So you want to increase your vertical jump? It’s not that complicated, but it will be a huge help in all kinds of sports. Obviously, if you want to dunk in basketball or go to the net in volleyball, you need to get up high. Not your sport? Increasing your vertical jump will help in other sports. It will make you quicker off the blocks in track, give you explosive speed off the line of scrimmage in football, and build quick and powerful legs for skiing. But how do you jump higher? Here are five key components to a jump training program.
1. Plyometric Jump Workouts
Plyometric exercises consist of a stretch-lengthening phase, followed by rapid contraction. In plain English, this means that you shock the muscle and then immediately rebound. For jump training, research shows that the most effective exercise for increasing vertical leap is the depth jump or drop jump. In a depth or drop jump, you start out on a box, jump off the box and explode up with a maximal effort (after a nice warm up of course). Sports physiologists have tested many different heights of boxes, but somewhere around 10-12 inches is enough to get most of the benefit with a lot less risk of injury than jumping from a 20+ inch box. Some key considerations:
- Quality not quantity. You’re going to rest between each jump and you’re not going to be doing a lot of jumps per session. Most importantly, want to measure every jump. Once you start losing height, stop immediately. You don’t want to practice sub-maximal effort. You want to train yourself to go higher.
- Not too often. Since you are doing maximal effort, you can’t do this every day. Depending on age and base fitness level, 2-3 times per week should be about right.
2. Strength Training and Olympic Lifting
Power is the ability to develop force rapidly. Plyometrics works explosive power. Strength is the ability to develop maximal strength. For this, you’ll want to go to the classics: squats and deadlifts. In all cases, paying close attention to the spine and avoiding any curvature is essential to your health. There is correlation between vertical jump and leg power on the one hand, and leg strength on the other, so you need to work strength to be your best.
Deadlifts, both straight and bent leg, are great exercises for strengthening the “dorsal chain”, that is the muscles of your backside from the back itself through the glutes (butt) and hamstrings. Start light and build up over several workouts.
The traditional squat is a somewhat dangerous exercise and some of the top strength coaches, like Mike Boyle, recommend against it even for their pro football players. A safer alternatives is the front squat, where you rest the bar on your clavicle. This encourages good form and inhibits you from curving at the spine or leaning too far forward and also challenges your core muscles. Leading coaches like Boyle and Gray Cook actually prefer single-leg squats. These are very safe, a killer workout and will reveal imbalances in your strength. I find it best not to go too low. Some people with poor balance may try to cheat and stay too high. So a good guide is to do it near a bench press bench and sink down until your butt just touches, but doesn’t rest on the bench. If you’re 6’10” that may still be too low. Essentially, you want to go to where your thigh is parallel to the floor, but not too much further as that puts huge stress on the knees.
Once you’re comfortable with these exercises, you’re ready to move onto Olympic lifting. Studies have shown that of all the strength exercises, the power clean is the best predictor of the vertical jump ability. Ideally, you’ll get proper instruction from a qualified trainer as this is a complex exercise, but there are some good instructional videos on YouTube as well. Essentially, a power clean is a deadlift that brings the bar all the way to the shoulders.
This requires building speed with your legs through the initial phase so that the momentum brings the bar past the hips and you can sink into it and get the bar on the shoulders. Please do not do a power clean from that description. I have longer descriptions on my website, but even better is to get an actual trainer to help you learn this exercise. The only point I want to make here is that, like jumping itself, the power clean is an explosive, compound exercise. Because of that, it works much the same pathways as jumping and overloads the muscles in the same way, so it is fantastic component for any jump training program. Did I mention that you should get proper instruction? Please!
3. Core Strengthening
Quick, what’s the favorite exercise of Kadour Ziani, world-record holder in the vertical jump? Squats? Plyometrics? Nope. It’s spiders. To do a spider, you lie on the ground face down, spread eagle in an X. Then you lift up so still in an X, you’re on your fingers and toes. From there you can just hold it or even “spider” around, “walking” back and forth or going round in circles. It’s a killer core exercise.
So what in the world does core strengthening have to do with vertical leap? Simple: core strength will give you rigidity in your torso. So when your legs generate that massive force you’re building through plyometrics and strength training, you want to transfer that force into vertical leap, not dissipate in a wet-noodle body.
If you’re not ready for spiders, you can start with front and side planks and back extensions. Front planks are basically like a pushup position, but you hold it at the top for 1-4 minutes depending on how strong you are. Side planks are like that, but turned 90 degrees, so your chest faces the wall, not the floor. In back extensions, you put your hip cushion with your feet under a roller on a Roman Chair. If you don’t have one in your gym (I don’t), you can use an exercise ball for your hips and put your feet under a dumbbell rack. And while you’re on the exercise ball, turn over and do some crunches on top of the ball, which gives you a longer range of motion and a better workout that doing crunches on the floors.
4. Stretching and Flexibility
You should allocate some scheduled time every week to dedicated stretching and flexibility work. Ideally, you do not want to stretch a lot right before a jump workout. Why? Because it will temporarily weaken the muscle a little. Better to do a nice warmup and just a bit of basic stretching. But outside of your strength and power workouts, you want to work your flexibility by doing some extended sessions, as well as several sessions throughout the day. The best gains come from holding one position for a long time (1-2 mins) and then also maintaining that stretch with frequent refreshers throughout the day if your job or school schedule allows. The refreshers can be just 10 seconds with your foot on the back of a chair.
Why bother with all this? Two reasons. One, you don’t want all that strength and power you’ve developed to be impinged because your body can’t move as it should. Second, you also don’t want your form to be messed up because of an inability to move correctly or because of an imbalance between one side and the other.
5. Proper Nutrition.
Obviously, you want to eat your veggies. Lots of broccoli. That’s true whether you’re training or not. If you’re training hard, though, you want to make sure that you have adequate nutrition. Research is divided on the subject, but I take a multi-vitamin to fill in the gaps. More importantly, you want to get enough high-quality protein without too much fat. The best source of this is whey protein. The best deal I’ve found at this time (October 2009) is a 10-pound bag from NOW Nutrition ordered through Bodybuilding.com, but look around. As a general guideline, you’d like your total protein (including what you get from broccoli) to equal about 1 gram per pound of lean body mass (that is your body mass minus your fat mass). Ideally, you’ll take this in throughout the day in doses of about 20 grams, since you can’t utilize large amounts of protein and the excess protein in a dose will just get converted into fat.
One more tip: some research suggests that 20gms of whey protein taken without other calories right before bed can promote the release of human growth hormone during deep sleep. So that can be a huge booster for your recovery.
Remember, these are just a few key components to a successful vertical jump training program, but it’s far far from exhaustive. You still need to use common sense and that means warm up before you exercise or else you’re asking for injury, and get plenty of rest, otherwise your body can’t recover and you won’t make adequate gains. Remember, rest includes plenty of sleep as well as rest days after strength training.
Train hard, train smart, jump high!