Required Equipment: Trap Bar, Weights
Fresh off my recent article on trap bar deadlifts, I want to discuss cool exercise that can improve your vertical: trap bar jumps. Still a relatively unknown lift, trap bar jumps have gained some popularity in recent years because they are easy to learn and are a great way to develop explosive power in athletes without resorting to Olympic lifts.
So what is a trap bar jump? And how do you do it (safely)? What load should you use? Well, read on to learn more…
AT A GLANCE: - The trap bar (or hex bar) jump is fantastic exercise to develop power - It's easier to learn and less complex than equivalent Olympic lifts - In one study, it showed an improvement in rapid force development and max vertical over a 10-week training period - When performing, use a light(er) weight so you can focus on explosion off the floor
What are trap bar jumps?
Not to over simplify the exercise but a trap bar jump (or hex bar jump), is pretty much exactly like it sounds. You setup inside a trap bar, grip the handles tight, forcefully push into the ground, and explode – jump – into the air. Yes, it’s a jump while holding a weighted trap bar. Pretty nifty, eh?
Here’s a very quick video demonstration by esteemed trainer Ben Bruno –
Do you have to use a trap bar for weighted jumps? Of course not. You could always buy a weight vest and do some jump squats. Or use a put a barbell on your back or dumbbells (or kettlebells) by side and do the same thing. But using a hex bar has a couple great benefits that I explain below.
One thing to quickly note: trap bar jumps aren’t for trap development. Yes, you’re using a trap bar but that’s just for comfort and safety when jumping with a weighted bar. So what are they for? Well, read on…
So how that you know what it is, the question becomes “why should I do?” Unlike, say, a near max deadlift that is focused on strength, trap bar jumps allow you to focus on rate of force development
If you remember your high school physics, 1and who doesn’t? “a force is a push or pull upon an object resulting from the object’s interaction with another object.”
More simply, you interact with the trap bar and apply a force to it which results in the bar’s movement. Ideally, you’re doing the exercise quickly so that you can generate maximum power output as power equals work over time.
So to generate power, you generate force and minimize the time in which you generate that force by being explosive off the ground. You can maximize the distance component by accelerating off the ground so you jump higher. Do those things and guess what? You just maximized your power.
Improving your peak power will translate to virtually any sport you do. Not only the obvious sports like basketball and football but play volleyball? Well, now you can jump higher and get that block at the net. You’re a wrestler? Now you can drive quicker and more forcefully for that double-leg. If you’re a soccer player now you can go up higher for that header. You get the idea.
Now there are other ways to generate a lot of power in lifting. One big way is by doing Olympic lifts. So, things like the hang snatch or snatch clean or a myriad of other exercises. Those are all great exercises if you have the mobility, stability, and technical ability to do them safely.
But – spoiler alert – the vast majority of people do not. Not only are they pretty difficult to learn, it’s almost impossible to learn correctly without a qualified coach/athlete to give feedback. And that, my fitness friends, is where the trap bar jump really shines. Using a trap bar requires less complex motor control and requires minimal expertise in lifting. Can you jump and land well normally? If so, you can do this exercise.
Here are some other reasons to use a trap bar for loading:
- Trap bar jumps are easy to learn
- They’re much easier on your back than equivalent barbell squat jumps due bar position
- They’re less awkward than equivalent dumbbells
So does it work? Well, a 2017 study looked at the trap bar jump squat as well as the hang high pull as it concerns vertical jump performance, isometric force, and rate of force development. Now, this study was done in college swimmers who had at least 1 year of prior resistance training. The conclusion?
Nothing surprising in this category as the muscles worked in a hex bar jump are going to very similar as what you’d work in a regular jump. Namely, your lower body prime movers – quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. When holding onto the hex bar, you’ll also get some additional back and grip work.
How much weight should I use?
I’m going to borrow some guidelines provided by trainer Mike Boyle over at StrengthCoach. Namely, “To load Trap Bar Jumps we selected a weight that would allow 70-80% of the athletes best vertical jump.” This makes sense as load should change based on your strength levels. After all why would you train a 200lb professional athlete the same as you’d train a 200lb couch potato?
Back to the guidelines, for example, if you have a 30″ vertical, then you’ll need to select a load that allows you to keep a vertical of 21-24″ (70-80% of 30″) while doing the trap bar jump. If your vertical is 20″, you’ll be in that 14-16″ range.
As Mike explains, you could try to set the weight based on a percentage of your bodyweight (bad) or based on either your max trap bar deadlift (worse). Both ideas make some intuitive sense especially using your max. But power is not equal to strength and using your max “assumes a direct relationship between strength and power that does not really exist.”
Likewise, using a percentage of your bodyweight seems good “until you start to get larger athletes” as the relative strength of larger athletes is usually less than smaller athletes.
So what do you do if you don’t have a way to measure your vertical and can’t approximate it? How can you determine the optimal load? While there’s not a right answer (that I know of), personally, I would recommend keeping the load on the lighter side.
Remember, you’re working to produce power and being able to explode very quickly and efficiently is going to allow you to do that. If you go too heavy, you won’t be able to generate the required force to get off the ground effectively.
If you start to have trouble holding onto the handles or feel it in your lower back, that’s a good sign to back off. Only add additional load to the bar if you feel the exercise is too easy.
How To Perform The Trap Bar Jump
The setup is basically the same as what you’d use in a trap bar deadlift. I recommend using the high handles (if your trap bar has them) to slightly reduce the range of motion. If that’s not an option, it’s okay to raise the bar up to a comfortable height.
- The athlete is bracing as he would do a deadlift and/or jumps Sit hips back and down, with neutral spine, bringing you to the bar handles.
- Arms straight, flex triceps, and engage your lats by squeezing your armpits.
- Secure grip.
- Brace abdominals (“take a punch”).
- Initiate lift by pushing feet into floor and “taking slack out of the chain”.
- Sustain lift by pressing feet into and “through” floor with the goal of being able to jump as high as possible 2the concentric phase. You want to “pop” off the floor with speed.
- Land lightly by bending your knees as you land so that you absorb the impact of the descent. 3the eccentric phase Don’t let your knees cave in when you land.
- At this point, you can reset the lift OR as quickly as possible, repeat the movement starting at step 2. Just remember you want to minimize the ground contact time in between jumps. Think speed!
Poor Landing Mechanics
First and foremost, you need to be able to land safely with (or even without) the bar. While that sounds easy, the truth is it’s a skill all on it’s own and a lot of young athletes struggle to land properly.
If your landing ability sucks and you add an external load to it, guess what? You’re going to get injured. So just make sure you know how to land properly before trying trap bar jumps.
If you’re curious, here’s a good overview on how to land from a Physical Therapist.
A trap bar jump shrug 4surely there’s a better name for it could be it’s own variation. In our case though, it’s best to avoid a large shrug as a lot of people are already overworked in their upper back.
Plus, this is a lower body exercise in which you’re trying to produce peak force. You want to drive through the floor using your hips and use your large leg muscles to perform the work.
Are trap bar jumps good for jumping?
Yes! By being able to quickly produce force – or power – you’ll be able to jump higher and run faster. One non-scientific case study over at boxingscience.co.uk showed a 22% improvement in vertical jump height across 5 weeks.
There’s also a scientific study 5 Called *deep breath*…”Comparison of the Hang High Pull and Loaded Jump Squat for the Development of Vertical Jump and Isometric Force-Time Characteristics”) where college swimmers saw an increase in their vertical after 10 weeks of training.
The conclusion? “Loaded jumps seem equally effective as weightlifting derivatives for improving lower-body power in experienced athletes”.
Are trap bar jumps safe?
Yes, when performed correctly trap bar jumps are safe and effective for developing power. That said, you should master the trap bar deadlift motion first before progressing to hex bar jumps. Also, be sure not to overload the bar.
What muscles do trap bar jumps work?
A trap bar jump is essentially a jump with an external load. A such, your lower body prime movers – quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves – will get most of the work. You’ll also get some additional back and grip work from holding onto the trap bar.
How much weight should I use?
While there are different schools of thought, strive to use a weight that allows you to hit 70-80% of your best vertical. For example, if your vertical is 30″, try to a use load in which you can still hit 21-24″ high.
Why should I do trap bar jumps instead of Olympic lifts?
While Olympic lifting is great for power, the fact is that most people do not have the ability to perform the lifts correctly. While not a very popular exercise, a hex bar jump is easy to learn and is a “safer” exercise for most people.