“Jumping” Into Weight Loss

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Jump, jump, jump…..some days it’s all we ever seem to do in Weight Loss Solutions. I think everyone out there can agree that a class full of jumping is no easy task. I get moans, groans, and complaints every week about the amount of jumping in our weight loss setting. “What’s up with the jumping today? Is this really necessary?” The questions go on and on. Well I’m here to set the record straight and tell you even though you may have a deep hatred for squat jumps, they are still good for you. This is not a random idea…Like everything else, this is based on science!

Like it or not, there are several reasons jumping can be a useful tool when it comes to weight loss. The #1 reason we have able-bodied clients (no pre-existing orthopedic issues) leave the floor is to increase energy expenditure, and it all boils down to a little neuromuscular physiology (I know, exactly what you were thinking, right?).

Let me explain how that works. In order to contract a muscle, your brain sends a signal to what is called a motor nerve. These nerves are responsible for contracting specific muscle fibers. This nerve, along with all of the fibers it contracts is called a motor unit. Our muscles contain hundreds of thousands of motor units, and during functional exercise our goal is to use as many as we can! Since jumping is a very explosive activity it recruits the maximal number of motor units possible. More motor units firing equals more muscle fibers contracting, which in turn leads to increased energy expenditure and greater weight loss.

To better understand this concept let’s compare a normal body weight squat to a squat jump. When we squat we decelerate our body weight at the top of each repetition. Yes that’s right, no matter how fast we seem to be going we have to slow down. Deceleration is necessary at the top to avoid hyperextending the knees and to keep proper lower body alignment. When we decelerate we activate fewer motor units, contract fewer muscle fibers, and expend less energy.
When we do a jump squat there is no deceleration at the top of the squat. You can get full extension in both legs and fully contract the muscles. You must also activate enough motor units to actually leave the ground (which is always more than what’s required to stay on the ground). I guess you can say it is hard to cheat on an explosive jump squat. When you come down from a jump squat it will then require you to use more motor units to decelerate due to the speed at which you return to the floor. Again, more motor units activated = more calories burned = greater calorie deficit = greater fat loss.

One misconception with jump training is that all jumping is considered “plyometric”. Plyometric exercises use explosive movements to develop muscular power and improve overall speed. It is primarily used by athletes to improve their performance on the court or field. The goal of plyometric training is to spend as little time on the floor as possible. The goal is to exert the maximum amount of force in the shortest amount of time. This is NOT what we are trying to do in our WLS classes. Whether it is a jump squat, lunge jump, tuck jump, step jump, etc… your goal should always be to go through a full range of motion. Limiting the range of motion to increase speed or power will not bring you any closer to your weight loss goals. So please don’t confuse what we do with plyometrics, they’re apples and oranges. Everyone’s ground contact time is far too great to get any so-called plyometric effect out of jumps and bounds used in class.

Energy expenditure is not the only reason why jumping may be good for your health. There have been multiple cross-sectional studies on the bones of athletes who are involved with impact type (jumping) “exercise loading.” Repetitive, low-impact loading of the bones seems to be associated with a strong tibia (shin bone) and femoral neck (top of the upper leg), for areas that are susceptible to fracture. In other words, jumping is a good way to strengthen the bones of the lower body and helps to prevent fractures as you age.

With all of that said, jumping is NOT for everyone and you do NOT need to jump to get a good workout. Now I do not want any of you to use this blog as an excuse to remove jumps from class, but I also do not want to be held responsible for someone hurting themselves just to burn an extra few calories. There is a risk-to-benefit ratio you must take into account when adding jumps into your workout. Yes, you will raise the intensity of your workout and yes your will burn a greater amount of calories. But if you are an individual with pre-existing orthopedic issue, whether that involves your knees, hips, lower back, ankles, etc…. jumping may not be for you. For example, adding jumps into a class may allow you to burn an extra 100 calories in that hour….sounds great. But after class your knees are in so much pain you go home and sit on the couch for hours. Two days later you are still having trouble getting up and down stairs and you find yourself getting around slower than usual. Guess what, those extra 100 calories are completely cancelled out by the 500 calories you were unable to burn with everyday living activities because you were in too much pain. Make sense?

The bottom line is if you are not orthopedically limited in your ability to jump (or limited by a current lack of fitness), you should do your best to try. You will maximize you caloric expenditure for that hour and will likely improve bone density and strength in your lower body. I realize a class full of jumps may not be easy or fun, but I promise you we aren’t just torturing you for entertainment. We are fitness professionals who want you to get the best bang for your buck… Now hop to it!

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