Teaching and Improving the Vertical Jump- Strength and Power

Last week's post was all about the technique side of improving the vertical jump. Today will entail multiple videos (for those of you who don't want to read on a Monday morning) of different drills and exercises that help improve strength and power for purpose of gettin' dem ups.

The following are SAPT's go-to exercises for all of our volleyball and basketball players for improving their vertical. We have two goals:

1. Increase force output- that is, the amount of force applied to the ground. The greater the force, the greater the jump height (it's physics).

2. Increase rate of force development- as we've discussed before, how fast can an athlete apply force to the ground. The faster she can hit peak force output, the higher she'll jump (more physics).

Goblet/Barbell Squats:

Why- Squats, both goblet and barbell, increase strength/power in the hamstrings, glutes, and quads- more notably the backside muscles- all of which are the primary jumpers. An article in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that deep squatting (below parallel) was beneficial in both strength and power development. I find it interesting that partial squats actually decreased strength and power...


Why- Again, posterior chain development but also, look at the hip angle. The hip hinge of the deadlift is very similar to the hip hinge needed in the vertical jump. Not only that, we can toy around with the reps/sets/weights to either train for strength or for speed (i.e. increasing the rate of force development) both of which contribute to more air time. Above is conventional style deadlift, but sumo works too. Incidentally, I've noticed that most of our volleyball players sit into conventional more comfortably.

Kettlebell Swings:

Why- Kettlebell swings are a delightful (well, I think they're delightful) and effective way to improve power production. The Olympic lifts are touted as the best power production exercises, but I think the risk-reward ratio is skewed in the "risk's" favor for the O-lifts- mostly because they're extremely technical lifts that take a large investment of time to see the benefit. Kettlebell swings are, by comparison, fairly easy to teach and we can milk the swing for a long time to continue to increase strength and power.

Split Squat/Lunge variations:

Why- While I know that vertical jump is a bilateral movement and if I were training athletes ONLY for vertical jump tests (which are very controlled) then I would certainly prioritize squats/deadlift. However, the vast majority of the time the context these athletes will jump in, games/practice, the vertical jump will have a variety of take-off stances. Therefore, they need to be strong in a split-stance. Unilateral training also evens out imbalances and improves stabilization. Unstable athletes don't jump high.

I really, really like Bulgarian Split squats (second video)because of the extra stretch on the glute muscles of the front leg which ilicits a higher growth response. And they're hard.

Split Stance Vertical Jumps*:

Why- Speaking of split stance, we can specifically train the jump technique with this drill. I only move athletes to this drill when they've mastered the basic vertical jump technique. I like this drill a lot as it mimics what a lot of game-time scenarios will actually be, especially for outside hitters and basketball players going up for a rebound.

Vertical Jump with 180 Degree Turn:

Why- Vestibular training! How often, in a game or practice, does an athlete have to turn and jump? I'd wager the scientific measure of "a lot." While an athlete may not do the 180 in the air, the change in direction does stimulate the vestibular system and teach the athlete to orient him/herself faster.

Seated Vertical Jump:

Why- The seated part takes out most of the benefit of the countermovement (the arm swing and sitting back) which challenges the athlete to generate more force/power from the legs to achieve any semblance of height. It's a way to challenge the lower body without adding weights to the athlete.

Depth Drop to Vertical Jump:

Why- This taps into the reactive component of jumping. It helps increase rate of force development, but also trains the reaction of the athlete. Athletes will often have to jump multiple times in a row without much respite, so training their ability to rebound upon landing is advantageous.

There we have it! This should be enough to jump-start (pun totally intended) improving your/your athletes' vertical jump.

* In case you were wondering what I was listening to, it was Nightmare Before Christmas Revisited. Yes, it is awesome.