The Difference Between Running and Jumping: Why Some People Can Jump But Can't Run

I've mentioned several times in the past that running and jumping are very similar from a motor quality perspective. If you have what it takes to jump high you can usually run pretty fast and vice versa. It's fairly rare to see someone with a 4.6 or better forty yard dash who can't vertical jump 30 inches. It's also rare to see someone with a 30 inch or better vertical jump who can't run a sub 5.0 forty. However, there are some exceptions. The differences are even more significant when dealing with numbers from either end that could be considered fairly high level. Over the years I've seen and heard from quite a few dunkers and jumpers who wanted to convert their explosiveness into speed on the track and many of them weren't initially all that fast. I've also seen some sprinters that you would think would be able to jump out of the gym not be able to get up as good as some might think. Sometimes the numbers don't match up.

So, What's Going On?

Well, in my experience, research, and real-world observations I believe the answer is relatively simple:

In short, the primary reason some people can jump much better then they can run (other than specific experience in the event of choice and body structure), is primarily due to the muscle dominance differences in generating horizontal vs vertical force. Sprinting inherently requires more horizontal force application which, in comparison to jumping, more heavily involves the muscles of the hips and hamstrings and involves less from the quads and calves. When compared to sprinting, jumping vertically requires more vertical force, which, in addition to plenty of hip activation, requires more contribution from the muscles of the quadriceps and plantar flexors and significantly less from the hamstrings. Your proficiency in extending your hips with power (e.g. driving down and back against the ground horizontally) is mainly responsible for your ultimate top end speed. In the research, horizontal jumping and bounding for distance off one leg has been shown to correlate very well with sprint times.(1) Horizontal jumping also more heavily involves the hip extensors. (2, 3) Real world observations support the notion that sprinters carry much more muscle in the hamstrings and dunkers are often hamstring deficient.

Hip extension vs Hip hyperextension

Both movements are a combination of ankle, hip, and knee extension so will respond to the same exercises to a large degree. But there's also a component of knee flexion (hamstrings) that doesn't exist in the VJ. There's an action in the sprints kinda like riding a skateboard. The hamstrings really don't do much in a vertical jump. Also the way the hips extend is somewhat different in the sprints. It's hip hyperextension instead of just pure hip extension. So exercises that emphasize the end range of hip extension (like sleds and reverse hypers) are more important for the sprints. The basic tenet of athletic development still holds true though Figure out what muscles and joint actions are working then get them strong and explosive. It works for everything.

What It Takes

In short, quad dominant individuals can often jump. In fact, it is possible to jump well with practically no hamstring involvement or power at all. I should know because exhibit A is sitting right here. My leg curl poundages (back before glute hams and all that fancy stuff was popular) used to literally be less than most jr. high girls. Despite the fact that my hamstrings resembled pipe cleaners I could still jump pretty good and could even squat a decent amount but my speed at the time was fairly horrendous in comparison. Unfortunately, I didn't have anyone to tell me, if you wanna be fast you better be powerful in both the glutes and hamstrings.

Do keep in mind what I'm primarily referring to here is higher end acceleration and top speed and not so much initial acceleration. Strong quads will benefit your start, but if you want good top speed and want to run a good flying 20, 60, or 100 meters that isn't always the case.

Vertical Forces vs....Vertical Forces

The odd thing is there is a common belief in the sprinting world that says vertical plyos primarily develop top speed. I believe this has more to do with the inherent short ground contact times advocated in these plyos which help duplicate the shorter ground contact times inherent in sprints, as exercises like bounce depth jumps have actually been shown to effectively emphasize the quadriceps and calves. (4) It is a bit of an irony that when running at top speed the forces are entirely vertical but, what occurs once top speed is reached is different then what gets you to top speed. Additionally, it appears the muscle contribution responsible for generating the vertical forces that occur during a top speed sprint are significantly different then the muscle contribution responsible for the vertical forces when jumping. According to Charlie Francis, Ben Johnson was tested running near top speed and was found to have generated 3500 watts of power at the hip compared to only 500 at the ankle. In contrast, a running bilateral or unilateral jump has been found to have much greater forces acting on the ankle joint. (2)

Assessing The Balance

One test I've used to assess optimal power for sprinting is to compare the broad jump to a single leg triple jump. Optimal hip power for sprinting will see your single leg triple jump (step forward and perform 3 consecutive hops forward on one leg), be within pissing distance of 3 x the length of your stationary standing broad jump. Thus, one with a 10 foot broad jump should approach 30 feet on a single leg triple jump. In my experience most "dunkers" won't approach anywhere near this. Most sprinters will be much closer.

Frank Dick also has a series of charts using a series of alternating 3 and 5 step bounds. You can check it out here:

Frank Dick Chart

For Football Players

Another useful observation for football players is to simply compare the 10 yard dash to the 40 yard dash. The quad dominant individual often tends to have a start that is much better than his top speed. The posterior chain dominant individual is exactly opposite. A good rule of thumb is the 40 yard dash should be 3.0 seconds or less faster than the 10 yd. dash. Thus, someone running a 1.5 10 yard dash should be running a 4.5 or better 40 yds. Anything more than a 3.0 second difference indicates a need for more speed work or posterior chain strengthening, horizontal plyo variations (bounding), or horizontal towing (sled sprints and sled marches). Guys with less than a 3.0 second difference typically don't need to do anything special except get stronger (and often bigger). They tend to easily convert strength gains into speed.

So, how would you convert a jumper into a sprinter? Good question. Here are a couple of programming samples that hopefully give an idea how to address some of those needs and deficiences:

Session A (Mon):

Sled sprints or sled marching - 20 yards x 5 with fairly heavy sled - 40 yards x 5 with very light sled

Reverse hyperextension or barbell hip thrust- 3 x 10-12

Glute ham- 3 x 8

Session B (Wed):

3 or 5 Step Bounds on grass- Stop at first sign of performance drop-off.

Session C (Fri):

Flying 20 yard sprints- (approach a 20 yard "fly" zone at top speed. For most football players the magic number for a "good" flying 20 is typically 2.0 seconds or less) - repeat to first sign of performance decline

Hang hip snatch- 6-8 x 2

Converting Sprint Speed Into Jumping Ability

How about converting a sprinter into a jumper? This one is easy. Just build the squat then add in jump squats and depth jumps.

Session A:

Depth Jump- 6-8 x 3 (Assuming athlete is in excellent condition build up to box approximating best standing vertical jump - step off, hit the ground, and rebound up onto another box)

1/4 Rhythmic Jump Squat (with 15% of max squat)- 4 x 8

Session B:

Depth jump- 6-8 x 3

Parallel box Squat - 5 x 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Glute Ham/Reverse hyper- 4 x 10-12

Split Squat- 2 x 8-10/side

Session C:

Depth jump- 6-8 x 3

Full jump squat with pause with 25% of max squat- 4 x 4 (descend to parallel, pause for 3 seconds, and explode up)

After 3 weeks eliminate the depth jumps and replace them with running approach jumps for maximum height and aim for jumping PR's over the next 2 weeks.

Final Thoughts

On a final cautionary note before reading too much into this keep in mind their is a fairly significant coordination, or movement efficiency, aspect to either running or jumping. You can't expect to sprint well if you haven't run a sprint in 3 years and you can't expect to jump well if you never jump. It's kind of like riding a bike. You won't ever forget how to ride one but if you haven't been on one in 10 years and decide to go for a ride you're initially gonna be a little less stable going around the corners than someone like Lance Armstrong. Likewise, you won't ever forget how to run and jump, but if you haven't done either in ages it takes a few sessions to get the feel and refresh those neural pathways. Spend enough time actually practicing either before worrying about the things I've discussed here.


1. Relationship between the kinetics and kinematics of a unilateral horizontal drop jump to sprint performance. Holm, Stålbom, Keogh, Cronin. Institute of Sport and Recreation Research New Zealand, School of Sport and Recreation, AUT University, Auckland, New Zealand.

2. Contribution of the lower extremity joints to mechanical energy in running vertical jumps and running long jumps.Stefanyshyn, Nigg. Human Performance Laboratory, The University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

3. Kinetics of standing broad and vertical jumping. Robertson DG, Fleming D. Can J Sport Sci. 1987 Mar;12(1):19-23.

4. Drop jumping I. The influence of jumping technique on the biomechanics of jumping. Department of Functional Anatomy, Free University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.