In the 1960’s, barbell training found its way into the training of track and field throwers (to great success!). In the 1970’s, Boyd Epley started the phenomenon of strength and conditioning and changed football (and all other team sports) forever, creating a new brand of big, strong and explosive athletes.
For many athletes, the infusion of the barbell and modern strength training means into our athletic culture has vaulted this secondary means into a unique spot in the long term development of many a track and field athlete.
For this article, I’m going to talk about how barbell training can be better infused into high jump training, and also how athletes can ensure that qualities that are going to lend themselves more towards their highest levels of development (speed) are bolstered throughout their training journey.
Let’s start with the power of the barbell to invigorate (or decimate) the results of high jump athletes.
3. Don’t lift (hard) all year
Many jumpers don’t have a problem with this. Heck, plenty of high jumpers hate the weightroom, or aren’t in a program where well planned lifting is an option. This tip is for those familiar with the power of the weightroom. Weights are very important for jumpers since their contacts are longer than sprinters, and they must fight gravity. As a group, jumpers tend to need more strength work than sprinters on a yearly basis.
Something about training for speed and power is that lifting weights in a (traditional) heavy, complex-parallel format (fancy “monocle and top-hat” talk for saying you lift alongside your speed and jump work in the training cycle) all year doesn’t really help the athlete out from a perspective of allowing them to hit their highest speed potential.
The fact of the matter is that athletes actually have to seriously cut back on their strength training means, not just at the taper point, but at key training points throughout the year where strength and speed will interchange. This is done so that athletes can give speed and power the attention it deserves in a highly sensitive state with a fresh bank of adaptation reserve.
Speed cannot be fully realized in the presence of strength work performed in any high volumes. It is the same the other way around, so alternating periods of strength and speed emphasis will help to gradually create the realization of an athlete’s highest speed potential over their long term development.
Putting the gas pedal down on lifting through the year, all the way till “taper time” is a bad idea, because you are only giving the athlete one window all year to actually teach their brain how to work better in a high speed, high powered environment that is only possible outside of the presence of high, or even moderate volume lifting. This philosophy only gives the athlete one chance all year to expose themselves to an environment where they can create a better motor pattern to primarily focus and improve on their velocity based jump factors. Athletes are much better served by multiple “chances” each year to focus exclusively on maximal speed and power production, with weights present only for surges of potentiation if the athlete is responsive that type of work.
When it comes to developing speed in particular, less is more. The idea of the “minimum effective dose” is something that is really born in the sprint realm of things. Periods of strength based work can/should be more loaded and concentrated than speed blocks, but remember that fast twitch muscle needs more rest than slow twitch. Sprinting and depth jumping goes right for those type IIb’s, and fast twitch muscle also thrives on rest and lower training frequencies, therefore speed based blocks will be of a lower frequency nature, especially for very fast twitch competitors. Although designed for advanced athletes, the chart below (taken from page 384 of Supertraining) depicts a simple and effective way to interchange strength and speed means throughout the training year.
Putting lifting and strength work on the back burner (or in very low volume, high intensity infusions) for 2-3 week periods can also be a good way to “wash out” some of the slower-twitched adaptations that can come from a volume of more stability based barbell work (squats, deadlifts, step ups) and keep the athlete’s month to month and year to year adaptations in favor of the somatotype (body type) that favors success in their event area. Some coaches will even drop out lifting every 3rd week, carrying this ideology out on a smaller scale of things, for less commitment to the temporary performance drops that inevitably come utilizing block theory.
On another note, heavy lifting he week of the big meet can be a great way to potentiate some big performances, but this should be tested and planned throughout the year for its optimal use. Faster twitched athletes will generally need to keep in an intensive CNS stimulus in their training program come time for big competitions, while slower twitched athletes may respond better to a drop-off of the intensive lifting means in their final push towards peak performance.
4. Race the sprinters (or at least time your short sprints)
I’ll keep this point fairly short, but the lesson is an important one.
If you want to get faster, outcome goals are really important. Like great sprint coaches have said, if you aren’t timing your sprints, then you aren’t getting faster. Alongside clocking sprints as an outcome goal (outcome goals are huge), using competition with athletes of a similar or superior level is another way to elicit big time adaptations to get faster, and another method of “timing”. Why? It’s quite simple.
If jumpers are doing their sprints alone, and untimed, there is no outcome goal present, and all improvement will be based primarily on conscious thought on how to perform the sprint better, which doesn’t work or help to improve performance (the conscious brain is useful for things such as moral decisions, or figuring out how to infuse concepts from the latest periodization model you read about into your training program, but it’s lousy for coordinating thousands of various motor neurons firing in under a tenth of a second).
When an outcome goal is present (such as racing sprinters, or having accurate feedback on your effort), it allows the subconscious mind some input on a way to arrange the athlete’s available motor pool in a manner that will enhance the outcome goal. Without outcome goals, the subconscious brain is going to have trouble assessing how to improve the sprint an athlete just did, since it doesn’t know how good/bad that sprint was compared to what the athlete was previously capable of.
A quick anecdote; one of the highest jumps off one foot I ever completed was actually in high school, where I got my fingers a couple of inches above the top of the painted white square behind the hoop on the backboard. This jump came after about a month’s span of practice where the coach had us constantly racing each other in our short wind sprints at the conclusion of practice. My goal was typically to beat out our all-state soccer player point guard, and fostered a serious spirit of competition (and outcome based results). I also hadn’t really lifted for about 2-3 weeks at this point of my leap, which showed me that I had to let my strength training fade for a bit to set the stage for outcome based speed to stimulate my system, and allow me the motor enneagram improvement to hit a PR in jumping off of one leg.
5. Know which training methods have transfer, and don’t chase any one too far
For athletes who are looking to improve their highest ability in high jump, it is important to know which training methods are going to have close transfer to ultimate results and outcome; these are the training areas to pay the most attention to during the course of the yearly program.
Although this varies a bit between “speed” and “power” jumpers (or speed and force jumpers, as I talk about in Vertical Foundations) generally speaking, the following training means are going to be of use in helping high jumpers to reach a high level of performance. The primary training methods are the ones with the greatest transfer, and each portion of the training year should be devoted to improving some aspect of those primary methods. This means, don’t start the year with tertiary methods, then go to secondary, then primary… this is the worst way to approach things, as the primary methods improvement is hinging on a hopeful transfer from a secondary or tertiary method (many times this doesn’t happen). The reason that focusing hard on the primary method all year might not work well is if a coach doesn’t know how to arrange, progress and vary the training in a manner that keeps the athlete from burning out. All that emphasizing the secondary and tertiary methods early on in the process does is keep direct CNS fatigue from intense training at bay, and will at least allow an athlete a feeling of progression through the year.
Primary: Training means to build ultimate motor potential (most important training means)
- Various forms of jumping (short approach high jumps, scissor jumps, dunking, jumping up to try and hit ones head on a high object, “holm hurdles”, long jumping, triple jumping, jumps that happen in the scope of team sports, other various forms of high jumping such as tuck jumps or straddle jumps)
- True Vertical Plyometrics: Depth jumps, single leg depth jumps, hurdle hops, single leg hurdle hops, combo hurdle hops, assisted vertical jumps.
- True Horizontal Plyometrics: Bounding combinations, standing triple jump, short triple jumps or five bounds for distance with a short run-in.
- Acceleration (0-30m, short hills), more important for power jumpers.
- Top end speed (35-55m), more important for speed jumpers.
- ½ or 2/3 Squat and barbell step up (can fall to a secondary emphasis for some extreme speed jumpers).
Secondary: Training means to build explosive coordination or some specific muscle mass (very important, but don’t chase these means too far. Many of these are useful in concentrated infusions of strength coordination throughout portions of the year.)
- Barbell cleans and snatches
- Deep squats
- Pistol Squats
- Explosive med ball throws
- Sprint drills
- Hurdling and hurdle drills
- Speed endurance (60-120m, motor fatigue coordination adds to the enneagram)
Tertiary: Training means for structure and general fitness (these stay low to moderate volume and somewhat consistent throughout the year, not every ingredient here is critical to the success of the program. They are all tools for creative and strategic use by the coach. Slower-twitched jumpers may enjoy a greater proportion of these training means. If these methods are overdone, however, especially the longer sprints and stadiums, they can interfere with optimal development of the primary developmental pathway)
- Longer sprints done at slow paces (150-400m, better for athletes who mentally thrive on being “in shape”, and/or those who cannot handle high plyometric, speed and jump volumes).
- Longer hill sprints
- Stadium sprints
- Team sport play
- Qualitative low intensity plyometrics in volume
- Rudimentary plyos, hops and skips
- Jumping rope
- Lower leg strength training
- Foot strength training
- Trunk and spinal strength, posture and conditioning
- Bodyweight movement and strength circuits
- Basic bodybuilding circuits
It is my hope that through these 5 tips, you or your athletes will have a better insight on the methodology and procedure that leads high jumpers (or other aspiring vertical athletes to their highest potential). Good luck! If you are looking for some guidance in your high jump training for this spring season, check out our training team: Legendary Athleticism, and take your jumping to the next level.
“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading”. Lao Tzu