Increasing Your Vertical Jump
It is well known that success in almost every sport requires the explosive application of force. It is imperative that both the upper and lower body be trained for this type of performance.
One activity that is used for lower body power development is the Vertical Jump (VJ). The VJ requires a rapid, forceful contraction of the lower body musculature in conjunction with the proper use of the core and upper extremities in an attempt to produce the greatest amount of vertical velocity.
The VJ is defined as the jump reached minus the standing reach. Obviously, the ultimate goal of the vertical jump is to try to reach the greatest amount of height possible. There is an assortment of training methods used to accomplish this task.
Muscular strength training clearly contributes to VJ performance, but throughout the literature, it is obvious that strength training can help if your initial strength level is low or just about average. So if you have better than average strength in your lower body then other training methods must be employed to achieve a higher jump.
Albeit heavy resistance training increases maximal strength, this type of training does not increase VJ height appreciably. This is due to the fact that the time the feet are in contact with the ground while executing a vertical jump is typically less than 350 milliseconds, and most of the training induces increases in force that cannot be realized over such a short amount of time. It is recommended to train using compound or multi-joint exercises as you resistance train.
What Exercises Should I Start With?
The SQUAT, LUNGE, & STEP-UP (16 or > inches) are basic exercise one must master before progressing to other variables in the VJ. The aforementioned exercises emphasize extension of multiple joints of the lower body as in VJ. More emphasis should be on speed of movement than weight!
Olympic style lifts are also important in creating a powerful vertical jump.
Lifts like the Power Clean and the Snatch help to develop internal core strength as well as coordination of the arms. When training for jump height, a variation of the Power Clean I personally use is called the Hang Clean exercise. It is as Olympic specific as you can get!
Another crucial factor in the VJ is the ratio of power to body mass. In essence, a heavier person must be more powerful than a lighter person to jump a given height. It is well known among strength and conditioning coaches that any increase in lean or fat mass conflict with the goal of increasing VJ height. Gymnastic coaches think the same way.
The less you weigh, the higher you can jump and the more techniques can be performed. Heavy training should be minimized, but you cannot dismiss the fact that an increase in the cross-sectional area of a muscle translates into an improvement in strength, thus improving the power to mass ratio. Moreover, if your body fat percentage is not ideal then a nutritional assessment would be in order.
Flexibility Is A Major Factor
The upper extremities are usually not a main focus of training when thinking of the VJ, but if they are ignored, a tremendous loss of jump height will be observed. The flexibility of the shoulder joint as well as the hip joint is necessary for proper spinal extension and timing of the entire body.
The shoulder must be able to perform a full range of motion from extension to flexion. If this is a limiting factor, flexibility must be a vital variable in success with the VJ. During the crouch or squatting position the arms should be at full extension behind you and as you jump upwards, the arms drive into flexion and reach straight over the head.
Don’t bend your neck back in order to look up to early or you will lose proper spinal mechanics. The gaze should start upward as the hands and pass eyes on the way upward. As you jump, extend and reach, your hip flexors must also be loose to help free the hip joint and subsequently release the lumbar spine. Once the flexibility in these joints is achieved, the result is greater VJ height on a consistent basis.
Most jumping activities are preceded by a counter movement in which the muscles are first stretched and then rapidly shortened in order to accelerate the body upwards. This is called the Stretch-Shortening-Cycle (SSS). It has also been coined a plyometric contraction.
As a muscle and tendon are stretched, it stores potential elastic energy (like stretching a rubber band) and actually has the opportunity to contract with greater force making it more powerful. Plyometric exercises have been adopted from the European countries in order to further augment functional training and performance.
There has been extensive research directed toward the study of this of this field and the results are unequivocal. Throughout the literature, drop jumps or depth jumps (16-36” box height) are a crucial exercise in the training of the vertical jump. It simply enhances the SSS. Weighted depth jumps are fun to explore as well.
Below are a few more exercises and key points that should be employed in a complete VJ training program.
If your sport requires that you take a step with the vertical jump, you must train that way and test that way as well.
- Remember to sit back with your squats. Too much emphasis on the front of the thighs can irritate the knee and limit jump height.
- Don’t forget about Newton’s Third Law: Action/Reaction or Equal and Opposite forces. The faster you descend the greater jump height will be achieved.
- Flexibility of the shoulder and hip joints are imperative. Perform the Lunge stretch for the Hip Flexors and hang from a chin-up bar for shoulder flexibility. (15-30seconds)
- Quarter or half squats with multiple reps (like 30-50) as fast as you can are also necessary for the proper quad training. Think of rhythmically squatting up and down if you are a skier on a mountain. (Chase the burn)
- Lower back strength is another muscle group that helps your reach and total body extension. This is not to be ignored. Perform lumbar extensions on a bench or modified roman chair.
- Russian stiff knee jumps. These are for the muscles of the calf and anterior shin. Besides aiding in your lower body strength, this exercise has known to help prevent against shin splints.
- Dumbbell Swings. This is simply holding a 5 or 8lb. weights in both arms and swinging them as you are about to perform the VJ. The arm swing should be exactly the same and the rest of the body should also be the same. No need to launch yourself, just raise onto your toes.
- Push Jerks or Push Presses are excellent as well in order to train the core and the drive during the VJ.
The MOST IMPORTANT exercise in training is to actually practice the vertical jump. There is no substitute for specificity.
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