Understanding Power to Improve Vertical Jump

This article is guest blogged by Joel Jamieson from www.improve-vertical.org

Power is very commonly mistaken as strength, the ability to output force, or the ability to lift heavy weights. In reality, power is dependent on both velocity and force, and is usually referred to as explosive strength, an important aspect of athleticism and especially to improve vertical jump.

In simple terms, athletic power refers to the ability to apply force throughout a full range of body-joint movement with speed for maximum time or distance.

The vertical jump is a perfect display of power. A high leap requires the generation of a lot of force in a fraction of a second.

This makes it so that power can be defined as:

 

Force x Velocity, or Strength x Speed

 

What This Means for Athletes

Power is the product of strength and speed, and so athletes that want to increase their power need to work on both sides of the equation. Most recreational athletes are weaker on one side, and in a lot of the cases, they are weak on both. In those cases, it is a good idea for them to focus on their weaknesses, while making sure to not ignore the other side of the equation. What this means is that a certain level of balance is required, and that is due to the fact that focusing strictly on one side of the equation will eventually cause a decrease in the other side.

 

How to Increase Power

This makes it so that power can be improved in 3 ways:

  1. Increase strength
  2. Increase speed
  3. Increase both speed and strength

Increasing strength is most commonly achieved by doing a given weightlifting exercise for multiple sets with a low number of repetitions (3 to 6) using 80 to 90% of your max.

Increasing speed can be done in many ways: Plyometric exercises, bodyweight exercises, and weightlifting using between 20 and 40% of your max with high acceleration.

Increasing both speed and strength can be done by either implementing the previous methods in the same training cycle, or more efficiently by focusing on exercises that require both speed and strength. Some of the most beneficial exercises for doing this would be the Olympic lifts and their variations, such as the power clean and power snatch. Other methods would involve using loads between 50 and 70% of your max and performing the given exercises with high acceleration. This usually referred to as “power training”

 

Using Power to Improve Vertical Jump

These different methods might bring a bit of confusion on what needs to be done to improve power, and subsequently improve vertical jump. As a general rule, which I mentioned briefly earlier, most athletes will benefit the most at first from focusing on their weaknesses.

What this means is that if you are weaker in the strength part, then you will benefit from a training program that will have you focus on increasing your strength, while mixing in some speed or more preferably, some power training, which would help keep your speed consistent or slightly increase it.

On the other hand, if you are speed-deficient, but have a good strength base, then you will benefit most from a training program that will have you focus on speed training, bodyweight plyometric exercises, and low weight accelerative weight training, while mixing in some power training to keep your strength consistent or slightly increase it.

 

Conclusion

Power is a very important aspect of all sports, and it is important to develop it. It is very commonly focused on when looking to improve vertical jump simply because the vertical jump is a measure of raw power output. Considering this, there are several methods and paths that can be used to do this, and it is important to assess deficiencies in order to train correctly and maximize your benefits.

 
About the Author

Joel Jamieson is a strength and conditioning coach from Canada. He runs a vertical jump website with plenty of solid and good information on how to improve vertical jump.

  • I used to be entrenched in the same beliefs. I have spent the better of my life trying to improve power and vertical jump, reading through old German and Russian exercise physiology translations, thinking the answer lied in there, somewhere. Unfortunately, and probably more often than not, unconsciously as well, Verkhoshansky, Zatiorsky, Simmons and the likes, I now believe, have led us astray, deceived us in some ways…

    Moving a weight quickly will not develop fast muscles. According to the size principle of muscle fiber recruitment, it is the “intent” to move a weight quickly that allows you to recruit the strongest, most powerful muscles fibers, not that the weight actually moves fast. BIG DIFFERENCE!!! In other words, it is the attempted maximum effort against a weight that has momentarily become virtually impossible to move that allows the nervous system to recruit and fire the most explosive muscle fibers.

    Some experts who study movement measure speed in terms of degrees per second. They literally measure how fast the joint rotates. The standard repetition speed in a weight room would probably measure about 60 degrees per second. A 140 degree barbell curl, for example, would take a little over two second to complete the raising portion of the rep. The speed many people consider “fast” or “explosive” in the weight room would measure approximately 180 degrees per seconds. The same barbell curl performed at this speed would take about three-fourths of a second. Now, in competition, a fast athlete can rotate some joints well in excess of 1000 degrees per second. This is a factor five to ten times greater than the speed consider “fast” in the weight room. “Explosive” lifting is only “fast” relative to a controlled rep. Relative to the athletic field it is actually quite slow. So slow, in fact, that if you moved at that speed in competition you would lose every time.

    Get to work on skill, speed and explosion every day in practice and then, work on muscle growth, strength and power development in the gym, which are adaptations to high tension and high intensity muscular contraction. It is all very simple when you rely on the facts. There is no skill that will transfer from the weight room to the field. None!!! Strength training develops the raw material of the body. Skills are learned in practice and repetition.

    So, spare your joints. Think long term too. Work hard and safely in the gym, staying away from explosive lifts and plyos, and work on your skills in practice.

    Slow repetition speed during exercise does not make a person slow during other activities, and fast reps are not necessary to improve power production. Power does not equal strength x speed, it actually equals work (force x displacement) divided by time. If you improve a persons strength (force producing capacity) you will improve their ability to displace some mass (move their body to regain balance) in less time. You can get stronger using fast or slow speeds, but you’re much less likely to injure someone during exercise using slower reps. Especially considering that most athlete’s main activity already has its own inherent risks. Believe me when I tell you that competitive Olympic weightlifters do not practice explosive blocking, tackling or rebounding in order to better explode under the bar. Does that seem stupid to you? It is. An Olympic weightlifter would not accept the risk of injury and waste his time blocking, tackling or rebounding when he could be putting that time and risk into his chosen sport. He wouldn’t even do it in his “off-season.” Why take the risk and considerable time to perform the Olympic lifts and the various mutations (and I add to this list any speed lifting and most plyos) when you could put that exact same time into practice?

    Keep in mind we’re talking about exercise. In practicing a specific athletic or vocational skill to become faster, then fast movement is necessary. This is different than exercise, however. You can improve your ability to punch quickly, for example, by practicing slowly at first while learning proper mechanics, but eventually you must practice fast, because you will move the way you practice during competition.

    But, there is no positive transfer of skill between exercise movements and other movements however, even if they are similar. If an exercise makes you stronger, it makes you faster, but there is nothing in particular about moving fast during exercise that will make you any faster in other activities than moving slowly during exercise, and moving slowly during exercise will not make you slower either; there is no transfer of motor skill between exercise and other movements.

    The only exception is if that exercise, for the said athlete, is indeed a skill, such as in Olympic lifting and powerlifting, in which case it must be practiced at the speed it will be performed in competition. This is where a lot of the confusion stems from…

    If, however, the goal is to get the maximum benefit from exercise with the minimum risk of injury, slower repetitions are the way to go. This doesn’t necessarily mean Super Slow repetitions, but one should at least move slowly enough to be able to reverse direction in a deliberate and controlled manner between the lifting and lowering movements without bouncing, jerking or yanking at the weight, and slowly enough to be able to stop instantly without further motion at any point during an exercise. This speed will vary from person to person depending on a variety of factors, too many to get into at the moment. Suffice to say that, many of the myths out there about training for speed have to be severely revamped and questioned…

    Thanks to Drew Baye and Mike Bradley (FSU strength coach) for pointing these things out to me. This response comes straight from their minds :)

  • This is a cool response Eric! I am including “speed lifts” at x % of 1RM. Up until this month we have been using them as a deload week, in 4 week cycles. I’m in my last cycle of max strength training and will then start lifting for power. I believe it’s beneficial to stay “fresh” in order to peak in the summer. Max str. is still in the program and will be right to the end of season. From my own personal experience i find max str & power training (weights) yield about the same improvement. But my strength-spring continuum is pretty balanced. Maybe someone who is very strong but not springy may benefit more from plyometrics and fast lifts than someone like myself? whats your thoughts?

    Paul Graham
    http://www.sprintcoaching.wordpress.com

  • Hi Paul,
    I think the whole principle behind deloading, again, is a result of faulty programming. Usually, too much volume/too high a frequency, and more rarely, intensity coupled with too high a volume. These are very new ideas that I have been juggling with only in the last couple of months maybe. I truly believe however that one should aim to stimulate gains with the minimal amount of maximal work necessary, and then allow sufficient time to recover. This is in dealing specifically with the “strength training” part of the equation, of course. And, again, this is in dealing only with athletes who use strength training as a supplement. The skill involved in lifting heavy weights and demonstrating this skill in competition (which really, is only ever displayed in Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting and strong man competitions) requires that the athlete “practices” that skill at higher speeds. However, in any other case (and in your case, sprinting), I believe that skill and all other elements of the power/elastic/ballistic/plyometric equation are more than easily met on the track. As is the case with sprinting, strength training should be about quality first. Once you understand how much time muscles take to recover from all out intense and proper work, it’s easier to appreciate how much time is needed to recover and also how little volume is required. This then leaves more time for the practice-side of the equation…

    Which leads me to the next part of the answer. My career as a basketball player (which stems from early high school, to 4 years in university and now, at 38, still playing in competitive leagues) and all this time spent trying to increase or maintain my vertical have led me to a few interesting observations. One, I started dunking without any weight training. Simply practiced and attempted dunking over and over, until one day I flushed the basket down the rim with an emphatic one-hand slam. I didn’t do any type of formal weight training until about 7 years later. With the combination of strength I acquired and my natural “springiness”, I became an even better dunker, most of my improvements coming in the two-leg jump (I was always a better one-foot jumper until then). I was still in the gym often enough (university varisty), with practices and games, yet didn’t spend as much time “trying to dunk a million times a day, every day, especially of the one-foot-with-running-approach type. After my university years, my time in the gym actually playing ball and trying to dunk went down quite drastically. But, I still trained the strength part of the equation quite a bit, and this is also when I started following more jump programs, to increase/maintain my vertical. During that phase, I noticed something. My one-leg vertical went down quite a bit, while my two-leg jumping ability either was maintained, or increased, depending on the phase of the program I was in. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. At a certain point, I decided I would spend more time emphasizing one-leg barbell stuff, and more one-leg plyos. To no avail really.

    In hindsight though, I’ve come to a few conclusions: the assumption that there is a strength-spring continuum is correct. HOWEVER, I now believe that the reason for any given expression of this continuum is based on something completely different than what has been assumed. More simple than ever thought even. If you spend less time practicing a given skill (in my case, one-leg jumping; less time in the gym just jumping around; less energy (and probably cartilage lol) than as a teenager to just jump around and try to touch every ceiling above your head (this used to drive my mom nuts at home!!!), less playing time, etc.), that skill, with time, slowly deteriorates. One-leg jumping, especially, as it is much more skill-dependent than two-leg jumping (especially the no-running-approach kind, tested at the NFL combine), which is more strength dependent. This is why if you ask an Olympic lifter to do a standard vertical test, they’ll usually fair better than many athletes, often times most basketball players even. However, ask that same lifter to do a running one-leg jump, and watch him crumble under the weight of his body. Where has all his “power or strength” gone? Well, nowhere, really. He just has never ingrained that motor pattern, that skill if you will. Granted, the muscle contribution of one-foot and two-foot jumping is also different but, surely not to the extent of this observation.

    So, this is a long drawn-out answer to say that skill and strength are two different things, that require two different approaches to their respective training. Where things get blurry, and why they do, is because we confuse the “skilled” expression of strength for a given movement (the snatch, for example) for a given athlete with the actual transfer of that strength to other athletic movements. We need to put an end to this confusion.

    If you are more on the strength-side of the continuum then, I would say spend more time practicing your skill. Not necesseraly doing intense plyo drills mind you. Maybe spend less time in the gym (in most cases, that is probably true anyways). If you are more on the spring-side of the continuum, than look at your strength training. Make sure every time you are in the gym, you are not wasting your time. Make sure you are working as hard as possible. And then, give yourself enough time to recover until the next session. Keep working on the skills, making sure they are specific enough to your event, and adjusting intensity as required. This, really, is not that unlike what Simmons at WSB preaches. It’s still a type of conjugate training really. The elements are simply slightly different. And, the volume very much lowered. Hope we can discuss this further…

  • Al Vermeil, S&C coach for the Chicago Bulls and SF 49’ers, once said, the most important factor in a team sport (football, soccer, rugby, basketball) is, CAN THEY PLAY THE POSITION?

    Thus, I believe people should focus their efforts, in order:

    1. skill to play the position
    2. speed
    3. power
    4. endurance (depending on sport)

  • The feeling i’m getting from your last comment is:

    1. uni-lateral strength training is better than bi-lateral strength training, assuming the sport itself is uni-lateral.
    2. lifting heavy (relatively slow) is superior to lifting lighter (faster, but still relatively slow).
    3. skill of strength training does not transfer over the track/field. Therefore olympic lifts, conventional squats & deadlifts may not be optimal for sprinters.

    Without clogging up too much space on Jimson’s site, here are my thoughts:
    http://sprintcoaching.wordpress.com/2011/02/02/olympic-weightlifting-for-sprinters-part-2/

    As i once read, you must overload your training, followed by a short period of deloading to optimise the training effect, long term. Regarding recovery; i used to ache all the time, sometimes it would negatively affect my session 2 days later. 3 months ago i started EAS protein supplements and meal replacements, now my recovery between sessions has shot through the roof. The quality of sessions has improved too. Jeff cavalieres teen sports nutrition blueprint inspired me to change this.

  • Eric, thank you for your input and perspective.

    Skill and strength are indeed 2 different things and they do require different approaches to their training. Thing is, I am not foregoing skill training for strength and speed training.

    I truly believe that skill training is of the utmost importance, but working on other aspects can provide a lot of advantages.

    When it comes to strength and speed, explosive lifts and plyometrics are only hard on the joints when you do them wrong and with high volume. There is specific programming for including these an athlete’s training, and one must balance them with skill training.

    In addition, you have mentioned yourself how high olympic lifters can jump off of 2 legs. The reasons for this is that they have high strength, and a high rate of force development (ROFD). The vertical jump requires but ~0.2 seconds to be performed. If you have a lot of strength but cannot use this strength in that split second (i.e. ROFD), you will not jump high. Now of course, working on your strength with the intent of moving the weight fast will provide benefits to your ROFD, but from my own experience, I have seen explosive lifts providing better benefits. For some athletes, the olympic lifts might not be the best choice due to the learning curve and technical aspects of them, and that is why there are replacements that are easier to learn.

    Now plyometric strength and the strength shortening cycle will take pages to explain and add to the conversation, but it also can’t be ignored. Plyometric training benefits while possessing a good strength base can be easily seen and there have been several studies concerning their benefits.

    Do take into consideration that I’m not advocating intense plyometric work day in and day out at the expense of skill, but there is room for including them in an athlete’s training when they are lacking in reactive strength or similar.

    Cheers, Joel.

  • @Jimson

    I have but utmost respect for Al Vermeil, believe me…

    As for the list…

    1. skill to play the position
    Agreed!

    2. speed
    If we are talking about speed of displacement of the athlete, that can be change by improving power, which can be improved by increasing strength. If we are talking about speed of limbs, too many studies to quote here have shown that you can do very little to change that…

    3. power
    As above, power improvements are best seen with improvements in strength.

    4. endurance (depending on sport)
    As above, the bigger strength reserve you have, the less of that reserve you will be using up to achieve sub-maximal levels of intensity. Therefore, all else being equal, an increase in strength will transfer into an increase in endurance. The latter is also very “skill dependent”, and the majority of the mechanisms of adaptation to endurance activity are seen at the local muscular level.

  • @Paul…

    Actually, no, I believe bilateral exercises are much better than unilateral exercises (more potential for maximal motor recruitment without interference due to skill demands, however small these may be. Consider, for example, a squat compared to a split squat, compared to a lunge, compared to a pistol)…

    Lifting slow and going to failure is the way to go… This will always ensure maximal MU recruitment.

    OL are definitely not necessary, and due to their inherent safety-issues and learning curve, are certainly not optimal. On the contrary, squats and deadlits are king!!!

    I don’t expect everyone to agree with these propositions but, those are the ideas I like to share and discuss. And believe in :)

    I agree that diet can be significant. I believe, depending on the sport, that it can be up to 80% of the equation (for example, in bodybuilders and figure competitors, or anyone concerned with body composition…).

    To quote Drew Baye again:

    “Before switching up exercises or changing training methods ask yourself,

    1.Am I really working as hard as possible on each exercise?
    2.Am I keeping my workouts relatively brief?
    3.Am I allowing my body adequate time to recover between workouts?
    4.Am I eating well?
    5.Am I getting enough sleep?”

    Contemplating and answering these questions can serve most trainees/trainers/coaches/athletes in many circumstances…

  • @Paul again…

    I meant to say that I liked the article in the link to your site that you posted. Very much in agreement with 90% of the content. I see you’ve followed many of the same guys as I have (Cressey, DeFranco, Baggett, etc.) :)

  • @Joel…

    “Thing is, I am not foregoing skill training for strength and speed training.”

    Great :)

    “When it comes to strength and speed, explosive lifts and plyometrics are only hard on the joints when you do them wrong and with high volume. There is specific programming for including these an athlete’s training, and one must balance them with skill training.”

    Actually, explosive lifts and plyometrics are ALWAYS harder on the joints than slow lifting, regardless of volume. Please understand that I am fully aware that the inherent demands of most athlete’s sports already require that joints be stressed by the impact and forces imparted on them. So, I am not claiming by any means that ballistic lifts/exercises are “MORE” dangerous than sporting actions, but simply calling to people’s attention the fact that, in reality, should we also require that athletes run the same risks in the weight room where, generally speaking, we are looking to improve upon their condition, and not ruin their health (short-term, potentially, long-term, most likely…).

    “Using momentum to lift a weight increases the internal forces encountered by a given joint: the faster a weight is lifted, the greater these forces are amplified – especially at the points of acceleration and deceleration. When these forces exceed the structural limits of a joint, an injury occurs in the muscles, bones or connective tissue. No one knows what the exact tensile strength of ligaments and tendons are at any given moment. The only way to ascertain tensile strength is when the structural limits are surpassed.” (M. Brzychi).

    The underlying tone of explosive lifting/exercise proponents, when discussing injuries, is that they are a part of athletics, therefore the fact that certain lifts may carry inherent risks must be accepted. This thinking, I believe, represents a negligent haphazard approach in the training of athletes who are not competitive weightlifters.

    Dr. Fred Allman, a past president of the ACSM, has commented on numerous occasions on the danger in performing Olympic lifts, as well as the hazards of introducing speed to weight lifting movements. He has also stated that the performance of the Olympic lifts provides little benefit to athletes in their training programs for any sport other than Olympic lifting.

    The worst part is, the continuous exposure to acceleration/deceleration forces present when doing cleans, snatches and jerks and high-intensity plyos (depth jumps) can produce tissue damage which literally is an accident waiting to happen. Therefore, inclusion of these movements in strength programs may, in fact be the genesis of injuries incurred later in practices and games.

    Certains studies looking at these issues have come up with different conclusions but very often, the unanswered questions, remain:

    1.How many of the injuries incurred were a result of ballistic training?
    2.How about cumulative trauma which was aggravated on the field and not attributed to the weight room, or which no study will be able to take into account due to injuries occuring many years later
    3.Should any injury in the weight room, be acceptable?

    Explosive movements do not provide a better stimulus for connective tissue strengthening. Quite the opposite, they’re more likely to result in injuries to connective tissues and should be avoided by anyone who values the health of their joints.

    ROFD is nothing but the displaying of the strength in a skilled manner. If there was such a magical thing as ROFD, it would be generalized throughout the lifter’s legs and therefore, they should be also able to display that skill in one-legged run-up attempts, don’t you think so? Skill training, meaning working on the movement (or parts of the movement) specifically, is what allows one to use his strength in a more efficient manner (i.e., more rapidly). Not throwing weights around fast…

    Studies by Palmieri and Wenzel et al. measured training speed and power development with no significant differences being found at slow, fast or a combination of slow and fast speeds. The relevance of these studies is in the conclusion of each that fast training speeds are not needed for power improvements. If controlled speed is at least as effective (if not more so) and safer than faster speed, wouldn’t the controlled movement speed be the more judicious option? More importantly, if the safety and welfare of the athletes entrusted to you truly superseded any personal preference or commercial bias in training techniques, then the choice should be quite obvious. As stated by Pipes, speed of limb movement has little to do with intensity. If anything there is an inverse relationship… you can have speed or you can have intensity; you cannot have both!

    As Drew Baye says: “It is the contention of explosive lifting proponents that ballistic lifting movements are necessary in enhancing athletic performance in addition to “simulation movement patterns and velocity and acceleration of many sports movements.” These claims are not, however, supported with definitive, conclusive research data. Some individuals make numerous “suggestions” taken from its and pieces of the scientific literature which fit into their ideology, but the smoking gun is nonexistent. At best, the conflicting data and/or lack of irrefutable findings on these matters render the entire controversy inconclusive.”

    Too many studies in fact show there exists an inverse relationship between movement speed and muscle force production, which dictates that maximal tension is developed at slow velocities (though the “intent” to move rapidly is evident) and decreases as the speed of contraction increases). These movements are therefore less productive with respect to maximal force production and concomitant strength development.

    In strength… and good debate :)
    Éric

    • Hi Eric Lepine. do you have a website or Facebook page, what are your credentials, you are a wealth of knowledge.

      Thanks

      Tom

  • hi
    how are you?
    Please exercise your articles in the field of media and send to me
    Mercy
    Rasoul
    student of Physical Education and Sport Sciences

  • @Eric

    I like your posts. They bring a new and interesting perspective to me.

    I am and was a big proponent of lifting slow (with the intent of lifting fast), and do believe that it is in general safer than lifting explosively or with high velocity.

    While there are risks with everything, technique, intensity, volume, and recovery are all key parts of the training.
    If an athlete starts doing plyometric exercises several times a week in season, then there is definitely something wrong there. If an athlete is doing high-intensity exercises such as depth jumps several times a week, then it’s a fast track to injuring him/herself, etc…

    Thing is, and I might be wrong here, I get the impression that the working of the muscles is greatly simplified. There’s more to it than just the max strength output of the muscles, and the vertical jump is certainly not strictly about max strength output.

    Regards,
    Joel