One of the most popular questions I get asked is “What can I do to improve my gymnastics at home?”. I’ve answered that question in several different ways with home workout plans, skills you can practice at home with your home gymnastics equipment, 17 videos for practicing gymnastics at home and 10 exercises you can do at home to improve your gymnastics skills, but now I’ll answer it again with this article!
One thing you can definitely work on at home to improve your gymnastics is your jumps. You may be thinking, who cares about jumps? But jumps are required in every floor and beam routine all the way up to the highest levels of gymnastics.
Want a printable 10 Minute Jump Workout?
In gymnastics when you think about improving your jumps, there are two main areas you can improve:
- Your Body Position: The correct body position depends on the jump.
- The Height of Your Jump: The higher you can jump (while still being controlled), the better.
We are going to discuss how you can improve both.
Remember that judges can take deductions for the following:
- incorrect body posture or alignment during your jump
- insufficient height of your jump
- insufficient exactness of your body position during your jump
- insufficient dynamics of your routine overall (which would include the height of your jumps).
So working on your jumps at home is a great way to reduce your deductions and increase the score of your floor and beam routines!
Improve your Body Position
Taking steps to improve your body position is the easier way to improve your jumps. Remember that judges are looking at your body position from the moment your feet come off the floor, until they land again. So you want to maintain a tight body position throughout the jump.
You can ask your coach where they would like your arms placed in each of the jump positions (of course in compulsory routines the correct arm position is already decided by the text.) In a tuck jump you usually see a gymnasts arms above her head, and in a pike jump you see them straight out in front. However, in a split jump or straddle jump you have choices. In a split jump you can have your arms out to the side, or in opposition. In a straddle jump you can have your arms out to the side or in front.
During your jumps, regardless of where you put your arms, you want them to be straight and not to move.
Straight: In straight jumps you want a completely tight, straight body position. You want your bottom squeezed, your hips tucked under, your abs tight, your legs straight and your feet pointed.
Split: In a split jump you not only want your legs straight and pointed, but you want the amount they split to be even on both sides. Depending on what gymnastics level you compete, will depend on the degree of separation required.
Straddle: In a straddle jump you want your legs straight and feet pointed with your core squeezed. You also want your legs to be splitting evenly on both sides. The degree of split required will depend on your level.
Tuck: In a tuck jump you want your legs to bend up towards your chest. You want your hips tucked under and your feet pointed.
Wolf: In a wolf jump you want one leg straight and one leg bent at the knee. Your legs should be touching and both feet pointed. Your bent leg should be tucked under near your butt.
But in addition to mastering the correct shape with a tight body position during your jump, judges are looking at how high you come off the ground.
Unfortunately, learning to jump higher is a little more complex than fixing your body position.
Improve your Strength
You need to have stronger leg muscles, but also need to develop the way force is applied to your hip and knee joints, according to this study of the predictors of jump height in adolescent girls.
To do this, we can look at both plyometrics along with hip and knee pushing and pulling exercises.
Plyometrics is also known as jump training, and it has the goal of increasing the athlete’s power.
In a study of elite gymnasts on the “effectiveness of a combined strength and plyometric training program jumping performance”,
“We conclude that a combination of heavy resistance training with high impact plyometric jumps is effective in prepubertal gymnasts, despite their initial high level of physical conditioning.”
In a separate study on the effect of Plyometric Training on functional power in female gymnasts ages (10-15), the addition of plyometric training improved their power generating capacity.
So if ploymetrics (plyo) is a useful strategy for improving a gymnasts jumps, what plyo exercises should you be doing?
Let’s take a look at some exercises in some videos…
The first video is a plyo workout by famed US gymnastics coach Mary Lee Tracy.
Fast Feet Up & Downs: This is the first exercise in the video. You want to move your feet fast and keep each foot in contact with the ground for as little time as possible. You want to be pushing through your feet and trying to point your feet as they come off the ground. Practice and master these on the ground before trying to go up on mats like in the video.
Single Leg Up & Downs: This is the same as the fast feet up & downs only you do it on one leg. After you do one leg do the other side.
Punching: This is where you push off the ground and try to point your feet (extend your ankles), curling your feet under. You want your legs to stay straight and your hips flat. Do these both forwards and backwards.
(The rest of the exercises in the video are upper-body plyo exercises which don’t matter for jumps.)
This next video has an interesting exercise that mimics what happens when you take off in a jump.
Jump and Switch: Put your hands on your hips and lower into a lunge where your back knee is close to your front ankle, and then switch to the same position with the opposite leg in front. You want to push through your legs and have them extend into a straight position in the middle of the switch.
This video is another by Mary Lee Tracy. There are some leap drills mixed in which we can ignore for now.
Jumps in a row: Doing jumps in a row is a great plyometric exercise. In this exercise focus on being quick and as soon as you land one jump immediately be pushing for the next. In the video she has them doing 7 in a row of each type of jump.
Straight Leg Skips: Straight leg skips is another great exercise to help with jumping. You might be wondering why doing exercises that take off one leg are helpful, when for jumps you take off two? Well even though yes, you are taking off two legs in a jump, it’s hard to always take off both legs evenly. So you are always using one leg more than the other and therefore should work on punching off the floor with each leg.
The study of elite gymnasts used a combination of both plyometrics and strength training to improve their jumps.
So what are some good exercises to strengthen the lower-body muscles you use when you jump?
Squats: Squats are one of the best exercises for strengthening your lower body, and this study proves that deep squatting will help you increase your vertical jump.
To do a squat, stand with your feet hip to shoulder-width apart with your feet pointing forwards. Keeping your back straight and your core squeezed, lower yourself with your weight on your heels. It can be easier with your arms extended out straight in front of you parallel to the ground. The goal will be to go as low as you can while controlling the movement. With the weight of your body in your heels, push against the floor and raise yourself back to a standing position in order to complete the repetition.
According to Mubarak “Bar” Malik, the director of performance for the New York Knicks,
“improving vertical leap involves heavy recruitment of the leg muscles, so training should emphasize vertical loaded movements like squats, deadlifts, and Olympic lifts”.
While I don’t think it’s safe to do Olympic lifts at home, we can certainly do squats and kettlebell deadlifts!
Kettlebell Deadlift: Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Place a kettlebell between your legs, in line with your ankles. With a straight back, looking in front of you, bend from the hips, and reach down to pick up the kettlebell in between your legs. Your shins should be vertical and your lower back should be flat. Then pushing through your legs, return to a standing position.
Kettlebell deadlifts are a hip pulling exercise, so now we need a hip pushing exercise. Shift Movement Science recommends a single leg hip lift with kick as an exercise to help transfer power to jumps.
Single Leg Hip Lift: To do a single leg hip lift, lay on your back with your knees bent, your arms at your side and your feet on the ground. Then lift one leg and hold it straight with your knees together. Lift your hips toward the ceiling, hold for a second and then lower your hips back to the floor. Make sure you are keeping your back flat with your butt squeezed. You can also add a kick like in the video.
Those are some exercises you can do to improve the leg muscles you need to jump higher.
You might be thinking “Wow this is a lot of information”, and it is. But don’t let all of this information prevent you from taking action.
In order to improve your jumps, start by working to improve your body position. Then add some plyometric and lower-body strength exercises to your workouts to work on improving the height you can jump. You can download the 10 Minute Jump Workout at the top of the article as a guide.
When you start taking action, with time you will start to see some results!