By: Kelly Baggett
Wanna jump higher? Well so does everyone! In fact the questions I'm asked more then any other are, "What are the best exercises to improve my vertical jump and help me jump higher?" Or, "What are the best exercises to improve my speed?" A lot of people think there's some secret exercise or movement that will turn them into explosive superstars overnight. In truth, there is and that exercise is called consistency and hard work! If you aren't willing to put forth consistent effort no single exercise will give you what you want. Having said that, there are many quality exercises that will enable you to focus on the specific targets that your workouts must hit to help you run faster and jump higher. Hopefully in this article I can help save you gobbles of time in the process of achieving your performance goals.
Jump Higher - Make It Simple
In this article I'll attempt to shed some light and help you avoid going round and round playing a game of pin the tail on the donkey searching for that elusive magic bullet promised to make you jump higher. I'll give you some of the top exercises that have been proven to help thousands of upper level athletes jump higher. I'm going to break the vertical jump down and show you the exact qualities your workouts must target, and then give you the secrets, or exercises, that will enable you to hit those targets and make the most of your training time.
Jumping Higher and Running Faster - Do They Actually Correlate?
A lot of you may wonder if the exercises to improve one area (speed or jump) work to improve the other. Will jumping higher make you run faster and vice versa? Generally speaking, the answer to that question is yes. In fact, the ability to accelerate quickly and jump high correlate very well with each other. Any time you increase your vertical jump and train yourself to jump higher, you'll nearly always notice you also get faster and vice versa. This is because the qualities of strength required to jump high and run fast are very similar. In fact, due to this, you can many times get faster without running, and jump higher without jumping, as long as you're enhancing the type(s) of strength required in each through your training regimen.
To prove this all you have to do is take a look around. Have you ever seen a good sprinter who can't jump high and a good leaper who's slow as molasses? Me neither.
So What Is The Best Exercise To Jump Higher?
First, understand that there really can't be a single best exercise for everyone because different training means have different effects. The type of strength that one person needs to jump higher may be the opposite of what another needs. For example, someone who's lacking in basic strength will get great results with common strength exercises such as the squat. Another person might have plenty of strength, but not enough "spring", so a more specific vertical jump exercise like depth jumps will be his best training tool while the squats will do far less.
To Jump Higher Realize That Different Exercises Have Different Effects
Understand that different training means have different influences on vertical jumping ability. Running speed and jumping ability both require an athlete to display large amounts of power. If you've read the power training article you know that power is a combination of strength and speed.
To Jump Higher You Gotta Get Powerful
Power = Strength x Speed
In the vertical jump, you can again think of power as the amount of force you put into the ground at toe-off, which is responsible for the speed at which you leave the ground and the ultimate height of your jump. The more power you apply with respect to your bodyweight, the higher you're going to jump - And with respect to technique - that's about all there is to it to get you jumping higher!
Time Of Force Application
Realize in the vertical jump you only have about .20 to .40 seconds to apply max power and jump as high as possible. This is why the ability to jump high and the ability to accelerate quickly have such a good correlation.
In order to display optimal levels of power so that you can jump higher then you ever imagined, you obviously must have good levels of strength and speed. This is influenced by the following strength qualities.
Limit Strength- This is the amount of force you can apply irrespective of time. Limit strength can also be thought of as the strength of your muscles when speed of movement is of little consequence. Lifting maximal weights such as performing a 1 repetition max in the bench press or squat will test your limit strength capacity.
Attention should be paid to developing limit strength in the muscles of the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings and lower back as these are the most important muscle groups for sprinting and jumping. These are your "jump higher and run faster" muscles. The muscles of the hip extensors should be given special attention because they are usually the weak links in the large majority of athletes. These muscles are the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.
Explosive Strength- Refers to the ability to develop max force in minimal time without the use of the plyometric stretch-reflex. Jumping from a paused position and sprinting out of the blocks both require nearly pure explosive strength because you don't have the luxury of winding up and utilizing plyometric ability like you would if you took a big run-up before jumping, or a lead-in to a sprint.
Explosive strength relies on starting strength, which is the ability to "turn on" as much force as possible in the first .03 seconds of movement.
In order to develop maximal force in minimal time you obviously must have enough raw force or strength to draw from or to tap into quickly. This is why limit strength serves as the foundation for explosive strength. A rocket with a 5 HP motor isn't going anywhere! Likewise, an athlete who can only apply 100 lbs of force isn't gonna be jumping very high either regardless of how fast he applies that force.
Reactive strength- Is displayed when your muscle/tendon complex is stretched prior to contracting and is otherwise known as plyometric strength, reversal strength, reflexive strength, rebound strength etc. This type of strength is evident when you perform a quick countermovement (bend down) before jumping. You can jump higher that way then you can by pausing and then trying to jump can't you? Here's why. The countermovement quickly stretches the tendons throughout your lower body. This allows your muscles and tendons to gather energy and create recoil like a rubber band. This reflexive/reactive response occurs very quickly whereas a voluntary response to muscle stretch would be too late. Reactive ability enhances the force you can generate in the first .10 seconds of movement by anywhere from 200-700%!
With each stride and foot contact of a sprint the same thing happens as your achilles tendon stretches and recoils back like a spring or rubber band. The stretching reflex responds to the speed at which your muscle/tendon complex is stretched prior to movement. Try to very, very slowly bend down before jumping and you'll see what I mean. The faster and greater the stretch the greater the corresponding reactive force. This is why you'll notice people who are excellent jumpers descend down quickly and sharp in their countermovement. They create greater force in one direction, that can then be transformed into force in the other direction as they explode up with a powerful jump. When your reactive ability is good, the more force you can take in, the more force you can put out. Guys with subpar leaping ability have a hard time utilizing reactive force in the hips and quads so they don't perform the countermovement with near the velocity, smoothness, and proficiency. Fortunately this can be improved.
Jumping High and Running Fast are Largely Involuntary Activities
Most of the force generated from reactive contractions is involuntary, that is, you don't have to think about it. This is why you can bounce a lot more weight when doing a bench press then you can whenever you pause a maximum weight on your chest before lifting it - even without really trying to. It's also why you jump higher when you "bounce" down and then up. We tend to use reactive force naturally whenever we are given the opportunity to do so and do it without thinking about it. In fact, one of the ways you can improve reactive ability is simply to avoid screwing it up. It's there naturally and all training should enhance it and not detract from it. One of the ways you can screw it up is with bodybuilding style training - which basically teaches your body to do the reverse of what it's programmed to do. This is going to go against what you've heard but cheating, bouncing, and accelerating a weight through the sticking point are all natural occurances and utilize and enhance reactive ability. You can detract from this with an over-reliance on prolonged eccentric training and slow training.
How to Jump Higher - In a Nutshell
So, to quickly recap, the power in the vertical jump comes from a combination of explosive strength and reactive strength - with limit strength serving as the foundation for both. When you put the 3 together you get what is known as your static-spring proficiency. A static-spring proficient athlete is otherwise known as a spectacular athlete.
Think of basic strength as the unseen concrete foundation of a house and your reactive strength and explosive strength as the result of that foundation (your beautiful home) that everyone sees. In a static-spring proficient athlete you see the end result, the ease of movement, speed, and jumping ability, but you don't necessarily "see" the foundation behind that.
If you're someone without a solid foundation you must train with slow heavy weight strength exercises to build that foundation, along with using explosive strength and reactive strength exercises to enhance power or the display of your foundation. If you are already fairly advanced then all you have to do is determine which part of your power pyramid is the weak link (limit strength, explosive strength, or reactive strength), and address the deficiency accordingly. Repeat this process consistently and you'll soon be jumping higher and running faster then you ever imagined.
Classifying Jumping Improvement Exercises
Now I'll break the training methods down into categories of limit strength exercises, explosive strength exercises, and reactive strength exercises and show you the top exercises from each category that'll get you jumping higher and running faster. Really there are countless exercises that are all effective, but these exercises will give you a lot of value for your training dollar.
Limit Strength Exercises
The goal of limit strength exercises is to simply increase the force or strength producing capabilities of your muscles. Progress will be evident in the amount of weight you can move in basic movements. The goal here is not to try to necessarily "mimick" sports movements, but rather just to increase the contractual force producing capabilities of the muscles that are involved in the sporting movements. Whenever you perform limit strength exercises the repetition scheme can vary, but in general, the total length of the set should be kept under 25 seconds.
Full Back Squat- There should be no real reason to have to describe this exercise but make sure you descend down to parallel or below. This exercise works all the major muscle groups we need for speed and vertical jumipng ability and is a foundation for anybody who wants to jump higher and run faster. Perform for 3-8 repetitions per set.
Deadlift- Simply load up a bar and bend down, grab the bar, and pick it up while keeping your back straight and using the power of your glutes and hamstrings to initiate the movement. Deadlifts are a superior strengthening exercise for the glutes and hamstrings and also develop whole body power through their influence on the traps, grip, and upper back. This also makes some version of deadlifts a necessity for anyone who wants to jump higher and run faster. For extra hip and hamstring recruitment, try performing deadlifts with a wide grip while standing on a box. Perform 3-8 repetitions per set.
1/2 Deadlift- This is like the deadlift but instead of starting from the ground you place the bar in a power rack or on boxes set just below the knee level. Again grip the bar and keeping your back straight or arched concentrate on squeezing with your glutes and hamstrings to pull the bar up. It also helps if you think of yourself as a bull pawing the ground down and back with your feet. Your feet won't actually move but thinking of this action will correct your form and make sure you place stress on the appropriate musculature.
Split Squat- This is basically a single leg squat, with the non-working leg elevated on a bench behind you. Perform this exercise by holding a dumbell in each hand or with a barbell on your back, descend until the back knee touches the floor and then explode back up to the start position. This exercises torches the glutes, hamstrings, and vastus medialis while also developing flexibility in the hip flexors. I've yet to see anyone who wanted to jump higher or run faster who didn't respond very quickly to this exercise. It's definitely one of my favorites. Perform 5-15 repetions per set.
Good Morning- Start off in a squat position with a barbell on your back placed down low on your traps - next arch your back keep your chest up and push your hips back as far as possible. As you do this your upper body will descend forward and you will feel a stretch in your glutes and hamstrings. Dig down and back with your feet to rise to the starting position. Perform 5-10 repetitions per set.
Glute Ham raise- If you don't have a glute ham apparatus you can always do these the old fashioned way. Find someone or something to hold your feet down while you place your knees on a pad of some sort. Next starting from the top arch your back, keep your chest out and control the downward descent. You will feel this extensively in the hamstrings. Next, try to pull yourself up with your hamstrings but assist yourself with your hands as much as you need. Remember the hamstrings are essential for anyone who wants to run faster or jump higher. The glute-ham is the kind of all direct hamstring exercises. Perform 5-15 repetitions per set.
Explosive Strength Exercises
The goal of explosive strength exercises is to either perform the movement with more speed, or with more height. For example, instead of squatting with heavy weight we'll get you jumping with weights. You simply try to jump higher while squatting with light to moderate weights. Generally, speed of movement, especially the beginning of the movement, is more important than the load involved when it comes to these exercises. Explosive strength movements focus on developing maximal starting and explosive strength, without much involvement of the reflexive stretch-shortening cycle (reactive strength). They inherently make you focus on applying max voluntary force as quickly as possible.
Box Squat- Using a wide stance sit back on a box just below parallel and pause before each repetition. Use a load equivalent to 50-60% of your best back squat and explode up trying to use your hips and hamstrings. You can also execute these with bands and chains for added effect. Perform anywhere from 2-5 reps per set.
Paused Jump Squat- Use a load of 15-30% of your max squat. Descend down just above parallel, pause for 3 seconds and then jump as high as possible. Not only are jump squats fun but they are also very effective for jumping higher and running faster. Perform 5-10 reps per set.
Jump Shrug- This is a lead in to a clean or snatch movement. Starting from either the floor, or from the "hang" position, explode up initiating the movement with your legs and hips. As you extend your hips and start to leave the floor follow through by shrugging your shoulders up. Re-set in between reps. Perform 3-6 repetitions per set.
Clean and Snatch Variations- These movements are explosive by nature and in order to perform them correctly you must instantly be able to develop maximum force. They also heavily involve the hip extensors, which are key for speed and jumping ability. Olympic lifts have long been used to help athletes run faster and jump higher. Explaining the movements is beyond the scope of this article but if you can perform them correctly you can work them into your program. Perform 2-5 reps per set.
Standing broad jumps- Simply jump as far out as you can for distance and try to have a mark to shoot for. Pause momentarily between repetitions. Perform 3-5 reps per set.
On-Box jumps- Find a box, stand in front of it, and then jump onto it and then step off and repeat. As you develop the capacity to jump higher you can challenge yourself 2 ways. Either jump onto a low box trying to bend the legs as little as possible, or find a high box that requires you to really give it all you've got. Perform 3-8 reps per set.
1-leg split squat jumps- This exercise is another favorite of mine for jumping higher. Stand to the side of a box with one leg on the box and the other leg on the ground. Next, quickly straighten the leg that's on the box and attempt to elevate yourself as high as possible by pushing off with the lead leg. Pause momentarily between repetitions. Complete all the reps for one leg before moving on to the other leg. Vary the height of the box to focus on different areas. You can also add weight to these by holding light dumbells. Perform 5-10 repetitions per leg.
Hurdle jumps- Line up a row of hurdles or other barriers and jump over them one after the other, pausing momentarily in between each repetition. If you only have one such hurdle or object you can simply jump then turn around and jump again etc. Make the exercise more challenging the same way you did in the on-box jumps. Challenge yourself to jump higher by using a higher hurdle, or jump higher with more clearance between you and the hurdle you're jumping over. Perform 3-8 reps per set.
Reactive Strength Exercises
Reactive strength exercises generally consist of jumps. The goal with the reactive strength exercises is to execute the movements with either less time spent on the ground or by jumping higher. Each exercise and repetition places a premium on stretching of the muscle-tendon complex, which will boost your reactive/reflexive capacities by increasing your ability to absorb force, stabilize force, and reflexively react to that force. These movements allow you to take advantage and build upon the reflexive forces that come from the plyometric effect. They are essential for anyone wanting to jump higher and run faster.
ankle jumps- An ankle jump is performed jumping off of the ground in rhythm by just springing off your ankles. While you're in the air you want to pull your toes up. You also must prevent your heels from ever touching the ground. The key to this exercise lies in your ability to keep your knees locked while jumping and landing on and off the ground, as well as spending the least amount of time on the ground as possible. Over time you'll find you can jump higher and higher using just your ankles. Perform 20 reps per set.
Shock jumps- Also known as depth landings or altitude drops. What you do here is find a box equivalent to about the height of your best vertical jump. Next, step off the box and upon contact instantly try to absorb the impact without any movement and without letting your heels touch the ground. Picture a gymnast landing from a vaulting maneuver. You want to land in a powerful, yet quiet manner. You can continue to increase the height of the box until you can no longer land smooth and quiet. Don't jump high off the box simply step off the box. You can perform these by landing in a slight knees bent position, or by landing in a deeper squat position. The more knee bend the more the hamstrings and glutes are involved. Reactive strength improves as the speed of stretch increases, so you can increase the effectiveness even more by attaching elastic bands to the ground which then attach to your belt. Perform 3 reps per set.
Depth jumps- A depth jump is a carryover from a shock jump and is performed by stepping off the box and then exploding upward, jumping as high as possible, upon ground contact. Try to keep the ground contact time short while jumping higher and higher. To find the correct height for you, simply find the height that allows you to jump the highest after you step off the box. So, if you jump 22 inches from a 12 inch box, 30 inches from an 18 inch box and 28 inches from a 24 inch box the 30 inch box would be the correct height since it allowed you to jump higher after ground contact. If you find you can actually jump higher from the ground then you can by preceding your jump with a depth jump then you need to spend some time engaging in shock jumps before you perform this exercise. An advanced form of depth jumps calls for attaching stretch-bands to your body to increase your velocity as you descend, and then having the tension released as you begin your jump. Recall that concentric force increases as the speed of the stretch increases. This is probably the ultimate reactive technique but is an advanced exercise. Perform 3 reps of depth jumps per set.
Reactive squats- This is a rhythmic jump squat variation and calls for you to jump higher over a full range of motion while using weight. From the upright squat position pull the bar securely down on your shoulders and quickly descend down into a 1/2 squat position and bounce back up attempting to jump. If you do the movement correctly you should feel a stretch on the muscles of your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes as you absorb, stabilize, and react to the oncoming force. Use weight anywhere from 15-50% of your maximum squat. Perform 5-10 reps per set
Reverse hyperextension- The reverse hyper is a true gift for anyone wanting to jump higher and run faster. This movement works hip extension hitting the hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors all during the course of one rep. If you don't have a reverse hyper device you can get backwards in a back raise or glute-ham machine and apply load by placing a rope or chains strung through weights around your ankles. To initiate the movement raise your legs up to parallel. You should feel a strong contraction in your glutes and hamstrings. Next, quickly allow your legs and the weight to fall and then about 2/3 of the way down regather tension and explode back up. This creates a reactive contraction in the hip extensors. Perform 8-15 reps per set.
Vertical jumps- There should be no real need to explain this one, but one of the best ways to improve your vertical jump is to practice jumping higher performing the actual vertical jump movement! You can use the vertical jump in place of a reactive exercise for vertical jump development. I like to use a "3-steps plus jump" approach. Find a high object you can use as a goal or mark to shoot for. Next take 3 quick steps, jump stop, and attempt to jump up and touch the object. Chart your progress and try to jump higher over time. Perform 3 reps per set with maximum effort.
Jump Higher - The Recipe For Success
A surefire method to make sure you're improving your ability to jump higher is very simple and consists of 3 things:
1. Get your limit strength exercises heavier.
2. Get your explosive strength exercises faster.
3. Get to where you're jumping higher on your reactive strength exercises.
If you do all 3 of these you can't help but improve your ability to jump higher! If you do even one of them you will still notice substantial improvement.
How To Structure a Routine to Jump Higher and Run Faster
If you want an idea how to set up a convenient training split simply select one exercise from each category at each training session for a frequency of twice per week. Just make sure you have one weighted squat variation in either the limit strength or explosive strength category each workout.
Limit strength exercise
Pick 1 and perform 5-6 sets of whatever repetition scheme is outlined for the particular exercise.
Explosive strength exercises
Pick 1 and perform 6 sets of whatever repetition scheme is outlined for the particular exercise.
Reactive strength exercises
Pick 1 and perform 6 sets of whatever is listed for the particular exercise you choose.
If you wish to address certain deficiencies you can simply increase the volume for a particular strength quality. For example, if you know you're strength deficient, instead of performing 1 limit strength exercise you might perform 2, and then only perform 1 reactive strength exercise and eliminate the explosive strength exercise. This will leave you with the same volume but a different training effect.
If you know you're reactive deficient you can perform 2 reactive exercises along with 1 limit strength exercise and eliminate the explosive strength exercise.
These are just a few simple ways of incorporating these exercises. Any of these exercises can be incorporated into any training split with great efficiency and a big boost in your training economy, and I hope an even bigger boost in your training awareness on what it takes to jump higher.
For more rock solid information on jumping higher and becoming a great athlete check out my vertical jump and speed development products:
Products by Kelly Baggett to Jump Higher, Run Faster, and Become a Better Athlete
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