12 Plyometric Moves That Build Strength And Burn Calories

If there’s one surefire way to turn up the intensity in any workout, it’s with plyometric moves. These intense, explosive movements (think lots of jumping) help you develop muscle strength and efficiency, condition your cardiovascular fitness, and build speed, stamina, and agility. They’ll also challenge your core stability and balance—while exhausting you fast.

Why are plyo moves so dang tough? They require your neuromuscular system to fire quickly and recruit a lot of muscle fibers at once, says Yusuf Jeffers, C.P.T., Head Coach at Tone House. So, yes, you’ll get tired more quickly than you would with other moves, but you’ll also reap major benefits.

Sprinkle a plyo move or two into your usual workout for an extra challenge, or make yourself a full plyo circuit workout by choosing two or three moves and performing two to three sets of six to 10 reps of each, suggests ICE NYC CrossFit coach Nicolas Dromard. Just make sure you give yourself enough rest to maintain top-notch form and explosiveness.

Ready to feel like a total athlete? Put these 12 moves to work:

Move #1: Depth Jump

When almost every trainer you talk to identifies the depth jump as the plyometric move, you know it’s the real deal.

Equipment needed: box or bench

How to do it:

  1. Start standing upright on a box or bench.
  2. Engage your core and start to step off the bench with your dominate foot.
  3. Instead of finishing the movement by stepping onto the ground, bring your other foot forward so that you land with both feet hitting the ground at the same time.
  4. When you land, push your hips back slightly and bend your knees as if sitting back into a squat, to absorb the impact.
  5. Repeat.

Why it works: This move seems simple, but trains your body to react quickly, says Jeffers. “When you are performing depth jumps, you are training your Achilles tendon to reflex and work the second you step off the box, so that you can catch yourself safely” he explains. This move teaches your body to absorb the shock of hitting the floor by evenly recruiting the muscles in the legs, which helps to boost balance and decrease your chance of injury, says Jeffers. This also prepares your body for more advanced plyo moves like the Depth Jump-Jump (up next!). As you become more comfortable with this one, you can increase the height of the box or bench to up to 30 inches, he says.

Move #2: Depth Jump-Jump

Add a second piece to the Depth Jump to challenge yourself and maximize your results.

Equipment needed: box or bench

How to do it:

  1. Start standing upright on a box or bench.
  2. Engage your core and start to step off the bench with your dominate foot.
  3. Instead of finishing the movement by stepping onto the ground, bring your other foot forward so that you land with both feet hitting the ground at the same time.
  4. When you land, push your hips back slightly and bend your knees as if sitting back into a squat, to absorb the impact.
  5. Keeping your time on the ground as short as possible, explode vertically and jump up as high as you can.
  6. Land back with two feet firmly on the ground, again absorbing the impact by shifting into a slight squat position.
  7. Repeat.

Why it works: Adding a jump to the end of the Depth Jump movement helps your body to develop quick reaction time and explosiveness, says Jeffers. And that’s beneficial for sports like running and everyday movement. Plus, “you use your whole body to help you get back into the air, which makes this a full-body movement,” Jeffers says. Focus on getting back off the ground as quickly and explosively as possible to get the most muscle benefit.

Move #3: “Jumping” Box Step-Ups

This next-level box move will make your legs burn.

Equipment needed: box or bench

How to do it:

  1. Start by standing with a box or bench about six inches in front of you.
  2. Place one foot firmly on top of the box, while keeping the other firmly planted on the floor. Your arms should be bent at the elbows and in a running position. (If your left foot is on top of the box, your right arm should be slightly forward and your left arm slightly back.)
  3. Push through the foot on the box and explode upward, lifting your back leg up and lifting that knee toward the ceiling. (Both of your feet will lift up off the box.) Your arms should switch positions.
  4. Return your arms to starting position as you descend.
  5. Land in your starting position, with the same foot on the box and the other on the floor.
  6. Repeat five times on one leg before switching sides.

Why it works: Jumping box step-ups are yet another way to use the box to work on explosiveness, says Jeffers. Because this move really taxes your legs, Jeffers recommends performing this one toward the beginning of a workout. Plus, as is the case with all plyo moves, you’re doing a lot of work in a short period of time and recruiting a lot of muscle fibers, so the calorie-burn benefit is high, he says.

Related: Find a recovery supplement to help you bounce back from a tough plyo workout.

Move #4: Standard Box Jumps

This fundamental plyo move is easily scalable to challenge newbies and plyo masters alike.

Equipment needed: box

How to do it:

  1. Stand with a box about one or two feet in front of you. (The taller and more experienced you are, the further you should stand from the box.)
  2. Push your hips back into a slight squat and swing your arms backward.
  3. Immediately reverse your squat and arms to jump explosively up and forward.
  4. Land as softly as possible in a slight squat position with both feet on the box.
  5. Immediately stand up straight and fully extend your hips.
  6. Jump or step back onto the ground. (Assume that slight squat position to absorb the impact, if you jump.)
  7. Reset your position and repeat.

Why it works: Box jumps build strength and explosiveness in all of the major muscles in your legs (glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves), as well as in your hip flexors, says ICE NYC HIIT coach, Margie Welch. Because of these factors, box jumps can help develop weight-bearing movements like those found in CrossFit and Olympic powerlifting.

Beginners can start by jumping onto stacked weight plates before moving up to a box and can step back down from the plates or box instead of jumping, adds ICE NYC head CrossFit coach, Liz Adams.

Move #5: Squat Jumps

This basic move builds a foundation of strength for more advanced plyo exercises.

Equipment needed: none

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet hips-width apart and either clasp your hands behind your head or rest them on your hips.
  2. Squat down until your upper legs are parallel to the floor, keeping your weight in your heels.
  3. Pause in the squat for two to five seconds. (The longer you’ve trained, the longer you should hold this position.)
  4. Without using your arms, explode up and jump as high as possible.
  5. Land with your feet in starting position and sit back into a slight squat to absorb the impact.
  6. Repeat.

Why it works: Squat jumps are basic—but essential—for building calf, quadricep, and hamstring strength, and improving muscle stabilization, says Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault. Your main goal is to stick the landing, which is important for other weighted exercises like snatches, push-presses, and clean and jerks, he explains. Plus, squat jumps also provide the muscle development and reflex training that help you catch yourself before falling when you trip.

Related: 3 Ways To Improve Your Squat

Move #6: Tuck Jumps

Up the challenge after you master squat jumps by adding a tuck.

Equipment needed: none

How to do it:

  1. Stand tall with your feet hips-width apart and your hands at your sides.
  2. Keeping your weight in your heels, push your hips back into a slight squat, and swing your arms backward.
  3. Immediately reverse the direction of the squat and jump explosively up into the air, lifting your knees into your chest. Try to wrap your arms around your tucked legs.
  4. Release your arms as you start to descend.
  5. Land with two feet firmly on the ground, squatting slightly to absorb the impact.
  6. Repeat.

Why it works: Once you feel comfortable sticking the landing of the squat jump, you can take the movement to the next level with the tuck jump, says Jeffers. This movement requires more explosiveness than the squat jump because you need to get high enough in the air to tuck your legs up, wrap your arms around them, and release before landing. Because the tuck jump requires perfect form, perform it toward the beginning of your workouts, Jeffers recommends.

Move #7: Broad Jump

Equipment needed: none

What you do:

  1. Stand tall with your feet hips-width apart and hands at your sides, with at least a few feet of space in front of you.
  2. Push your hips back into a slight squat and swing your arms back.
  3. Swinging your arms forward, immediately jump forward horizontally as far as you can.
  4. Land with two feet firmly on the ground, squatting slightly to absorb the impact of the jump.
  5. Repeat.

Why it works: Perform broad jumps regularly and you’re bound to see some serious quadriceps, hamstring, and glute gains, says Dromard. That’s because you force your leg muscles to contract quickly with every jump forward, which leads to muscle growth over time. This movement is great for athletes who need to move horizontally on a field or track (think football, soccer, or field hockey) because you are developing strength for forward movement, Dromard says. Broad jumps can also help you with hip-opening lifting movements like squat cleans and snatches, he adds.

Move #8: Single-Leg Hops

Turn up the burn on your legs by isolating one at a time.

Equipment needed: Floor marked with tape or chalk to indicate where you should land each hop.

How to do it:

  1. Set up at least four markings in the shape of square, trapezoid, or zigzag. Change the arrangement and distance of these markings depending on difficulty desired, but for your first time start with the markings in a square that’s about two feet by two feet big.
  2. Stand on one foot on one of the marks.
  3. Quickly hot from the first to the second dot, and then quickly from the second to the third dot, and so on. Try to keep your foot on the ground for as little time as possible between hops.
  4. Continue hopping for anywhere up to 100 reps.
  5. Switch feet and repeat.

Why it works: As you become more comfortable with plyometric movements, you can increase the level of difficulty by working one leg at a time, which doubles the amount of weight that leg bears, says Wickham. “The higher demand on the body results in a higher yield in terms of athletic performance, strength, and power,” he says. Just make sure to work both legs evenly. This exercise is a versatile one, because the muscles worked will change based on the pattern of the markings. Start off with a square shape, and play with different angles and shapes as you feel more comfortable. Think of it like adult hop-scotch.

Move #9: Plyo Push-ups

Get your upper body in on the plyo action with this advanced pushup move.

Equipment needed: none

What you do:

  1. Start in a high plank position, with your wrists and elbows directly under your shoulders and your core engaged.
  2. Bend your elbows and back to lower yourself slowly down until your chest comes to rest on the ground.
  3. Quickly push yourself back up from the ground so that you pass through your starting position and your hands come up off the floor. Keep your body straight and core engaged.
  4. If possible, clap your hands together while they’re in the air.
  5. Land back down on your hands, bending your elbows slightly to absorb the impact.
  6. Begin to lower your chest back down to the ground to repeat.

Why it works: “The plyo push-up requires explosive strength in the triceps and chest, and is great for building upper-body strength,” says Dromard. Over time, you’ll definitely notice muscle gains in your upper body, chest, and core. Though you may not be able to get your arms up off the ground at first, you’ll notice you can get higher and more explosive as you practice, Dromard says.

Related: 9 Moves To Step Up Your Pushup Game

Move #10: Burpees

This dreaded move is a full-body plyometric all-star.

Equipment needed: none

How to do it:

  1. Stand tall with your feet hips-width apart and hands at your sides, with a few feet of space all around you.
  2. Reach forward and drop your hands to the floor, bending at the knees.
  3. When your palms are firmly planted, kick your feet back to enter a high plank position.
  4. Bend at the elbows and allow your body to drop to the floor.
  5. Press against the ground with your palms as your push your body back up into plank position.
  6. Jump both feet forward so they land close to your hands at the same time.
  7. Immediately jump up explosively towards the ceiling.
  8. Land with feet hips-width distance apart, bending your knees and squatting slightly to absorb the impact.

Why it works: Burpees are one of our favorite moves for building full-body strength and cardiovascular fitness at the same time. “Burpees require core stability and strength in the chest, biceps, triceps, glutes, quads, and hamstrings, as well as many of your stabilizer muscles” says Welch. Because burpees get your heart rate up quickly, they’ll fatigue your cardiovascular system as much as your muscles themselves, she says.

Move #11: Alternating Split Lunge Jumps

Test coordination, balance, and power with this one.

Equipment needed: none.

How to do it:

  1. Stand tall with one foot about 12 inches or so behind the other, with toes facing forward.
  2. Dip down into a lunge position and immediately push upwards off the ground.
  3. Switch the position of your legs, bringing your back foot to the front and sending your front leg back.
  4. Land in a lunge position on the opposite side.
  5. With hands at your side, inhale as you slightly dip your hips. As you are driving upward opening your hips you are splitting your legs.
  6. Repeat.

Why it works: This advanced plyo exercise is great for more seasoned athletes, explains Bowery CrossFit NYC coach Bryce Tolbert. Alternating jump lunges are great because they not only work your legs and glutes (and lower-body stabilizing muscles), but also your core and lower back, he says. Developing explosiveness and landing balance benefits performance in weight-bearing moves like the clean and jerk, and promotes everyday mobility.

Move #12: Medicine Ball Wall Throws

Equipment needed: Medicine ball and wall

How to do it:

  1. Stand with feet hips-width apart, facing a wall that’s about three to five feet away.
  2. Hold a medicine ball at about chest-height.
  3. Bring the ball into your chest and then propel it forward to the wall in front of you, using as much force as possible. Keep your core tight.
  4. The ball should hit the wall and bounce straight back at you. If the ball drops before reaching you, move a step closer to the wall.
  5. With a braced core, catch the ball and return to starting position.
  6. Repeat.

Why it works: This upper-body plyo move requires core stabilization, chest strength, and endurance. The ball should be coming back at you quickly, so you may need to adjust your distance from the wall depending on the weight of the ball. (Think closer for a heavier ball, father away for a lighter one.) Remember, the key to plyometric movements is explosiveness, so make sure you’re pushing the ball away from you with as much power as possible.