This article is guest blogged by Travis Hansen, author of The Speed Encyclopedia.
He also wrote Why Acceleration is More Important than Top Speed in Most Sports and Building Your Horsepower – The Power Development Model Part 1 and Part 2, which are full excerpts from his book.
To read all his articles on this blog, click here.
In the football combine, the best measure is not just the 40 yard dash, but the standing long jump and the vertical jump test.
8 Key Tips To A Better Vertical Jump (Part 1)
The vertical jump is one of the most highly coveted and desired performance skills in sports today. Most want to jump out of the gym, or at least experience a dramatic increase in jump ability from where there at right now. Unfortunately, I still don’t think there is a lot of sound practitioners, coaches, and systems out there today that can regularly deliver results to athletes in this area of athletic performance. In this article, I’m going to sum up 8 things you can do too ensure that you are jumping much higher than you were before. Below is the list, and I will detail each of them specifically in the sequence they are presented.
- #1 – Size
- #2 – Speed
- #3 – Strength
- #4 – Power
- #5 – Potentiation
- #6 – Technique
- #7 – Frequency
- #8 – Anterior Hip Mobility/Flexibility
In 2005, there was a study published in The Journal of Experimental Biology that examined all types of track and field runners across all distances, and the consensus was that the faster the sprinter, the bigger they were. This message can definitely be applied in the context of vertical jump development since it’s also a speed and power based training activity. Anecdotally, my best athletic jumpers were also some of the biggest and most muscular. Please keep in mind, that if you do not complement this size advantage and lift heavy weights frequently, then you will be left with no advantage, but rather a disadvantage. The size or increase in cross sectional area of your muscles, especially at target lower body muscles (quads and hips) which are the most dominant in the vertical jump pattern, have the potential to express more power and strength relative to your body mass, but you have to take advantage of this in the weight room, otherwise you will be impaired more so than if you were lighter.
Next, lets discuss and distinguish the two types of hypertrophy really quick, and then explain why one is definitely going to be better than the other when trying to jump higher. There is Myofibrilar and Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy types. Below is each along with corresponding characteristics for each:
|Increase in Actin and Myosin||Increase in Sarcoplasm|
|Strength based growth||Endurance based growth|
|Low-moderate reps/volume||Moderate to high reps/volume|
|Longer recovery between sets and workouts||Shorter recovery between sets and workouts|
|High Intensity||Moderate to High Intensity|
Myofibrilar is without a doubt the main type of hypertrophy that you want when trying to jump higher. Unfortunately, increases in the the sarcoplasm of a muscle cell which enables more ATP, Creatine Phosphate, and Glycogen will not have much bearing at all on an event that only lasts approximately 2 seconds in duration and is highly reliant not on your level of conditioning and energy supply, but rather how fast you can activate all motor units and muscles and how much power you can express into the ground. This is not to say that you do not want any Sarcoplasmic growth, because you definitely do. The “Cellular” swelling that occurs with this type of growth will also signal increases in the myofibrils since the pressure threatens their integrity. It’s just that this type of growth should be limited since you can’t capitalize off of it in athletic movements as much. By increasing the size of the contractile proteins of your muscle, which is the Actin and Myosin components, you will be afforded greater force production potential. This means you need to perform a lot of heavy Max Effort Lower Body drills like parallel free squats, box squats, hex bar deadlifts, and sumo deadlifts to name a few. This will help stimulate various growth pathways through the body so you can actually apply the growth and size you obtain during jump attempts. There was a study from Weyand and Bundle in 2012 that showed fatigue levels and fore production were the primary indicators of running speed and not conditioning levels. 1 2 This study examined running speed which is relatively far more reliant upon conditioning status than the vertical jump. If conditioning was deemed not very significant for regulating human running speed, then you can be rest assured that it has very little if any influence on your vertical jump number. This evidence signifies the value of training for myofibrilar hypertrophy.
What I think of when I hear the term speed when referencing the vertical jump, is the Myotatic Stretch Reflex! This is a supportive action provided by the muscles and tendons that occurs as we squat and stretch target muscles during the eccentric phase of a vertical jump. The faster and harder we can load our lower body system the higher we will counter this movement and jump! This is Newton’s 3rd Law of Physics at work here. Variations like Depth jumps, Paused Box Squats to Jump, Tuck Jumps, High Hurdle Jumps, Lateral Barrier Jumps, and more high intensity plyometric variations will help enhance this reflexive action. 3 10
Along with the drills I just mentioned, unilateral plyometrics are also an extremely valuable and essential addition into any specialized jump development system. The rationale is pretty obvious. You may be hiding subtle asymmetries off one leg or the other in your bilateral attempts which may be a limiting factor when trying to jump higher and the research supports it. 4 5
Lastly, a comprehensive plyometric program that includes all of the specific jump drills that can influence your stretch reflex, unilateral and bilateral plyometric exercises, and just standard change of direction training, and sprinting are going to all help form a powerful synergy that can take your stretch reflex and speed to another level! For example, research shows that there tends to be strong correlations between agility, sprinting, and jumping ability. In 2013 there was a study conducted on elite and sub-elite sprinters that tested their respective jumping ability. Of course, the elite sprinters were much better jumpers than slower sprinters. 9 10 It’s not just one particular exercise that gets the job done, but rather several drills that carry unique elements that when added up, result in large improvements. One drill may target a hip or quad muscle differently, or emphasize one side of the power equation more, or cures an imbalance, etc. I want to also note that intermuscular and intramuscular coordination levels are another cause of improvement that occur with this type of training that was noted in the research.
About the Author
Travis Hansen was the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Reno Bighorns of the NBADL for their 2010 season, and he is currently the Director of The Reno Speed School inside the South Reno Athletic Club. He is the author of The Speed Encyclopedia.