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Q: How important is flexibility really? How do you know if you are flexible enough, and if your not, what would be the best means of increasing your flexibility. Is there such a thing as being "too" flexible? I have heard that many athletes dont have to worry about flexibility until they get stronger, because this is when they start to lose some of it. Since i weigh about 165 and cant even squat twice my body weight, should i not worry about it yet?

A: Too much flexibility is just as important as lack of flexibility and here's why: Flexibility is defined as the range of movement for a given bodypart. Before you can perform a movement optimally you have to be able to get into the proper position to apply tension with the right muscles at the right time.

For any given joint movement there are at least 2 muscles involved in moving the joint through it's ROM. One is called an agonist and one is called an antagonist. One of them contracts, or "tightens" to provide the movement, while the other "relaxes" or loosens, to allow the movement. Think of 2 movements that you can do with your lower leg from where you're seated right now. You can extend your lower leg out, which is done by "tightening" or flexing your quadricep muscle, or you can pull your lower leg back under your chair towards your butt, which is done by tightening or "flexing" your hamstring muscle. Generally speaking, strengthening a muscle "tightens" the muscle and weakening a muscle "loosens", or relaxes a muscle. It's kind've like a pulley or a seesaw. You can tighten or add weight to one side or loosen or remove weight from the other but the end result is the same. Ideally for every joint movement, you want a balance between the muscles that move the joint in one direction and the muscles that provide movement in the opposite direction. When you don't, you have problems that are normally attributed to either lack of "flexibility" or too much flexibility. Either one can throw the seesaw off kilter.

Now, for a variety of reasons, including posture and activity, "flexibility" problems typically result in one of the muscles that provide movement for a bodypart or bodyparts being chronically tense, or chronically tight, and the other being loose. If one is too tight the range of motion of a joint will "lean" towards dominance of the tight muscle and "away" from the loose muscle. Now go back to our example of you moving your foot out vs back towards your butt. Now what if your quadricep is tighter then your hamstring? Then you'll have a natural propensity to be proficient at extending your lower leg out and a natural propensity away from pulling your lower leg back. If the hamstring is weak or loose the result is the same.

Here's another more obvious example that most people experience to a certain extent: Right now as you sit there reading this screen you're probably leaning forward slightly. In order to hold your head up in that posture the muscles on the back of the neck have to fire and the muscles on the front of your neck have to relax. If you maintain that posture long enough (by spending enough time at a desk) the posture will become chronic. You'll walk around with your head hung slightly forward with the muscles on the back of your neck tight and chronically flexed while the muscles on the front of your neck chronically weak and loose. Eventually you will start to get pains in the back of your neck. Now, in order to correct the problem and bring the resting range of motion of your neck back to center you would need to loosen, or stretch, the muscles on the back of your neck and tighten, or strengthen the muscles on the front of the neck. So you can see there's a balance here between strengthening and stretching.

Now stand up and lift one foot up off the ground a couple of inches. Engage the hip flexors by moving the foot forward in front of you about 6 inches, back to center, and then engage the glutes by moving your foot back behind you about 6 inches. In most people, the tendency is for the hip flexors to be tighter, thus the tendency is to be less proficient at extending your hips (moving your leg back) vs engaging your hip flexors (moving your leg forward). Now, lift that same foot off the ground and, from the center, rotate the toes out 45 degrees by engaging the external hip rotators, back to center, and then rotate the toes inward slightly. Again, in many athletes the external hip rotators tend to be more active then the internal hip rotators thus they walk (and run) with the foot turned out instead of straight or inward slightly.

So, it's not as simple as saying "stretch the hell out of everything" Muscles need to be strengthened so that things remain in balance and stretched so that things either remain in balance or are brought back into balance. If you start off with things in balance, then for every muscle that you strengthen you should strengthen its opposing muscle group too. One problem with bodybuilders is they strengthen the muscles that pull their shoulders forward moreso then they strengthen the muscles that pull their shoulders backward. The result is rotator cuff problems etc.

To figure out which muscles to stretch and all that I recommend you either go to a knowledgeable physical therapist or structural guru or learn how to do it on your own by reading books such as Flexitest, Athletic Body in Balance, or "Muscles: Testing and Function". If anyone out there knows of any good and simple videos on the subject feel free to write which ones and I'll post them in the next q&a.

Having said all that, here are a few common stretches most people cam really benefit from.

Hip Flexor



Upper trap

Q: For as long as I can remember, I've been slow and cant jump. Even back when I was as weak as a kitten and weighed 140 lbs, and even back further when i was a fatty and weighed 210 at 5'6, I've always jumped the same height, about. 20 inches. Even now my squat is well over 1.5 x BW. No change in VJ height. I've read your VJ training bible. I honestly dont think im doing anything significantly wrong with my training I can tell. Its not even like I'm a slow squatter. When I hit 390(max) last thursday it was over in under 4 seconds, and much closer to 3 seconds. Could my plyo ability really suck that much, or are my genes really that retarded?

A: I believe you train maninly as a powerlifter and have recenty been doing some pretty high volume trainin along with a pretty big loss in bodyfat to boot. I would say the main problem is with all the lifting you do along with dieting you have too much chronic fatigue in your legs and you'll have to taper back on your total volume of training before you see any good VJ gains. That's why if you notice in that book I almost always taper the volume down at the end and that's also why I say most people don't notice the best gains until after they've completed a block of training. Heavy lifting and volume in general causes the Neuromuscular junction to become temporarily fatigued - this isn't an issue for strength as much as it is an issue for displays of rapid speed. That's why people can overreach slightly and their powerlifts won't be affected but olympic lifts will - sprinting and jumping are affected either more. Those issues become even worse if you are dieting or doing any cardio.

It's either that or you need to spend more time on your feet developing the proper movement efficiency for jumping.

I would cut back on the lifting and try a routine like this for your 2 weekly lower body workouts and see what hapens.

Day 1-

depth jump 4 x 3
powersnatch or clean - 4 x 3
reverse hyper or glute ham- 4 x 6 (explosive)

Day 2

depth jump 4 x 3
Box squat at 60% 6-8 x 2

That oughta get you moving in the right direction.

Also, how often do you play basketball, practice dunking, or do jumps for height? Sometimes there's a lot that can be gained by practicing the specific maneuver. There are some technical considerations you might pick up in this short article.

Oftentimes, all that's needed is 1 or 2 extra days of recovery per week.

Whenever someone is having problems and not sure what to do there's basically a few questions I ask to try and rectify the problem.

1. Are they doing the movement properly? If you're trying to increase your vertical jump or squat you better be proficient enough in the technique that all the general work you do will pay off. Movement efficiency sets the stage for everything.

2. Do they have enough basic horsepower behind the movement. Many 8 year olds can move very well but they simply don't have a big enough motor. Always start looking at the broad motor qualities and finish looking at the small. Strength is the most general and broadest motor quality that sets the foundation for all the other strength qualities such as explosive strength, starting strength, reactive ability etc., so look at that first.

3. Are they making progress in some areas of training or are they regressing in everything? How long has it been since they made progress? If a person is regressing that's a sure sign they're doing too much volume of training overall and need to cut back or take a break. Additionally, some might need to back off on the volumes of lifting for a while. Switch to more speed/power/reactive oriented work. As I mentioned above, Heavy lifting and/or bodybuilding work will often temporarily mask explosive ability due to fatigue in the muscles and nervous system, so backing off a bit will enable you to "display" what you're capable of.

4. Are they doing too much non-specific work? Look at the volume of conditioning, tempo, and sport work you do overall. High volumes of non-specific work will hinder explosiveness.

Hope that helps.

Q: A question concerning methods of weight training: Is it better to stretch a muscle past the point it is normally under on the eccentric portion of a lift (for example a standing calf raise on a cinder block where the heels rest below the rest of the foot on the bottom portion of the lift, or a dumb-bell incline bench press where the weight is lowered as far as possible until a stretch is felt in the pectorals) and if not, what way is a better way of training.

There is a time and place for everything. Movements carried out over a large ROM create leverage disadvantages and for that reason they do tend to create more muscular tension. However, they also create more stress on the joints and connective tissue. For that reason, when training for strength or hyertrophy, it's generally not a good idea to try and reach extreme joint angles with heavy loading. Take the muscle through it's natural range but don't put excessive stress on the connective tissues and joint. From where you sit right now, if you dorsiflex your foot (pull your toes up), and then point it, you should be able to illustrate perfectly the natural range of motion for your calves. You wouldn't want to exceed that ROM by going excessively deep on calf raises. However, performing calf raises without a block doesn't allow you to reach the full natural range. Therefore, a block is optimal but trying to carry out the movement with your heels forced 12 inches below the block isn't.

If you lie back on a bench and relax your arms down into a natural bench press motion many will find that their "natural range" is actually significantly less then what takes place in a touch and go bench press. Therefore, for joint health it may be a good idea for them not to bring the bar all the way down when benching. The same goes for wide stance squatting. A lot of powerlifters have chronically beat up hips from squatting heavy loads with an excessively wide stance.

Now, having said that, The use of slightly loaded stretches can be especially useful in developing active flexibility. This requires you to exercise a limb through a full range of movement against a resistance which is allowed to stretch a joint gently beyond its limit of static flexibility without producing any sudden movement which may recruit the myotatic reflex. An example of this would be holding the bottom of a pushup between 2 benches for pectoral flexibility, getting deep in the bottom of the squat position and holding that position for hip flexibility, or holding the bottom of a really deep loaded calf raise for ankle and calf flexibility.