Reader Question of the Week: How to Improve Vertical Leap

by Jordan Syatt August 6, 2013

How to Improve Vertical Leap

Hey Jordan,

My name is Sam and I’m currently studying Sports and Exercise Science (Kinesiology) in Australia. I have a passion and a love for basketball, including coaching of teams and individual athletic and skill enhancement. I was just looking for your insight on a few questions in regards to vertical leap training as a way to enhance my understanding and current studies.

Hey Sam,

You asked some great questions and I wanted to take my time to answer thoroughly. So, let’s get to it, shall we?

Q: Firstly. What are the biggest myths in vertical leap training? 

A: Man, there are a ton of myths but I’ll do my best to outline a few of the most common below:

Myth 1) You need to jump A LOT to improve your jump

Too often athletes/training enthusiasts/etc believe they need to perform hundreds upon hundreds of jumps in order to improve. Funny thing is, this couldn’t be further from the truth. When training individuals for improved vertical jump I never program more than 40 individual jumps in any single training session.

Myth 2) You need to be fatigued after jump training

I firmly believe that when training for improved explosive strength/power (such as in the vertical jump) training should not leave you feeling fatigued/exhausted/drained/etc. In fact, if an athlete begins to feel tired during the session we cut it immediately. I want them to feel fresh and ready to go after their jump training.

Myth 3) You need to Squat your Body Weight before beginning jump training

This is a highly debated topic but, assuming an athlete is void of injury, I have no problem allowing a weaker athlete to perform a variety of jumps. Granted, their jump training would be extremely low intensity/volume compared to a stronger counterpart but I don’t agree with eliminating all types of jumping especially if their sport/goals demand it.

Myth 4) Gaining weight will make you slower/decrease jump performance

When training at Westside Barbell I saw guys weighing 300lbs+ jumping onto 50″ boxes while holding onto dumbbells….

Case in point: If you train properly and add good weight (i.e. lean mass – not fat) then you won’t see a decrease in jump performance. 

Q: What techniques are the biggest waste of time?

A: This might seem like a cop-out answer but I’m of the belief that everything works…for a while. In other words, I don’t think there are many techniques that are inherently bad or a waste of time. Rather, it depends on the individual using them and what they need based upon their individual weaknesses.

That being said, if I had to choose one technique that I’m not a fan of it would be Weighted Depth Drops/Jumps. When used properly, Depth Drops/Jumps can be a highly effective training tool. However, even when solely using bodyweight, they are extraordinarily taxing and adding weight only makes them more strenuous while increasing the risk of injury. I’d note, if adding weight to Depth Drops/Jumps actually resulted in improved performance then I would be more inclined to use them. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?), though, Verkhoshansky found no added benefit from adding weight to Depth Drop/Jump drills. Instead, he found that increasing the height from which the athlete dropped was far more important than adding an external load. I wont go into any great detail here but taking the equation for Kinetic Energy into account, Ek(Kinetic Energy) = Mass(M) x Velocity(V)², we can see that Velocity affects Kinetic Energy more than Mass which may explain why increasing the height of the jump rather than the weight of the falling object leads to better outcomes. 

Oh, and also unstable surface jump training. I’m not a fan. At all.

Q: What is you personal favourite resource for information about vertical leap training?

A: I have a bunch but below are a few of my go-to resources:

1) Kelly Baggett’s Vertical Jump Bible

2) Explosive Power and Jumping Ability for All Sports by Tadeusz Starzynski

3) Shock Method and Plyometrics by Natlia Verkhoshansky

Q: If you training a baseline level athlete and had to have them ready for, say, the NBA Draft which was 8 weeks away, what would the training look like for someone looking to improve their vertical leap?

A: I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “baseline level athlete” because every individual will need something different based on their specific weaknesses. Additionally, my interpretation of “baseline” does not make me think of an athlete that has anywhere near the physical capability to even be considered for the NBA. As such, it’s more or less impossible for me to answer this question. 

Q: What are the most common mistakes of elite level jumpers?

A: That’s a great question and one that I’m not qualified to answer. I don’t coach elite jumpers and never have (though I would like to at some point) so it would be ignorant of me to assume that I know better than their coaches. 

Q: What are the most common mistake for a novice?

A:

1) Neglecting maximal strength

If you don’t have the ability to produce a large amount of force then you won’t be able to jump high. Period. Get stronger to jump higher.

2) Neglecting speed work

If you can’t display your strength in a short period of time then you will not be able to jump high. Speed is a skill and it must be trained in order to be improved.

3) Doing too much

I spoke about this earlier. You don’t need to do a lot in order to see positive results. Keep jumps between 20-40 per session 2x/week and don’t jump to the point of fatigue. 

4) Neglecting proper jump form/technique

Jumping is a skill and this is often overlooked. Analyze your jump form/technique to make sure you’re being efficient with your movements.

5) Not learning how to land

Learning to absorb your body’s force while landing is extremely important. Learn to land softly and under control for long-term health and performance

Q: What are your key principles for an sustained improvement in vertical leap development?

A:

1) Achieve/maintain adequate maximal strength

2) Continuously aim to improve explosive strength and power

3) Challenge your body by placing it under new stimuli. In other words, make sure you’re using different jump variations on a regular basis. If you only use the same 1-2 jumping movements you will cease to make progress very, very quickly.

I hope I’ve been able to help out, Sam, and let me know if you have any more questions.

-J






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