The Vertical Jump

The vertical jump is quite possibly the most sought after skill by athletes. Every athlete wants that jaw dropping jump ability to showcase to their teammates and friends and help them compete at the highest level.

Training to improve your vertical jump is often over complicated even though it should not be. There are several factors that affect your ability to jump explosively and I am going to narrow it down to my big 3:

  1. Muscle Fiber Type

In our body, we have Type 1 and Type 2 muscle fibers. We can adjust our training and sport to the type of muscle fiber that we want our bodies to contain predominantly. Type 1 muscle fibers are our Slow-Twitch fibers that are used for the long endurance type activities like cross country, cycling, etc. Type 2 muscle fibers are the Fast-Twitch fibers that are mostly used for anaerobic activities such as football, weight lifting, sprinting, etc. This type of fiber has a low resistance to fatigue so if you mostly contain type 2 fibers, then you likely will not be a great marathon runner, cyclist, or anything else that requires a lot of endurance. By weight training consistently with heavy loads, we are able to stimulate more motor units to activate which will ultimately result in an increased amount of muscle fibers.

However, if our goal is to increase our explosiveness and force production we should be targeting the Type 2 muscle fibers. By repeatedly doing long, slow, endurance type activities we can actually impair our ability to develop explosiveness.

2. Ability to Produce Force

To put it simply, the more force we are able to put into the ground, the higher we are able to propel ourselves in the air.

If we are unable to produce a high amount of force, then we will never be able to jump as high as we want. Their are many ways to improve force production, but my personal favorites are: heavy weight training, eccentric overload and plyometrics. No, plyometrics does not mean to jump on the highest box you can find. When I say plyometrics, I am talking about explosive movement such as sprints, bounds, depth jumps, resistance jumps, etc. “Eccentric Overload” means to load the eccentric part of the exercise with a significant amount of resistance. Eccentric movements actually have a higher force production than concentric movements so trust me when I say, you need to do lots of eccentric training.

Eccentric: the lowering aspect of exercises (i.e. the descent of the squat)

Concentric: the raising aspect of exercises (i.e. the ascent of the squat)

Heavy weight training definitely plays a huge role when it comes to increasing our force production. However, Velocity Based Training (VBT) can also be a great option. VBT is a method of training which uses a piece of technology to track the speed of the exercise. This method is usually only used with collegiate or professional teams because the technology can get quite expensive. However, you do not need the technology to be able to train this way. To do this, we usually want to use weights that are less than 90% of our 1 rep max. This is because our goal is to complete the exercise quick and explosively. For example, imagine doing a back squat with a weight that is 85% of your max, on the descent of the squat you go at a normal and controlled speed, and then when you reach full depth, you stand up as fast as you can while maintaining proper technique. This is Velocity Based Training and can be very beneficial to any athlete looking to improve strength, power and explosiveness.

3. Jump Technique

When you think of skills in sports, most of us tend to initially think of a basketball jump shot, a soccer players dribbling ability, a volleyball players jump serve or even a quarterbacks throwing ability. However, we never think about the vertical jump. Just like all of these other skills, the vertical jump is a skill and it must be trained to master it. As a jumper, here are a few questions to ask yourself the next time you jump:

  • How well am I using my arms to gain momentum and power?
  • How hard am I pushing into the ground?
  • Am I fully extending through the ankles, knees, hips and shoulders?
  • Am I landing safely and efficiently?
  • Do my knees cave in when I land?

If you don’t have the answer to these after you jump, then the best thing to do is to record yourself jump a few times to fully understand what is going on. If you are looking for feedback on your jump technique, feel free to record a video of yourself and send it to me and I would be glad to critique it.

Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions or concerns about any of this information!

Thanks for reading!

Published by Jonathan Valentini,

B.A. Exercise Science, Professional Strength and Conditioning Coach, Former NCAA athlete, CSCS, CSAC, CPR/AED

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