When I was growing up, I loved the sport of basketball.
But as every basketball player will tell you, your vertical jump is never high enough.
Whether you’re jumping 15, 25 or 45 inches, you will always take a another inch or two on your vert!
Back in my day, vertical jump training consisted of machine-based strength work (think leg extensions, leg curls, and leg presses), and the most random plyometrics program under the sun.
Needless to say, the results were less than stellar.
So when it comes to vertical jump training, what really works?
The Vertical Jump Assessment
When it comes to assessing an athlete’s vertical jump, the first thing we have to do is assess how they jump.
When you go to high school or college, you get the opportunity to “test out” of certain classes if you’re skilled enough.
Well, your vertical jumping performance can be viewed at in much the same way!
As you’ll see below, there are many factors that can dictate vertical jump performance. Our job as coaches is to figure out exactly what an athlete’s limiting factors are, and then address them in their programming.
With regards to the vertical jump, we will often take our athletes through a battery of different jumping tests to see what exactly is holding them back.
- We’ll have them jump with a dip.
- We’ll have them jump without a dip.
- We’ll have them jump off a box.
- We’ll have them jump multiple times in a row.
- We’ll have them jump multiple times in a row on each leg.
Once we analyze the results from these tests, we have a strong idea as to what factors are limiting an athlete’s vertical jump performance, so we can create a specific program to address it.
And when it comes to training, here are just a handful of the issues we might see.
Vertical Jump Issue #1 – Poor Strength
This first issue is pretty straight-forward.
When it comes to vertical jump performance, one of the best indicators or predictors we have is strength.
But keep in mind here, I’m not talking about moving as much weight as possible, just to move weight.
Instead, what we’re looking at here is what’s called relative strength, or strength relative to body weight.
Here’s an example:
- Athlete #1 is 250-pounds and he squats 400 pounds.
- Athlete #2 is 150-pounds and he squats 300 pounds.
While Athlete #1 lifts more total weight, Athlete #2 has more relative strength.
And as a result, Athlete #1 is typically the faster and more explosive of the two.
One of the best things you can do for any young athlete is to bring up their relative strength first.
But what other limitations can you see?
Vertical Jump Issue #2 – Poor Rate of Force Development
One of the biggest issues I see when athletes are taught to lift heavy weights isn’t just the injury problems that crop up.
It’s the fact they are often negatively impacting their performance as well!
Rate of force development (or RFD for short) is something that every performance coach worth their salt is looking at and addressing.
Rate of force development is a measure of explosive strength, and quite simply, how fast an athlete can generate force. (1)
Let’s use two new athletes for this example:
- Athlete A is squatting 200 pounds and the bar speed is very slow.
- Athlete B is squatting 200 pounds but the bar speed is very fast and explosive.
While they’re moving the same weight, Athlete B has the superior rate of force development.
When it comes to strength training for sport, it’s easy to get seduced by the idea that more strength is always better.
Strength can be beneficial, but at the same time, being able to express that strength quickly is essential as well.
Vertical Jump Issue #3 – Poor Elasticity
A final piece in our vertical jump training puzzle is the idea of elasticity.
When it comes to elasticity, the simplest analogy is that of a rubber band:
If you want to shoot a rubber band as hard and as fast as possible, do you shoot it from its resting length?
OR do you pull that sucker back as fast as possible to get an elastic recoil?
The answer is simple!
The body works in much the same way. Our bodies are very efficient at storing elastic energy to help us run, jump and throw.
Yet a lot of athletes struggle with elasticity. When we’re taking them through our jump testing, it’s not uncommon to see them on the ground for incredibly long periods of time between jumps.
However, an athlete that is bouncy and elastic will look like a pogo stick jumping on and off the floor.
If elasticity is an issue, there are often simple things we can address (like adding in some jump rope to the warm-up), all the way up to more advanced jump training methods.
Elasticity can often be a major player when it comes to vertical jump performance, so make sure there’s at least some elastic work in all of your training programs.
The secret to a bigger vertical jump isn’t nearly as elusive or “secretive” as many would have you believe.
On the contrary – the more in-depth you go with your assessment, the more specific you can be with your training.
And at the end of the day, the more specific and targeted your training, the better results you’re going to get!
If you know a young basketball player who wants to increase their vertical jump this off-season, have them check out our off-season basketball camp here at IFAST.
If you simple want more information, please fill out this quick form:
And if you want to go ahead and register, you can sign up here:
We hope to see you, or your athletes, at our camp this July!
All the best