When you think of hopping, skipping and jumping you may immediately conjure up images of joyful children scampering through a field of daisies. But more often these days you may see adults using these basic movement skills as part of a hardcore athletic training program.
Elite athletes have used basic bodyweight moves for decades, but we can thank the popular CrossFit programs for bringing these 'old school' drills to the masses. The beauty of jumping may just be in its simplicity. Anyone can do it, it's progressive, and you can add endless variety depending upon how high you jump, how fast you jump, what direction you jump, and whether you jump with one or both feet at a time.
Jumping is generally safe provided you pay attention to your body and your surroundings. If you haven't done any sort of plyometric drills or regularly do sports or activities that takes both feet off the ground at once (running counts, walking and the elliptical don't), take some precautions by starting very slowly and building up your jumping skill.
If you aren't accustomed to impact exercise, you run the risk of getting injured if you start too aggressively with jumps or rebounding. Beginners are advised to start of a soft, flat surface such as a grass playing field or a cushioned mat or floor and begin several weeks of progressive training to slowly build the skill necessary for more aggressive jumping drills. It's recommended to work with a coach or trainer if you are new to plyometric training.
Check out How to Safely Land a Jump to understand what can go wrong during a jump and how to do it right.
You can easily get started with plyometrics by beginning with another childhood favorite—the jump rope. Using a jump rope gives you a simple way to condition the muscles used for plyometrics as well as getting you comfortable with the coordination required for more powerful plyometric bounding. If you don't have a jump rope, you can easily fake it, and just jump up an inch or two as though you are jumping rope. This simple move gets you in shape for more intensity down the road.
Jump 30-60 seconds at a time, take a short break and repeat 3-5 times. Do this every day for a week and you'll be ready to move on to the next plyo move.
Squat jumps require a bit more conditioning and a little warm up to avoid injury. After jumping rope for about a minute, settle into a ready position with your feet about shoulder width, knees relaxed and bent, and elbows bent at about ninety degrees and hands out in front of your body. Get ready to do a full squat jump, by dropping your butt back, bending your knees and sinking down into a squat. In one quick motion, you will rebound your body straight up into the air and land with soft knees to absorb the impact.
The squat jump is great because you can modify the intensity by changing how high you try to jump and how quickly you repeat the jump and how many jumps you do in a row. You can go for a specific number (15 full jumps, for example) or you can go for time (jump for 30 seconds). You can also add lateral plyometric bounding to your routine. Mix it up as you get stronger, and always stop if you feel any unusual twinges, pains, or fatigue.
To really up the ante for plyometric skills training, you can add box jumps to your routine. Start with a fairly short box and build up slowly over time. You can step, or jump down depending upon what is safest for you. You may never reach the insane 64" box jump of this CrossFit athlete, but you may achieve a new personal best.
Lateral Hopping Drills
The next level of plyometric exercise involves the hop. By jumping on one foot you are increasing the effort, as well as increasing the impact, so be sure to do this on a safe surface. Avoid concrete, and avoid uneven terrain. You want to land softly, and securely when you do this. You can modify the intensity by varying the height of the jump, and by varying the direction. To increase agility, for example, you can hop forward and back and side to side. It's no as simple as it may sound. If you are practicing hopping drills, be sure to work both legs.