Improve Vertical Jump, Part II

This is Part II, following on from Basic Tips on Improving Vertical Jump, Part I. In Part I, we discussed the importance of body weight and leg strength. Now we’ll briefly look at plyometric jump training, mental preparation and calf strengthening. Like the topics in Part I, whole books have been written on all of these subjects, so obviously this is just a quick overview and many are discussed in greater detail on this site as well.

Jumping Power with Plyometrics

Strength is great, but of course, you need to be able to set that strength in motion. Plyometric exercises will help with that. Very simply, plyometric exercises enable landing and quickly rebounding. This causes a pre-contraction in your muscles and boosts rebound power. In other words, you’re training the exact skill you’ll need to jump higher.

  • Side-to-Side Jumps. Very simple: just spring straight to one side, land on that foot, and spring back to the other side. Focus on distance, not cadence. In other words, keep the cadence down and jump farther.
  • Box Jumps. Jump off a small box. Land on both feet and jump up and forward as high as you can. Recent studies show that higher boxes don’t increase the plyometric effect very much, but do increase the risk of joint injury. It turns out that an eight-inch (0.2 meter) box is plenty.

Talk Yourself Higher

Another recent study (Tod, 2009) said that athletes who talk to themselves ahead of their jumps can jump higher. The study divided athletes into four groups. The motivational group said aloud "I can jump high". The instructional group said "bend and drive". The neutral group counted back from 1000 by sevens and the final group didn’t say anything. Researchers found no significant difference between the motivational and instructional groups (the instructional group did slightly better), but both of those groups did significantly better than the neutral and the non-talk groups. This study showed that the motivational and instructional talkers actually generated more power.

Calf Raises

Overwhelmingly, it’s the large hip flexor muscles in the legs (glutes, hamstrings and quads) that are responsible for getting you up to launch speed. The smaller ankle flexor muscles of the lower leg, however, have been shown to contribute 23% of the work in a vertical jump (Caruso, 2008, based on Hubley), so you don’t want to neglect these either. You’ll already be working these somewhat in your plyometric exercises, but you can add in some calf raises. There are specialized machines for this at most gyms, but you can simply grab some dumbells, put your toes on a board, and lift your heels off the ground. That will give you a little extra stength to burn at the take-off point.

References

  • David A. Tod et alia, "Effects of instructional and motivational self-talk on the certical jump", Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2009, vol. 23(1), pp. 196–202.
  • Tatiane Piucco and Saray Giovana dos Santos, "Association between body fat, vertical jump performance and impact in the inferior limbs in volleyball athletes," Fitness & Performance Journal, 2009,
    Jan-Feb;8(1), pp. 9-15.
  • John F. Caruso et alia, "Leg and calf press training modes and their impact on jump performance adaptations," Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2008, vol. 22(3), pp. 766–772.

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