From Soccer Player To Jumper: 1 Year, 14 Lessons Later

This article was written by Mat Herold (M.Sc.).  Visit his blog at

I played soccer in college at Division 1 Fresno State before the Men´s program folded due to Title IX in 2004. Title IX is women´s equity in sports, so Women´s Golf replaced Men´s Soccer. I had one of the highest VO2max scores on the team with 76 ml/kg/min, and in high school as a sophomore with very little training I ran a 4:48 mile. These are not exceptional by any means, but the point I am trying to make, is that i have always been a slow-twitch dominant athlete who despite my obsession with sprinting speed, was much better suited for long distance running.

About a year ago at age 29, I decided that I would stop playing soccer for awhile and at the height of 5’5” (1.65m), train to touch a 10ft (3.05m) rim. My standing reach is 7ft (2.14m), so that means I need to achieve a vertical jump of 36 inches in order to accomplish this task. Have I yet? No. But I have come 2 inches away on my best and I started out at about 13 inches away. In the course of a year, this equates to an 11 inch gain. While the 2 inch away is a personal best and not something I can go out and do on a daily basis, it still stands and there have been numerous lessons I have learned in this past year about training and the way the body responds.

Before I tell you the main lessons I have learned along the way, I should inform you that I made the decision to accomplish this goal first off of a running 1 leg jump much like a high jump, and then change my training and body in order to be able to do it off of two legs. I am still working on the single leg jump.

The lessons so far:

  1. Bodyweight matters, a lot. The less time and more vertical the orientation of the desired movement involved in the application of force, the more that bodyweight is a factor. If you look at any world class high jumper they are all extremely lean. While some double leg jumpers can get away with being heavier due to superior levels of strength, this is virtually impossible during the single leg jump.
  2. You have to practice the jump. Should be obvious enough, but the SAID principle certainly applies to jumping, especially off of one leg. Drills are great, but the actual jump itself must remain part of the training as a consistent practice.
  3. Hamstring knee flexion strength gives the knee more stability and confidence to absorb high levels of eccentric force on the single leg jump or any plant or stop where there are great shear force potentials. Glute ham variations strengthen the hamstring so the femur is less likely to glide anteriorly or laterally thus providing stability.
  4. Train the lower limb. Shin splints are a good indicator you are training hard, but also that your anterior tibialis is limiting your gastroc-soleus to produce force. Some coaches say that plyos and sprints are enough to stimulate the lower leg, and while there is no replacement in the weight room for developing this "stiffness" as it has been called (the ability of the ankle complex to be more like a pumped tire than a flat tire), I now believe (along with Professor Verhokoshanksky) that the anterior tibialis, soleus, and gastroc all require specific strength training, for injury prevention at the least.
  5. Caffeine helps prior. Ramps nervous system recruitment and overall excitability.
  6. You will jump higher later in the day versus earlier in the morning.
  7. Some explosive stuff at a low volume earlier in the day will prime the nervous system for later in the day. Dan Pfaff amongst other great coaches have mentioned this phenomenon. [JIMSON’S NOTE:  This is why I sometimes do a 20 minute beach-sand morning workout throwing a med ball using various tosses, especially at warm weather training camps.  Then I jog to the ball, stop, pick it up, and throw again.]
  8. Fresh is powerful. Fatigued is slow.
  9. Weighed vests are a great tool. Bounding variations with them and actual approach jumps with them are great specific strength training tools. Caution with the volume and the load. For single leg stuff, the load should be far lighter than double leg plyos and jumps.
  10. Inducing some lactate into your muscles during the warm up stage will have you jumping higher on the day. Related to overall nervous system activation and recruitment of more muscle fibers.
  11. Backing off of maximal strength work while maintaining increasing power exercises and dropping volume and intensity on strength work is the sure fire way to begin the peak.
  12. Everyone is different. Sometimes it is important to isolate to integrate when it comes to hypertrophy. A bigger muscle has more potential for strength and power. Personally, my calves hold me back, so some direct strength work there is needed. For others it may be glutes, hamstrings, quads, it depends. Charlie Francis’ "if it looks right, it flies right" holds true for the most part, but in the high jump not always as there are some weak looking folks producing massive amounts of power. In other words, don’t forget number 1!
  13. In my experience, it is easiest to improve in order from easiest to hardest: the double leg jumps, acceleration phase of a sprint, single leg jumping, and top speed running. It comes down to contact times. Everyone can get much stronger, and in doing so this allows performance in the longer contacts to go up.
  14. Cutting back on endurance activities is definitely needed for power athletes. For a slow twitch dominant athlete, there is an even greater concern to limit the exposure to endurance oriented tasks.

About the Author

Mat Herold is a former D-1 soccer player and certified strength and conditioning coach with a Masters of Science degree in Exercise Physiology.  His website is

Jimson Lee

Jimson Lee

Coach & Founder at
I am a Masters Athlete and Coach currently based in London UK. My other projects include the Bud Winter Foundation, writer for the IAAF New Studies in Athletics Journal (NSA) and a member of the Track & Field Writers of America.
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
  • Matt,

    This is an excellent read and you learned a lot in one year. You definitely have a very keen since of awareness within you body and your training. I you see my articles on this site under jumping events you will find them very beneficial. They cover advanced plyometrics and Ballistic training, most specifically rate of force development. would love to chat more with you. shoot me an email at

  • Kenta!

    Thanks for the compliment, but I have a ways to go. I love your articles and you are the level I can only strive for. Expect an email shortly!