Published on April 25th, 2013 | by Joe Starks
An Athlete’s Guide to Jumping Higher: Vertical Jump Secrets Uncovered!
Vertical jumping is a skill needed in many sports like basketball and volleyball. While many think that jumping high is simply a result of general training, nothing could be further from the truth. You need a lot of targeted and specialized training to be able to improve your vertical jumping. Humans are not naturally built to jump very high, meaning that it is a skill you need to work on extremely hard to improve it.
It is obvious that you need strong legs and glutes to be able to jump, but the less obvious fact is that you also need a very strong core and arms. The arms offer a lot of our jump’s power with their dynamic movements and by keeping us in balance. The core helps lift the legs and gives us the strength to push off the ground easily. This is why an athlete that wants to jump better needs to train his or her whole body.
This does not mean that the hamstring and quadriceps is as important as your biceps, it just means that having weak biceps can make your jumping performance worse than it could be. Legs will always have the most important muscles when it comes to jumping, but they are not the only ones that need attention.
Vertical Jumping and You
Vertical jumping is a very high impact sport. You can easily injure yourself, sometimes even causing handicaps that stay with you for your whole life. This is why you should never start serious vertical jumping training without your doctor’s clear approval. People who are seriously overweight should stay clear of these kinds of exercises, because the extra weight can cause damage to the joints. People who have suffered back injuries and are generally not in tip top health should choose less taxing exercises. Jumping is not for everyone.
Before you actually start training your vertical jumping you need to know where you stand. Are you good, average or pretty bad when it comes to jumping? It is actually very hard to calculate that, because demographics differ so much and jumping performance does change with age, height, sex and some say even race, though the latter isn’t a certain fact. A teenager usually jumps higher than an adult, men in general surpass women when it comes to vertical jumps and tall people are usually better at it too. This all has to do with muscle mass, build and length.
Studies that calculate vertical jumps usually include only a very specific demographic. Usually that includes men and women between the age of 20-30, who are of normal weight and don’t suffer from any ailments. For these groups a poor jump is 4-8 inches for a woman and 8-12 inches for a man. A woman that jumps over 24 inches and men who surpass 28 inches in height when jumping actually have excellent scores.
In the NBA, 28 inches high is the average among the athletes when it comes to vertical jumps. The highest recorded jump in NBA history was Michael Jordan’s, who reached 48 inches, followed closely by Darrel Griffith. The NBA player who currently does the highest vertical jump is Shannon Brown, with his impressive 44.5 inches record.
The man who has actually done the highest recorded vertical jump in the world is Kadour Zianni, who has reached the staggering height of 60 inches.
To become that good you have to be extremely diligent with your training. You always have to start with a good warm up when it comes to jumping, to avoid any injuries, whether you are going for a test or for normal training. Remember to start small. It is best to carefully try to up your training’s level of intensity instead of jumping straight into the harder parts. Give your body time to adapt to the extreme pressures of jumping, or else you will face many injuries.
Here are some very basic exercises all people who train their vertical jump should at least try to perform frequently:
- Jumping rope. This simple exercise which many of us did as kids for fun is actually a very basic thing when it comes to vertical jump training. The small and fast jumps train your hamstrings and calves to withstand the impact of high jumps, while also helping you start small.
- Squats. The strength of your legs and glutes is extremely important when it comes to jumping. Squats are a very low impact way to trains those muscles, while also allowing a great variety of combinations. Doing squats while lifting a weight bar can be very beneficial to build core strength and swinging kettle-bells while doing squats trains the whole body.
- Water Jumps. For those who have sustained minor injuries or who need to be extra careful, jumping in water can ease that impact jumping causes on the bones, while also offering an increased resistance due to the water’s density.
- Plyometrics. These exercises are all about jumping. Whether it is ankle jumps, simple jumps, deep knee jumps or jumping over obstacles, all these exercises can be part of plyometrics. Using a thin obstacles that is under two feet high you can jump back and forth over it and afterwards from side to side over the obstacles. Jumping itself is an obvious exercise when you want to improve your jumps. Doing it carefully with plyometrics is simply a very good way to do so.
- Floor ladders and cones can be excellent tools to improve your agility and speed. Jumping in and out of the ladder’s boxes with both feet, or jumping from on box to the next helps you train your control. Avoiding cones in a quick run trains agility and reflexes.
- Jumping off boxes is an excellent exercise. You jump off and immediately jump again when your feet touch the floor. This way you use the energy from the fall to power another jump.
For those who have already done all these exercises and who need something new to challenge them there are always more extreme fitness regimes. Olympic weightlifting, Bulgarian split squats and many other similar exercises can give an edge to your usual training, helping you break performance plateaus.
There are some excellent tools anyone who tries to become a great vertical jumper needs to work with. Here is a short list of some of the most important vertical jump training gadgets:
- Gym machines that train your hamstrings and legs are crucial to your effort to improve your jumping height. Such machines are the leg press, the Glute and Ham machine and the Calf and Squat machine.
- The Vasa trainer is a gym machines that simulates jump in a vertical position. A rope tied to a platform on your back pulls you back down while your push away from another platform placed at your feet.
- Elastic resistance platforms. These platforms bind you to them with elastic ropes, making it harder to jump and adding that desired resistance to your ordinary training.
- Body weights. Weights which you wear around your waist, ankles or feet help you train as if you were living on a higher gravity planet. In other words you train harder just by increasing your body weight temporarily.
- Plyoboxes. These sturdy boxes are very important for some exercises. They are very sturdy, which helps when you have to jump on and off of them. Using just any box might cause serious injury, so it is best to have one which is particularly designed for this job.
- Weighted jump ropes. If simple jumping rope doesn’t cut it anymore for you, you can buy weighted jump ropes which make the exercise just that bit harder that you need it to be.
- The calf Block. You place your toes on the block and move your ankles up and down, training your calves extremely efficiently.
- Resistance ropes. Doing any type of vertical jumping exercise while using resistance ropes can add some difficulty to exercises you have already mastered. There are special bands that can be placed on your calves or waist so that you can keep your hands free to perform jumps dynamically.
It is important to remember that vertical jump training is quality training. This means that quantity when it comes to how many exercises and sets you do they are not as important as how good you do them. You should aim to work out at 90-100% of your ability, to minimize impact and to gain the most out of your training.
People who do vertical jump training to become better at a certain sport need more than just jumping exercises. The actual experience of playing these games is equally important and a very good vertical jump training most of the times. For instance playing volleyball or basketball by itself is an extremely good vertical jumping workout.
When you are done with your training you need to remember to cool down. Stretching helps you increase flexibility, which is very important when you wish to improve your jumps.
Going up? Measuring your Progress
A very important part of vertical jump training is to record your performance diligently and correctly. This is why there exist many methods to calculate your jump’s height, some better than others.
Before you begin your test you must remember to warm up properly. While performing the jumps remember to take off with both feet simultaneously. You should not take any steps. The jump should end where it started. Using your hands is very important when trying to reach maximum height. Swinging your hand and using your core’s power help your legs perform better, adding balance and stability.
You must beware not to overdo it! If you feel any type of discomfort while jumping or landing you should immediately stop. Get some rest or leave the test for another day. Getting injured while doing a test would be a great pity indeed, so avoid it at all costs.
Here are some good examples of vertical jump tests:
- The simple wall test. You smear you fingers with some chalk and you jump as high as you can next to a wall. When you feel you are at your highest point you touch the wall and leave a smear. By calculating the height of the smear you can calculate your jump’s height also. This test is not very reliable because sometimes athletes smear the wall at the wrong time and the added effort of touching the wall might take away some of the athlete’s momentum.
- The Vertec. This contraption is very popular and widely used. It is a vertical long metal bar, which has horizontal metal vanes on it. These vanes can be pushed back when touched. By seeing how many vanes you pushed back when jumping you can calculate your jump’s height.
- Jumping mats. There are two types of these mats, one with a measuring tape and one with a computer. The first has you hold or attach a measuring tape onto yourself. When you jump, the mat releases a certain length of tape, which shows you how high you jumped. The second type of jumping mat has you hold a small computer, which calculates how far you jumped up from the mat. Both these method are pretty accurate when done correctly.
- Taking a simple video and calculating the jump by watching it is a very good method. Often jumps performed during games, which had television coverage, are measured this way. By knowing the height of the player and the stadium you can calculate how high a jump is from a video recording alone.
- There are some very high tech machines that calculate your jumps. These are the most accurate when testing vertical jumps, but they are also the most expensive. The ChronoJump and the laser operated optoelectronic device are two of these devices. Using such is very important for professional athletes that wish to hold a record or prove their capabilities.
Do not try to measure your jumps by yourself! Your mood can muddle your perception and often performance is hard to measure correctly even from a non-personal angle of view. Relying on half-baked methods to judge your performance makes you ultimately a half-baked athlete. If you are serious about your training you should be exactly as serious about your performance tests.
Landing (or Returning To Earth)
One part of vertical jumping many people do not talk about is the landing. Landing is equally important to lifting off. Most injuries actually occur during landing, because that is when you pay the price of the jump with the impact cause on your skeleton. Landing in the correct form and poise can save you from a lot of pain and from cutting short your career or training in general. Balance training can help you improve your landing. Jumping off short plyo-boxes is a good way to start calculating your landings. Landing with both feet simultaneously is a good way to share the impact between them. If you can’t land on both feet make sure not to land on “hard” feet. This means that you should keep your knees flexible ready to bend and extend. In this way you minimize the impact by trying to smooth it out with your knee’s movement.
If you know how to fall you will avoid falling badly in an unexpected situation like they are often found in games like basketball.
Conclusion: Is it all worth it? (Hell Yeah!)
Remember to reach those new heights you need to be diligent, use the right equipment and never give up. Vertical training can be tough and even dangerous when done incorrectly. Nonetheless, the feeling of progress, the sense of achievement and the sheer joy of doing sports is well worth the effort. Trust me on this one!