Very few athletic measurements evoke awe-inspiring glances as a forty-inch vertical jump. While incredibly important when dunking a basketball or spiking a volleyball, the vertical jump test is a standard measurement of one’s explosive power; that is, the amount of force one is able to generate in a specific, in this case immediate, amount of time. A high vertical jump requires the athlete to coordinate a whole body movement to drive a downward force onto the ground sufficient to propel the body against the force of gravity and into the air.
Many athletes attempt to improve their vertical through gimmicks like strength shoes or other heavily marketed products on the Internet. However, strength training, Olympic lifts and plyometrics offer the best bet for consistent long term development and athletic success.
“The vertical jump is a complex multi-joint movement that requires muscle coordination best improved by specific skill development. Traditional strength training, explosive types of weight training, plyometrics and Olympic lifting can be effective for increasing vertical jump. The form of training that is most effective is determined by the relative strengths and weaknesses of the athlete,” (Kraemer, et al.).
Common exercises include explosive lifts like a Clean Pull or a Push Press, Olympic lifts like the Power Clean and Snatch, traditional weight lifting like Back and Front Squats and Step-ups, and plyometric activities like depth jumps and box jumps. To increase the force produced in the vertical jump movement, the muscle contraction requires greater motor unit recruitment or faster firing of the motor nerves. Increasing force application is one way to increase vertical jump; another is increasing the muscle coordination and the neuromuscular efficiency.
To increase force application, exercises such as a front and back squat are important; however, to improve muscle coordination between the agonists and antagonists, Olympic lifts are very beneficial because of the triple extension (extension of the ankle, knee and hip), which characterizes the Olympic lifts and the jumping action. Plyometrics are important to transfer the strength developed into speed-strength, where the athlete can apply the strength in athletic movements such as running and jumping.
Many researchers have studied the role of different lifts on improving the vertical jump, and the research appears to conclude that using all of the above methods in a periodized approach is the best training protocol. “These results indicate the current study did not find differences between the exercises [power cleans and squats] if indeed they did exist. It would appear that all modes of exercise are successful in improving anaerobic power production, but no one lift was more successful than another,” (Abendroth-Smith, et al.).
“The movement pattern of Olympic style lifting is similar to that of a vertical jump. Power output during Olympic lifting is extremely high, and the speed of movement is fast, with an accelerative-velocity profile. Thus, Olympic lifting exercises are more specific to the vertical jump than are traditional weight training,” (Kraemer, et al.).
Exercise Mode Vertical Jump Increase
Squats 3.30 cm
Plyometrics 3.81 cm
Squats & Plyometrics 10.67 cm
(Adams, et al)
The reasons may vary, but the squats provide better strength improvement than simply doing plyometrics, while plyometrics increase the neuromuscular adaptations, joint strength and ability to transfer strength to speed and movement. Together, weight training and plyometrics cover all the bases to improve different areas of the vertical jump and provide the best training method. “Research has shown the method of using training loads of 30 to 60 percent of 1RM in weightlifting to be an effective means of developing maximal power output. Combined with plyometrics, this form of training can be effective, time efficient and safe,” (Chu, 8).Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½
Weight training and plyometrics are safe activities when done correctly, and each offers the ability to prevent injuries by preparing the body for the forces of competitive athletics. A periodized approach prevents the athlete from reaching a plateau and saves the athlete from burnout or overuse injuries. It is used as a way to break up the training schedule to work towards peaking during the important stretch of the season. Without periodization, the body adapts to the stimulus and reaches a plateau where very little development takes place. This leads to athletes either burning out due to frustration or overtraining to assure some type of gains. This is unhealthy and places the athlete at risk for injury. The periodization keeps the workouts fresh, maintains growth and development and prepares the athlete for the competition phase.Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½
A good program put together by a professional trainer can aid an athlete and improve the athlete’s speed, quickness and jumping ability, and these gains may transform the player’s playing career.