Jump squats can be a valuable movement but not everyone can or wants to do them. Discover some alternatives with similar benefits.
This exercise involves squatting down and then pushing yourself upward with enough force so that you make a jump at the top of the movement.
Some of the benefits of jump squats include training muscle power in your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves, engaging your cardiovascular system, burning calories, improving bone density, etc.
Whether you don’t enjoy doing jump squats, they hurt your knees, ankles and/or back, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these jump squat substitutes can offer you some or all of the same effects.
1. Box jumps
For this first exercise, you need an elevated platform that is strong and stable enough to jump on. An example of a suited object is a good plyo box.
Once you have one of these, take the following steps to do a box jump:
- Stand upright in front of the box with your feet at shoulder width.
- Bend into about a quarter squat while you swing your arms back.
- Swing your arms to the front again and at the same time jump forward on top of the box. When landing you want to have your knees more or less at the quarter squat again. If your hips are lower than that, it may be a sign the box is too high for your current jump level.
- Step down for the next repetition.
Make sure you pay attention to using the right technique to avoid any injuries. It is also smart to start with a low height and build up from there for this alternative.
Being too optimistic about your capabilities can be especially punishing when doing box jumps.
One of the things that makes jump squats hard on your body is landing with the momentum you build while falling in the air. By landing on a box right before you start falling, the exercise becomes a lot easier on your body.
At the same time, the part of the jump squat movement that offers the main health benefits is still present in box jumps.
In short, you work your muscles in an explosive way, burn calories, etc. without the uncomfortable landing. On the other hand, you do need some extra coordination and a good surface to jump on.
2. Weighted squats
As the name implies, this next jump squat alternative requires some type of weight. The walkthrough uses a barbell with a squat rack but you can also use a weighted vest, dumbbells, and even just a heavy backpack.
Once you have the right equipment, take the following steps to do a weighted squat:
- Find a squat rack and place the barbell at about chest height. Add the desired number of weight plates. If there are any safety bars adjust them to the right height.
- Stand under the barbell, push your shoulders up so that the barbell rests on your higher back, and hold it there with your hands.
- Unrack the barbell and take a few steps back so that you have room to squat. Stand up straight with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Slowly lower your hips by bending your knees. How far depends on different factors like knee health but at your lowest point you want your hips to be at or lower than your knee height. You will likely have to bend forward for balance but keep your back in a straight line throughout the movement.
- Push yourself up again into starting position in a controlled motion by stretching your legs.
- Rerack the barbell after your desired number of repetitions.
Besides using the jump squat muscles in an explosive way, you also work them to a larger extent due to the extra force you generate.
Weighted squats are an alternative that focuses on the second part, working your muscles harder. More specifically, your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves, and in the case of the back squat variation, your lower back muscles.
If you still want the more explosive aspect of jump squats and your technique is good, you can consider doing weighted squats at a faster pace with higher weights.
Something you do want to keep in mind is that weighted squats can still be challenging for your ankles, knees, and lower back. In a different way than jump squats but this is still something to keep in mind.
3. Broad jumps
For the next exercise, all you need is enough room. Once you have that, take the following steps to do a broad jump:
- Stand up straight with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Slowly lower your hips by bending your knees. How far depends on different factors like knee health but at your lowest point you ideally want your hips to be at or lower than your knee height. You will likely have to bend forward for balance but keep your back in a straight line throughout the movement.
- Start leaning forward, depending on your calf flexibility you may have to lift your heels off the ground. You can move your arms back if you want to use them in the broad jump.
- Push your body up and forward fast, mainly with the help of your front upper leg muscles. You have to generate enough upward power so that you jump. You can swing your arms forward to jump farther.
- How you want to land depends on what body parts you want to absorb the shock. You generally want to at least fold your legs slightly so your knees don’t absorb all the weight.
If you only find jump squats somewhat uncomfortable, broad jumps could be enough to be a good substitute. By jumping forward instead of straight upward the landing should be easier on your knees.
On the other hand, you do want to pay attention to landing in a way that feels comfortable on your ankles. You typically want to land on the front of your feet.
Additionally, broad jumps will focus just a bit more on your calf muscles than jump squats due to the bent-over position from which you jump.
4. Speed squats
Similar to jump squats, this next alternative only requires your body weight. Take the following steps to do a speed squat:
- Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width.
- Lower your hips at a fast speed by bending your knees. How far depends on different factors like knee health but at your lowest point you ideally want your hips to be at or lower than your knee height. You will likely have to bend forward for balance but keep your back in a straight line throughout the movement.
- Push yourself up again fast into starting position by stretching your legs.
You can basically describe speed squats as jump squats without the jump. To resemble this exercise even more, you can consider doing a calf raise at the top of each speed squat.
Something to keep in mind is that you do miss out on some of the benefits of jump squats. You engage your muscles in a slower way and with less range of motion under pressure.
In turn, this leads to less muscle growth potential.
You can counteract this to some extent by wearing a weighted vest or using other extra resistance like resistance bands, dumbbells, a heavy backpack, etc.
On the other hand, speed squats are a lot easier on your ankles, knees, and lower back than jump squats. The bodyweight version can also engage your cardiovascular system to a nice extent.
5. Bulgarian split squats
For Bulgarian split squats, you want a step, bench, or any other stable object at about knee height. Once you have that, take the following steps to do a Bulgarian split squat:
- Stand in front of the stable object with your back to it. Keep about a leg distance between you and the object.
- Move one leg back and put the foot of this side on the object. The top of your foot should lean on the surface of the object.
- Slowly lower your hips by bending the knee of your stretched leg until your hip is at about the height of your knee of the previously stretched leg. Use your arms for balance if needed.
- Push yourself up again into the position of step 2.
- Repeat the same number of repetitions on the leg of the other side to keep your muscle distribution balanced.
Two common issues people have with jump squats are that they are hard on their bodies and that the exercise is a bit loud to do at home for buildings like apartments.
Bulgarian split squats can help you with both of these things.
Because you put all of your weight on each leg separately Bulgarian split squats tend to be challenging. This is exactly what you want to grow and strengthen the same leg muscles used in jump squats.
You can even do Bulgarian split squats at a fast pace to work more on muscle power instead of muscle strength.
One downside of Bulgarian split squats is that you have to work each leg separately. This requires a bit more time for a full workout.
6. Jump lunges
Jump lunges are another jump squat alternative where you just need your body weight. Take the following steps to do the exercise:
- Stand up straight with your feet at about shoulder width.
- Take a big step forward so that you get into a position where both of your knees are at 90-degree angles. Your front foot should be flat on the ground and your back foot should only touch the ground with the ball of the foot (front).
- Push up your body fast, mainly with the help of your front upper leg muscles. You have to generate enough upward power so that you jump in the air.
- While in the air move your back leg forward and your front leg backward. The goal is to land in a way where you can take a similar position as in step 2 but with the other leg forward. It is possible to land in different ways. You generally want to at least fold your legs slightly so your knees don’t absorb all the weight.
- Land and take the same position as step 2 but with the other leg forward. Repeat the same movement with most of the upward movement coming from the other leg.
Weighted jump squats may not be an option for any reason. At the same time, the bodyweight version may not be challenging enough to work your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves to the desired extent.
For a situation like that, jump lunges can be a good option. By putting a lot of your body weight on one leg, the muscles in this leg have to work a lot harder.
Additionally, you will likely be able to jump less high compared to jump squats because of this. That can lead to a more comfortable experience for your ankles, knees, and back.
One potential downside is that it is hard to make this plyometric leg exercise exactly equally hard for each leg. This could create or worsen muscle imbalances.