The Basics of Vertical Jump Training

Posted: May 22, 2013 in Jump Training, Training
Tags: , , ,

Having a good vertical jump can be a huge asset for any athlete, regardless of sport. Even if your sport doesn’t involve much jumping, improving your vertical jump has a carryover effect to running speed and overall explosiveness. For football, basketball, and volleyball players, the vertical jump is also one of the first “measurables” that scouts and college coaches look at when evaluating talent, so not only will the ability to jump high help you succeed in your sport, it will make you more valuable to the people that decide who gets to play on their teams.

You have to impress the guys carrying stopwatches if you want to play at the next level

You have to impress the guys carrying stopwatches if you want to play at the next level

Given the importance of having a good vertical jump, you’d think that more trainers would know how to put together a program to improve one’s vert. However, this is not really the case. Most often, the “vertical jump programs” that are slapped together consist of tons of plyos, with some Vertimax training mixed in. Plyometric training is characterized by explosive jumps that are aimed at increasing the rate at which athletes can apply forceAs I’ve mentioned before, plyometrics are frequently not programmed properly. I train a few athletes at a commercial gym, and I see a lot of young athletes there performing plyometrics to near-failure, which is counterproductive, and also dangerous. The goal for plyometric training should be to perform an amount of reps that allows for maximum rate of force production, and no technical breakdown of the movement. Once an athlete becomes fatigued, their rate of force production slows down, and the plyometric jumps lose any chance of being beneficial. Fatigue also makes athletes more likely to become injured as a result of plyometric training, as their mechanics will break down as they tire.

Even if these plyometrics are programmed properly with a good set/rep scheme and ample rest time, there’s a very good chance that the athlete doesn’t need plyometric training. To understand why plyometrics may be unnecessary, we need to first understand what makes an athlete able to jump high.

...like this awesome dude

…like this awesome dude

An athlete’s vertical jump height is a measurement of lower body explosiveness and power, and a test of the reactive ability of their muscles.

Power is defined as force applied over time. Athletes with good vertical jumps are able to apply a huge amount of force over a very short period of time. Athletes with poor vertical jumps are likely suffering from 1 of 2 problems: they either aren’t able to produce very much force, or they aren’t able to produce force quickly enough. In my experience, it’s usually a combination of the 2, but with overall lack of strength being the bigger issue BY FAR.

So what are we doing when we take a young athlete who has little to no strength training history and subject him to day after day of plyometric training? The short answer is “wasting time.” Training weak athletes to apply force more quickly won’t help anything, because they have no force to apply in the first place. 

If you take that same athlete, and replace his plyometric training with strength training, you will see much better gains in not only the vertical jump, but sprinting speed and overall power as well.

Now, not all athletes fall into the category of “weak.” Most younger athletes do, but older athletes may be strong enough, but unable to exert their strength quickly. These are the types of athletes who would benefit from plyometric training. However, strength coaches can’t just “guess” at what their athletes need and then just try different things until they find something that works. Athletes need to be tested and evaluated to determine 3 things:

1) Maximum leg strength

2) Rate of Force Production, and

3) Reactive strength

Once these 3 properties have been tested, a good strength coach can devise a plan that addresses the athlete’s unique needs, rather than just prescribing “plyos”. If you’re trying to increase your vertical leap by working with a trainer that doesn’t use this approach, you need to start asking some questions and doing some research.

If you’re an athlete looking to improve your vertical jump, don’t automatically assume that you need to be doing a bunch of jumping to improve. Most times, all you need to do is get stronger and the gains will come. Once a good level of basic strength has been achieved, then plyometric training will have a much more beneficial effect.

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