When considering vertical jump exercises, it's hard to avoid the Depth Jump. It is the most specific way to overload jumping, and it's not uncommon to see athletes on a Depth Jump-based training program gain 4 to 8 inches of vertical leap in a short period of time.
Unfortunately, the Depth Jump is one of the most poorly described and executed vertical jump exercises in athlete and coach education channels. Many popular videos portraying the Depth Jump feature errors such as sub-maximal Depth Jumps, poor posture, elongated ground contact times and excessive knee bend.
A solid knowledge of Depth Jump variations is also important—for adapting the exercise to meet the needs of various types of athletes. Difference among athletes performing the Depth Jump optimally vs. haphazardly can mean many inches of vertical jump height. An example of an optimally performed Depth Jump by a truly elite athlete is shown below.
Before we get into Depth Jump variations, you need to know the proper way to do Depth Jumps for maximal athletic performance. There are five keys to a proper Depth Jump: box height, drop technique, projection, landing and reversal.
The height of the box should reflect whether an athlete wants to build power (think Standing Vertical Jump) or reactive strength (think quick cuts or jumps off the run). Depending on their ability, athletes seeking power should use boxes between 12 and 30 inches high. Athletes seeking reactive strength should use boxes between 24 and 48 inches high. Not every athlete will be able to jump off a 48-inch box, and box height is ultimately determined by an athlete's ability to land softly and without excessive knee bend. Athletes whose knees bend more more than 90 degrees or whose heels slam down on the ground are using a box that is too high for their ability.
Athletes should drop off a box as if they are stepping forward onto an invisible bridge. A common error is to step down, as if descending a flight of stairs. Athletes who drop off boxes too high for their ability tend to make this error repeatedly.
Athletes should step off the box in a manner that allows them to land as far away from the box as the box is tall. For example, if you drop off a 24-inch box, you should land 18 to 24 inches away from the box. A common mistake is to land right next to the box; but biomechanically, this type of landing exerts forces on the athlete that resemble jumping backwards.
Athletes can land a Depth Jump with various types of foot placement (flat, or on balls of the foot), but generally speaking, athletes should fight the flexion of their legs and attempt to jump with a minimal amount of knee bend. This makes a jump more elastic in nature. Bending the knees too much reduces elastic energy and detracts from the reactive nature of the movement. That said, however, athletes should never land with completely straight legs. During landing, ground contact should be brief. Do not jump as high as possible at the expense of taking too long on the ground.
The biggest issue with many Depth Jumps is that athletes do not jump as high as they can on the reversal of the jump. The Depth Jump is a maximal effort. That means athletes must jump maximally on each attempt. Without maximal effort, there will be insufficient overload to adapt to, especially for intermediate and advanced athletes. This is where the use of targets and goals is critically important for continual improvement.
Three Depth Jump Variations
Traditional Depth Jump
The traditional Depth Jump is performed with only a box and a landing area. To perform it, start on the box, step off (in the manner described above), and jump maximally high upon landing. This variation is best used in the learning stages of the Depth Jump, as it offers the best chance to focus on cues surrounding the jump—dropping out far enough away from the box, landing softly, not bending the knees too much and maintaining proper posture.
Hurdle Depth Jump
The Hurdle Depth Jump is performed like a regular Depth Jump, except you leap over a hurdle (preferably collapsible) after landing. Using an outcome goal like a hurdle jump automatically increases the height of the rebound, and therefore the power output of the movement. The advantages of using a hurdle—reduced ground contact time and increased speed off the ground—explain why it is a perennial favorite among track & field coaches. But the Hurdle Depth Jump is useful for athletes of all sports, including basketball, football and volleyball players. The video below shows the Hurdle Depth Jump being performed over two hurdle barriers.
Target Depth Jump
This style of jump dramatically increases the vertical jump height on the rebound portion, and it greatly increases the power output of the quadriceps muscles. Performing a jump with an overhead target is particularly useful for athletes who need to jump for an overhead object, so it is especially useful for basketball and volleyball players.
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