Coaching Vertical Jump with a Valgus Collapse

Ahhh, the knee cave, my old friend. This, by far, is the most common strength and movement pattern deficit I see in developing athletes. More officially known as a valgus position of the knee, it signifies not only a severe lack of specific and general strength, but also may be an indicator of poor body control overall (due to other common muscular strength deficits that generally come as part of the "package").

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.

Teaching and Improving the Vertical Jump- Technique

Here at SAPT volleyball players abound. Volleyball players (and their coaches) often come to us with one goal: to increase their vertical jump height. Personally, I think there are several other skills that are just at important, i.e. upper body strength/power, ability to shuffle sideways- you'd be surprised how many girls I see who CANNOT do this- core strength and force transfer, and improving overall athleticism. But I digress.

While there are whole books devoted to increasing vertical jump, I'm only going to focus the basic technique that will, honestly, improve the jump considerably. I think it should be obvious that to increase height, one must also increase their strength (ahem, lift heavy things) but that's not today's focus. Next week, we'll look at specific strength training exercises.

Our typical age range for VB players is 13-18 and this is the typical jump technique we see:

Yes, this is RGIII, and yes I'm comparing his jump form to a 15-year old volleyball player's form.

Similar to the above picture, when we evaluate a volleyball player 99% of the time we see valgus collapse (knees coming together- helloooo ACL tear!), knee-flexion dominance, loosey-goosey core, and usually, minimal arm swing involvement.

All these work against the poor girl and her goal of leaping high aloft to spike the ball into her opponent's face. I'm going to briefly break down the mechanical flaws previously mentioned and then present a few drills we use to re-pattern the jump to create leaping, jumping, ball-spiking machines.

1. Valgus collapse- When one's knee caps touch, it results in a decrease in power since the quads, hamstrings, and glutes are at a mechanical disadvantage. Try it, you won't get up very high. What's worse, is it dramatically increases the risk of an ACL, or two, tear. As you read this, stand up, bend your knees, then put them into valgus collapse. Do you feel a little bit of torque on your knees? Now imagine launching into the air and landing again (which landing is roughly 2-4x bodyweight force) in that position. Yikes. Is it any wonder that many volleyball players have knee pain? The knees should be neutral, aligned directly over the 2nd or 3rd toe.

2. Knee/Quad Dominance- Most girls are quad dominant. It's not their fault, that's just how they grew up. At SAPT we aim to change that. As any long-time reader of our blog knows, it's all about dem glutes!


The posterior chain, that is, the glutes and hamstrings, are where it's at when it comes to lower body power production. The glutes and hamstrings are way, way, WAY better at extending the hip than the quads (mostly because, the quads can't do it at all). Quads are important in the vertical jump- as is knee extension- however, the power comes from the back. Athletes who don't tap into their posterior chain will remain on the lower end of the VerTec.

3. Loosey-Goosey Core- That is a technical coaching term by the way. A lot of our VB players don't know how to stay tight during the take-off. All the power they applied to the floor disseminates and leaks out at all the loose points so they wind up going nowhere. Imagine a cooked spaghetti noodle trying to jump and that's what it looks like.

4. Little to no arm swing- How people learn to jump without using their arms is a mystery to me. The arms help increase velocity at take off by storing potential energy in the arms and then releasing it upon take off. They also help "pull" the body upwards. Don't believe me? Some one did a research study and you can read the abstract here.

So, how do we fix all this?

First we teach hip hinging without knee valgus collapse. The easiest way we've found is employing a dowel rod. 

Coaching points: 1. The athlete should maintain contact with the dowel rod at three points: head, mid-back, and tail bone. 2. Knees should be behind the toes. I will put my hand in front of their knees to ensure they sit back in the hips and not bend forward from the knee. We also coach neutral knee alignment here.

Next, we put the hip hinge in context of a take-off/landing, but no jump. By eliminating the jump, the athlete can focus on his/her form.

Coaching points: 1. Arm swing, arm swing, ARM SWING! I tell the athlete to pretend she's pushing through water. The arm swing should be forceful. 2. The hip hinge should be there, the knees should be neutral and behind the toes, just like the dowel rod hip hinge drill. I use the analogy of booty-bumping their friend. Girls get this, guys don't. I guess fellas don't booty bump. 3. This is a perfect time to teach tightness. The athlete's core should be taut and the spine should remain neutral. This is where the limp noodles happen, so be vigilant!

After the athlete masters the arm swing + hips, we move to a paused vertical jump. Again, the pause is there for the athlete to focus on the form before taking off. If they're not in the right position, they can fix it- or rather, you the coach can fix it.

Coaching points: 1. Stress to the athlete that it's NOT about the height of the jump, but the technique. I've seen girls with great technique fall to pieces as soon as the jump is part of the equation. 2. The landing should look like the take-off 3. Hammer all the above mentioned technique points.

Practice makes permanent, not perfect. 

These three drills are SAPT's basic jump technique teachers. We've seen great results and many girls add inches to their vertical just by becoming more efficient at the jump itself. I'd also like to point out that none of these use fancy equipment. So often it's the simplest way that is the most effective!

Next week we'll take a look at both strength exercises to increase vertical and some more specific drills for power production.