On of the most “specific” looking plyometrics for single leg jumping is also one of the most misunderstood. Master it, and you can reap huge benefits in becoming a more powerful, dynamic athlete, who can jump high bars or “rain down pain” from above in sports like basketball or volleyball.
That exercise is the single leg hurdle hop. Performing it is one thing, and may or may not help with athletic improvements. Mastering it could be the key to an extra few inches on one’s jump, particularly in the long term.
Back when I was a young high-jumper and basketball player, I would take any piece of advice offered in regards to vertical jump training with the highest seriousness.
My jumping took me not only through basketball and track seasons, but also summer track competitions, where I would meet many high level (Jeremy Fischer was the official for some of my summer USATF high jump competitions), and helpful people in my training journey. In one meet, I distinctly remember my father talking to an older high level athlete whose coach made them “do all sorts of hurdle hops”, a notably, off one leg. This intrigued me to the point where, at 16 years old, I was using my janky homemade hurdles my dad made, and doing single leg “double jumps” over them I the backyard (one jump over, one jump to the next hurdle, and so forth), which at the time, helped out my jump quite a bit.
In reading an old classic book a few years later, “Dan O’Brien’s Ultimate Workout“ I saw an exercise where Dan would leap over hurdles on a single leg, bouncing only once between each hurdle. That exercise is our “Plyo of the Week” and goes as follows:
Here is a video of an insanely explosive athlete with great feet performing the exercise. Note the ground stiffness on the final contact.
I’ve been doing single leg hurdle hops (and depth jumps) for a long time, as well as prescribing them to athletes, and have found a few key pieces out about the practice.
- Over the years, I’ve come to value low hurdles in this drill, much more than high hurdles. The stimulus is quite different.
- This drill is one of the keys to ultimate foot strength and lower leg power
- Single leg hurdle hops actually have ground contacts, in many instances, that can make them closer in profile to a two leg jump as a specific exercise, although they can be a “general” exercise for one leg jumping
Let’s quickly work through these four points:
1. Low Hurdles vs. High Hurdles
In any plyometric exercise, the environment shapes the outcome. Athletes like myself, and many jumping athletes are, according to Christian Thibaudeau “Type 1” personalities, as opposed to type 2 and type 3. In this case, this means that they want to take challenges to the limit, chasing the heavy weights and the high boxes and hurdles. Their system demands intensity!
In the case of this exercise, intensity should be derived with ground contacts as a constant. It is very easy to get ground contacts of .25 seconds or higher in this drill, which fall into the “slow stretch shortening” range. To transfer to what it is supposed to, i.e. single leg jumping, the contacts really need to be under .20 seconds, and the only way to get this is to have fairly low hurdles, under 24” high, and then increase the spacing to the point where they are 4-5+ feet apart.
Hurdles that are high and close together (as shown in the demo video) will force an athlete to “load” more, which causes different adaptations than a rebound based jump (think a golf ball bouncing down a airline runway).
This isn’t to say that in some cases high hurdles aren’t bad, as they do have a very powerful adaptation they create, it just isn’t overly specific to the single leg jump itself. Then again, neither is the weightroom. Using the full spectrum of contacts and knowing why each is programmed is key to overall development.
2. Building Long-Term Foot and Fascia Power
Since the ground contacts are often “out of range” in terms of being very specific to single leg jumping, it is important to look at this exercise in terms of a critical peripheral adaptation: the foot and ankle complex.
In terms of raw force on the lower leg and ankle, there isn’t an exercise that will deliver more than single leg hurdle hops (well… single leg depth jumps off a high box probably can). Even triple jumping in track and field, which has an incredible strength to weight profile, distributes this force more in the hips due to the horizontal nature. When you take it vertical, then the forces in the ankle start to skyrocket.
To jump like Stefan Holm vertically, you must have this ankle strength. It is critical for a strong single leg jump, and as Jeremy Fischer talked about on Just Fly Performance Podcast #19, Holm’s incredibly stiff springs were the difference between him, and other extremely explosive, and perhaps even more innately talented, jumpers.
It takes time for the connective tissue and fascia to develop in this regards. As Chong Xie mentioned on podcast #67, it takes time for the foot to “morph”, but the foot does morph to the demands placed on it. This is not a CNS adaptation as you get in plyos, but a peripheral, structural adaptation of the tendons, fascia and connective tissue that just takes time and appropriately progressed repetitions and volumes.
My best year of collegiate track and field was my junior year, where I overtook my old PR in high jump by 4”, and triple jump by a whopping 4 feet. I also went home after the season, and could easily throw down two arm tomahawk dunks in a low-adrenaline environment. One of the defining features of this year was how much bounce I had in my feet, and how strong my fascial system had become.
A staple of our offseason at this point was easy 7-8×200 tempo on Tuesdays and easy 4-5x300m tempo on Thursday (many modern coaches would cry heresy here), in addition to the typical high intensity days on Monday, Wednesday, Saturday. Single leg hurdle hops also made up a big component of my fall training, and I credit the cumulative effect with making my fascial and foot system extremely strong, and my meets unfolded the way Chong Xie describes the fascial athlete… it takes them some time to fully warm up compared to a muscular athlete, but when they do, watch out!
3. Contact – Jump Specificity Profile
The last point here is very simple, but on a direct neural transfer ideal, single leg jumps actually transfer more to double leg jumping both on a level of mechanics and experience. In my younger days, I always felt much more power in my double leg jumping when doing single leg depth jumping, and the other way around in single leg jumps. When I was putting more of a premium on double leg depth jumps, it helped my single leg jump more. The contact time profile just worked out this way specifically.
This is important to keep in mind, and as such, if you are using this modality for say, track and field jumpers, the best time to accumulate a big volume of this work is in the fall offseason, or in a short transition period between indoor and outdoor seasons. When they are used in season, or in pre-competitive periods, the hurdles should be lower and the ground contact time kept to a minimum. If higher hurdles are used at this point, just make sure they are in very low volume.
If you enjoy this series, and want to see how to put these exercises together in context of a complete program, check out our books and training groups, particularly “Vertical Ignition” and “Legendary Athleticism”. Be a part of the revolutionary training systems that are getting dozens of athletes to lifetime bests in speed, jumping and explosive power!