Why Every Athlete Should Train Single-Leg Jumps

Yunus Barisik discusses two important concepts that affect how jumping translates to sprint and change-of-direction performance.

This article is part 4 in a four-part series on programming and progressing jump training for field sport athletes. Check out Parts 1, 2 and 3 here.

Let's discuss two important concepts that affect how jumping translates to sprint and change-of-direction performance.

First, what do I mean when talking about game speed?

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This article is part 4 in a four-part series on programming and progressing jump training for field sport athletes. Check out Parts 1, 2 and 3 here.

Let's discuss two important concepts that affect how jumping translates to sprint and change-of-direction performance.

Direction of Force Production for Developing Game Speed

First, what do I mean when talking about game speed?

It's how quickly you can react in response to the movement of the ball or other players on the field as a play develops. You must be able to cover various distances, rapidly stopping and starting in multiple directions, all depending on what's going to happen next. This is different than a sprinter who tries to run as fast as possible in a straight line over a pre-determined distance.

Thus, for a field athlete, acceleration and change-of-direction (COD) ability play a more important role than top speed or speed endurance.

With that in mind, how does this information relate to jump training?

Research emerging over the last decade has suggested that training adaptations may be direction-specific. Although the magnitude of force production shouldn't be overlooked, we must also consider its direction when game speed development is the goal. Interestingly, increasing maximal sprint velocity appears to be more dependent on horizontal rather than vertical force production.

This means that enhancing sprint performance (especially acceleration speed) comes down to improving an athlete's horizontal force production capability.

To improve your ability to express greater power horizontally, you'll want to use exercises like Broad Jumps, Forward Bounds, Long Hops, etc.

What about improving change-of-direction performance?

Surprisingly, traditional strength and power training programs involving mainly bilateral vertical exercises (i.e., Olympic lifts, Squats, Deadlifts, vertical jumping) don't elicit huge improvements in COD performance. A potential reason for the gap between strength in vertically oriented exercises is the lack of specificity to horizontal planar movement.

While Squats, Deadlifts, Vertical Jumps and Olympic lifts will always remain staple movements in athletic preparation programs, you should also use more specific methods to develop your change-of-direction ability. Three ways to achieve that through jump training include:

  • Horizontal Jumps
  • Lateral Jumps
  • Loaded Vertical Jumps

Unilateral Versus Bilateral Jumping for Power Development

Just think about your popular jump exercises such as Box, Vertical, Broad or Depth Jumps. They occur on two legs. Yet, you could argue that single-leg movements like Bounds and Hops are more sport-specific because many actions on the field take place with your weight on one leg.

But does it make a difference whether you jump on one leg versus two legs? Does one way of training produce greater results over the other?

One study that compared unilateral and bilateral jump exercises found that unilateral movements produce greater improvements in single-leg power and overall jumping performance—and these gains occur faster—than with bilateral movements. On the flip side of the coin, performance gains last longer with bilateral jump training.

Another study discovered that unilateral training provides performance benefits for both unilateral and bilateral tasks while bilateral training only improves bilateral performance.

As is so often the case with different training styles and methods, combining them in a smart plan—rather than sticking to just one way or form of exercise—tends to produce the best gains. So, be sure to include unilateral and bilateral movements in your jump workouts. Both forms of exercise are valuable and should be used for maximal results.

References:

Randell, AD et al. "Transference of Strength and Power Adaptation to Sports Performance-Horizontal and Vertical Force Production." Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2010 Aug; 32(4):100-106.

Brughelli, M et al. "Effects of running velocity on running kinetics and kinematics." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2011 Apr; 25(4):933–939.

Buchheit, M et al. "Mechanical determinants of acceleration and maximal sprinting speed in highly trained young soccer players." Journal of Sports Sciences. 2014 Dec; 32(20):1906-1913.

Zweifel, MB. "Importance of Horizontally Loaded Movements to Sports Performance." Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2017 Feb; 39(1):21-26.

Young, WB. "Transfer of Strength and Power Training to Sports Performance." International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. 2006 Jun; 1(2):74-83.

Makaruk, H et al. "Effects of Unilateral and Bilateral Plyometric Training on Power and Jumping Ability in Women." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2011 Dec; 25(12):3311-3318.

Bogdanis, GC et al. "Comparison Between Unilateral and Bilateral Plyometric Training on Single and Double Leg Jumping Performance and Strength". Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2017 Apr; Epub ahead of print.

Photo Credit: PeopleImages/iStock

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Topics: SQUAT | LOWER BODY | DEADLIFT | BOX JUMP | VERTICAL JUMP | OLYMPIC WEIGHTLIFTING | UNILATERAL TRAINING