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Top 5 Plyometric Exercises for Single Leg Jumpers

Jump training is a beautiful thing. Why? Because you get so much more out of it than simply the ability to jump higher. Take training for the one and two leg jumps for example:

Training for the Two Leg Jump also improves:

  • Relative and Absolute Strength
  • Explosive Coordination
  • Explosiveness
  • Short Acceleration

Training for the Single Leg Jump also improves:

  • Sprint Speed
  • Speed-Strength
  • Explosive Coordination
  • Reactivity
  • Acceleration and Maximal Speed

Those are some great benefits outside of actual jumping if you ask me. I really love writing about jump training, but it wouldn’t seem quite as awesome unless I knew that the training wasn’t just about the jump itself, but rather a trickle-down that helped build the total athlete.

Jump training is, in a way, speed training with a greater emphasis on explosive coordination. There are more variables in the mix. With more variables, this can seriously muddy the waters of the how and what of training, but it all comes down to three things as far as improvement is concerned.

  • A variety of specific and maximal jumps to continually build both directed explosive power and specific coordination.
  • Plyometrics and speed training that all improve some facet of the single leg jump. This component is essential to rotate and vary on a regular basis.
  • General and connective exercises that maintain the critical links of the body, as well as maintain or improve the muscle mass of relevant muscles to jumping.

So in a nutshell, do a large variety of specific jumps. Then be sure to be performing a planned number of relevant plyometric and speed exercises. After that, you have weightlifting, bodyweight strength and fitness work. Weightlifting is NOT the number one aspect in becoming the best jumper you can, in fact in both Soviet and Polish literature (two of the greatest jump programs in the history of the world, although Poland is becoming more of a dunking country these days) that the “base” of those jump training programs is much more a base of plyometrics than it is a base of lifting and barbell work, as is the trend in the Western world.

That being said, there are some plyometrics I value more than others when it comes to developing the single leg jumper. Seeing that the fall is upon us for many a track athlete, let’s check out some of the top single leg plyometrics that can be useful to the jumper in a rotating format, but first things first, let’s look at the idea of variable specific takeoffs.

Variable Specific Takeoffs, Priority #1

Clearly, actual takeoffs is the first priority, as well as a variety of takeoff styles, such as one of my favorites throughout the year, the “Holm Hurdles”.

(These adjustable hurdles can be found on Amazon)

Alongside actual takeoffs, being able to perform a variety of takeoffs specific to what you are looking to accomplish is of the essence. To this end, let’s take a look at Stefan’s Holm’s wide range of jumping abilities, and then slam dunk specialists “Werm” and Guy Dupuy (two of my favorites), and all of the coordination and variety they are getting in takeoffs in the below videos.

Holm shows his jump versatility

Two of the best single leg jumpers in the world. Their variety of efforts helps them to continually improve

Not surprisingly, basketball and dunking has been a staple training method of a great many high jumpers, particularly the dominant Soviet high jump machine. Explosive coordination may be the #1 overlooked aspect of jumping better off one leg in modern training regimes.

As far as all the supporting plyometric work goes with single leg jumping, I do have some favorites that always wind up working themselves into my programming. Let’s start with an honorable mention, and one that doesn’t make the top 5, simply because it isn’t a “plyometric” by common definition.

Top 5 Plyometric Exercises for Single Leg Jumpers

Honorable Mention: Sprinting

Since it isn’t a “plyometric”, I’ll just get sprinting out of the way right now. Many athletes seeking improved jumping won’t immediately gravitate to sprinting as a training means because their rate of improvement in it is going to be considerably lower than novel plyometric work. If you’ve been sprinting for some time, your rate of improvement is going to be a bit lower than in plyometrics you’ve only been doing for a few months.

Regardless, in single leg jumping, speed is king. To deflect yourself off of the ground, you must have sprint speed and a rigidity in the takeoff leg that is driven by the explosive speed of the hip. Various types of sprinting are important here: accelerations, maximal velocity and speed endurance, as well as the type of speed found in sport play. The fastest athletes running forwards are often the fastest running backwards. Making explosive lateral moves and decelerations in basketball offers a repeated and explosive variety to the yielding forces encountered in the single leg takeoff.

Single Leg Plyometrics

The highest jump I ever did in high school wasn’t a 6’8” high jump, but rather a head-to-the-rim attempt to get my hand over the top of the square above the basketball hoop during basketball season. Prior to this attempt, our coach had been running us ragged with suicides and full court sprints for the last month (all on enough rest to keep each sprint quality), and the whole time egging me on that “I was the fastest guy on the team, so I was supposed to be winning every sprint”. I’ve never done so many competitive, driven accelerations and decelerations in my life, and my single leg vertical jump reflected that boost.

That aside, let’s get into our plyometric top 5!

5. Quick Hurdle Hops/Drop Jumps

The double stance, low contact plyometric jump is the essence of any good program, as it sets the tone for all plyometric work to come. Research has shown that in the case of the single leg jump, plyometric training that sacrifices jump height for contact time will boost single leg jumping to a greater degree. Of course, this begs the question, what if both of those types of jumps (for contact, and for height) are in the program? We’ll get to that when we get a little further down the list.

The quick hurdle hop is an essential piece of the program. Doing a large volume of these in base phases and early training periods really helps push the neuromuscular speed limit to create a wider range of neuromuscular possibilities later in the training cycles. Contrary to popular belief, my thoughts on training go like this: Position → speed → power. Once you got plyo technique down, make it fast!

Below is a video showing quick-contact hurdle hops over progressive distances by Just Fly Sports contributor, Josh Hurlebaus.

4. Long Bounding Combinations

Ever since I discovered what this magical form of sprinting called “bounding” was when I was 15, I very quickly became hooked on trying to go as far as I could in 3 jumps from a running start. When I found out that there was a track and field event based on that exact idea, I was floored. Ever since, bounding has been an integral part of the training of my own single leg jumping, and that of those track and field jumpers I work with.

Bounding is best performed in a variety of styles. I enjoy circuits that were recommended by the great Yuri Verkhoshanski. A circuit of his that I have been doing for over a decade is as follows:

  1. Alternate Leg Bounding
  2. Left-Left, Right-Right Bounding
  3. Left-Left-Left, Right-Right-Right Bounding
  4. Left Leg Bounding
  5. Right Leg Bounding

You would repeat this circuit through for 1-3 reps, and usually go for 15-30 meters distance. A common finisher I tacked on would be to do 1 or 2 times 50 meters endurance bounding, and count the number of jumps to cover the distance. I also would recommend the possibility of doing some single leg backwards bounds to counter-balance the forward jumping efforts and add some elements of explosive deceleration into the mix.

3. Single Leg Hurdle Hops and Single Leg Depth Jumps

It would seem intuitive that single leg depth jumps would garner the grand prize in the whole training specificity matrix, but this isn’t entirely the case. Although single leg depth jumps are very specific in the unilateral sense, they aren’t very near what a single leg jump encounters in terms of ground contact time. Often, the ground contact in a single leg depth jump is 2 or even 3 times as great as what single leg jumps actually experience. Because of this, their role is more one of “nitrous fuel” (which also happens to be a large role of our #1 plyometric for single leg jumpers). The single leg depth jump is one of the best exercises out there to overload the eccentric/yielding power of the quads and knee extensors in the single leg jump. It is actually for this reason that it is also a fantastic developer of the double leg jump, as that jump relies even more heavily on quad power than the single leg jump!

For most single leg jumpers, although the single leg depth jump is nice, the single hurdle hop is better, because the presence of a hurdle naturally decreases the ground contact time, which makes this a ridiculous developer of the lower leg and foot for aspiring single leg jumpers. The single leg hurdle hop is a staple for advanced single leg jumpers in preparatory periods.

2. Bounding with a Run-In/10 Bounds for Distance

Moving on to number 2 on our list is intense, measured bounding from a running approach. The faster the running start prior to the bounding, the more intense and reactive each bound becomes, and thus the greater transfer to running jumps off of a single leg. There are plenty of athletes who can do a great standing triple jump, but struggle to triple jump far when faced with a long run-up. There are also plenty of athletes out there who are great when jumping off a 3 step run, but don’t get any higher from an 8 step run. Is this you or your athletes? Then measuring progress in training means such as the following are critical to long-term success:

  • 5 bounds from a 10m run in.
  • Triple jump from a 15m run in.
  • 10 Bounds for distance from a standing start (combo effect)

Here is a great example of a bound with run in as shown below:

The 10 bound test from a standing start is a useful test to get an awesome combination of explosive power (the first 3-4 bounds), and then reactive power (The last 6-7 bounds) all in one. The 10 bound test actually has just about the highest correlation to things like high jump and other explosive jump and sprint events in Anatoli Bondarchuk’s “Transfer of Training”. If you are concerned with jumping high off of one leg, and doing with speed, then the 10 bounds is a yearly test you will want to give strong consideration to. You can see the athlete in the video below is performing the exercise in an attempt to beat his best mark around the 30 yard line.

For trained male jumpers, I would expect at least 100-110 feet on this test. Elite single leg jumpers may be over 120 feet. Elite female jumpers will go over 90-100 feet.

In the world of track and field, skill and technical ability in each event being the same, triple jump goes hand in hand with high jump. If you can bound far, you’ll jump high off one leg, with the only factor not being completely specific is the power of the knee extensors in yielding/eccentric force.

1. High Depth Jump

This brings us to our final test exercise, which is the high depth jump. The high depth jump is performed off of a box high enough to stress the reactive ability of the athlete, rather than the explosive ability (lower boxes are better for explosive ability). Explosive ability refers more to the ability of an athlete to produce force from static positions, or positions of low speed, into athletic movement. A great example of explosion would be a power clean, or a standing vertical jump. Reactive ability, on the other hand, refers more to the ability of an athlete to take a great amount of force (brought on by speed and momentum) and translate it into movement in another direction. An example of this is simply a long jump. In the long jump, an athlete is running at a board at around 10 meters/second, and plants a rigid takeoff leg 8-12” in front of their center of mass, applying 5x the athlete’s bodyweight instantly to the knee and hip extensor muscles. You don’t get these types of instantaneous forces in the weight room, or even in the majority of plyometric exercises.

Here is a 2.40m high jumper performing a serious depth jump

The high depth jump is always performed to the athlete’s ability to absorb and react force, but generally speaking for high jump athletes, the higher box they can proficiently drop from and react, the better. This practice is often shied away from, and I can see why, as coaches and athletes can very easily get carried away with terrible landings. Regardless, if you are reading this, I assume that you are strongly concerned with depth jump technique, so as long as athletes can absorb force quietly, with the heels not slamming down, and good posture, then the high depth jump is a great nitrous boost style exercise to the normal training regime.

Nitrous boost style exercises are such that they don’t form the foundation of movement, but are rather extremely high CNS output and recruitment exercises that athletes sustain for short periods in order to bring up their maximal level of functioning. Doing this type of work for extended periods will break down athletes more than it builds them up. The foundation is always position and speed, and then, and only then, it is wise to add force exercises like the high depth jump. When this exercise is added, the results are nothing short of incredible when an athlete is ready. I’ve seen, and experienced myself instant increases of a large magnitude when working with high depth jumps, and even did a serious high depth jump workout off of a 48” box 3 days prior to my lifetime high jump of 7 feet.

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21 comments

  1. Cardiff watch out boy, gonna have some killer vertical soon

  2. Zac Bain time to work on your good leg

  3. Hey Joel, could you also create a free ebook like yours on single leg jumping, except on 2 foot jumping? please? Thanks!

    • Hi Ephram,

      Thanks for the question. I may in the future, but doing so takes away from my book Vertical Foundations, which covers single and double leg jump techniques, and also samples of how to train for each. I would check out the book if you get a chance, and if I have time, I’ll consider adding a informational peice on the two leg jump as well.

      Kind regards,

      Joel

  4. Hello

    Great article. I may missed it but where was the Altitude drop ?

    • Altitude drop is nice, but I think a high depth jump is better. I’ve used altitude drops before, and they are also a “nitrous boost” type exercise. Too many drops without rebounds will start to break down the neuromuscular pattern into a segmented jump… the only reason it didn’t make the top 5, because it isn’t really a viable stand alone exercise. I actually like it more on the tail end of Starzynski’s box to box jumps with a rebound jump into a landing.

  5. I’ve read both of your books, Joel, and they are fantastic. I coach high jumpers, and I really want to implement some of the single leg workout exercises with my kids. If the track season starts at the beginning of March, and sectionals and state are in mid-May, when do you recommend doing a program? For example, for the whole winter, or just a month or two before the season starts? Thanks for such valuable information!

    Tyler Pierce
    Shelbyville, IL

    • Hey Tyler,

      Thanks for the message! Glad you enjoyed the books. I would go for the Vertical Ignition workouts escalating phases I through III from December to March, and then I would recycle Phase IV workouts through the competitive period. The single leg program from Vertical Foundations is also a great choice for pre-season training months, switching to Vertical Ignition format when competitions draw near. Hope this helps you out!

      Kind regards,

      Joel

  6. Joel,

    What are your peaking workout in the week(s) before a big meet for a high jumper?

    • Hi David,

      It depends a bit on what has been shown to be effective peaking strategy for them in the past, as some athletes do well to keep that one or two low volume, but intense workouts in the program (more fast twitch athletes), while others do best to maintain volume, and dump out all the intensity (more slow twitch athletes). For a high jumper, in general, peaking/taper weeks will be 60% of volume of typical training, but 80-95% of the intensity. For longer, lankier slower twitch types, 90% of volume, but keep the intensity, or higher bar jumps out of the equation.

      Hope that helps,

      Joel

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