Heavy Squats Improve Vertical Jump

Imagine your vertical jump is just about to be tested. Suddenly, you tell the test administrator, “Hold up, I gotta do some heavy squats first.” Sound ridiculous? A new study suggests it might not be.

Imagine your vertical jump is being tested. You’ve warmed up and testing is about to start. But suddenly, you tell the test administrator, “Hold up, I gotta do some heavy squats first.” Sound ridiculous? Not if you understand post activation potentiation (PAP). In fact, science is quickly building consensus that PAP is real and can measurably improve your performance in explosive movements like jumping, sprinting, and rowing.

Today’s study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined the scenario above. Fourteen college weightlifters were recruited to test their vertical jump performance. Each athlete was tested twice. In one protocol, the athlete would rest quietly and peruse Instagram for three minutes between maximal jump attempts. In the second protocol, each athlete was required to perform a single back squat before jump attempts.

The first squat used 20% of 1RM, then 40%, 60%, and 80% 1RM. The final jump was preceded by a static hold during which the athlete strained maximally on the bar for six seconds in a half squat. The two different protocols were performed on different days and in random order for each athlete, so normal improvement in the vertical jump shouldn’t be a factor in the results.

The results showed that heavy squats significantly improved vertical performance. In fact, the heavier the squat, the greater the improvement. After the 60% 1RM squat, the group averaged about a one-inch vertical jump improvement. The 80% 1RM squat yielded over 1.5 inches of improvement. And the maximal isometric hold in the half squat yielded almost a 2.5-inch improvement. That was an improvement of 10%. What would 10% extra explosiveness mean during your jumps and sprints?

This isn’t the first time PAP has been found to improve explosive performance. This study showed that squatting at 93% of 1RM had the greatest effect on vertical jump performance. This study demonstrated deadlifting at 85% 1RM just prior to sprinting resulted in faster times. And this study showed pulling on an immovable rower handle for five seconds improved rowing sprints.

PAP is building some real momentum in exercise research. Lifting a near maximal load just prior to an explosive movement like jumping or sprinting appears to enable the body to perform significantly better. Even straining maximally against an immovable object can have this effect, as evidenced by today’s study and a previous rowing study. Whether your performance is being tested in competition or you are just looking to improve performance during training, PAP should be one of the tools in your arsenal.


1. Hirayama, Kuniaki. Acute Effects of an Ascending Intensity Squat Protocol on Vertical Jump Performance. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (forthcoming). POST ACCEPTANCE, 11 October 2013. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000259.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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