You might be wondering whether all those lunges you’ve been doing are actually going to help you jump higher or not. The real answer is yes and no but I’ll explain exactly why.
Lunges will increase your lower body strength which will likely help you jump higher, however lunges are not a particularly effective vertical jump training exercise for several reasons.
This article will reveal exactly why lunges are suboptimal for increasing your vertical jump and will explain what makes other exercises superior.
Will Lunges Increase Your Vertical?
Undoubtedly, lunges will make you stronger. As you know, strength is one component of the vertical jump.
In order to increase your vertical jump, you need to maximize both strength and rate of force development.
The reason why lunges aren’t amazing as a vertical jump strength exercise is because the movement doesn’t effectively simulate the triple extension mechanics of jumping and it’s difficult to add enough load to develop maximum force output.
Let me explain those two reasons a little further.
Lunges Lack Triple Extension
Triple extension is simply the ankles, knees, and hips all working together to produce force as seen in the vertical jump. The third figure below is in full triple extension.
In an ideal world, we want our vertical jump strength training exercises to be as reflective of triple extension as possible.
In the lunge, you’re not really doing any ankle extension and the hip extension is relatively minimal.
Let’s compare two other strength exercises: the leg press, and the back squat. A study was conducted where one group of athletes were told to do back squats for 8 weeks and the other group did leg press for 8 weeks. The results were that the group which did back squats ended up increasing their vertical jump a lot more!1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5260589/
The reason for this is because of the way the back squat mimics triple extension. Granted there isn’t much ankle extension in the squatting movement, but there’s extreme knee and hip extension which is what we’re after.
In the leg press, there’s never really any ankle extension or hip extension because of how your hips are stuck in a fixed position.
While the lunge does include a small amount of hip extension, it’s not quite an effective dosage, in my opinion, which leads me to my next point.
Lunges Don’t Produce Enough Force
If you really want to do a good job of increasing strength, you need to be producing massive amounts of force. Think really heavy back squats or deadlifts. Those exercises can be loaded up with plenty of weight and they allow your body to get into a position where it can produce massive force output.
Lunges, largely due to their unilateral nature, can’t be loaded up in quite the same way. Don’t get me wrong, you can grab a couple of heavy dumbbells and do some brutal sets of lunges, but in terms of peak force output, it’s simply not going to support the kind of numbers we’re after.
So the reason lunges aren’t ideal for vertical jump training is that they don’t track triple extension effectively and don’t allow us to generate enough force to make optimal strength gains.
So What Does Help You Jump Higher?
As we’ve discussed, basically anything that does a better job of mimicking triple extension as well as allowing us to generate large amounts of force. Without getting into the realm of power or plyometric exercises, here are a few strength exercises that are superior to the lunge when it comes to vertical jump training.
- Back Squats – This exercise looks a lot like a vertical jump and we can easily add plenty of weight to force those strength gains.
- RFE Smith Machine Quarter Squats – Smith machine Bulgarian split quarter squats are actually somewhat similar to the lunge. It’s a unilateral movement also except that you’re using your front leg for support instead of the rear leg. The reason this exercise is better than the lunge is because the smith machine stabilizes the movement allowing us to pile on the weight. We can move a ton more weight doing the BSS than we can doing lunges. So even though neither movement mirrors triple extension, at least this exercise allows us to generate huge amounts of force.
- Hip Thrusts – This movement doesn’t involve any knee or ankle extension, however it’s the most effective way to generate maximum force output from our hip extensors which is why it’s still really valuable.
So whenever you’re planning on doing a lower body strength workout with the end goal of a bigger vertical jump, base your workouts around these three exercises instead of lunges!
Why It’s Still Fine To Do Lunges
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hating on lunges. They’re a great exercise and one of the toughest things you can do in the gym. They absolutely will make you stronger so by all means do them.
But if we’re simply optimizing for the vertical jump, lunges are not so high on my list.
I still do lunges regularly whenever I’m in a hypertrophy phase. When I’m concerned with developing size as opposed to strength, I’m the first to start doing lunges.
They’re amazing for building size because of the time under tension and it’s also just a good idea to include some unilateral movements to fix up any muscle imbalances.
But as soon as the focus shifts from building size to increasing strength, I recommend putting the lunges on the backburner.
Explosive Lunges: Split Jumps
When we venture into the realm of plyometrics, there is an exercise that’s effectively just an explosive lunge that I 100% recommend doing!
The goal with this exercise is to explode upwards and into the air at the top of each lunge, remembering to use an aggressive arm swing.
The reason this exercise is way better than the typical lunge is because we’re training for explosiveness now which means we’re actually able to get a lot of power output from our hip and knee extensors. It won’t make us much stronger, but it’ll increase our rate of force development for sure.
How Many Lunges Should I Do To Jump Higher?
By now you should understand why you’re better off picking a better strength exercise if your goal is to jump higher.
If you’re mixing in some lunges as part of some hypertrophy work, you can do any amount of lunges your heart pleases. I like to do them close til failure.
Remember to foam roll after doing lunges as this is one exercise that will leave you pretty sore in the morning!
Lunges are a great hypertrophy exercise you can use to put on size. They can also be used to develop strength and will help you to jump higher.
However, they’re simply not the most optimal strength exercise to be doing to increase your vertical jump. You’re better off selecting something that has higher jump specificity and can enable you to produce larger amounts of force, like back squats and hip thrusts.