The vertical jump is performance royalty. It, along with the 40 yard sprint, is widely used as THE measure of athletic ability. I was asked a great question the other day about what goes into a good vertical jump. It led me to actually going through the layers of a good vertical jump step by step and I wanted to share.
Like any athletic performance, the vertical jump is impacted by many variables. These variables go together like an assembly line in car making. One variable leads to another and another and at the end of the line is a complete jump.
First, we must understand the vertical jump is executed with a time constraint. One constraint is your ability to load and lever length. The more you load and the longer your legs are, the more runway you have to produce force, power and speed. Another constraint comes from competition. The need to beat your opponent to the ball in basketball or get to the set in volleyball creates a time constraint. So, the overall goal for a highlight reel vertical jump is to produce as much force as fast as you can within the time constraints.
Breaking down the vertical jump assembly line looks like this:
This is the most complicated stop on the assembly line. It’s basically about being in a well aligned position to maximize force production. We use intra abdominal pressure to do this. Think of the core as having trampolines at the top, bottom and all sides. These trampolines are made up of muscles and passive tissues. To have all these trampolines work effectively, you need to be in a well aligned position, aka neutral. If we are in that ideal position, each trampoline can maintain a relatively high level of stiffness. This stiffness is greater intra abdominal pressure. It allows us to have a stronger platform to push off. If my platform is solid, my limbs can produce the force needed in the desired direction. An inflated basketball is a great example of a internal pressure resulting in a better performance (a higher bounce).
If I am not in an ideal position, some of those trampolines are going to have more slack and therefore be less stiff. A less stiff trampoline equals more dampening and less force production being applied to the jump. A flat basketball doesn’t have the internal stiffness to maintain its shape and produce a high bounce. The flat ball dampens the forces once it hits the ground and barely bounces.
Force production is KING. I would write that statement 100 more times if it wouldn’t make you close out of this article. Newton’s laws clearly state the importance of force. It drives all movement. Newton’s 1st law states…
“An object will remain in its current state of movement unless force is applied to it.”
This means if I want to get my body off the ground for a 40” vertical, I need to apply force, and lots of it.
Time constraints place a deadline on our body to produce as much force as possible in a limited amount of time. This deadline makes rate of force development (RFD) extremely important. The faster I can produce force, the more force I will produce in a given time. The more force I can produce, the more explosive the movement.
Newton’s 2nd law tells us:
“Acceleration of an object is directly proportional to the amount of force applied to it.”
So the more force I can produce in the given time, the greater my acceleration will be. I have looked through hundreds of athletes’ jumps and found every time that force production is directly responsible for the magnitude of acceleration. In the graph, you can see data from four different athletes performing a jump. It clearly shows the more force you produce in your jump, the faster you accelerate.
Peak velocity at take-off of your jump has been connected to vertical jump performance in multiple research articles. However, if you understand the relationships between the variables in a jump, you don’t need a research article to tell you that. The faster I am going at take off, the longer it will take gravity to slow me down and bring me back to Earth. Gravity acts on us in a constant manner so it will always slow us down at the same rate. With gravity being fixed, it only makes sense that a faster speed would then take longer to slow down.
This stop on the assembly line is a direct cause of the magnitude of acceleration in your jump. The faster I accelerate, the faster speed I will work up to. Logical, right?
Also, if I can learn to push all the way through my jump, I will accelerate for longer. Athletes who don’t get hip extension in their jumps, therefore not pushing all the way through it, shorten their runway. A shorter runway leaves less room to build up speed. So it makes sense that a longer runway combined with a high magnitude of acceleration will ultimately result in a high peak velocity at take off. As we already mentioned, a high peak velocity at take off equals a high vertical jump.
This assembly line is meant to demonstrate how the previous variable sets up the next variable. I can’t have blistering acceleration without explosive force production. I won’t achieve a high peak velocity without blistering acceleration and doing that through a full range of motion. Now that we know the variables and their relationship with each other, the question becomes
How do I train these variables?
Training force production for a 40 inch vertical is a careful balance of getting stronger (increasing force production) and maintaining RFD and movement speed. These qualities can work in opposition of each other if we are skewed too far in either direction. If I only do fast work then my total force production may go down and if I only lift heavy then I will ultimately lose my speed capabilities and RFD. This becomes a dance of building force production without losing speed and building speed without losing force production.
For trained athletes, lifting in the 70 to 90% of 1RM range is enough of a load to increase force production but not too heavy that you slow down too much. A training block may look something like this:
In this mock program, the heavy lifting is the priority. The small dose of explosive jumping maintains the ability to move with speed and accelerate all the way through a movement. The heavy sled sprints are meant to be VERY heavy and address the RFD and alactic power components that go into a vertical. This programming ensures force production goes up while maintaining RFD and speed. This is key for moving into a power building block after this force production training block.
If you are interested in mastering the vertical and reaching new heights with your programming (did you catch that pun???), you must check out the Force and Power seminar. This seminar will completely revolutionize your athletes programming AND it will save you a year of frustration by learning from all our mistakes.