Training for the Vertical Jump

A quick Google search will uncover a seemingly infinite number of articles that promise to increase your vertical jump. They advise everything from jumping in sand or water to using a shoe that has a platform at the ball of the foot and no heel (that may look fantastic on Victoria Beckham but we wouldn’t suggest it as a great way to train vertical jump if you value your ankle health). They will tell you to train all the smaller muscles that contribute in relatively minor ways to the vertical jump, and even some that don’t, while virtually ignoring the major contributors. The long and the short of it all is – who can you trust?

We will discuss the vertical jump and offer some training advice as to how to increase your vertical jump. This series may be of interest to volleyball and basketball players who jump as part of their sport performance as well as football and hockey players who will be asked to perform vertical jump testing at combines and training camps. Testing the vertical jump and maximizing your opportunities for performance in that test are a whole different subject. This article will examine how to train to jump as high as you possibly can.

The first thing we should do is decide what muscles are contributing to our ability to vertical jump. The posterior chain is to the vertical jump as location is to real estate. That is to say the major contributors to an athlete’s ability to get into the air are behind them. The glutes contribute 40% of the force output in a vertical jump and the hamstrings produce another 25%. (Poliquin, 2006) If this is surprising to you, what comes next will completely shock you – the quadriceps contribute a mere 5% of the force output and the calves another measly 5% (those numbers are rounded up!). The shoulder flexors, on the other hand, contribute 15% of the vertical jump force. (Poliquin, 2008) A study by Fukashiro and Komi in 2005 suggests that the rank order of the muscles firing in a vertical jump is “hip greater than knee greater than ankle”. We can hear a collective “Huh?” What this means is that the greatest contribution to the vertical jump is made by the hip extensors, followed by the knee extensors, and then the ankle extensors. Still not very clear? Let’s relate these to muscle groups. Extensors of the hip … glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors; of the knee … quadriceps; and of the ankle … calves. So, we’ve discovered that the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors) is the “prime mover” when it comes to the vertical jump. This knowledge will help us focus our training on the muscles that matter when it comes to increasing our vertical jump and enable us to train with a “most bang for the buck” approach.

Before we hit the gym to start our vertical jump strength training, we have to know a little bit about ourselves. I had a football coach many years ago whose favorite saying was “Athlete, know thyself!” He was a pretty smart guy and I think that saying applies just as well here. In order to put all of our power into the ground and jump as high as possible, we must start from a stable platform. You wouldn’t jump off a wobbleboard and expect to get a great result so why would you expect a great result if you have muscle or structural imbalances? The human body does a very impressive job of adapting to its environment. If we have a muscle that is weak, our bodies adapt to that weakness and work around it – our bodies will find a way to get the job done! The secret is to identify those weaknesses and correct them in order that we begin from a base of structural balance. SST’s assessment protocols are designed to identify those imbalances and help us to design a program to correct them. Book your assessment at any of SST’s locations today. There is strength in balance.

We intend to discuss more about achieving structural balance with reference to some common trends we see in testing at SST, some fantastic exercises for gaining strength in the posterior chain, as well as some excellent “bang for the buck” Olympic lifting exercises. We will delve into plyometrics and their application to the vertical jump in sport performance for volleyball and basketball players, reiterate some stretching tips for the hip flexors (and maybe even throw in some stuff that might be new to you!), and give away a few tips to increase performance in the vertical jump test on combine day!

BTW…. with this vertical jump training in mind – check out our Volleyball Camp starting shortly HERE