lower body for peak power in the countermovement jump. Researchers tested the effect of performing  back squats on jump height, sprint speed, and three-meter sled push time in elite rugby players. The tests for jump height, sprint speed, and sled push were all done on different days—on day one they performed squats followed by jumps; day two was squats followed by sprints; and so on. Researchers had participants perform a series of each power test at 15 seconds, 4, 8, 12, and 16 minutes after the squats to determine at what time point power was greatest.

Jump height was significantly enhanced by the set of back squats, and the time point at which maximal jumps occurred varied among participants. This indicates that in complex training, recovery period after the strength exercise is individualized for each athlete. There were no significant improvements in sprint speed or sled push time after the squats, although participants did perform slightly better these power tests than during baseline measurements, indicating that the strength exercise didn’t detract from performance.
It’s not surprising that the significant improvement from this complex pairing was with jump height since squats and jumps use the same movement patterns. Complex pairings of strength followed by power exercises are so effective for maximizing power and performance because they make the muscle protein fibers more sensitive, triggering an enhanced muscular response. High-threshold motor units are more effectively recruited resulting in greater power output. 

This study follows previous evidence from this same research group that looked at how different warm-up protocols affect performance. Specific warm-ups that mimic the movements and use the muscles to be trained appear to be the key to making maximal gains. A previous study showed that short cycle sprints for the upper and lower body will improve power in a maximal bench press and squat, respectively. Participants’ best performances occurred when pairing an upper body sprint warm-up with a bench press and a lower body sprint warm-up with a squat. But pairing an upper body sprint warm-up with squats did not improve performance and vice versa. For best results, when warming up for peak performance, use the principle of specificity—always activate the same muscles with the same motion that you intend to train.

Crewther, B., Kilduff, L., et al. The Acute Potentiating Effects of Back Squat on Athlete Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. November 2011. Published Ahead of Print. 

Crewther, B., Cook, C., Lowe, T., Weatherby, R., Gill, N. The Effects of Short-Cycle Sprints on Power, Strength, and Salivary Hormones in Elite Rugby Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2011. 25(1), 32-39.

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