Mike Boyle loves Cleans.
Being able to explosively move a significant amount of weight from point A to point B—and catch it with control—confers all sorts of athletic benefits.
“We’re never going to stop Olympic lifting. We’re never going to not Clean,” Boyle, one of the world’s leading strength and conditioning experts, says in Functional Strength Coach 7.
But Boyle also believes Olympic lifts don’t make sense for everyone. For older athletes not well-versed in Olympic lifting, spending months teaching them how to Clean can be an inefficient use of time. A client’s sport or injury history can also shift the exercise toward the wrong side of the risk-reward spectrum.
In such cases, Boyle turns to a safe, simple alternative for developing explosive power—Trap Bar Jumps.
“They’re just so easy, so simple. For our professional athlete-type groups, you never have hand and wrist issues (with Trap Bar Jumps). Our hockey guys tend to have existing hand and wrist issues. Our baseball guys do not, but obviously, hand and wrist is extremely important to those guys. Even though I love Olympic lifting, I wouldn’t Olympic lift a baseball player. Because all we need is one sort of misplaced Clean and this guy sprains his wrist or something goes wrong and suddenly we really screwed something up,” says Boyle, co-owner of Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning (Woburn, Massachusetts), which is regularly named one of America’s best gyms.
“If you watch my pro hockey group this summer, probably 90 percent will Trap Bar Jump and not Clean. 90 percent of the guys who come in do not have good Olympic lifting backgrounds, they’re not Olympic lifters, and I have 12 weeks with them. And I don’t want to spend 12 weeks trying to make somebody good at the Clean when I can make them more powerful.”
The research backs up Trap Bar Jumps as a stellar move for athletes in pursuit of greater explosiveness.
A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research studied how power in the Trap Bar (also known as a “Hex Bar”) Jump Squat related to jump performance and acceleration in elite rugby union players. The authors concluded that Trap Bar Jumps are “a valid speed-strength exercise that relates significantly to jump and acceleration performance in rugby union players. Strength and conditioning coaches should consider the inclusion of this exercise in the development of peak power output.”
But is jumping with a trap bar really superior to, say, jumping with a similarly loaded barbell across your back?
A study published in the aforementioned journal examined that very question. The researchers found that Trap Bar Jumps resulted in superior unloaded vertical jump adaptations compared to Barbell Jumps. STACK expert Jake Tuura, an assistant strength and conditioning coach at Youngstown State University, analyzed the findings in this article. From Tuura:
The likely reason for these differences is that the location of the load with the use of a trap bar seems to result in a more effective anatomical position than the location of the load with the use of a barbell. While a loaded barbell on your back can place excess stress on your lumbar spine, having a loaded trap bar in your hands takes pressure off that area while also better recruiting the glutes and hamstrings.
However, even the best movements can be butchered.
When it comes to the right load one should use for Trap Bar Jumps, advice from the internet is all over the place. Many guidelines are based solely on the athlete’s one-rep Deadlift or body weight, which Boyle sees as horribly misguided.
“People have said, ’50 percent of the max is the sweet spot for jumps.’ That’s insane…Trap Bar Jumps with 225 pounds is not a pretty sight. Or, ’50 percent of your body weight.’ Just some stupid number that when you look at it and think about it, it doesn’t make any sense at all,” Boyle says.
Rather, Boyle recommends utilizing a load that allows you to achieve 70-80 percent the height of your unloaded Vertical Jump. So if your most recent Vertical Jump PR is 30 inches, you’re looking at a sweet spot of 21-24 inches for your Trap Bar Jumps. Lower than that, and the load’s too heavy. Higher than that, and it’s likely too light.
To best utilize this strategy, you need access to a jump mat such as a Just Jump.
If you’re unable to hit 70 percent of your unloaded Vertical Jump with only the 45-pound trap bar in your hands, switch to lighter dumbbells until you can reach that benchmark.
Trap Bar Jumps can also be a great alternative to moves like Clean Pulls, which are often botched by all but the most technically sound Olympic lifters.
“I’ve seen people try to do different types of pulls and shrugs, but when you’re trying to do that with a conventional straight bar, there’s issues…90 percent of the pulls I’ve looked at, unless it’s a really good Olympic weightlifter, I’m generally like, ‘Eh, I don’t really like the way that looks’,” says Boyle.
“But you put somebody in the trap bar and you say jump, they jump, and you’re like, ‘OK. that was easy. We have no problems.’”
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