As we age, our sense of balance lessens with each passing year which poses a greater risk of falling. With the average fall costing $19,000, fall prevention training programs are quickly becoming one of the fastest growing needs our country faces. Fall prevention research is pointing to Proprioceptive training which are exercises designed to enhance the mind and nerves while also strengthening the bones and muscles. Proprioception exercises can reduce the risk of falls by teaching the body to react quickly as it fine-tunes motor and coordination skills.
Older adult exercise programs are beginning to incorporate mini plyometric exercises to help train the body to be more balanced. These tiny explosive movements can be seen in the Mini-Jump Squat exercise. Most older adults that don’t have any difficulty doing regular Squats can try this very advanced squat exercise. However, for those that are unsure on how to do this exercise, seek the help from a qualified and certified trainer, physical therapist, or exercise professional.
Regardless of how skillful you are, make sure you hold onto the back of a chair when doing this exercise. Your hands will momentarily lose contact with the chair when you jump up in the air, but it’s important that you hold onto the back of the chair when coming down or landing in the squat. Don’t do this exercise freestyle (without holding onto something) unless you are a highly athletic person that’s used to this type of performance training.
You don’t have to jump high either; just a little jump up is fine to start. Think of it more as a “skip” than a jump. If you are able to point your toes at the uppermost part of the jump, you’ll engage the muscles on the top of the feet which will cause them to become stronger which will help with gait and balance, too. This exercise also requires some brain power and concentration. The brain must tell the body to “land softly.”
1. Stand up with your head held high, your back straight and your eyes fixed on a spot that’s directly in front of you slightly higher than eye level.
2. Position the feet slightly wider than shoulder width with the toes pointed slightly outwards.
3. Breathe in and squat down one-quarter to halfway down (depending on how well-versed you are in this exercise).
4. When squatting down, press the buttocks back as if you were going to sit in a chair.
5. When ascending from the squat, in a small explosive movement, make a tiny jump so that both feet lose contact with the floor. Point the toes for added height.
6. Land softly into the squat which will avoid stress on the knees and ankles.
7. Return to the squat position and repeat these same steps until you have completed the designated number of repetitions.
Keep the knees in alignment with the toes at all times to avoid any lateral (sideways) movement.
Make sure that the knees stay positioned behind the toes during the entire movement.
Keep your weight on the outside of the foot and firmly press the heels into floor.
Keep the movement smooth, i.e., squat down, jump up, squat down, jump up, and etc. and avoid any jerky movements.
Do not ever squat down past the thigh-parallel position.
Start with a small jump, then increase the jump height as you become proficient in the movement.
Inhale on the way down: exhale on the way up.
Try one set of 5 to 10 reps initially, then if you are able to do more, try another set of 5 to 10 reps. Your goal is to work up to doing 3 sets of 10 repetitions. Resting can be anywhere from 30 seconds to up to five minutes between sets taking into consideration your age, physical conditions, and fitness level. Perform each rep perfectly and don’t feel you need to be rushed through this exercise. Work out at your own pace.
Since Jump Squats are also an excellent cardiovascular exercise, your heart rate will increase significantly. You should always be able to carry on a conversation after performing each set. If you’re unable to speak in whole sentences, you’ll need to rest longer until you have caught your breath. Walk around or march in place while resting between sets; just don’t stand there while waiting to recuperate. Keep moving so that the heart rate is gradually brought back down.
The Jump Squat exercise also engages the fast and slow twitch muscle fibers which are largely responsible for getting our bodies to react to something quickly such as stepping on a brake if an animal suddenly crosses the road, or moving your foot out of the way if the shampoo bottle has slipped through your fingers and is headed for your toes. Reaction training is a crucial part of brain enhancing exercises as they involve telling the body to do something it’s not normally used to doing, like jumping.
Jump Squats are actually an entire body exercise with primary emphasis on the legs and gluteals but it is also a brain exercise since the landing of the exercise is required to be extra soft like a “ballerina landing.” You have to constantly remind yourself to land softly when doing this exercise in addition to doing the exercise with perfect form.
Try adding the Jump Squat exercise at least once monthly. In doing so, you’ll strengthen the muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments and joints as well as improve your motor performance and cardiovascular endurance.