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  • Writer's pictureJason St Clair Newman

5 Exercises (for Developing Explosive Legs)

Updated: Jan 29

We have all seen it, box jumps, athletes jumping on to them off of them, over hurdles and all the variations in between.

Jumping is a great way of developing explosive legs with or without added resistance.

They help prepare your legs for explosive activities and can also aid in

improving performance.

In this article I will look at 5 different exercises I use that are bodyweight only - the last two are pretty advanced and may not even be for you - but I wanted to put them in so you understand that these intense variations you may see advanced/elite athletes doing, are not something you just jump in to - yes pun intended.

  1. The Box Jump

  2. Hurdle Jump

  3. Drop Jump and rebound

  4. Depth Drop*

  5. Depth Jump**

Don't try unless....

Now before we start I want you to understand everyone is different and these progressions may be an option to be considered for someone who is healthy, in good physical shape, physically strong and properly prepared with no previous injury or joint problems.

Even past injuries can rear their head in these sorts of exercises due to the intensities and technique required - make sure you are cleared to do these.

You have been warned and I don't take any responsibility if you

get hurt trying these, everyone has a choice and in the end it's your decision

When in doubt consult with a qualified coach who has experience in these areas.

There are also some pretty intense options here so check the ego at the door.

If you are a 120kg rugby prop maybe dropping from a 75cm box to do a depth jump isn't the best idea (I'm not saying someone of that size doesn't have that ability, but use your head - no one won a championship sitting on the sideline with two shattered ankles before the season even started).

Now we have that out of the way...


A key set of rules I have used after learning them from one of the best coaches in Strength & Conditioning Jimmy Radcliffe is to use a progression of movement repetition within

the jump itself.

Often we just want to get ahead and start doing multiple jumps, they look cool right!

HOWEVER I have found his way of progressing each jump invaluable not only for developing correct execution but also preparing the body for more complex jumping work in the future.

  1. Single response - This is the first of the progressions it is 1 single rep of the exercise, stick the landing and hold to assess posture and balance , reset (stand back up and then back to starting position) and repeat.

  2. Multiple response with a pause - the second progression in the sequence, this may be 2-3 jumps in a row with pause after each repetition to look at your technique and then repeat your next jump without resetting.

  3. Multiple response - finally the hardest progression where multiple movements are performed in succession - (exercise dependent).

Now if we spent for example 3-4 weeks on each progression for one jump we now have 9-12 weeks of training before you even change the jump type... food for thought right?

If you want to learn more about this, Jimmy's book High-Powered Plyometrics is a great reference for different types of jumping, understanding the physiological side of it and preparing correctly for them.

He truly is one of the best!


All these jumps are with two legs.

Single leg options add a level of complexity and impact out of scope for this article.

Preparing for jumps

Learning how to Rope skip well is an excellent exercise for preparing ankles and feet before setting out on these jumps, I like to do it barefoot as it gets the foot out of a shoe and working the way it is supposed to - it also offers a certain amount of motivation to make sure you jump as well ;)

Being able to skip comfortably for 60secs is a good reference point.

I'm also a big fan of Pogos for this reason and recommend these as part of an explosive programme

2-3 sets of 8-12 reps is a good option.

Think of it like this you can't drive fast on flat tyres, just like you can't run fast on weak, sloppy ankles.

You also need to be strong, and should be in a consistent programme of some form of resistance training, whether thats bodyweight or added weight.

Knowing your Vertical Jump height is also good if you want to track progress - it's fairly easy to do click here to find out it also gives you a reference for a couple of the advanced options.

The Jumps

1. The Box jump

The good old Box jump.

We have seen these plastered all over social media guys and girls videoing themselves jumping on to a high box.

I like this as a first progression for developing explosive legs with a jump as it takes out some of the impact forces of landing.

By having you land on the box there is less acceleration back in to the ground because of the landing height, this helps reduce the impact of the landing.

This is why its a great starting place for Explosive Leg Training (remember you have to earn the right to get to the next level) and possibly all that most will need as part of well balanced programme.

Now remember this isn't Cross-fit, we are going for quality explosive reps so an example may be 2-3 sets of 3-6 reps

60sec + rests

I want to see maximal effort on each rep, with no drop off.

Rest should be reasonably high at least around 60sec between sets + (The higher the level athlete you are the more rest you will require as you will be able to recruit more muscle maximally)

2. Hurdle jump

Not seen as much - guess it isn't as sexy for the social media crew.

I like this as an option because now we are asking the body to decelerate itself when the feet hits the ground and have increased the impact forces.

It requires good body control and the ability to quickly explode up then land well (and in the case of multiple barriers) reaccelerate again for the next jump.

In the video below you can see many different versions - for the sake of ease the one step and jump (1:02sec mark) and the repetitive rebound (:58sec mark) would be my go to's for recreational athletes.

Remember the higher the hurdle the harder the exercise so start low and progress as needed. Posture needs to be strong and upright with your head up and eyes forward.

Landing on front third of the foot without excessive knee bending.

2-3 Sets x 4-6 reps

Rests around 60sec+ between sets

3. Drop jump and rebound

So now things are getting a lot more intense as we are having to decelerate our bodyweight with higher impacts so the demands on posture/technique and impact forces are increasing, and then re-accelerate it back up quickly which requires a high level of technique and coordination.

The box height used is lower than your measured vertical jump (which is the highest jump you can achieve in a standing jump for height) a tip I got from coach Boo Schexnayder this means your body isn't being exposed to forces yet greater than it would if you simply jumped as high as you could and landed.

This exercise is essentially the same as the Depth jump but from a lower height.

A good starting point would be 6-12 inches - height of the box should be a major consideration and also a check if this type of jump is right for you. Big heavy rugby forwards will go off a lower box than a backline player for example simply because of the extra body weight. There will always be outliers on both ends but this is a safety issue that needs

to be considered.

To be honest this is where I'd probably suggest most people stop/stay as you will get good benefits out of this alongside a well structured programme for your sport.

2-3 sets x 2-4 reps

Rests 90sec+


4. Depth Drop

Now not all recreational skiers, skateboarders and other athletes are created equal and some like to do big jumps with big landings, if this is you this type of exercise can be good for conditioning the body to absorb impact.

So now we are taking it up to the second highest level for these exercises.

After learning how to absorb the force better from a height below your vertical jump and rebounding we are going to take the rebound back out before we add it in for the

actual Depth Jump.

With the depth drop we are preparing the body to absorb higher forces by dropping from a box that is above your vertical jump height.

Obviously this requires better technique, coordination and higher levels of strength.

It may be that you don't ever actually go here and the drop jump and rebound is as far as you go. Everyone is different - just because it's written here doesn't mean it's for you, again that's where a good coach comes in.

Again posture is critical take note in the video and also take note of what happens at the knees and the depth of the landing position.

Centre of the knee should be inline with the centre of the ankle joint - if knees are collapsing in it's a sign you aren't prepared for this and need to get stronger

2-3 sets x 3-4 reps

Rest 2min +

not only do I want to help you but I also want to educate you

5. Depth Jump

One of the highest impact jumps you can do.

Now the height of the box you drop from is higher than your measured vertical jump.

This obviously means we are asking our body to absorb an impact that is greater than we would if we are simply landing after a standing vertical jump or dropping from a box below our vertical height.

Demands again on the body are increased - the higher the box the higher the demands (for people at the recreational level I would suggest the height doesn't start to get excessive - remember train like a pro when you are one not now.

One of the toughest aspects of this jump is spending too much time on the ground instead of rapidly accelerating the body back up with less time on the ground.

This is really about being able to produce high levels of RFD (Rate of Force Development) - quite simply how quickly you can develop force.

One thing with the depth jump due to the high impacts there have been recommendations that you should be able to to do a 2 x bodyweight barbell squat before trying them.

I stand in the if you have progressed correctly and consistently over a substantial amount of time throughout your training (which includes regular resistance training) and can display correct technique in the proceeding jumps then I ma,

I stress MAY consider these with very low volumes and my highest level injury free athletes.

If you haven't been resistance training, are not physically strong and have not progressed consistently over a good amount of time with other jumping methods - don't even bother, they are definitely not an option for you.

It may take a year or even years of progressing through other jumps before these are even an option for you, everything is relative and this is where a good coach comes in, they will ensure you progress and have earned the right to advance to a level like this.

I wanted to put these in though because I'm sure somewhere there will be some person doing these on social media and showing off, what people don't realise is the potential for injury on these is very high without sufficient strength and progression over time.

Just because I have it written here doesn't mean it's right for you or a safe option.

2-3 sets x 2-4 reps

Rests 3min+

Thanks to Catalyst Athletics for posting these videos up

Parting thoughts

Jump training is a great way of getting explosive, it helps with change of direction and/or acceleration in sports, sports that require you to jump high, and is also a great way of preparing the body for sports that require landings and negotiating the ground well.

Importantly Jump training is just one element within an overall programme that would be designed around building explosiveness, it's not the only way nor are these exercises the only ones I use from the many different options out there.

It's important that this type of training is performed at the start of your programme when you are freshest as it's about quality, and you should also make sure you are feeling good, if you are fatigued, tired with heavy legs or feeling flat, I'd suggest you go do something else as this is where the risk of injury goes up.

Now you may be asking why I have included the two really intense and advanced exercises here, after all you are a recreational or aspiring athlete.

and that is exactly why I have...

not only do I want to help you but I also want to educate you, it's important to know that not all exercises are created equal and not all exercises are for everyone, Social media has a few good things but it can also be a huge source of misinformation. and risk.

By including the last two exercises I wanted to make sure you understand the rule

"You gotta earn the right" is loud and clear.

Just because someone else did it... doesn't mean it's right for you.

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