HomebodybuildingThe Best Leg & Butt Exercise: Vertical Jumps

The Best Leg & Butt Exercise: Vertical Jumps

The Best Leg & Butt Exercise: Explosive Vertical Jumps [updated 2023]

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Watch the full video here:  Jump Squats: The Best Leg and Glute Exercise For Lower Body Results

Ask a group of trainers what’s the best leg and butt exercise and most will emphatically declare that squats (and not explosive vertical jumps) are the most efficacious leg and butt exercise. Squats have been touted as the king of lower body exercises for decades, yet I would demure and say that in my humble opinion, explosive vertical jumps are the best-bang-for-your-buck-leg exercise and ranks as one of the most effective exercises overall. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and, in this article, I am going to outline why I not only pick explosive vertical jumps as your best choice for a firmer behind and toned legs, but why I have also used it myself for decades along with hundreds of my clients to help them achieve their fitness goals. Not only are vertical jumps effective for building and sculpting impressive legs and tightening derrieres, but they are also one of the best exercises for weight loss, increasing endurance and cardiovascular capacity, improving athletic performance and even for reducing the incidence of osteoporosis. All without the need for equipment, weights or anything more than a few square feet and a high enough ceiling. Explosive vertical jumps fall into a category of exercises called plyometrics. Which are exercises that focus on explosiveness rather than slow and controlled movement. While bodybuilders and weight lifting enthusiasts who take the time to train their legs, (many unfortunately do not) may sport well developed lower bodies, one need only glance at a sprinter, gymnast or athlete whose regime involves intense plyometric-type movement to see a collection of men and women with incredibly well developed legs and butts. Now before we go any further, I would be remiss in not pointing out the fact that no single exercise is best for, or safe for everyone. Vertical jumps and plyometric exercises on the whole are not recommended for those with knee or joint issues, and I would advise against ever employing them without the supervision of a qualified professional and medical clearance. That said, those who can safely incorporate explosive vertical jumps into their training routines will see a significant increase in power generation, vertical jump height, in addition to cosmetic changes, such as development of the leg and butt muscles. If intensity is high enough and accompanied by a controlled energy intake, you can even expect to see a reduction in body fat from doing them on a regular basis. Thanks for reading and do share this article with anyone who you think might find it to be useful.

Why Vertical Jumps Are The Best Leg and Butt Exercise: Muscles Worked

Vertical Jump

Major muscles worked:

  • Hamstring muscle group and gluteus maximus (the back of the thighs and the butt)
  • Quadriceps femoris muscle group (the front of the thighs)
  • Calf muscles (the backs of the lower legs)
Leg and butt muscles worked from vertical jumps
Muscles worked worked during explosive vertical jump exercises

The leg muscles are divided into three major groups and like squats, the so called “king of lower body exercises”, vertical jumps strengthen and develop the quadricep muscles and, to an even greater extent, the glutes and hamstrings. The calf muscles of the lower leg are also recruited as they contract forcefully just before you leave the ground. Vertical jumps are an excellent starting point for developing all of these muscles, which in turn strengthens your ability to walk, run, jump, and kick in addition to developing the muscles of your legs and butt.

Explosive Vertical Jumps For The Legs & Butt: Step-by-step Instructions:

vertical jumps instruction 1

  1. Stand erect an arm’s length from a sturdy bench or chair that’s at least 32 to 36 inches high. With your arms about shoulder-width apart, grasp the top of the bench to stabilize yourself. (If you have a workout partner, have him or her stand at about arm’s length in front of you, holding your hands securely so you don’t lose your balance during the movement.)
  1. Plant your feet slightly further apart than shoulder-width with your big toes pointed out at about 30 to 45 degrees. Keeping your feet flat on the floor and your upper body erect, slowly lower yourself into a full squat position (or if limited by a joint issue, as low as you can without discomfort.) As you descend, your knees should come forward slightly and your butt should slide back, and then tuck itself in under you.

vertical jumps instruction 2

  1. At the bottom of the movement, just before your backside touches your heels, imagine that your legs are springs and jump straight up with as much force as you can. It’s key that you push off as hard as you can and at the top of the movement, point your toes toward the floor to engage your calf muscles maximally in the movement as well.

vertical jumps instruction 3

  1. Land on the balls of your feet, not your heels, and descend smoothly back into a full squat before blasting back up into the air as hard as you can.

Important Training tips:

As you descend from each jump, make sure not to land in a standing position with your knees straight; doing so will put unnecessary stress on your joints. Some people don’t have the flexibility to achieve the full squat. If you’re one of them, lower yourself to a position where your thighs are parallel with the floor. Jumping from a parallel position places more stress on the quads and less on the hamstrings and glutes, but all three muscle groups still get a good workout. (And don’t despair, read my article: Partial Reps vs Full Range Of Motion- What Works Best)

It’s a good idea to use an exercise matt or padded floor while doing the movement as it’s kinder to your knees.

Assume the starting position described in the Vertical Jump/Step-by-Step section above, with your hands at waist level, grasping a bench or chair or your workout partner’s hands for balance.

Lower yourself slowly into a full squat and explode upward, jumping as high as you can. As you come down, go straight back into a full squat. Do these 20 times. Return to a standing position and catch your breath for five seconds. Return to the full squat and do a set of 15 jumps, jumping as high as you can each time. For most beginners, 2 sets will be more than enough to stimulate leg muscles and get your metabolism revved up. If, on the other hand, you think you can eke out another set of 12, go for it. Either way, keep in mind that this process is more of a marathon than a sprint, so there’s no need to overdo it on the first day if you are just starting out.

Here are some other workout regiments you can use:

  • For beginners, I would recommend doing three sets of 10 vertical jumps, and to maximize the cardiovascular effect, and keep intensity high, rest no more than 30 seconds between sets.
  • For intermediates, I would recommend doing three sets of 20, 15 and 12 vertical jumps resting no more than 10 seconds between sets.
  • For advanced trainers, and to increase the intensity, I would recommend three sets of 20, 15 and 12 vertical jumps touching a point high above you with each jump, so that your first jump MUST be as high as your last. (For most it’s almost impossible to do, but it’s something to strive towards if your goal is to really get the most out of the exercise.)

Vertical Jumps: Why They Are So Effective

eg and butt muscle development from vertical jumps

To understand exactly why vertical jumps are so effective for developing the leg and butt area, we have to first explore the three different types of muscular contractions. Muscles contract concentrically, (when you lift a weight), isometrically, (when you hold a weight in one position without moving) and eccentrically, (when you lower a weight under control.) Now muscles get bigger and stronger in response to overload. That is a stress that it is unaccustomed to and intense enough to bring about the adaptation response of making the muscles bigger and stronger in order to deal with the stress in the future. Resistance training done at a high intensity, for example, creates microscopic tears in muscle fibers during the workout. Our body interprets these tears as a sign of extreme stress that it must find a way to acclimatize itself to, and so a signal is sent to not just repair the damaged tissue, but also to make the muscles bigger and stronger than they were previously. So, to get the most out of an exercise, you need to figure out a way to create as much microscopic trauma as possible, without getting injured. Now if you ever went to the gym and lifted some weight you would realize several truths about the different types of contractions:

  1. You can only lift a limited amount of weight. (Lifting creates a concentric contraction).
  2. You can hold slightly more weight than you can lift in one position for a few seconds. (Holding creates an isometric contraction.)
  3. You can lower far more weight under control than you can lift. (This lowering, or negative action is called an eccentric contraction).

In fact, a trained athlete can lower 40-50% more weight than they can lift, and so when it comes to selecting the most effective exercise, you want to think in terms of which ones allow for the most overload. And that occurs with eccentric contractions. In reality, most of the increases in strength and muscle development you get from resistance exercise comes not from lifting a weight, but from lowering it! In fact, eccentric contraction generates the greatest amount of electrical activity in your muscle fibers, far more than the other two types of muscle contractions. And it’s the lengthening of the muscle when it contracts eccentrically that causes the most microscopic tears to the muscle being worked. Which in turn leads to the most growth and or increases in strength and explosiveness.

So, let’s break down the mechanics of a properly executed vertical jump in context of a high intensity training protocol and show how it generates a powerful eccentric contraction. From a squat position when you jump up you will have to overcome the pull of gravity upon your body to become airborne (concentric contraction) and the heavier you are, the more force you will need to lift off the ground. Once in the air, gravity will be pulling you downwards, and the higher you jump, the faster your speed and force will be when you return to the ground, since your body will be accelerating as it drops back towards the ground. Thus, when you touchdown, you will be landing with significantly more force than when you took off. As you hit the floor, energy is absorbed first by the soles of your feet, and then by ankle, knee and hip joint flexion as you descend back into the squat position. As these joints undergo flexion, muscles and tendons lengthen and stretch as they develop tension during the eccentric contraction. When the tension becomes large enough, your movement downward will stop and then your muscles will immediately switch to a momentary isometric contraction, where all movement stops for an instant. And then to a strong concentric contraction to push you back up into the air with the next jump as your muscles, tendons and connective tissue release the energy they absorbed as they shorten from their elongated state. Now because tendons can store a tremendous amount of energy when forcefully stretched during the eccentric contraction that occurs when you land, the next concentric contraction that propels you back into the air will include much of the energy stored from the landing. Making your leg and calf muscles contract even more than they would have on the first jump.


Vertical Jumps: How They Increase Muscle Development of the Legs and Butt

Sprinters tend to have a higher proportion of fast twitch muscle fibers and thus greater muscle development than a long distance runner.

There are two main types of skeletal muscle fibers, fast twitch (type II) and slow twitch (type I). There are some sub groups, but to simplify, slow twitch muscle fibers are the ones that enable us to perform ongoing and steady state activities, like distance running, and they don’t tire very easily. Fast twitch muscle fibers, on the other hand, are the fibers that enable us to perform short and powerful movements, like sprinting or intense weight training, and they tire very quickly compared to slow twitch muscle fibers. Now, slow twitch muscle fibers don’t hypertrophy (get bigger) as much as fast twitch fibers do, and in keeping with general adaptation, the more you do a particular activity, the more your body tries to adapt to increase the number of slow twitch or fast twitch muscle fibers in order to be able to perform the activity as efficiently as possible. As a result, a marathon runner’s muscles look very different than that of a sprinter, as slow twitch muscles are smaller and fast twitch muscles are the ones that give that well-muscled look.

Most people have a fairly even distribution of fast twitch to slow twitch fibers, but the key to making your body develop more fast twitch fibers is to perform exercises that recruit them as much as possible. And these fibers are activated when the body is at or near maximal exertion and are the main fibers used to produce force in ballistic movements such as plyometric vertical jumps. The muscles stretched during the lowering phase of a vertical jump and the tension generated is one of the most powerful stimulus possible for fast twitch muscle development and also to increase the ratio of fast twitch to slow twitch muscle fibers. Add to it the intensity generated when performed for several repetitions approaching the point of momentary muscular failure and you have all the criteria for maximal fast twitch muscle fiber development. Which is why sprinters have amazing lower bodies, but powerlifters, who lift absurd amounts of weight don’t necessarily have the degree of overall leg and butt development that a sprinter might have. Note that doing too much aerobic work can increase the ratio of slow twitch to fast twitch muscle fibers and thus reduce your potential for maximal leg and butt development as slow twitch fibers also inhibit the contractile ability of fast twitch muscle fibers. To understand more read my article: Does Aerobic Exercise Reduce Muscle Strength & Development.


Vertical Jumps: How They Decrease The Risk of Osteoporosis

This series of eccentric heavy movements can lead to significant muscle development of the entire lower body, and the high compressive pressure of the movement create changes in fluid pressure in your bones, which in turn creates micro-fractures that trigger an adaption response for increasing bone strength and density. Making it not only an effective leg and butt exercise, but also an easily cacheable exercise to help reduce the risk of osteoporosis and build stronger bones. (See my article on How Weight Training Decreases Risk of Osteoporosis)

Vertical Jumps: How They Increase Athletic Performance

vertical jumps best leg and butt exercise for athletic performance enhancement

From an athletic performance perspective, while traditional exercises like squats can indeed help with performance by increasing strength, they all fall into the problem of not being completely applicable to a real world performance. For example, in doing a squat with weights the time during which you contract your leg muscles is no where near the fraction of a second that would be found in most sport or dance type movements. In fact, the muscle contraction during an explosive vertical jump takes place in 0.1-0.2 seconds, whereas jumping from a stationary position or doing a squat would take 0.6 to 0.8 seconds. This happens because of the strong pre-tension that occurs in muscles and connective tissues in the eccentric phase of an explosive vertical jump and it happens faster than your brain can willingly make your muscles contract. The more you do exercises like vertical jumps, the more explosive power you can generate as you will be training your muscles to generate the greatest force in the shortest amount of time. This thus develops elasticity in the muscles, which is critical for optimal athletic performance. To put it in perspective, if you had two balls, one that was made of a resilient and yielding material like rubber and another made of iron and you dropped them both from the same height onto a solid surface, the more resilient rubber ball will rebound much higher than the iron ball. As the more resilient the material, the more effectively it can use the energy accumulated during a drop to lift itself back up afterwards. An attribute crucial for dancers, runners, sprinters and all track and field athletes, basketball players, football players, soccer players, martial artists and any athletic endeavor that requires quick and explosive lower body movement.

It is also the perfect exercise for an untrained man or woman to help develop their lower body strength and leg and butt muscles as the strong eccentric contraction that occurs during an explosive vertical jump is simply not possible without months or years of conventional weight training. The fact that the huge forces generated in an explosive vertical jump are automatic mean that you can easily attain a high degree of muscle overload without having to spend years working up to a strength level that would approximate that strong of a contraction. For experienced trainers and athletes, it’s an even better deal as a trained man or woman would be able to jump higher and longer than an untrained individual and the higher jump would lead to an even greater eccentric contraction during the exercise. We need only look at the remarkable  leg and butt development of track and field athletes who do nothing but explosive plyometric movements to get a sense of how much of a benefit this exercise can be, and it requires no equipment nor do you need a gym. In fact, when I am on vacation, explosive vertical jumps are almost always a part of my workout routine, especially if I don’t have access to a gym.

Vertical Jumps- How They Help You Lose Weight
vertical jumps best exercise to help you lose weight
Not only can vertical jumps be one of the best exercises for your legs and butt, but it can also help you lose weight!

As much as it might sound like the evidence for explosive vertical jumps as the best exercise for leg and butt muscles is set in stone, there are even more benefits. Bear in mind that the cardiovascular system supports the muscular system, so a strong stimulation of the muscular system to the point where the body would need to adapt, will also result in increases in cardiovascular ability as well. (See my article Rethinking the Need for Cardio) Since explosive vertical jumps recruit the largest muscle groups in our body and create such a strong contraction, there is a significant effect on your central nervous system. Do a set of only 10 explosive vertical jumps as hard as you can and you will see that your heart rate will be quite elevated and if you aren’t in great shape, you might even be out of breath from one set. As such, by adapting your body to these forms of compound movements, it increases your cardiovascular health, and over the years, I have had everyone from gym enthusiast to triathletes and long distance runners report huge increases in their endurance after adding explosive plyometric movements to their routines.

And there is even more. Because the demand on your body is so great during an anaerobic movement like explosive vertical jumps, it can also lead to an increase in fat burning post workout if you train intensely enough. A physiological effect is excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC. You see, after an intense bout of several sets of intense explosive vertical jumps, your body will be far from its normal resting state (called homeostasis) as you will most certainly be huffing and puffing, and your legs will feel like jelly. Now, in order to get back to homeostasis, your body has to use more oxygen than normal, and will burn more calories than normal, which can thus lead to greater fat mobilization several hours after the workout, as it will take some time to get back to full homeostasis if the workout is intense enough. This increase in metabolism doesn’t result in a proportional slow down in metabolic rate over time to compensate as it does after doing cardiovascular exercise, as you body also has to use energy to rebuild damaged muscle fibers, which can take several days. Furthermore, the additional muscles it builds will require more calories daily to maintain. As such, this form of exercise can be an invaluable addition to your weight loss arsenal and due to the intense nature, you only need to do a workout of this intensity once or twice a week for very short period of time to benefit from it. Doing more doesn’t lead to more results as an intense plyometric workout places a tremendous amount of stress on your muscles and central nervous system, and since the recovery phase is when we improve, it makes sense to make sure you have adequate rest between workouts. Thanks as always for reading!

Related Articles:

Leg Day- Physical and Spiritual Look At High Intensity Training

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

References for Explosive Vertical Jumps- The Best Leg and Butt Exercise

Smerdu V., Karsch-Mizrachi I., Campione M., Leinwand L., Schiaffino S. Type IIx Myosin Heavy Chain Transcripts Are Expressed in Type IIb Fibers of Human Skeletal Muscle. Am. J. Physiol. 1994

Gehlert S., Weber S., Weidmann B., Gutsche K., Platen P., Graf C., Kappes-Horn K., Bloch W. Cycling Exercise-Induced Myofiber Transitions in Skeletal Muscle Depend on Basal Fiber Type Distribution. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. 2012

Yessis M. Explosive Plyometrics Ultimate Athlete Concepts (September 1, 2009)

Plyometric Training (Achieving Explosive Power in Sports) Fitness Systems (1986)

Arntz F., Mkaouer B., Markov A., Schoenfeld B. J., Moran J., Ramirez-Campillo R., Behrens M., Baumert P., Erskine R. M., Hauser L., Chaabene H. Effect of Plyometric Jump Training on Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy in Healthy Individuals: A Systematic Review With Multilevel Meta-Analysis. Frontiers in Physiology 2022

Malisoux L., Francaux M., Nielens H., Theisen D. Stretch-shortening Cycle Exercises: an Effective Training Paradigm to Enhance Power Output of Human Single Muscle Fibers. J. Appl. Physiology 2006

Grgic J, Schoenfeld BJ, Mikulic P. Effects of plyometric vs. resistance training on skeletal muscle hypertrophy: A review. J Sport Health Sci. 2021

Vetrovsky T, Steffl M, Stastny P, Tufano JJ. The Efficacy and Safety of Lower-Limb Plyometric Training in Older Adults: A Systematic Review. Sports Med. 2019

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Please note that all material is copyrighted and DMCA Protected and can be reprinted only with the expressed authorization of the author.

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Still training, hope you are too and as always, Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

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Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

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Absolutely but just because you can doesn't mean you should!

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Featured everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to CBS News, Kevin Richardson’s Naturally Intense High Intensity Training have helped hundreds lose weight and transform their bodies with his 10 Minute Workouts. One of the top natural bodybuilders of his time, Kevin is also the international fitness consultant for UNICEF and one of the top personal trainers in New York City.

Kevin Richardson
Kevin Richardsonhttps://www.naturallyintense.net
Featured everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to CBS News, celebrity Personal Trainer NYC and with over 2.6 million readers of his blog, Kevin Richardson is the creator of Naturally Intense High Intensity Training, one of the top lifetime drug free bodybuilders of his time, the first International Fitness & Nutrition Consultant for UNICEF, 2020 and 8 Time Winner of the Best of Manhattan Awards for Personal Training and a world recognized authority on high intensity training. Kevin has helped thousands, from celebrities to CEO's over the past 30 years achieve their fitness goals with his 10 minute high-intensity workouts done just three times a week in conjunction with his holistic nutrition approach. You can learn more about about his diet and training services at www.naturallyintense.net

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