Q: I am interested in increasing my vertical jump and my speed. I started doing squats but I am confused about the range of motion. My coach told me I need to do full squats but since I'm not descending so far down when I run or jump why should I squat down so far when I train? How far down should I go when I do them?
A: Gerald, that's a very common question. Even though it's true that your ROM (range of motion) when sprinting or jumping doesn't rival that of a squat, the purpose in doing squats is to strengthen the muscles involved in the sporting movmement, and not to try to mimick the movement itself (jump or sprint).
The fact is you can strengthen the muscles involved in these movements much better with a deep range of motion. For example,studies have shown that if you raise your ability to create and manipulate force in a biomechanically disadvantageous stretched position, such as the point where the upper leg is parallel to the ground in the squat, then your ability to create force at all other joint angles and positions will increase as well. An increase in strength in the least advantageous position will raise strength throughout the entire range of motion but the inverse isn't true. So a 20% increase in strength in a quarter squat will not correlate to a 20% increase in a full squat.
So the easiest and fastest way to get stronger in a lift in a way that will transfer over to "partial range sports movements" is to simply concentrate your efforts on raising your strength in the range with the poorest leverage. In the case of the squat this position will be in the "full" squat position, so make sure you go all the way down.
Now, another important consideration is remember the goal of strength training is to strengthen the "muscles" involved in the movement. The muscles of the posterior chain, the glutes (butt), hamstrings, and lower back are heavily involved in jumping and sprinting along with the muscles of the quadriceps and calves. More often then not, the posterior chain muscles tend to be the weak links in this chain. The deeper you descend in the squat, the more you involve the muscles of the hamstrings and glutes, and thus strengthen these weak links.
Also regarding the muscles on the front of your leg, the quadriceps, - the vastus medialis muscle, which gives the quadricep the "teardrop" shape when contracted, tends to be underdeveloped in many people and this can contribute to knee problems. The deeper you descend in the squat the more you activate the Vastus medialis so you tend to strengthen 3 weaklinks with one movement when you squat fully and deeply. (Vastus medialis,glutes, and hamstrings).
If you are unable to perform squats correctly due to flexibility or structural issues you can still reap most of the benefits by performing full range lunges and/or split squats (lunge with the back leg elevated).
Q: I am a female basketball player and I need to increase my explosiveness. My coach has me doing a program of lots of plyometric drills and conditioning work and I'm not improving my speed or vertical jump. What sort've program would you recommend I do during and after the season?
A: Alicia it's hard to say exactly without knowing more about you, but for the large majority of females the shortest path to take you where you want to go is to focus on strength training to basically "tighten up" the musculature and enable you to improve the mind/muscle link. This will enable you to use the muscle you do have with more efficiency. I don't think men and women should train differently, but women oftentimes need to develop more of a "foundation" before trying to build to that foundation. In the case of training for speed, explosiveness, etc. being able to use the strength of your musculature is the foundation. Chances are you have more "potential" strength in your muscles then you are able to use efficiently (voluntary strength), so just teaching your body to use the strength you do have will go a long way in helping you.
I would recommend a program based around variations of the squat and deadlift. Exercises that recruit a lot of muscle and heavily engage both the quadriceps and posterior chain.
Now let me address the plyometric work and conditioning work you're currently doing. First, plyometric work without enough muscular strength can lead to decreases in performance and injury due to a lack of stability needed that is provided by the strength of your muscle fibers. When you perform a plyometric movement (like a depth jump, vertical jump, quick change of direction, or any quick sporting movement), you create a lot more force then normal and your body first has to absorb and then stabilize that force before reacting to that force. The absorption and stabilization is where muscle strength is heavily involved. So, boost your strength and you'll automatically become more plyometrically efficient.
Secondly, few activities (even some plyometric training!) are as inherently "plyometric" as basketball. If you're playing basketball as few as 2 times a week chances are you're getting plenty of plyometric training as it is and adding to that could be overkill. Now on the conditioning work. Too much conditioning work of the wrong kind can cause an adaptation towards more endurance and less speed and explosiveness so this should optimally be reduced to a level low enough that will allow you to maintain. Marathon runners definitely aren't setting any vertical jump and 100 meter dash records!
So to give you an overview. For explosive development you need optimal levels of the following.
General fitness/stability- General exercises to stimulate mind to muscle control and muscular recruitment.Exercises: Slow tempo bodyweight lunges, footwork drills
Strength- Ability to develop maximum force against a resistance. In this case it will come as you improve your voluntary strength. Exercise example: Squat, Deadlift, etc.
Maximum Power- Ability to develop maximum force in minimal time and combine "strength" with "acceleration". Exercise example: Weighted jump squat
Reactive/Plyometric Efficiency- Ability to absorb, stabilize, and react against force with a powerful muscular contraction. In the case of a jump or when running - the absorption, stabilization, and reaction is against your own bodyweight. This requires, strength, power, and development of the muscle/tendon complex, or stretch shortening cycle, which is inherent in all plyometric movements. Exercise example: Drop jumps, depth jumps
Ideally you should address explosive development mainly during your offseason, as trying to specialize during the in-season is just asking for trouble due to the demands of your sport. In season try to maintain your strength which you can do by training as little as 30 minutes twice per week.
Q: Here is my situation. I'm planning on playing in the volleyball nationals for my age group
(45-49) at the end of May. I played college volleyball in 1978-81 in Long Beach. I play twice a week now competitively and I work out three other days of the week. I have used plyometrics in the past, but there is such an infusion of training programs out there that all promise to get the best results. I'm 6'2, 195lbs, in good shape with a 27 inch vertical jump, I have 5 months to complete this task, but I'm getting confused with all the hype surrounding jump programs. Is it possible to do one program for 8 weeks, then switch to the other and keep making gains? The Trainers at my gym know less about plyometrics than I do.
Thanks for any help
First of all I don't know too many people between 45-49 years old who have a
27-inch vertical jump. That's pretty impressive! One thing that jumps out
at me is you say you're playing competitively twice a week and working out 3
days per week. That's a lot of potential stress on the legs and doesn't leave much
time for recovery. You might see a significant increase just by recovering
more so I'd suggest taking a few days off and re-evaluating your
When it comes to evaluating where to direct your training efforts it is very individual. You only have about .25 seconds in the vertical jump to apply as
much force as possible to elevate your body in the air. In simplistic terms, to increase this proficiency you can either:
A. Increase the speed and rate at which you apply your force in the
movement. (rate of force development)
B. Keep velocity and rate of force development constant, while increasing
the amount of force you have to draw from.
Option A would call for explosive training (lighter weight with greater acceleration), plyometrics (depth jumps), and other rate of force
Option B would call for muscular development training and strength training.
You can increase your vertical jump either way but it's best to find your
weaknesses and train for them. The same program approach will not work for
everyone. One person may be able to put 20 inches on their vertical jump with
nary a plyometric drill in sight, while others need the exact opposite
What I'd suggest you do is test your reactive (plyometric efficiency) with a version of Schmidbleicher's reactive vertical jump test. At your height and jumping ability, stand on about an 18-inch box and perform a depth jump, measuring your height jumped. Step off the box about the same as the height of the box. (so land about 18 inches away) Try to use the depth jump to enhance your
height jumped and measure it. Compare the height of this jump to your regular stationary
jump (down and up).
Stepping off the box and hitting the ground allows you to build up more force which your body must absorb, stabilize, and react to. This is the definition of "plyometric" so performing a depth jump automatically boosts plyometric/reactive contributions.
If the depth jump is higher than the stationary jump
this will usually indicate well-developed reactive/plyometric functionality, with a
need to improve the amount of force you have to draw from. (Strength training and perhaps muscle growth training supplemented with shock jumps).
If the depth jump is lower than the stationary jump this indicates an untapped plyometric potential and reactive training should be emphasized. So you will need more "spring-like" training rather than muscular training.
If the 2 are fairly close together you will find a well
rounded approach (strength, explosive strength, and reactive efficiency) will give you the best results.
You will find your performance based on this example can and will change over time in response to your training focus. You have plenty of time to accomplish your goals. Let me give you an example of a sample structure that "might" work for you. Keep in mind you're playing volleyball twice per week already and this contributes a strong plyometric training effect:
Hypertrophy (muscle growth) training
Strength Training- attempt to boost your max. poundage in exercises such as the squat, deadlift etc.
Strength + Power Training
In one session train heavy to maintain strength of previous phase. In the next session work with weights 50-60% of your max for multiple sets of low reps with great acceleration.
Complex training -
Perform a variation of a strength exercise followed by a speed-strength exercise (ex: Squat followed by Jump Squat or depth jump)
Mel C. Siff, Yuri V. Verkhoshansky, "Supertraining" 1999.
Schmidtbleicher, D. "Strength and Power in Sport" 1991.
Buchenholz, D. "The Sports Book". 2004
Zatsiorsky, V. "Science and Practice of Strength Training" 1995
Komi PV, Bosco C. "Utilization of stored elastic energy in leg extensor muscles by men and women" Med Sci Sports. 1978. Winter;10(4):261-65