During training and rehab I often utilize split squat jumps as a training tool to improve acceleration and reinforce proper eccentric landing mechanics. Many athletes struggle with excessive valgus with landing and cutting maneuvers. This exercise will allow them to practice landing form while improving declaration control with change of direction and maximizing explosive strength and power.
Execution: Begin in a split squat position with the left foot on top of the box or step. The ball of the foot should be firmly on the box, while the heel can be off. The right foot should be on the floor, with the majority of the weight shifted onto the left leg (heel of right foot is up).
The client will then extend both arms backward prior to initiating the jump. As the client jumps up the arms will rapidly and fully flex forward as he/she jumps up vertically in a controlled manner as high as possible. Upon landing, the front foot and rear foot should hit at or near the same time with the majority of the weight on the front leg (again on ball of the foot).
Once the start position is reached (triple flexion), the client will repeat this sequence working to minimize the time spent on the ground (amortization phase). It is important to note that form and quality movement should precede maximum vertical jump efforts early on in order to avoid movement compensations and encourage proper landing form.
Progression: Once clients demonstrate good form and control, consider performing cycled split squat jumps where the right and left leg alternate landing on the box. Additionally, you may opt for a higher box to begin in more hip flexion, but do not allow form to diminish when doing so. Finally, advanced clients may be able to add external loads (weighted vests, dumbbells, med ball, etc.) to increase difficulty.
Regression: Begin without risers beneath the box and do not focus on height nearly as much as focusing on the proper balance/control/landing technique needed. Performing mini-jumps in a slower, more controlled manner is often the best way to teach basic mechanics prior to advancing to a more explosive technique.
Application: Training the body to accelerate upward and decelerate with this exercise will improve power and facilitate optimal hip and knee mechanics, while reducing frontal plane collapse. I often use this in the functional stages of ACL rehab to prepare athletes for eventual higher level training and to work on building confidence in pushing off as well as landing on the involved side.
Aside from the neuromuscular training effects, this exercise is an excellent way to enhance explosive strength, power and running performance. For those performing jumping, cutting and pivoting sports, this exercise will increase first step acceleration and explosiveness. Distance runners will also find this exercise helpful in improving their speed, running economy and hill climbing.