There’s an ongoing debate about which training modality is best and which exercises are most beneficial. While this usually depends on your athletic goals and lifestyle needs, here at TD Athletes Edge we believe there are three core capabilities that you should master and keep practicing. In this article, we’ll explain why squatting, jumping, and sprinting are essential no matter what age or ability level you find yourself at.
Squatting is one of the most fundamentally human patterns around. It’s hardwired into us to squat. Don’t believe me? Then look at the number of cultures across the globe that squat while they eat, recreate, and, at the risk of sounding too coarse, poop. With the advent of chairs in Western society, the rise of sitting in front of screens at home and in the office, and other factors, many of us have lost the need to squat in everyday life. And if you look around you at the gym, you’ll see that many people are foregoing squats and other compound movements like lunges and deadlifts in favor of moves that look good in a gym mirror selfie.
Another reason that squatting gets a bad rap is that it has a reputation for hurting your knees. We’ll bust this particular myth fully in an upcoming post, but for now, let’s just say that even if you have an acute or chronic knee injury or struggle with limited range of motion in your lower body, I believe that 99 percent of us can still incorporate some kind of squat pattern into our programming.
Commenting on several studies, Andrew Hamilton from Sports Performance Bulletin noted that, “squatting is a safe and effective exercise to promote the recapture of muscular strength following ligamentous injury to the knee (provided deep squats are avoided by those with posterior cruciate problems), and that squatting actually often puts less strain on internal knee ligaments, compared with conventional and popular isometric and isokinetic knee-flexion and knee-extension exercises.”1 And the good news is that you won’t need to put five 45-pound plates on each side of a barbell to do so.
As with many other exercises, it’s helpful to start by mastering an unweighted squat before you try adding load or intensity. Doing an isometric hold as part of a wall squat can help re-familiarize yourself with the squatting pattern, before moving on to doing air squats with a greater range of motion. You could also use a TRX Suspension Trainer if balance is a concern. From there, I like goblet squats with a kettlebell or dumbbell, which add in the challenge of load while requiring you to keep a proud chest (upright torso) as you would in many sporting situations.
Not sure where to start with squatting? Here are a few pointers:
It’s been a few years since House of Pain urged everyone to “Jump Around” and unfortunately, many new clients who come to our gym have stopped jumping altogether. That’s a shame because much like squatting and sprinting, jumping is an essential movement pattern that equips you well for sports and life. Look at any kid on the playground and you’ll observe them jumping on a bench, hopping down from a swing, and bounding around in all different directions. Yet when was the last time you saw a group of adults leaping and running in this way?
Another reason that you should keep jumping throughout your lifespan is that doing so can help prevent a few different kinds of age-related decline. First, jumping loads your hips, ankles, and knees, which helps preserve and even increase bone density to make you less susceptible to conditions like osteoporosis. A study published in Bone confirmed that both jumping and resistance training improved whole-body bone density among participants and increased spinal bone health2.
Second, jumping increases the production of shock-absorbing and stability-providing collagen in your joints. In fact, one group of researchers discovered that collagen synthesis goes up two-fold if you jump for just six minutes over the course of a training session3.
Third, jumping helps preserve lean muscle mass against the ravages of sarcopenia, aka age-related fast-twitch muscle loss. You can learn more about these benefits in our recent blog post, which also focuses on how other kinds of resistance training help age-proof your body.
You don’t need hops like Vince Carter or be able to leap into a truck bed like rugby star Carlin Isles to qualify for jump training. And in fact, novice or intermediate athletes can see greater gains than such high-end leaping if they regularly get off the ground. One of the most misunderstood aspects of jumping is landing. Yes, getting up in the air is the goal, but as the old saying goes, “What goes up must come down.” And it’s not the takeoff that usually gives people problems on the injury front but when they don’t know how to return to the ground and absorb the forces that they’re about to be subjected to.
This is why I encourage you to really focus on your landing mechanics before you start stacking plyo boxes high or introduce advanced techniques like box jumping. The key here is to try and land as softly as you can with an engaged core and to avoid letting yourself wobble or collapse in any way. When I was the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Lakers, I had the privilege of working with elite jumpers. Including the late, great Kobe Bryant. And I can tell you that all of them knew how to keep their bodies organized when they landed.
Skipping rope, bounding, and hopping are also fine additions to any jumping/landing program. Any time you can get into multiple planes of motion in a single session, you’ll be doing yourself a favor from a durability standpoint, as sports and life both require us to jump and land in lots of different directions in addition to simply going up and down. In terms of where you should fit your jumping in, I recommend doing it early in two or three workouts a week. This is because jumping asks a lot of your nervous and musculoskeletal systems, and you’ll be at greater risk if you wait till the end of a workout to do it.
Here are a few suggestions for where to start with jumping/landing training:
Drop Squat (full)
Cont. Drop into Squat
Running to catch a bus before it departs. Chasing your kids around the backyard. Charging hard for third base in a co-ed softball game. All of these activities require you to accelerate and decelerate at a moment’s notice, and none of them give you much opportunity to warm up first. If this is the first time you’ve sprinted in years, you’re going to be at risk of straining a hamstring, tweaking your Achilles tendon, or worse. And if you regularly play one or more sports, you’re going to need some sprinting volume under your belt to handle the demands of practice and competition.
One of the best things about sprint training is that much like jumping, you don’t need to do as much of it as you might expect to make a positive impact. As little as five minutes twice a week can enhance your overall athleticism and prepare you to go fast at a moment’s notice in sports or life. Even world-class sprinters don’t do nearly as much volume as you’d think. Usain Bolt – the fastest man ever – once famously ran four 10-second 100-meter dashes in a single session and then called it a day. And legendary Canadian sprint coach Charlie Francis was adamant that if the quality or speed of his athletes dipped at all, they were done for that session.
Sprinting doesn’t just benefit power athletes but also those who prefer endurance pursuits. A study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research concluded that as few as six sprinting sessions helped trail runners lower their 3,000-meter PRs, elevate their maximal aerobic speed, and extend their time to exhaustion. The really promising takeaway? The participants reaped these benefits from a minimal dose of four to seven short intervals three times a week4.
One of the keys to sprinting is that you don’t do it when you’re fatigued, but rather when you’re feeling fresh. As it’s so demanding on their central nervous system (CNS), I like my athletes to sprint soon after they’re done warming up, much as they do with plyometrics (and for the same reasons). Then they can move on to strength and endurance work afterward. As few as four or five 20- to 30-minute sprints can kick you into high gear and deliver a speed and power boost.
Just make sure you perform plenty of dynamic warmup exercises first to take your body through full ranges of motion, get your blood pumping, and ready you for the rigors of sprinting. In addition to varying the distance, you can also switch up how long it takes you to decelerate. Much like with jumping, one of the most underrated aspects of running isn’t speeding up but slowing down. Your coach might also have you sprint, slow down, and then sprint again, as this mimics what you’d have to do in your sport.
Here are some variations to try:
Band Resisted Stationary March
Wall Single Exchange
Check back soon for our next post, in which we’ll take aim at the myth that squatting hurts your knees.
1. Andrew Hamilton, “Squat Research Review,” Sports Performance Bulletin, available online at https://www.sportsperformancebulletin.com/endurance-training/strength-conditioning-and-flexibility/squat-research-review/.
2. Pamela S. Hinton, Peggy Nigh and John Thyfault, “Effectiveness of Resistance Training or Jumping-Exercise to Increase Bone Mineral Density in Men with Low Bone Mass: A 12-Month Randomized, Clinical Trial,” Bone, October 2015, available online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4503233/.
3. Gregory Shaw et al, “Vitamin C–Enriched Gelatin Supplementation Before Intermittent Activity Augments Collagen Synthesis,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2017, available online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5183725/.
4. Jerome Koral et al, “Six Sessions of Sprint Interval Training Improves Running Performance in Trained Athletes,” The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, March 2018, available online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5839711/.
Tim DiFrancesco, PT, DPT spent 6 seasons as the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and is the founder of TD Athletes Edge. He is nationally renowned for his evidence-based and scientific approach to fitness, training, nutrition, and recovery for athletes and fitness enthusiasts.