In basketball, volleyball and football, having a high vertical jump can be the difference between making the highlight reel and not quite being able to make the play. Who doesn't love seeing a wide receiver dash down the field and leap over the defensive back to make a catch, or an attacker in volleyball rise up to make a kill?
To improve your vertical, you must address several factors. Here is a plan to propel you above your competition.
Strength vs. Power
Strength in the world of sports typically refers to movements that are slow but involve high force output. An example of a strong movement would be a 1 Rep Max on a Squat that takes Athlete A roughly 5 seconds to complete. The weight on the bar is heavy, but the movement is slow.
Powerful athletes can generally perform actions with high strength and speed simultaneously. A great example: Athlete B squats the same amount of weight as Athlete A, but he performs the rep in half the time.
Back Squat Max = 300 lbs
Time = 5 Seconds
Back Squat Max = 300 lbs
Time = 2.5 Seconds
The obvious difference is how time affects the two athletes and how they generate force. The more powerful athlete can generate force much faster than the less powerful athlete. The reason these terms have been clarified is to establish the connection between plyometrics and power training. To further differentiate between power and strength, consider a 1 Rep Max Squat vs. a Vertical Jump.
Squat 1 Rep Max
An athlete who attempts a 1 Rep Max Squat exerts an incredible amount of force over the course of several seconds.
Maximal Vertical Jump
In a Vertical Jump attempt, the athlete again exerts maximal force, but this time with no barbell on his back. The end result is a high force movement that happens very quickly. In fact, max jump attempts typically occur in between 0.1 and 0.2 seconds—much shorter than the 5-second Squat.
Training for Power
In the weight room, strength coaches have for decades been using plyometrics to increase jump height and power in their athletes. Depth Jumps—in which an athlete jumps off a box, lands, then immediately jumps vertically, horizontally or to another box—are one of the best tools for the job.
The godfather of plyometrics, Yuri Verkoshansky, developed "the shock method," in which the athlete drops down from a height and experiences a "shock" upon landing. This brings about a forced lengthening of the muscle, which is then immediately switched to a shortening of the muscle as the athlete jumps up. This slightly increases the load (via gravity) to produce the "shock." As the athlete lands, in order to perform the Jump, he or she must generate more force and at a faster rate. This is what leads to the increase in vertical jump height.
A Depth Jump challenges the athlete's ability to generate power in the same way that a barbell creates a challenge to the athlete's ability to produce force for strength.
Rules for Proper Depth Jump Training
1. Low volume on sets and reps. Because Depth Jumps are a power movement, the volume must remain low in order to prevent fatigue. A fatigued athlete is not a powerful athlete.
2. Perform depth jumps immediately after warming up.
3. Maintain adequate rest between sets.
4. Minimize the time spent on the ground. React as quickly as possible to maximize power output.
5. Maximize height on the jump following the "shock." Having something to jump over or on can be enough of a stimulus to make sure the athlete is jumping as high as possible.
Considerations with Implementation
Young athletes should not attempt Depth Jumps until they establish proficiency in lower-body plyometrics. Once they have established that proficiency, they can add Jumps to their training regimen, but only in very low volume. If an athlete cannot land properly, do not incorporate Depth Jumps into the program. Because landing is so important, it may be necessary to spend some time performing Depth Lands in order to practice landing mechanics.
The last consideration is injury. If any lower-body injury is present, remove Depth Jumps from the training program. The exercise, though beneficial, is very challenging and can result in further injury if not monitored properly.
In order to increase intensity after mastering the Depth Jump, making slight tweaks to the original exercise (single leg, jumping to a second box, lateral, Depth Jump with dynamic hurdle hop, etc.) can drastically change the intensity and effectiveness. The combinations are limited only by the coach's imagination and the ability of athletes to safely execute them.
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