by: Kelly Baggett
What are the most essential qualities of a high vertical jumper?
Horsepower and movement efficiency. Strength per pound of bodyweight is the horsepower...movement efficiency is how well you can carry out a movement. You put those 2 things together and they determine the height that you jump.
You need to be able to put out a lot of force relative to your bodyweight. In other words, you need strong legs! Your body structure influences how efficiently force gets transferred into the ground.
Movement efficiency has to do with coordination and your ability to carry out a movement optimally. In the case of the vertical jump it's mainly impacted by by body-fat and coordination with your feet. Imagine trying to jump with a 50 pound tub of lard strapped to your back and you can see how extra fat would negatively affect your vertical jump. On the "feet" end, many people lack coordination on their feet and wear shoes that are too big and cumbersome for them to ever get light on their feet.
What is Natural Strength?
Some people have a build characterized by long achilles tendons, long thigh bones, and high muscle attachment points that allow them to transfer force very efficiently. So, for each unit of force they develop they will be able to transfer a lot of that into the ground. That's how guys like Allen Iverson can jump well even though they've never seen a squat rack in their life. If you don't have that great natural body structure (and most people don't) you're gonna have to make up for it by increasing your strength. Simple enough.
There are some skinny guys who can jump very well without being strong in the traditional sense, yet you won't find ANYONE with a 35 inch plus vertical jump who doesn't have a lot of "natural" strength. By natural strength what I mean is if you find someone with a naturally high vertical they always have a natural ability to create force. Even if they don't strength train you can take them in the gym and teach them how to squat and within a week they will be squatting over 1.5 times bodyweight. I have yet to see any exceptions to that rule. If you don't have that strength naturally you're gonna have to train to get it.
But my friends Billy Joe and Jack squat 350 pounds yet I jump 12 inches higher then them. What's going on here?
You can't make comparisons like that with any accuracy. Muscle and tendon length, bone length, muscle attachments, endocrine, and neural characteristics all influence the ability to leverage force. That important thing is that YOU improve your qualities and let everything else fall where it will and don't try to compare yourself to other people.
What is the minimum amount of strength that I need?
Before I tell you how much strength you need do this so I can make a point: Go in the gym and grab 2 fifteen pound dumbells and lie on a bench and bench press them 100 times. Now stand up and do 100 half squats with your bodyweight. Which is harder? Probably the squats right? So that means it takes more strength to do a half squat with your bodyweight than it does to lie on your back and press 15 pounds.
Now realize a shotput also weighs about 15 pounds. What is a shotput? Basically a press where you throw the weight. What is a vertical jump? Basically a 1/2 squat where you "throw" your body into the air. The 15 pounds sounds really light until you think about throwing the weight. Now let's figure out how much strength it takes to be a good shotputter: Well, the routines of top shotputters contain a fair mix of both explosive and strength oriented training but on the strength end you won't find any that don't bench press over 400 pounds. The large majority of them will bench press over 500 pounds. So, through real world observation it has been established that there is no such thing as a top shotputter who bench presses less than 400 pounds. We've also established that squatting and "throwing" your bodyweight into the air requires more strength relatively than does throwing a 15 pound shotput. So, if a shotputter benches a minimum of 400 pounds what does that tell you about how strong our legs should be for jumping? It tells me they need to be quite strong. Just as you will never see a good shotputter who can't bench press 400 pounds you will never see a good vertical jumper who isn't strong in the legs as well. In fact I have a $500 bounty for the first person who can show me someone with a legit 35 inch vertical jump who can't squat 1.5 BW within a week of learning the movement. I could probably crank that up to 2 x BW and I doubt I would ever lose.
Now, does that mean that just because someone can bench press 700 pounds that they will be able to throw the shotput a mile? Or does that mean that just becuase so and so has a 500 pound squat they'll be able to jump out of the gym? No. There is technique and movement efficiency involved in both shotputting and jumping. What it does tell me though is if you're weaker than a kitten you're completely wasting your time spending all your time with plyometric work until you've built a base of strength. Once you have your base of strength you'll get the best results in Vertical jump practicing jumping related tasks and training explosively.
I heard that it was not good to squat because there is deceleration that occurs at the top of the squat that doesn't occur with the vertical jump?
Keep in mind when using exercises like the squat we're not trying to duplicate the exact execution of the vertical jump, we're just trying to strengthen the muscles involved. That's also why a deeper squat is better than a quarter or half squat. It strengthens more muscles. Besides that, by that line of logic we shouldn't walk either since there is deceleration that occurs with each stride. The body and brain are smart enough to differentiate various movements.
What about deadlifts - Are they good exercises?
Yes, the deadlift is an excellent exercise. My only hesitation in ranking it equal to the squat is the fact that it is possible to deadlift a significant amount of weight without using the lower body at all. A proper deadlift is an excellent exercise.
How important are the calves for jumping?
Not very important. Try this: Stand on a stair step and let your ankles hang down. Without bending your knees try to hop up onto the next step. Did you make it? Probably not. That's because the calves don't contribute much to the jump. Your butt and thighs are what give you the power. The calves simply help transferring that power into the ground.
Having said that, many people do have a problem with what appears to be weak calves because when they move they struggle to stay in optimal power position - They move back on their heels and have a hard time staying up on the balls of their feet. Their problem isn't really weak calves it's lack of coordination on the feet. Exercises designed to improve movement efficiency will improve this.
How do I determine whether I have a good enough base of strength?
Well first in order to meet my minimum requirements you must be able to do one of the following:
A: Squat 1.5 x your bodyweight to legal powerlifting depth hip breaking parallel.
B: Perform 5 bodyweight pistol squats Pistol Squat
Once you've met either of those tasks your training can be more focused in either the strength area or speed area. Initially, you can bring both your strength and speed/plyometric ability up at the same time, but eventually you reach a point where you'll need a bit more focus in a given area. Just like some shotputters need a bigger bench press to increase their shotput while others need to get faster applying their strength to the shotput (ie get more explosive), some vertical jumpers need more work on their strength base while others need more work on the speed that they apply that strength to their jump. Here are a couple of tests that will help determine that:
A: Measure your regular down and up vertical jump. Next, get a box about 18 inches high and perform a rebound jump where you step off the box, hit the ground, and jump straight up. If the jump from the box is higher you're most likely fast enough and could benefit more from increasing your strength base. If the jump with the box is lower you could probably stand to work more on explosive oriented (plyometric) training.
B: Stand in one place and perform 5 consecutive vertical jumps jumping as high as possible with each jump. Those with highly developed speed (plyometric) qualities will usually find the height of the last 4 jumps is at least the same or higher than the height of the first jump. Thus, they would want to focus more on strength while the group that struggled jumping on the "bounce" would want to focus more on speed oriented training.
But I heard I need to squat faster with light weights to improve power production for vertical jumping and that lifting heavy weights will make me slow?
Until you have a really good base of strength in place you will get faster with light weights by increasing the poundage on your max lifts. Let me explain: Let's say we take someone with a 150 pound bench press who wants to be a great shotputter. Someone tells him that he can be an olympic caliber thrower if he just practices being very explosive with light weights. So he trains by putting 100 pounds on the bar and does sets of 5 as fast as he can. What's gonna happen when he goes out and throws against 400 pound bench pressers who can throw 300 pounds around as fast as he can throw 100? He's gonna get his butt kicked that's what's gonna happen.
Just for the sake of argument let's say that the guy who can throw around 100 pounds the fastest will have a superior vertical jump. Who's gonna throw around 100 pounds faster - The guy with a max squat of 135 pounds, or the guy with a max squat of 300 pounds. Definitely the guy with the 300 pound squat. But if we were to compare a 600 pound squatter to an 800 pound squatter in the same task the answer may not be so clear cut.
The main point is, unless you're already stronger than an ox, the fastest way to improve your ability to lift light weights is to increase your maxes, and the best way to do that is to lift fairly heavy with reps between 1 and 10 with weights between 70 and 100% of your 1 rep max. Lifting light loads will not improve max strength. When lifting heav weights the load may not move that fast but it doesn't need to move that fast.
As for heavy weights making you slow, this is only true of people who carry strength training to the extreme. Even then, it's not the strength or heavy weight that creates slowness, it is the excessive muscular bodyweight that can develop. To verify this all you have to do is look at olympic weightlifters. Their entire sport is based on lifting heavy weights, yet they have the best vertical jumps of all athletes and are as fast as sprinters out to 30 meters.
Some people are sometimes under the misguided assumption that strength training with heavy weights makes one slow because it can create a temporary state of fatigue and soreness in the muscles. That fatigue will sometime temporarily "mask" explosiveness. The solution to that is very simple: Take some occassional downtime and let that fatigue dissipate.
Is plyometric training a waste of time for someone that doesn't have a base of strengh?
Plyometric training works by boosting 2 things:
A: The ability to move efficiently
B: The ability to display strength more rapidly.
In someone without a base of strength and with lack of cordination, it may help slightly to improve the ability to move efficiently, but won't do anything to help rapidly express strength that you don't have.
How long does it take to see real results once I begin training
Beginners can see results in less than a week. A highly advanced athlete might require 6-8 weeks
Have you checked out any of the other jumping programs? What is different about your philosophy?
There is lots of hype and gimmicks out there and lots of people just making stuff up. The problem is as far as athletes go on average basketball players have inferior jumps compared to other athletes like track and field athletes, volleyball players, olympic weightlifters, football players and even shotputters. The average NBA player might have a 30 inch vertical jump....the average 250 pound NFL linebacker (who really has no desire to jump), has a 38 inch vertical. The world record standing broad jump is held by a shotputter weighing close to 300 pounds! Everybody wants to follow programs written for basketball players but as a whole they don't work. If you want to know how to jump high look at the commonalities in the athletes that actually have success boosting their VJ.
There are many different ways to get to the same end result but the principles never change. Anybody that ever increases their VJ did so because they boosted either:
A: The force behind the movement (consisting of strength plus the ability to rapidly display that strength)
B: The efficiency of the movement
That's regardless of whether you trained with platform shoes, rubber bands, weighted vest, pool work, weights, or whatever.
Instead of haphazardly engaging in various training methods and maybe getting lucky and impacting one of those qualities, why don't we start with the end result and work backwards and find the quickest way to our end goals? So, what if we ask ourselves, "ok, what is the quickest direct way to improve the coordination in the vertical jump? What is the quickest way to improve the maximum force production in the vertical jump? What is the quickest way to improve the ability to rapidly display that force?
The answer to any of those questions is not difficult. For example, let's take the case of improving maximum force potential. Some would have you believe that they've invented some new age gimmick or training technique that is the end all and be all to develop that quality. But if we look at a sport where the ENTIRE SPORT is based on who can develop the most force. What sport is that? Powerlifting! If such and such gimmick was so effective for force production why aren't ANY top powerlifters using it?
Now how about taking the shortline approach towards improving the rapid display of force. If something is really a miracle for increasing this quality why isn't it being used by olympic athletes like high jumpers, triple jumpers, sprinters, and long jumpers? There is no shortage of information on this. Through 50 + years of research and observation it is quite clear that the most potent training methods to improve the rapid display of force are variations of the following:
1. MOST IMPORTANT: Practice the specific movement (jump if you're a jumper - sprint if you're a sprinter)
2. Lift light weights with great acceleration (use jumps squats and other various explosive lifts)
3. Engage in plyometric "shock" training (a.k.a. - depth jumps)
Two and three are frequently not even necessary.
Are there any secrets here? No!
So basically we can just put those things together and take the shortest path towards reaching our goals.
So and so (insert coach's name here) says that they have come up with a new cutting edge system called (insert system name here) that promises to give me a 50 inch vertical jump in 100 days.
What's more likely:
A: Some 20 year old dude has a professional client list of 100's and has miraculously discovered a bunch of top secrets for vertical jumping?
B: Some internet marketer thought he could make a buck so decided to pass himself off as an expert and make up a bunch of BS?
Ever notice how these "gurus" always claim to be the secret coach to hundreds of elite level athletes yet they never can tell you who these athletes are? I have yet to hear of a professional athlete who has any problem telling anyone who their coach is. If a coach does an athlete good athletes by and large WANT to help their coach out by spreading the word. In fact, name me one top level professional athlete and in a day or less I can probably tell you who their coach is.
What are some tips to help improve my vertical leap RIGHT AWAY?
The day you'll be satisfied with your vertical jump is the day you have the strength to squat 2 times your bodyweight at under 10% bodyfat while having the movement efficiency to be able to jump back and forth over a knee high cone or string 20 times in 10 seconds.
If you wear regular basketball shoes stop wearing them and get a pair of Nike Frees to train in. If you're over 10% bodyfat clean up your diet and drop some fat. If you have a tape measure you can measure your waist and get a pretty accurate estimation as to how fat you are with this formula:
What type of training split should I follow?
Either get ahold of my Vertical Jump Manual and follow any of the multitude of routines from there or follow these generic recommendations:
If you're a beginner with limited strength training background and no equipment:
Or if you have access to a gym you can follow this:
Alternate back and forth between the 2 workouts for a total of 2 to 4 training days per week
Prior to your workout choose 1 performance oriented exercise and one movement efficiency exercise. With the "performance" exercise you'll be performing movements that you can easily monitor for progress. These include things like measured vertical jumps, timed sprints, jumps onto a high box, broad jumps etc. On these, choose a movement and do single reps with complete rest until your performance starts to decline. Take your time between each effort. That generally means you'd do anywhere from 3-8 sets. So, if you were performing jumps for max height you'd measure your height in a maximum jump, rest, and keep repeating until your jump dropped below your best effort of the day. Then move on and choose a movement efficiency exercise and do the same thing.
running jumps for height
standing jump for height
on-box jumps (jumps onto or over a high box)
hurdle jumps (jumps over a high hurdle, string, or box)
sprints (choose distances from 10-40 yards)
single leg triple jump
Movement Efficiency/potentiation movements
single leg box jumps (do sets of 3-5 reps)
single leg lateral hops (do sets of 5-10 seconds)
low squat hops (do sets of 5-10 seconds)
Drop jumps (do sets of 3-5)
Lateral barrier jumps (do sets of 5-10 seconds)
After this section of the workout, you'd move on to the strength training portion. Here you alternate between 2 workouts on an every other day basis. Try to add weight to the bar each time you repeat a workout.
Deadlift 1 x 5
Pull-Up 3x max reps
Military Press 3 x 5
Pick again from the above list of movement and performance exercises and perform one of each prior to your strength training workout.
Power Clean, Seated Row or Chest supported Row 3 x 5
Bench Press 3x5
Lunge or split squat 3 x 8/side
If you are an inseason athlete you want to allow plenty of recovery. Something like this can work well:
Dips or Bench Press 4 x 6-8
Incline Press 2 x 10-12
Military Press 2 x 6-8
Tricep (skull crushers) Extensions or Tricep Pushdowns 2 x 10-12
Squats 3-4 x 6-8
Deadlifts, or Stiff-Legged Deadlift 1 x 5
Pull-Troughs, Glute/Ham Raises, or Reverse Hypers 2 x 10
Pull-Up 3 sets to failure
Barbell Row 2 x 8
EZ-Bar Or Dumbell Curl 1 x 10
Heavy Abs 3 x 10
For more advanced athletes you can utilize something like The Ultimate split and gear it to either strength development if you need more focus in that area, or explosive development if you need more focus in that area.
What are some of the biggest mistakes people make when training for increased vertical leap?
By far the biggest mistake is lack of recovery and too much plyometric volume. The reason for this is really 3-fold:
A: Most of the sports involving lots of jumping inherently involve excessive amounts of activity to begin with. A perfect example is basketball. The avg basketball player runs over 5 miles during the course of a game and jumps 100's of times. Would you take a sprinter and train him by having him run marathons? Consider that most basketball players play year around multiple times weekly and this volumous training has a negative influence on the capacity to display bouts of extreme fast twitch characteristics like jumping or sprinting short distances.
B: Most of the individuals that leans towards jumping oriented sports tend to have less than optimal ability to recover to begin with. Think about it: What type of athlete plays football? The natural mesomorph (muscular individual). What type of individual leans towards basketball or volleyball? The natural ectomorph (skinny and frail individual). Through years of practical observation it is known that most ectomorphs inherently struggle to make gains in speed, strength, power, and muscle size and have a reduced capacity to tolerate volumous activity.
C: Most of the information on the market promotes large volumes of plyometric work. Most of these individuals are already getting a lot of plyometric work through their sport. This ultimately means they end up focusing 90% of their training in an area where they should be only be focusing 10%.
Along the same lines, there is a substantial number of people who have the exact opposite problem. Instead of training with too much volume, too much conditioning, and too much plyo work, they do the exact opposite - They focus all their time and energy on strength work yet have no conditioning, no movement efficiency, and their body-fat is too high. This is the type of cat you usually hear say something like, "Well I put 100 pounds on my squat yet can't jump any higher now than I did." What they fail to mention is they piled on 20 pounds of body-fat and never spent a single second playing any sports or carrying out any movement drills.
Do any of those other gimmicks like jumpsoles and rubber bands work?
They might work but only for this reason: Let's say I take a group of fat people and give them a fake magic pill and tell them the pill will make them lost 25 pounds in 3 months. I then take them out and run them 5 miles each and every day. Three months later all of them have lost 25 pounds. Was the pill responsible for the weight loss? No. they lost weight because they got up off their butt and exercised. All training gimmicks work the same way. All of them have workouts you have to do along with the gimmick and doing anything is better than nothing.
How important are things like hyperplasia and fast twitch muscles?
Hyperplasia (the creation of new fibers) is of no relevance because the protein content (or size) of a muscle cell (not muscle) determines how much force that cell produces. Add up the total amount of protein in all cells and that determines maximal potential force production.
Let's say you take 2 people and they each have 10 muscle fibers of the same size. Person A doubles the amount of fibers he has so that he has 20. Person B doubles the size of the 10 that he has. What will the difference in force production be? None whatsoever.
Fast twitch content is important in that fast twitch fibers reach max tension quicker. Thus, the more fast twitch muscle you have, the more force you will be able to generate in a rapid movement, but it's only really important from a starting point. Let me explain:
Let's say your thighs measure 20 inches around and the muscle fiber distribution of them is 50% fast twitch and 50% slow twitch. That means of the total 20 inches of muscle in your thigh half is slow twitch and half is fast twitch.
Let's say your best friend Jack has thighs that measure 20 inches around and he's 75% fast twitch and 25% slow twitch.
Even though you guys have the same size thighs, Jack is likely to have an advantage in power, speed and strength over you. You're more likely to be geared towards marathon running and the like. So, how can you increase your fast twitch content to that of Jack's? Well, what muscle fiber type gets targeted with resistance training? The fast twitch fibers. This means that when you increase your muscle size through weight training it is mainly the fast twitch muscle fibers that increase in size.
So, let's say you resistance train your way to 30 inch thighs. In going from 20 inches to 30 inches the size of your existing fast twitch fibers doubled or even tripled. So, even though the total "number" of fibers in your thighs may not change, by doubling or tripling the size of your existing fast twitch fibers, now the total distribution in your thigh is 75% fast twitch and 25% slow twitch. Now you will be geared more towards functioning like an explosive athlete. That doesn't mean you have to build massive amounts of muscle to be explosive but that is just a simple illustration of how it's possible to change things.
How important is flexibility training? Khadour Zhiani says that all he does is flexibility training.
A minimum level of flexibilty is necessary, but too much is just as bad as too little. As for Khadour Zhiani, see the above description of the guy with 20 inch legs and a 75% Fast twitch ratio. Couple that with 5% body-fat and a perfect bone and tendon structure and you could get results sitting on your butt playing video games.
Here is a good pre-workout Dynamic flexibility routine.
Here is a good post-workout static flexibility routine.
How important is nutrition for gains in vertical?
What kind've nutrition plan do you think guys like Vince Carter, Michael Jordan, Spud Webb or (insert whomever you want here) are on? Most good athletes eat copious amounts of food. Usually a significant portion of that food is made up of items that aren't necessarily concluded super clean. Afterall, McDonalds was the fare of choice at the last olympic games.
From a performance perspective it is important that you get enough of the basic macronutrients - protein and carbohydrates. As the above example should illustrate, where you get those macronutrients is not really important - at least not in the short-term. KFC vs Chicken breasts?? Thirty years down the road there might be a negative impact but in the short term the body can run off anything.
However, when it comes to making changes in your body composition (losing fat or gaining muscle), what you eat is more important for the following reasons:
1. Losing fat is mostly about reducing calorie intake. The problem with most standard diets is it's very easy to consume an excessive amount of calories and thus easier to put on and/or lose fat. What is harder to overeat on - apples or poptarts? Additionally, it's difficult to drop calories and stay somewhat full when your diet is made up of pop tarts, cokes, kiddie cereal, and big-macs.
2. Gaining lean muscle mass without piling on an excessive amount of fat requires a good protein to calorie ratio. The average diet is terrible in this regard. I like a protein intake of 1 to 1.5 grams per pound of Bodyweight. Let's say we have a 150 pound athlete trying to consume a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. The standard American diet is about 15% protein. That means if he took in 3000 calories he'd be getting 110 grams protein. That protein to calorie ratio is too low. At 3000 calories he oughta easily be able to get in 200 grams of protein.
I usually tell people to try and make a gradual change to a better diet. Try to eat more of things you can shoot or grow and try to consume less of the things that are in a box or processed.
Here's why I suggest a gradual change:
What often happens is a young person starts reading about nutrition and suddenly thinks that they have to have a perfect diet. So, someone who's used to eating kiddie cereal, pop-tarts, fast food, McDonalds, KFC, etc. gets on an ultra strict plan and now all he's eating are egg whites, oatmeal, chicken breast, salads, potatoes, and broccoli. What's gonna happen? Nine times out of 10 he won't get enough to eat and will feel like crap inside of a week. Strength and performance loss soon follows. The inevitable binge is the result. So, instead of making wholesale overnight changes in your diet I suggest you make gradual changes to more of a natural diet.
Most young people that need to lose weight can drop all the fat they need just by cutting back on what I call the "C's". Cokes, candies, cakes, crackers, cereal, ice (c)ream.
What about post-workout recovery drinks? Is there really a window where the body can absorb more nutrients and can they really impact recovery that much?
There is a period post-workout when the body can make use of more nutrients but it has really been overblown by supplement companies. As long as you take in protein and carbs within a couple of hours after your workout it really doesn't matter if you get them through a drink or food. 30-50 grams of protien and 50-100 grams of carbs is about right. Drinks can be convenient particularly if you're not hungry afterwards but I recommend you take in the bulk of your nutrition through real food.
As for postworkout nutrition and the belief that taking in certain nutrients, drinks, etc will allow your muscles to recover faster so you can train more often, this is also overblown. Whenever you train you deplete muscle glycogen (carbohydrate) stores. Having full glycogen stores means your muslces have the energy required to fuel intense contractions. Depleted glycogen stores make you weak. A 200 pound man probably has about 500 grams of glycogen stored throughout his entire body. Even if all those stores were depleted, they can be repleted with one day of high carbohydrate eating. The question is:
A: How much glycogen is depleted through "normal" workouts?
B: How long does it take to replete glycogen stores from normal workouts?
C: Are glycogen depletion and repletion the limiting factors from a recovery standpoint?
A typical workout might deplete 50-100 or so grams of glycogen. A marathon might deplete 500 grams. Most likely your workouts are more "typical" then that of a marathon runner. If a marathon runner can refill 500 grams of depleted glycogen stores in 24 hours how long do you think it'll take you to replete 50-100 grams? An hour? 2 hours? 4 hours? The point is, the ability to replete depleted glycogen stores between workouts is not much of a limiting factor.
So why is it difficult to train and perform 100% day after day after day?
The fact is, things like microtrauma (muscle damage) and nervous system fatigue induced from your workouts are more limiting from a recovery standpoint than repletion of glycogen stores (which is what supplement companies focus on). The damage inflicted to your muscles during your workouts is the reason why it's hard to repeat balls to the wall workouts one day after the other. Your muscles need time to repair themselves. The best thing you can do to ensure proper muscular repair and neural recovery are:
1. Get enough sleep
2. Eat adequate calories
3. Make sure you rest long enough in between workouts
There are a few other things you can do like using saunas, contrast showers, and ice baths that can help improve recovery to a minimal extent, but rest is far and away the most important thing. Typical recommendations are 7-8 hours of sleep per night and enough recovery time between workouts so that you note progress in some fashion most of the time you repeat a particular workout. If you're not strong in a workout that usually means you're not recovered.
What about olympic lifts? Olympic lifters always jump very high and I heard the lifts are excellent for VJ development
Olympic lifters jump high because they're strong and explosive. The O-lifts don't do anything special themselves but, just like plyometrics, jump squats, and other explosive oriented movements, they can help an athlete express the strength they have quicker. In my setup the O-lifts can be used as an exercise choice if an explosive oriented movement is needed. There is nothing inherently special about them but they are an effective tool in the tool-box.