vertical jump training

The Squat and Deadlift: Jump Trainings Big Two

Written by Jack Woodrup for

As far as building strength for jump training goes, squats and deadlifts are your two big gun exercises. Purely doing some heavy training with these two lifts is often enough to add serious inches to your jump.

In this article we will discuss the pros and cons of incorporating these lifts into your program, as well as have a look at some of the different variations you can do and how each changes the focus of the lift.

Deadlifts: The Big Daddy Exercises

Deadlifts are starting to become more and more recognised as at least an equal, if not a superior exercise to squats when it comes to improving your strength levels and jumping ability.

Also, learning the proper technique for deadlifting is a fairly straight forward process.

1. You simply squat down and grab the bar at approximately shoulder width apart. You can use either an over hand grip or a mixed grip. The benefits of a mixed grip are that it makes it difficult for the bar to roll off your hands.

2. You lift the bar off the ground by pulling through your hips and extending your knees. At the top off the lift you pull your shoulders back.

3. Lower and repeat.

Some safety points are that you should be always aiming to lift the bar primarily using your hips NOT your back. It is the hips, glutes etc that you are mostly trying to train so focus on those muscles. You should also try to keep the bar relatively close to the body throughout the lift to take advantage of the leverage effect.

Another obvious safety tip is to warm up thoroughly and gradually build up your weights. This will minimize your chances of injury and allow you to train more efficiently. For more safety information read our injury prevention article.

Something else to seriously consider is the use of lifting straps. Some coaches will tell you not to use them but it is our opinion that if you feel like using them then by all means go right ahead.

There are a number of reasons for this but the one that is most important that by using lifting straps you are not letting your grip strength limit your ability to train the larger target muscles. Remember, if you want to learn how to jump higher it is more important to develop powerful hips, quads, glutes etc, than it is to develop a great grip. The large jumping muscles can bear a lot more weight than your forearms and as such you shouldn't limit the work they do because you can't hold on to the heavy weights properly.

There are many makes and model of lifting strap but your regular old wrap around the bar type are our favorites. They cost all of about $10 and quite often they will help you get so much more out of your deadlift training.

Variations of the Deadlift

The deadlift can be performed in a variety ways with the most common being the good old fashioned two legged version.

The trap bar version is one of our favorites for the reasons mentioned aboveof simpilcity and effectiveness. For a quick demonstration check out the video:

Video 1: Trap Bar Deadlifts

Other variations include the straight or stiff legged varieties such as the Romanian deadlift, the sumo grip, the snatch grip, and then the option of adding boxes etc for extra difficulty. The straight legged versions involve minimal knee bend and tend to isolate the hamstrings more. As such, they are not as effective an overall exercise compared to the regular version which uses a greater range of muscles.

The Sumo is very similar to the regular deadlift with the notable exception that you grip the bar with your hands placed between your knees, not outside them. The advantage of this variation in relation to vertical jump training, and the reason we recommend it so highly, is that it places greater emphasis on your legs rather than your lower back.

Squats: Up, Up, and Away.

Squats are an exercise that despite a proven track record of significantly developing an athletes capabilities, is still shunned by many trainers today.

The reasons people give for not doing including them in their training are usually along the lines of they hurt the knees, it hurts the neck, or they hurt the back. For the most part these are actually just poor excuses for people not wanting to work hard.

There are of course some exceptions where people have genuine bio-mechanical limitations, however it is our experience that these are more often than not purely in the mind of the athlete.

That said, a full squat does require a higher degree of technique and flexibility which is why we rate it behind deadlifts as the best exercise for jumping. Often you will find an athlete doesn't have the hip flexibility to descend fully and safely into a the bottom of the lift.

If you don't have that flexibility yet, it is well worth your time to develop it. Like deadlifts, a correctly performed squat really allows you to target the key jumping muscles with a lot of weight. The ability to movea lot of weight really is integral to building up your strength levels.

To perform a squat:

1. Load up a bar on a squat rack or similar.

2. Position the bar on your back somewhere comfortably around the rear of the shoulders or just slightly lower.

3. Lift the bar off the rack, and descend until the knees are fully bent.

4. Ascend again by extending the knees by pushing up from the hips, quads and glutes.

5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Video 2: Back Squat using Manta Ray

Like a deadlift, a squat should be a fairly straight forward exercise to complete. There are however a number of extra safety tips for this exercise that an athlete should consider.

Firstly it is important to try and keep your back as upright as possible. If you lean too far forward you can injure your back. Secondly, try positioning your knees slightly further apart as this will take a lot of pressure off the knee joint itself. As is the case for all weights exercises, also warm up fully and don't lift too heavy right off the bat.

An an absolutely essential item for this lift is the Manta Ray. This simple, but utterly brilliant device which you can see us using in the video, helps you place the bar across your shoulders in a comfortable position. Its design also distributes the weight more evenly making the lift infinitely more comfortable. This is particularly handy for any of the highly beneficial ballistic versions of this lift.

You can read our complete review of this product below. Be warned though, it comes with our highest recommendation.

Manta Ray Squat support in action

Manta Ray Review

Squat Variations

There are many variations of the squat and nearly all of them in one way or another can seriously help your vertical jump. Some of our favorites are the jump, box, and leveraged versions.

Jump squats are the most jump specific of all the different types and therefore arguably one of the best to do. Your form should be the same as a regular lift but instead of simply standing back up, you explosively jump back up so that you actually leave the ground.

You should be only using a fraction of your 1 rep maximum weight for this exercise due to the requirement of being able to movein an explosive manner, and also due to the impact on your body when landing withextra weight.

Video 3: Weighted Jump Squats

In the video we use a sandbag as it is easier on your neck when jumping. Other neck friendly versions include the use of dumbells or a barbell with a Manta Ray attached. We also highly recomend wearing a Lifeline portable power jumper. This not only helps the joints as it adds resistance but not weight, but it is terrific for helping optimize the eccentric portion of the jump. This device is also excellent for just about all forms of squatting for this very reason.

Box squats are were made the famous Westside Barbell Club as their preferred method of squatting. The reason being is that it isolates the eccentric and concentric (down and up respectively) motions of the lift. This forces you to really work hard to get out of the hole at the bottom of the rep. Due to this they really work the hamstrings and glute muscles more than traditional squats.

To perform them you point your feet out to the sides, then sit down on the box, relax and pause for a very brief moment to get rid of any kinetic momentum, then power back up again making sure to keep your head up.

Video 4: Box Squats with Bands

Some benefits of box squats over the regular version is that by setting the box height you always know you are going deep, it reduces pressure on the patella tendons, and because you come to a complete stop on the box you are forced to use a lot of energy to get up and going again (great for developing explosive strength and RFD).

Single versus Double Leg Varieties

One of our friends here at the does purely single leg exercises and can comfortably dunk a 10 foot basketball ring. He is only 5'10. Does this make single leg versions superior to double leg versions? No. The benefits of single leg versus double leg options boils down to the needs of the athlete and the purpose of the exercise.

For every athlete like the one we know doing nothing but single leg movements, there is someone else who does just double leg movements and has equally impressive jumping results. If your sport requires a lot of running and jumping then by all means you should include single leg exercises into your program.

It is also important to realize that you can take specificity too far. Whilst you may do a lot of running jumps, it might still be the case that using double legged varieties of the lifts is superior for building your strength and therefore your jump.

Single leg varieties of exercises are more difficult to do. They require greater balance and co-ordination and in that regard they are fantastic for the development of those athletic attributes.

Video 5: Safety Bar Split Squats

The flip side to single leg exercises is that due to the loss of leverage and the increased balance requirements, it is harder to lift a proportionally similar level of poundage. For instance an athlete who can back squat 350 pounds would find it extremely difficult to perform a single leg version with 175 pounds.

The other key difference of single leg versions of squats and deadlifts is that it is much more difficult to go very deep. This can limit your range of movement in the hips and knees, and as such your muscular recruitment maybe comparatively less.

So which is best? The short answer is both. As we have just discussed, the single and double leg variations of the these exercises differ greatly and each places different emphasis on different muscles. Depending on your sports movement requirements, your style of jumping, and your individual strength and weaknesses, your program will have different weightings of singe and double leg exercises.

It is our belief that double leg versions are more effective for improving your limit strength, but single leg offer more athletic carry over. Either way, you should not limit yourself too much with your range of exercises you use.

For more information about the training benefits of the less frequently touted single leg exercises so much we have devoted a whole article to discussing them. Why You Should Do Single Leg Exercises!


An athlete who is trying to improvetheir vertical jump but lacks leg strength will find no better exercises with the potential to induce gains like squats and deadlifts. Many people don't use these exercises because they are hard work and they think they are dangerous. Any exercise done incorrectly is dangerous, but few exercises offer the upside that these two do. As such it is well worth your while to learn to perform these exercises properly.

Squats and deadlifts are not only the best way to hammer those big jumping muscles, but due to the full body nature of the movements, they also provide a great deal of total body benefits. Going heavy on these two lifts not only gets you strong in the target areas, but will make you stronger all over. As jumping is a whole body movement, enhanced strength all over means many more inches on your vertical.

For more videos of squat and deadlift variations go to the exercise library and click on the links under the Weighted Exercise section.

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