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Mastering Vertical Jump – A Deep Dive

by Lisa Hayden
Dunking Again

Like most of us who are active basket ball enthusiasts, are you getting conflicting information on techniques? I bet! In this editorial, I will try my best to cut those myths with the proverbial sword and hopefully, by the end, you will gain a bit more knowledge about the game we all love!

When it comes to improving vertical jump, there is a lot of controversy about whether it is best to practice the one-foot or two-foot jump. Instead of looking at the one-foot and two-foot jumps as different styles of the vertical, they should really be considered completely different things.   And, yes, you need to work on developing both of these skills.

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Physical Differences Between The One Foot and Two Foot Vertical Jump

One Foot Vs Two Foot

f you are the type of athlete who doesn’t think about force and power during training, then you better start now! Jump training is all about science and you will wish you paid better attention in physics class. You don’t have to be a genius at science, but understanding the basic concepts of how the body exerts force (and how to maximize force) is very important.   Read my post about plyometrics to learn more about this.

It shouldn’t be a big surprise that you are going to jump higher with two legs instead of one leg. With two legs, you’ve got more force from your muscles pushing off the ground and can get higher into the air. What is surprising though is that some athletes don’t really have much of a difference between their one and two foot vertical jumps.   Why is this?

When you perform a two-foot vertical jump, you are distributing your body weight evenly between the two legs. Your body crouches down before takeoff, meaning your muscles are further away from their maximum active state (extended point where they exert the most force).   With this type of vertical jump, the quads are really important.

By contrast, when you do a single leg vertical jump, you are basically using your jumping leg as a lever. This is just like how pole vaulters use the pole as a lever to get really high into the air. Your body has to pivot around your hip so it can get high into the air.   You’ve got to have a LOT of hip flexibility to do this (read more about the importance of flexibility for vertical jump). Compared to the two-leg jump, the glutes and hip extensors are much more important for the one-leg vertical jump.

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Body Type and Vertical Jump Style

Because the one-leg vertical jump is similar to pole vaulting, it shouldn’t be a surprise that tall people with long legs are particularly good at one-leg jumps (the longer the pole, the higher you can vault into the air). It also helps to be very flexible, thin, and lean.

Most athletes tend to be one-foot or two-foot jumpers. As they get older though, most usually convert to become two-foot jumpers. This is because we lose flexibility and get heavier as we age, which makes it harder to excel at one-foot jumping.

One foot jumping is also a lot harder on your joints than two foot jumping (go ahead and try a few one foot jumps and see how your joints feel afterwards!). This is another reason why older athletes prefer two foot jumping.

Yes, You Need to Work On Your One-Foot Vertical Jump

Vertical jump tests are usually done with two feet, so this is what most athletes focus on improving. But, your goal is to become a good athlete – not just an athlete which can pass a test with high-flying scores.  If you play basketball, volleyball, or any other sport where height matters, there are going to be situations when you will want to do a one-foot vertical jump. The one foot jump also has some advantages like being able to complete the setup and takeoff faster.

Here are some exercises you can do to improve your one-foot vertical jump:

  • Half squats
  • Alternate lunges
  • Bulgarian split squats
  • Barbell hip thrusts
  • Low box step-ups
  • Standing calf rises
  • Power skipping
  • Single leg multidirectional hops
  • Single leg triple jumps

For more exercises and a complete training program on how to increase your vertical jump, Vert Shock by Adam Folker is a godsend

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Difference between Vertical Jump and Box Jump

VerticalBreakdown

At first glance, the vertical jump and the box jump seem a lot alike. With both, you are jumping up as high as you can. So, same thing – right? Wrong! There are actually a lot of differences between a vertical jump and box jump. You should understand these differences if you are training for a vertical jump test.

For Starters, the Vertical Jump Is a TEST

​​​​ ​​​Remember that vertical jump is a test of your abilities. Many sports coaches use it as the main indicator of your athletic abilities.   By contrast, box jumps are an exercise designed to improve your athletic abilities/fitness.

Vertical jumps are measured in a way so that your height has nothing to do with the results. A 5 foot guy may not jump as high into the air as a 6 foot guy, but because vertical jump is measured by the distance you got off the ground (and not how high you got into the air!), the 5 foot guy could still have a better vertical jump than the taller guy.

With box jumps, height and leg length really matter. Obviously, it is going to be a heck of a lot easier for the 6 foot guy to get onto a 50 inch box than the 5 foot guy. You can’t use box jumps to accurately measure athletic ability.

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*Your box jump will always be higher than your vertical jump
This should be obvious, but I’ve had some people ask me about it so I will answer it here.   When you do a box jump or vertical jump, your body is pretty much moving the same distance up into the air. But, with the box jump, you pull your legs up and clear more distance. So, your box jump should always be higher than your vertical. For example, if you have a vertical jump of 24 inches, then your box jump will probably be about 44 inches (assuming that you pull your legs up 20 inches when jumping).

Physical Differences between the Vertical Jump and Box Jump

Here is where the real difference between the vertical jump and box jump are. With the box jump, your goal is to get on top of an elevated platform, which is basically a variation of jumping a hurdle.   To do this, you have to pull your legs way up into your backside. You arch your back and your body totally curls in on itself. Check out the position of this guy’s body right before he lands on the box.   You’ve got to have a lot of flexibility in your hips to accomplish a high box jump.

By contrast, when you do a vertical jump, you want to extend your body. You not only need to extend your legs completely (just like the box jumper did right before getting off the ground), but also extend your back, arms, and head.   So, where the box jump is about hip flexibility, the vertical jump is about being able to maximize force on extension.

As far as sports go, the vertical jump is always going to be a better indicator of athletic abilities. Think about it practically. Your body needs to be extended to block a shot, dunk a basket, or spike a volleyball. You can’t do any of these actions while curled up as in the box jump. So don’t expect sports coaches to ever start using the box jump as an indicator of athletic abilities. It is vertical jump all the way!

To learn more about vertical jump and how to get more height, check out VertShock

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Exercises for Fast Twitch Muscle Fibers and Increasing Vertical Jump

If you’ve learned anything about vertical jump training by now, it should be that strength training alone won’t improve your jump. To jump higher, you’ve got to recruit your fast-twitch muscle fibers. I’ve talked about fast twitch muscle fibres before. In recap, they are the strands of protein in your muscles which can recoil VERY quickly.   The secret to jumping high is being able to put a lot of force into the ground quickly.   Fast twitch muscle fibers allow you do to this. When we talk about explosive power, it is all about those fast twitch muscle fibers!

Unfortunately, most traditional training programs are designed to exercise your slow twitch muscle fibers. There is a logic behind this: fast twitch muscle fibers use a lot more energy than slow twitch fibers. If you do anything which requires endurance, you won’t want to engage the fast twitch fibers because you will tire quicker. But, if you want explosive energy (like when going for a dunk), then you better train your fast twitch fibers. Here are some exercises which will help you do just that.

Squat Jacks

These are great for jump training because they work the fast twitch muscle fibers in your quads, glutes, and hamstrings. They also help you improve your hips’ range of motion. Squat jacks have the added benefit of making your butt look awesome, which is why they are popular with chicks.

Broad Jumps

Yes, broad jumps can improve your vertical jump! These are great for getting more explosiveness into your jump. Do them by starting in a squat, jumping as hard as you can, and landing in the squatting position again. Start slowly to make sure you get the range of motion right before you put all your energy into it!

Sprint!

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You need cardio to be a good basketball player. But don’t make the mistake of running around the track at the same consistent speed all the time. You’ve got to do some serious sprinting too in which you really push your body to its limits. For extra points, do “butt kickers” while sprinting (when you raise your legs back so they almost hit your butt). Remember to take breaks between sprints! You don’t want to overexert your muscles.

Squats at Higher Loads

Squats are the ultimate exercise for strengthening the muscles you need for jumping.   Many jumpers make the mistake of doing squats at a medium load for longer reps. That is fine if you want to bulk up and improve strength, but we want to improve our ability to apply strength quickly! So, instead do squats at much higher loads but only for reps of about 3-5. Take a break between each rep so you don’t destroy your muscle fibers.

Box Depth Jumps

Instead of doing what all those Crossfit guys do and jump onto a box from the ground, you want to jump off of a box. Start on a box. Then jump off of it to the ground, landing on both feet. Immediately jump up onto another box. The extra starting distance from the ground means that your legs have to absorb more force, and thus have more force to exert when jumping. Increase the height of the boxes after you get comfortable.

For more exercises and a complete training program on how to increase your vertical jump, check out VertShock

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How Deadlifts Improve Vertical Jump

Deadlifts for vertical jump

When we talk about vertical jump exercises, it is usually the squat which gets the most attention. Don’t get me wrong – the squat is still the best strength exercise for improving vertical jump height because it exercises all the muscles which go into a jump. However, it takes more than just your legs to get off the ground. Coaches now recognize that deadlifts are just as important to improving vertical jump as squats.

Muscles Worked by the Deadlift

While the squat may be the king of leg strength, the deadlift is king when it comes to strengthening the back and all its surrounding muscles. Deadlifts also work your core muscles, as well as down into your glutes. Remember, core strength is what gives you stability – and you need stability in order to jump higher!

Weak Posterior = Weakened Legs

The main muscles which go into a vertical jump are the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Even if these muscles are incredibly strong, you won’t be able to get high off the ground if your cores and posterior are weak.

Without getting too scientific about it, remember that all parts of your body are connected. Ever heard the phrase, “a chain is only as strong as the weakest link”? Well, if your core and posterior are weak, then your jump is going to be weak too. Also keep this in mind: when you jump, all that force goes upwards through your body. You need to have a strong core in order to handle all that force and maintain an upward motion.

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Tip for Making the Most of Deadlift Exercises during Jump Training

With the deadlift, as well as other strength exercises, athletes usually focus on the upwards movement. To make the most of deadlifts, you should focus on the downward movement too. Don’t just quickly drop the weight down! Instead, slowly lower the weight back down. This will help you improve eccentric power and develop agility. As an added bonus, you will also be able to improve your ability to absorb force, which is important for being able to release huge amounts of force when jumping.

Don’t forget the basics of plyometrics training! Your goal with deadlifts isn’t to increase brute strength and bulk. You want to increase strength and speed. Instead of doing traditional bodybuilding workouts, do fewer repetitions at higher weights. Make sure to take longer breaks between each rep (about 3-5 minutes)!

Trap Bar Deadlifts Off Box — The Ultimate Deadlift for Jump Training

There are a lot of different ways to do deadlifts, but the Trap Bar Deadlift is supreme for jump training. For starters, it puts less strain on the back and spine because you are standing inside the bar instead of having it in front of you. Because you are inside the bar rather than standing behind it, you will be able to get more leverage. This means you will be able to lift higher loads.

To improve range of movement, do the trap bar deadlifts off of a box (4 inches is a good height). This gives you a great range of movement and you will active your hamstrings more.

If you want an exercise program for increasing your vertical jump, I recommend Vert Shock by Adam Folker.  It is what helped me take my jump to the next level. Check Out Vertical Shock Here

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Why Strength Training Doesn’t Increase Vertical Jump

Why Strength Training Doesn't Increase Vertical Jump

The key to jumping higher is being able to produce a lot of power at takeoff so you fly high into the air. If you remember from physics class (yes, sports is a science!):

Power = Force x Velocity

In this equation, “Force” is your strength, such as the amount you are able to squat. “Velocity” is your speed.

Based on this equation, you’d think that increasing your strength would be enough to improve your vertical jump. However, this isn’t exactly the case. Improving your strength only makes things easier. It doesn’t necessarily improve your power output.

Let’s say you weigh 150lbs and are able to squat 200lbs. It is going to take a lot of your strength (75%) to get yourself off the ground. After a season of training, you are able to squat a respectable 250lbs. Now, it only takes 60% of your strength to get yourself off the ground.   You will be able to jump more frequently without getting strained.

Because you’ve increased your strength, you should be able to increase your power output and get higher off the ground. But, again, this isn’t always the case. Many athletes make the mistake of focusing too much on bulk strength but without ever learning how to apply that strength to their jump. This is why bodybuilders (who are really strong) don’t make good basketball players.

To really improve your vertical jump, you’ve got to learn how to apply more force incredibly quickly.

A vertical jump takes about 0.2 seconds to complete. This is a really short amount of time. To put this into perspective, a typical squat will take about 0.7 seconds to complete.

How Do You Train Your Muscles To React Faster?

Here is where a lot of people in jump training make mistakes. They think they can improve their Velocity by learning to run faster or other aerobic exercises. As far as jump training goes, aerobics aren’t going to help your Velocity at all! Velocity is all about being able to increase the speed of force at the jump.

Basically, you must teach your muscles to react really quickly when you jump. Imagine a rubber band. If you stretch it back far and let it go, it will release a LOT of force. Now, take that same rubber band. You stretch it back, but this time slowly release it. You aren’t going to get that same amount of force!

The way you get your muscles to react quickly is by training your fast-twitch muscle fibers (which I’ve talked about before).   Here is an example of how you can train fast-twitch muscle fibers to boost velocity.

  • DO NOT: Follow traditional bodybuilding programs. These are meant to develop sheer bulk and strength, but do not teach you to use that strength. Traditionally bodybuilding programs can actually make you slower!
  • DO: Perform fewer strength exercises but at heavier loads. For example, instead of doing 10 repetitions with a moderate load of 100lbs and a short amount of rest between sets, do 1-5 repetitions with a heavy load of 150lbs and at least 3 minutes of rest between each set.

By focusing on heavier loads, you will tap into your fast-twitch muscle power and be able to really increase your Force + Velocity – which means more power output during your jump!

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