How Much Can Vert REALLY Be Improved?

The following is an excerpt chapter from "The Vertical Jump bible 2.0" - Enjoy!!

How much can vert be increased? This is the age old question everyone wants to know. More specifically how much can YOU increase your vert? Unfortunately there isn't any hard and fast answer. I increased my vert 20+ inches. Should I expect everyone to do the same? Hardly. Unfortunately VJ marketers tend to broach realistic expectations. There's always another VJ program promising more gains in less time. But unfortunately reality is reality. All you can do is train properly and let things fall where they may. I can remember even when I was back in high school there were an assortment of gimmicks promising a bazillion inches.

Unfortunately, the ultimate limiting factor for vertical jump is how fast you can apply force, which is largely controlled by things you have no control over - CNS sensitivity to androgens and catecholamines, density of motor neurons, and other neural characteristics. That's not to say there's not a LOT you can do before that ever becomes an issue - you can ALWAYS increase the "force" part of the power equation and get stronger but as discussed in the strength deficit chapter there comes a point in time where your speed of force development will be what holds you back. There was a heated debate on Mark Rippetoes forum a while back when he said it was impossible to increase vert more than 30%. People that train for vert and had nearly double those type of improvements were all over him. But I can see his point of view. Before I get into answering the question, “how much can you increase your vert?” I think we really have to differentiate what type of vert increases we're talking about here. In my mind there are 3 relatively distinct types of vert improvements and they are:

A: Gains that come about thru maturation

Gains that come about thru the maturation process can be very significant. If an individual participates in a jumping oriented sport like basketball or volleyball from their early teens thru their early 20's and stays healthy and keeps their body composition in check (they don't get fat) they will likely gain a good 5 or 6 inches of vert just due to the extra strength and power they get from maturing. One major factor that needs to be considered is that most people that train for VJ start at an early enough age where they still do a lot of growing and physical maturity over time and, assuming an active enough lifestyle, just the general maturation process tends to contribute to gains up until about the mid 20’s. A 25 year old athlete may have very little in common with his own physical self at 15 yrs of age. He'll be more muscular, stronger, and have the potential to be more powerful even WITHOUT training. In contrast, a 25 year old who begins training doesn't have the same potential for improvement as a 15 yr old because he's already physically developed. Having said that, I have one 37 year old client who didn't start training until he was in his 30's and still managed to put 10 + inches on his vert. The guy has some very unique physical traits though his results would definitely be outlier in nature.

Now to the 2nd way gains can occur:

B: Gains that come about thru increased movement efficiency:

These are gains that come about as one "practices" the vertical jump and becomes efficient at it. Specifically I’m referring to grease the groove concepts like synaptic facilitation. MANY people use the vertical jump only as a barometer and don't really "get into" it. They may lift, do some plyos, and assess the VJ, but they don't spend hours and days on end at the basketball court trying to throw down dunks. They don't jump up and touch every ceiling they walk under. They may train for the jump, but they don't train for the jumps, if you catch my drift. Those who really "train for the jumps" will get significant improvements just from mastering the activity. My best guess is the average athlete can get a good 3 inches of standing vert improvement and 4 or 5 inches of running vert improvement just by getting better at doing it over time. It doesn't take long to get these gains, but a TON of trainees never really do enough jump specific work to get them.

Now for the 3rd way gains can occur:

C: Gains that come about thru increased motor qualities:

These are the gains most people refer to when they talk about "vertical jump gains". Increase your power, strength, reactive ability, etc. and you'll jump higher. The typical powerlifter or football player who goes thru a protocol will typically ONLY deal with gains in this department.

Now put all that together. Let's say we have a 14 year old athlete who gets interested in vert. He's kinda uncoordinated and never really been interested in jumps. Let’s say he begins heavy participation in a jump oriented sport, does a lot of growing, and pays his dues with proper strength and power training. Let's say he starts off with a 20 inch vert and sticks with jump training every offseason until he's 20 years old. He gets 3 inches of vert improvement via technique/movement efficiency, 5 inches from physical maturity, and another 6 inches from increased motor qualities (strength and power). Now he's reached physical maturity and he will have put a good 14 inches on his jump. I've seen this happen countless times! That's a 70% increase from the 20 inch vert he started out with. It's important to note he didn't get ALL of those gains from doing any particular program or training - a good 40% came thru his own physical maturity.

Where the potential for gains is most limited is when referring to mature athletes who've already been involved in plenty of jump oriented activity prior to ever training for vert. Take a 25-yr old volleyball player whose played volleyball all his life but never lifted. He's already achieved any improvements he's going to make thru physical maturity, he's already likely achieved any improvements he's going to make thru increased movement efficiency. ALL he can do is get the gains thru increased motor qualities. His improvement ceiling will be lower - Realistically, he might improve his current VJ around 30%.

A Personal Example

I'll use myself as an example of how things like the maturation process can kinda obsfucate reality. The first time I ever measured my vert it was at 23 inches with a 3 step lead in. Ten years later at one time I hit 45 inches on the same type of jump and could hit 42 inches from a standstill. So that's 22 inches.

Realistic? Well let's take a look at what happened: First of all I was kinda gangly and uncoordinated when I first got interested in jump training. I was 15 yrs old and had never really been interested in jumping really and had spent little time doing it. I got interested in jumps on a whim at school when myself and a friend of mine got into a little competition to see who could touch an air conditioning vent in one of the classrooms. He could out-jump me despite being a couple of inches shorter and let me know about it. That kinda pissed me off so I made it a goal to increase my VJ. I measured it the next day and it was 23 inches. For the next year I jumped every chance I got. I didn't do any particular training I just did lots of jumps. Within about a year my jump was up to 27 inches. My vert stayed around there until I finally began training properly in my late teens and early 20's. I quickly got another 8 inches once I started doing proper strength training. That brought my vert up to 35. Then something odd happened. Between the ages of 23 and 25 I grew an inch and a half. I also continued gaining a lot of additional strength and power. That brought my vert up to the 40 inch mark and eventually a PR of 42 standing and 45 running. How much of it was due to physical maturity and how much of it was due to training? I really don't know. All I know is I did what I could do over a period of time and got the results I did. That's all YOU can really do.

It's also worth noting that I have a structure well suited for jumping. Extremely thin hips and long femur (thigh) bones. I also have a very good nervous system. As noted earlier, speed and rate of force development have never been weaknesses for me. My only weakness was creating force. Generating maximal force wasn't something I was born with. I had to work at it. YOU might (and probably do) have an entirely different set of physiological circumstances to work with.

Having Said That....

Now does all this mean if you're not a young teenager and don't have a great structure with great neural efficiency that you can't significantly increase your vert? Not necessarily. I'll give you one example of a guy who has even surprised me by leaps and bounds. Ori Biala didn't start training seriously for vert until he was almost 20 yrs old and he started out with a 22 inch running vert. He actually was "the other guy" in a flyin in 4 training vid a couple of yrs back. Ori made gains but his workout partner was really setting the world on fire.

It took Ori 9 months of training to get to where he could grab the rim when he took his first video:

I started consulting with Ori sometime around this point and I remember my initial reaction when I assessed him was, "well - he's not that fast and doesn't really have a great structure for jumps so we'll see what happens" But he's done what he could do, stayed VERY consistent, worked hard, and within a couple yrs he surpassed the 40 inch barrier:

There are guys that jump higher, guys that make better gains, but considering where he started from and what he had to work with THAT to me is impressive. All you can do is work with what you have and do what you can do.


But to get back to the point: How much can you improve your vert? If people ask I'll tell them a 30% increase on a relatively untrained jump should be attainable over time for just about everyone - assuming proper training. That's 6 inches on a 20 inch jump and 9 inches on a 30. There will be outliers who get more or less than that but I think the vast majority can reasonably expect that with proper training over a period of time. If you’re young and long-legged with a thin structure, a good nervous system, and poor natural strength levels you can probably expect a lot more – as you’ll have a lot of unfilled potential to work with. If you’re older and short legged with a slow nervous system and good natural strength levels your potential gains might be towards the lower end. In summary you have to identify what "type" of athlete you are and just do what you can do with what you have to work with. It should also be noted that consistency over time will be the most important variable. Not many people have the tenacity to stay dedicated for months and years on end. Those that do are often rewarded handsomely, as athletes like Ori prove.

Later on I'll talk about how to identify your physiological type, assessing your neural efficiency, how to forecast potential improvements using some simple assessments, and we'll talk about how LONG it takes to get VJ gains.