Vertical jump training can be confusing.
Type into Google “how to increase vertical jump,” and you’ll find thousands of opinions. Some say you need to squat twice your body weight, others say to train your calves with high reps, and some say you need core strength. These opinions are rarely entirely wrong. They just lead athletes down the wrong path. They don’t give a good starting point for vertical jump training.
What Determines Vertical Jump Height?
A study by Kirby et al, found that relative vertical impulse determines jump height. The equation for vertical impulse looks like this:
- Vertical Impulse = Force x Duration of time it is exerted
This means, to increase your vertical jump, athletes need to 1) Increase the amount of force they produce and/or 2) Increase the duration they are applying this force.
The vertical jump happens in a short amount of time. The easiest way to increase this time is to squat to a lower depth before jumping. Research by Mandic et al, found that squatting lower lead to greater jump height than the depth that was initially preferred.
However, attempting to manipulate time will not lead to long-term gains in vertical jumping. Athletes might get an inch or two boost during testing, but it will only happen once. And if they want these gains to transfer to sport performance (basketball, football, soccer, etc.), increasing time to jump will likely do more harm than good.
So if athletes want real, significant gains, they’re left with the other option: force.
Strength coaches often use “force” and “strength” interchangeably. When athletes get stronger, they increase their ability to apply force. Take someone’s Squat from 200 to 400 and they can now apply greater forces. But squatting is not jumping. Squatting happens slowly and jumping happens quickly. There needs to be a distinction made between low-velocity strength and high-velocity strength.
Heavy Squatting and Deadlifting increases strength, but it does so in a low-velocity way. Your body increases its ability to apply force, but not in a way that is directly useful to high-velocity movements (like vertical jumping). The solution: Balance out heavy lifting (low-velocity) with overspeed jumps (very high-velocity).
What are Overspeed Jumps?
To revisit: Impulse determines jump height. This means athletes need to quickly apply high forces. Heavy lifting is a great way to help with producing high forces, overspeed training is a great way to help with quickly applying this force.
In my experience, Band-Assisted Jumps are the best way to work the high-velocity and quick production of force needed for vertical jumping. The only problem: Some athletes don’t have access to this exercise. They either don’t have access to the right type of bands, or they don’t have access to an area that allows those bands to be set up properly. This video gives some options to work around this problem.
The vertical jump comes down to basic physics. Finding a good starting point (the Impulse equation), is essential to long-term vertical jump gains. This can be the guiding point to determining the validity of all training methods. For a detailed explanation of the vertical jump and the training means to improve it, check out The Vertical Jump Protocol.
Kirby, T. J., McBride, J. M., Haines, T. L., Dayne, A. M. (2011). “Relative net vertical impulse determines jumping performance.” Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 27(3), 207-14.
Mandic, R., Jakovljevic, S., and Jaric, S. (2015). “Effects of countermovement depth on kinematic and kinetic patterns of maximum vertical jumps.” Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, 25(2), 265-72.