You're Not Too Old For Jump and Change of Direction Training!

September 25, 2020

By: ATH Athletic Performance Director Frank Bourgeois, PhD



  • Jump training can be a viable means to reduce age-associated decline in physical function. Benefits such as coordination, bone density and tendon function can be expected following systematic jump training.
  • Change of direction (COD) and agility training can also be beneficial for older individuals. Improvements in reaction time, postural stability, balance and mobility, and increased enjoyment of training have been associated with this type of training among older adults.
  • Jump, COD and agility training should most likely progress from low intensity, single-effort tasks to higher intensity, multi-effort tasks.



As we age several biological, and thus mechanical, changes occur that ultimately result in a decline in motor function. These changes tend to negatively affect not only the ability to execute athletically challenging tasks, but also affect simple activities of daily life and quality of life, potentially increasing morbidity and mortality risk [14]. Some naturally occurring biological phenomena are sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass), osteoporosis (degeneration of bone density and structure) and motor neuron degeneration [7]. Such innate changes are typically associated with losses in strength and power, increased tendon compliance, and diminished neural drive with concurrent deficiencies in reaction time, coordination and balance.


While there is substantial data supporting the use of resistance training in attenuating negative aging factors, jump and change of direction/agility training appears to be largely overlooked as viable and safe means of not only mitigating deterioration, but improving neuromuscular function. Given the complexity of motor function (i.e. interconnectivity of neuromotor, musculoskeletal and cardiopulmonary systems), it would seem realistic that attenuating aging effects would be a multifaceted effort that is inclusive of jumping and change of direction activities in addition to resistance and cardiopulmonary training. The purpose of this article is to explore the documented physical and psychological benefits associated with jump and change of direction/agility training.



Extant data supports the use of jump, COD and agility training as a safe and viable means to mitigate age-associated decline, even improve physical function. Though more research is warranted in defining program structure, it is recommended practitioners first consider jump training that emphasizes landing impact, followed by jump training that focuses on single- and multi-effort displacements. During this phase, single-effort followed by multi-effort COD training may be incorporated. Lastly, progression to friendly games may serve as agility training, potentially increasing enjoyment of training and long-term compliance.



Jump training


Whether training duration is short-, medium- or long-term, there is a voluminous amount of data supporting the efficacy of jump training in adult populations (i.e. 18 to 80 years of age). The types of jump training explored in the literature may be classified as jumps that emphasize landing impact (i.e. greater degree of stiffness upon toe-down or landing focus) and jumps that emphasize propulsion (i.e. height or distance focus) [3]. The primary distinctive factor is the degree of joint range of motion excursion. It is important to distinguish goal-outcome as each may promote very different training adaptations.


Impact-emphasized jump training


Training protocols using higher-impact exercises, such as jump-landings and pogos, have been shown effective in inducing favourable adaptation in individuals 60 to 80 years of age. Simple hopping and jump-landing exercises have induced advantageous decreases in hop ground contact time and push-off phase time [8], and beneficial improvement in hop height [8], hop force and impulse [2,8], isometric strength [2,9], reactive strength index (RSI) [8], static and dynamic balance [2,9], bone mineral density and structure [4,9,19], and ankle-joint stiffness [8]. Individuals who have participated in long-term jump training (i.e. 12 months) have also experienced an increase in how they rate the quality of their physical function [9].


Propulsion-emphasized jump training


There is a lack of research investigating propulsive emphasized jump training protocols which use jumps that focus on achieving maximum height or distance, such as countermovement and drop jumps in recreational adult populations. This may be due to the perception of injury risk. Nonetheless, there is preliminary data that largely support the efficacy of this jump training mode. Following 22-weeks of “explosive” jumping exercise, significant improvement in key factors of health and physical function such as lean body mass, fat mass, jump height, flight time, take-off velocity, and 30 m shuttle-run time were found in older individuals [18]. Additionally, propulsion-emphasized jump training in senior adults (≥65 years) is likely to improve performance in population-specific assessments such as the 30s sit-to-stand test, 6m walk test, timed up-and-go test and the stair climb test [17]. However, caution should be used to ensure frequency, intensity, time and type of training are aligned with the vastly individual physical characteristics of each recreational adult participating with the exercise regime.


Change of direction training


The age-associated decline in cognitive, vestibulocochlear and proprioceptive function that is concurrent with physical function is well documented [1,5,10,16]. Decline in the aforementioned also increases fall risk in aging populations [6]. Considering these challenges, the use of age-appropriate change of direction (COD) and agility training appears logical, particularly due to the emphasis COD and agility tasks place on the interplay between perception, cognition (e.g. attention, planning and decision-making), and neuromuscular and cardiopulmonary function [6,15].


As expected, there is a paucity of investigations examining the influence COD and agility training may have in older adults. Though more data is warranted, there are reports supporting the efficacy of COD and agility training to improve function and quality of life, particularly in senior adults. For instance, the use of ball games, relay races, dance movements and obstacle courses has shown to positively impact reaction time, postural stability, general balance and mobility, back pain and perception of physical function as well as enjoyment of training [11,12]. Lastly, a 12-week COD training protocol that prescribed high- and low-hurdle activities, ladder drills and cone drills significantly improved strength, power and cardiovascular fitness metrics, as well as improved obstacle course completion time [13].



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