Due to the fairly high volume of strength and conditioning questions that I get, many of which carry similar themes, this page is designed to help answer your strength and conditioning frequently asked questions, as well as direct you towards further resources based on what you are seeking in regards to becoming a better athlete.
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Strength and Conditioning Frequently Asked Questions: Vertical Jump Training
What is the best way to jump higher?
This is the most common question I tend to get. There is a simple answer, and a complicated answer, so let’s start with the simple answer: The best way to jump higher is to perform maximal jumps often, many of them in an “excited” environment with a crowd or peers present. Athletes will perform 2-8% better in a competitive environment then training alone, so it is vital that many training efforts are performed in this “high impact zone”.
Second to this, it is important to be performing a variety of explosive, fast movements, namely sprinting to compliment the explosive force of jumping. Many athletes get plenty of sprint and acceleration work simply playing their sport, but some athletes who don’t sprint fast or often enough playing their sport may need extra work here. Some athletes also need to limit the amount of time they play their sport, as too much work (more than 45-60 minutes of intense play/day, more than 3x/week on average) can start to cut into maximal power ability on the part of the athlete.
Finally, athletes must be able to support maximal jumping and sprinting with coordination and dynamic joint stabilization, which is a function of their sporting background (being well-rounded and generally athletic, a product of playing multiple sports), as well as regular practice in sports or deliberate training regiments that stress multi-directional high speed movements. Many high-jumping athletes get this from simply playing a few games of pick up basketball prior to their jumping and dunking efforts.
Aside from actually jumping hard, and sprinting, there are a number of important supporting exercises, namely plyometrics and strength training. The best plyometrics for athletes seeking a better jump are generally maximal plyometrics, such as depth jumps and maximal bounding efforts. Novice athletes can benefit from sub-maximal plyometrics (line hops, bench hops, step-up jumps, etc.) for some length of time, usually 4-8 weeks before the training effect of these exercises begins to diminish. Submaximal, or lower intensity plyometrics, performed in higher volumes, are also a good strategy for building, and maintaining the stiffness in the ankle and foot that is needed for solid takeoffs at speed.
Strength training is also an important component of jumping higher, which we will cover in the next question.
All other factors aside, realize that motivation levels are a critically important aspect of the process in jumping higher. Motivation is a product of many things, but generally represents an athlete with a fairly healthy neurotransmitter brain profile, and plenty of dopamine. Athletes who are low in dopamine will have a hard time getting motivated to train optimally, and to respond optimally to that training program.
I’ve designed some great training programs for athletes who weren’t optimally motivated to succeed on that program, and the results fell flat. Never underestimate the power of a motivated athlete who buys into the program they are training on.
Will lifting weights help me jump higher?
This is a touchy subject in many circles, as the answer depends on a few factors, but in the vast majority of cases, yes, lifting weights will help you jump higher.
The thing to remember is that lifting weights is only a means to an end which means that just because your jump may have increased 4 inches after 8 weeks of a resistance training program (which it often will) doesn’t mean that it will keep increasing if you keep striving to increase your maximal strength, thinking that a magic number in a lift will also yield a subsequent improvement in jumping (or sprinting) ability.
What I mean is that there is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to jumping and barbell training. Setting out to lift a particular weight is all about the return on investment you get from the effort you put into achieving that maximal lift.
Now, a smart resistance training program designed within the scope of improving explosive power will hit this point of diminishing returns much later in an athlete’s career then a simple bodybuilding program, or a powerlifting focused program.
Lifting weights helps athletes to jump higher largely by increasing the amount of time they can put force into the ground, especially in movements such as a two leg jump from a short run up or standing position. For single leg jumping, spending more time putting force into the ground is not a good thing, so a weightlifting program should be designed with this in mind for single leg jump athletes, such as track and field jumpers. You can follow these links to learn more about training for single leg jumping from a plyometric standpoint, or check out Vertical Foundations, for a more in depth look on the mechanics and improvement of a single leg jump.
In many cases, doing a traditional powerlifting program can hurt an athlete’s jump by over-riding important motor patterns, reflexes and connections between the hips and the feet. I’ve seen my fair share of athletes who were over-lifted in high school with lower vertical jumps in college, and nearly all of them had very poor foot and hip functionality. In this regard, it is extremely important to have a well-designed complimentary strength program.
Finally, know that strength and resistance training offers a boost to an athlete through the effect of neuro-muscular potentiation, which supersedes most biomechanical issues in some training situations. Essentially, any very heavy lift reduces the “firing threshold” of the nervous system, which means for a short time frame (1-48 hours), an athlete can be at a higher state of jumping (or sprinting, swimming, etc.) performance simply from being exposed to a heavy weight.
When lifting weights, it’s very important to have periods of time in monthly and yearly training where you either aren’t lifting, or are lifting with a totally different emphasis, such as controlled reps with very light weights, such as in the Vertical Ignition training program. Lifting hard year round will only lead to a very mechanical jumping and sprinting action.
If all I do is play my sport and practice jumping, can I reach my best potential?
For some athletes, yes, absolutely. Look at Justin Darlington, who only plays basketball and practices dunking. He doesn’t do any plyometrics or weightlifting, and yet is one of the highest jumpers in the world. Many of the dunkers you see on YouTube or various social media outlets are the same way. Unfortunately, many of these athletes who either do zero or limited training outside of playing basketball and jumping practice often promote or sell various training programs for the sake of making money, when the uninformed masses don’t realize the scam that they are a part of.
Not all athletes can all train this way, with no external training other than playing a sport and specific practice. It is important to know though, that specific training, and playing ones sport goes a very long way in building one’s vertical jump, and should always be the cornerstone of the training program.
Most athletes will achieve quick gains in their jumping ability through utilizing training programs with plyometric and lifting components, more-so then if they just kept playing a sport and practicing jumping. Weightlifting and plyometric exercises add “instructions” to an athletes jumping motor program that will allow it to become more powerful and efficient.
Athletes must realize, however, that a big reason many plyometric programs work is simply that an athlete is now doing a greater volume of jumping and explosive movement then they were before.
Finally, and this may be the most important point, is that athletes who are closer to their genetic potential have much less to gain from external training methods (such as weights and plyometrics). Many elite jumpers and dunkers have reached a level that is very close to their genetic limit, and are able to because their bodies require less external types of training (lifting and plyometrics) to reach that high state of performance.
You can learn more about the balance between general and specific training means in Roger Nelsen’s great article on the subject.
Do I have to lift heavy weights to jump higher? I heard “so-and-so” said that I have to lift heavy to jump high.
Heavy weightlifting is a very helpful tool to many athletes, but it is the cherry on the top of a solid training program that incorporates all ends of the “speed-strength” spectrum.
Heavy strength training, which is lifting weights, such as squatting and deadlifting above 80% of one’s maximal ability, helps athletes largely through something known as potentiation, which is the reduced firing threshold of the nervous system. Basically, heavy weightlifting makes the associated muscles of jumping “quicker on the trigger”, and allows more explosive and effortless movement in the window afterwards, so long as it is performed correctly.
Heavy strength training is also a double-edged sword in that it can be harmful to athletes who think it is a secret weapon, and don’t appreciate the movement patterns of their sport.
Heavy lifting can instill a lot of bad movement patterns in an athlete, especially athletes who are pre-disposed to “grinding” out workouts. In many cases, athletes who start heavy lifting too early, and do it too often will create a ceiling on their highest performance. Many high school and college football players in particular are much slower then they could be, because they started the “grind” too early in their careers.
Finally, the increased strength many athletes can gain through heavy lifting can offer temporary to medium term performance benefits, but due to the faulty movement patterns at the core of lifting a heavy barbell at all costs, compared to moving dynamically on the field of play, these athletes who rely on heavy lifting will generally find themselves beaten by their better moving competitors in the medium to long term of things.
If you are looking for a training program that utilizes strength and barbell training in an optimal manner as far as increasing explosiveness and vertical jump is concerned, check out our Legendary Athleticism training team.
Do I even have to lift weights to jump higher, or jump as high as I am capable of?
You definitely don’t need to lift weights to jump higher, but there is a good chance that you need to use them in the right context to jump as high as you are possibly capable of. This is truer if you are a two-leg jumper then a one-leg jumper.
The majority of training programs I write for my private clientele involve a good component of resistance training, but exactly how much and when depends on the needs, physiology and psychology of who is being trained.
Interested in training with Joel? Check out our online training services, and apply today for a spot.
What kind of plyometric exercises should I do to jump higher?
For beginners, doing any type of plyometric will probably increase their jumping ability, which is largely why you do get positive testimonials from jump training programs with marginal program design, and lots of submaximal work, as these are all novice athletes who have recorded these results.
For athletes with moderate training experience, basic vertical and horizontal plyometrics are best: multi-jumps, hurdle hops, and basic depth jump variations.
For athletes who are more advanced in their training, a proportionally smaller amount of plyometric exercises should make up the core of the training program, as the majority of jumping efforts should be in the form of specific jumping, and much of this done in a charged environment, such as an energetic practice or competition. (Remember, a high percentage of “charged” sprint and jump movements is needed to achieve one’s highest potential)
The plyometric exercises that should be done at the advanced stage are customized and rotating based on the biomechanical needs of the athlete. Athletes who have been training for some time can’t expect to perform a cookie cutter plyometric training program and have it meet their performance needs.
Do I have to sprint to jump my highest? Why isn’t sprinting a part of many training programs?
Yes, you absolutely need to sprint maximally as part of practice to jump your highest. Many athletes are getting this stimulus, just by playing sports, however. This is why it is important that in your training program, you are either: playing a sport that includes frequent bouts of sprinting maximally, or doing maximal sprints outside of your sport. Sports where athletes need to sprint in a way that engages the full spectrum of the force time curve would be things like full-court basketball, football, soccer, or rugby, however, the greater the aerobic component of the sport, the more these speed gains may be limited.
It is critical to train the full spectrum of speed and strength in jump training, so sprints embody the speed element of the training process.
Sprinting is not a part of many training programs, as a good portion of coaches who write popular online programs don’t actually consider the full spectrum of the force and velocity spectrum, which leaves gains for many athletes on the table.
Sprinting is also a great way for coaches to assess the functionality of various muscle groups and movement patterns. A lot can be learned about an athlete by simply watching them sprint from the front and side. Video and movement analysis is an important part of our online training programs, and building better sprint technique is a foundation of reaching one’s highest athletic potential.
I tried 3 different jump programs, and didn’t gain much on any of them. Can I still increase my vertical jump?
Yes. The more inches the program you bought promised you would gain, the less it probably helped you. Most program use marketing tactics to promote themselves more than they use experience working with a variety of athletes seeking to increase their jumping ability. The testimonials you’ll see for many programs are from athletes with very little, or even no training experience, and these athletes can gain on virtually any program. I’ve even seen as much as a 9” vertical jump gain in 2 weeks in a tennis player who had never trained before (this really isn’t common though).
Many “jump programs” aren’t designed by coaches who have much experience working with athletes. There are almost no jump programs designed by track coaches, and track and field is the pinnacle sport when it comes to improving human explosive abilities. One product which is both affordable and highest quality in program design regarding periodization and addressing the full spectrum of speed and strength is Vertical Ignition.
What is the best vertical jump training program?
Well, if I told you that mine was the best, you’d understand I’m biased, and perhaps not believe me. What I can tell you is that the “best jump training program” is the one that educates you on how to keep improving once the training program has ended. No career is made in a 12-week period of time, and many gains from jump programs reverse themselves slowly after the program is over.
The highest an athlete can jump is not attained through a program, but through a knowledge and understanding of the best practices in training for that individual athlete over a period of time (this is also why, at a point, most athletes should consider training using a customized regimen designed by an experienced coach)
That being said, some athletes don’t want to think much about their training, and just want a workout. There is no problem with this, and athletes actually shouldn’t spend too much willpower worrying about every set and rep in their training program! I’ve found that athletes who do stress excessively about this aspect of their workouts almost never achieve great training gains.
This is why a good educational process is important, because if an athlete is continually worried about what the next program they should perform is, they are simply holding themselves back from their highest jumping potential.
In simple terms, based on what I, as a coach with 11+ years of experience training athletes, has to tell you, here are your best bets in terms of finding a jump program to take you to your highest performance:
- 0-1 years of training experience, and under age 16: Vertical Ignition for youth athletes. (link)
- 1-3 years of training experience: Vertical Ignition program, Legendary Athleticism Training group, or a customized online training program. (links)
- 4+ years of training experience, and age 20+: Customized training program
Some of the things that are determined in a custom training program are:
- Speed/Force Profile
- Movement Strategy (Are you a speed or power jumper?)
- Gait, technique, and correctives for imbalances
- What leg do you preferably jump off of?
- Neurotransmitter profile (determines how often and intensely you should train).
- Training experience (an athlete with one year of experience will train much differently than an athlete with 5 or 10)
- Exercise familiarity and preferences
- Life stressors and recovery ability
Clearly, most “one-size-fits-all” programs won’t address these things when looking at the best course of training, so having a custom program is important with these factors in mind.
I performed “X jumping program” 6 months ago, and gained 5” on my jump. I just completed it for a second round, and didn’t gain anything, what’s wrong?
First of all, realize that the more inches on your jump you gain, the more slowly future gains will generally roll in. The longer you spend on the same training program, the less you have to gain using it. This typically happens in a fairly logarithmic fashion, meaning that gains are greatest at first, and taper off quickly.
Most of the gains in a training programs happen early and taper off as the program progresses
It is also important to realize, with any training program, that the training needs of an athlete change over time, and what works for an athlete one year might not work as well for them the next. As athletes get more efficient and coordinated through training, their needs change (often in the direction of needing more specific training).
As an athlete trains over time, the gains on their jump will come more slowly. A beginner with no training, or a poor training background can expect to gain 4-8” on their jump in several months on virtually any training program that incorporates a spectrum of vertical jump training methods (lifting weights, plyometrics, sprinting, specific jump practice, nutrition, etc.).
For detrained, or beginner athletes, virtually any training will yield gains that come easily for some time period. Granted, there are some ways to elicit gains that are better than others particularly those that are focused on building the proper jump technique, which will maximize an athlete’s performance ceiling later on. This goes not only for jumping, but anything else in athletic development.
An intermediate athlete with a few years of lifting and/or plyometric experience can expect gains of 1-4” on their jump in a few months, training on a “generally good” program (meaning it is composed of fairly specific/high transfer training methods, and has some sort of progression to it).
I get questions from many athletes in this intermediate bracket. It is also this training bracket where the “$67 training programs” will be unable to deliver on their claims of 8-12” vertical jump gains, which are reserved for beginner trainees (although the actual gains of beginners is more in the 4-8” realm). For these intermediate athletes, I strongly recommend checking out Vertical Ignition and Vertical Foundations, as both ideas for training to get to the advanced level, as well as for the educational means on how to progress above and beyond.
In the advanced phase of training, where athletes may have 3-4 years of solid training experience, or more, and have reached physical maturity (age 17-18), gains of 1-3” are acceptable, or good in several months. More advanced athletes, who have been training for say, a decade, will often find their performance goes up and down slightly on a yearly basis. A gain of 1-3” in a year for these athletes can be considered a good gain. Try taking a look at the yearly progressions of some elite high jumpers, who have the best coaches in the world working for them, to see what type of progression advanced and elite athletes will generally see in their training.
It is the advanced phase of athletes that I take the most pride in working with and eliciting improvements! Here you can see some testimonials from athletes I’ve worked with in advanced stages of training. Our customized online training program is the biggest step that you can take towards reaching your highest performance, especially if you have been training for some time.
An athlete also will adapt to a particular exercise, or even training format over time, and as the novelty of that training wears off, the athlete will find it less effective. This is why professional track and field athletes often switch coaches, because the novelty of a new training system (and philosophy) can often times yield gains that were not possible using the same system one had been utilizing for previous years.
What is the best technique for jumping? When I try to change my technique, I can’t jump as high, what’s wrong?
Understand that the majority of changes to jump technique will cause a chain of events in the body that lead to a slower, more mechanical jump. Whenever you jump, you are unleashing a chain of sub-conscious processes in the body that are fairly “hard-wired” into your body.
Every time you make a change, expect there to be a period of time where this change will be mechanical, and forebrain oriented, and there will be a good chance that this decreases your jump for some time.
The biggest jumps always happen when movement comes from the “unconscious” mind, as well as being “reflex driven”. There are two big reflexes when it comes to running jumps, the stumble reflex, and the crossed extensor reflex. If these reflexes aren’t strong and wired into your physiology, then no matter how much you try a certain “technique” you may not be able to perform it effectively. Again, this is why a custom program can be critically important in your training success.
The human body, in many cases, is operating with the best that the muscles and current motor programs have to offer. Unless there is a certain level of strength present in a particular movement pattern, you will not be able to perform that movement well. As it can be said “form is dictated by function”.
A great example is in a standing vertical jump. Good performers in the standing vertical leap usually have a big deep bending of the knees and hips, and get down into a half or even deep squat depth before they reverse the jump back upwards. Many athletes don’t bend their knees very much when they dip down to perform a standing vertical leap. If you ask an athlete who typically doesn’t bend their knees much to suddenly jump like they are doing a deep squat, they will jump lower, guaranteed, because they do not have the strength in the deep squat position to actually jump high.
This is a big reason why correctly structuring strength training can have a significant impact on the way athletes jump (and sprint) from a technical perspective. To learn more about vertical jump technique, and its connection to strength and plyometric performance, check out our book: Vertical Foundations.
An athlete I really respect does a particular exercise or program, should I do it too?
Know that first of all, jumping and sprinting are the top two things that should constitute your training program. Every other training method is secondary, and regardless of how much “X-Athlete” does a particular lift or drill, it isn’t why that athlete can jump so high.
“X-Athlete” can jump high because of their genetic talent, epigenetics (training environment, etc.), their athletic baseline (how many sports did they play growing up, and how early were they exposed to sports and play requiring maximal sprinting and jumping) and the amount of dedicated specific training they have been doing. No training program has ever been built on one or two exercises outside of actually jumping and sprinting, although a properly performed depth jump may come close.
When looking at any particular exercise, you need to look at its potential transfer to jumping in terms of:
- Does it use the same joints and joint pattern as jumping (aka. Does it look like jumping?)
- Does it use similar muscular contractions to jumping in terms of rate of force development?
- How much tension is being created by this exercise?
Strength and Conditioning Frequently Asked Questions: Speed Training
In addition to jumping higher, a lot of athletes also want to get faster. For those athletes whose sport is track and field, the sport itself is getting faster! For any other sport, speed is very clearly and important success factor, and there is generally a minimal level of speed an athlete needs to really be competitive. It is important to know that sprinting faster and jumping higher are very closely linked. It is rare that you’ll find an athlete who improves their 40 yard or 100 meter dash without also improving their jumping ability by a significant margin.
With that said, here are some of the most common questions and answers in regards to speed development.