Everything you wanted to know to increase your Vertical Jump

What are the most essential qualities of a high vertical jumper?

Horsepower and movement efficiency. Strength per pound of bodyweight is the horsepower…movement efficiency is how well you can carry out a movement. You put those 2 things together and they determine the height that you jump. 

You need to be able to put out a lot of force relative to your bodyweight. In other words, you need strong legs! Your body structure influences how efficiently force gets transferred into the ground. 

Movement efficiency has to do with coordination and your ability to carry out a movement optimally. In the case of the vertical jump it’s mainly impacted by by body-fat and coordination with your feet. Imagine trying to jump with a 50 pound tub of lard strapped to your back and you can see how extra fat would negatively affect your vertical jump. On the “feet” end, many people lack coordination on their feet and wear shoes that are too big and cumbersome for them to ever get light on their feet. 

What is Natural Strength?

Some people have a build characterized by long achilles tendons, long thigh bones, and high muscle attachment points that allow them to transfer force very efficiently. So, for each unit of force they develop they will be able to transfer a lot of that into the ground. That’s how guys like Allen Iverson can jump well even though they’ve never seen a squat rack in their life. If you don’t have that great natural body structure (and most people don’t) you’re gonna have to make up for it by increasing your strength. Simple enough. 

There are some skinny guys who can jump very well without being strong in the traditional sense, yet you won’t find ANYONE with a 35 inch plus vertical jump who doesn’t have a lot of “natural” strength. By natural strength what I mean is if you find someone with a naturally high vertical they always have a natural ability to create force. Even if they don’t strength train you can take them in the gym and teach them how to squat and within a week they will be squatting over 1.5 times bodyweight. I have yet to see any exceptions to that rule. If you don’t have that strength naturally you’re gonna have to train to get it. 

But my friends Billy Joe and Jack squat 350 pounds yet I jump 12 inches higher then them. What’s going on here?

You can’t make comparisons like that with any accuracy. Muscle and tendon length, bone length, muscle attachments, endocrine, and neural characteristics all influence the ability to leverage force. That important thing is that YOU improve your qualities and let everything else fall where it will and don’t try to compare yourself to other people. 

What is the minimum amount of strength that I need?

Before I tell you how much strength you need do this so I can make a point: Go in the gym and grab 2 fifteen pound dumbells and lie on a bench and bench press them 100 times. Now stand up and do 100 half squats with your bodyweight. Which is harder? Probably the squats right? So that means it takes more strength to do a half squat with your bodyweight than it does to lie on your back and press 15 pounds. 

Now realize a shotput also weighs about 15 pounds. What is a shotput? Basically a press where you throw the weight. What is a vertical jump? Basically a 1/2 squat where you “throw” your body into the air. The 15 pounds sounds really light until you think about throwing the weight. Now let’s figure out how much strength it takes to be a good shotputter: Well, the routines of top shotputters contain a fair mix of both explosive and strength oriented training but on the strength end you won’t find any that don’t bench press over 400 pounds. The large majority of them will bench press over 500 pounds. 

So, through real world observation it has been established that there is no such thing as a top shotputter who bench presses less than 400 pounds. We’ve also established that squatting and “throwing” your bodyweight into the air requires more strength relatively than does throwing a 15 pound shotput. So, if a shotputter benches a minimum of 400 pounds what does that tell you about how strong our legs should be for jumping? It tells me they need to be quite strong. 

Just as you will never see a good shotputter who can’t bench press 400 pounds you will never see a good vertical jumper who isn’t strong in the legs as well.

In fact I have a $500 bounty for the first person who can show me someone with a legit 35 inch vertical jump who can’t squat 1.5 BW within a week of learning the movement. I could probably crank that up to 2 x BW and I doubt I would ever lose. 

Now, does that mean that just because someone can bench press 700 pounds that they will be able to throw the shotput a mile? Or does that mean that just becuase so and so has a 500 pound squat they’ll be able to jump out of the gym? No. There is technique and movement efficiency involved in both shotputting and jumping. What it does tell me though is if you’re weaker than a kitten you’re completely wasting your time spending all your time with plyometric work until you’ve built a base of strength. Once you have your base of strength you’ll get the best results in Vertical jump practicing jumping related tasks and training explosively.

I heard that it was not good to squat because there is deceleration that occurs at the top of the squat that doesn’t occur with the vertical jump?

Keep in mind when using exercises like the squat we’re not trying to duplicate the exact execution of the vertical jump, we’re just trying to strengthen the muscles involved. That’s also why a deeper squat is better than a quarter or half squat. It strengthens more muscles. Besides that, by that line of logic we shouldn’t walk either since there is deceleration that occurs with each stride. The body and brain are smart enough to differentiate various movements. 

What about deadlifts – Are they good exercises?

Yes, the deadlift is an excellent exercise. My only hesitation in ranking it equal to the squat is the fact that it is possible to deadlift a significant amount of weight without using the lower body at all. A proper deadlift is an excellent exercise.

How important are the calves for jumping? 

Not very important. Try this: Stand on a stair step and let your ankles hang down. Without bending your knees try to hop up onto the next step. Did you make it? Probably not. That’s because the calves don’t contribute much to the jump. Your butt and thighs are what give you the power. The calves simply help transferring that power into the ground. 

Having said that, many people do have a problem with what appears to be weak calves because when they move they struggle to stay in optimal power position – They move back on their heels and have a hard time staying up on the balls of their feet. Their problem isn’t really weak calves it’s lack of coordination on the feet. Exercises designed to improve movement efficiency will improve this. 

How do I determine whether I have a good enough base of strength?

Well first in order to meet my minimum requirements you must be able to do one of the following:

  • Squat 1.5 x your bodyweight to legal powerlifting depth hip breaking parallel.
  • Perform 5 body-weight pistol squats (see below for video example)

Pistol Squat Video

Once you’ve met either of those tasks your training can be more focused in either the strength area or speed area. Initially, you can bring both your strength and speed/plyometric ability up at the same time, but eventually you reach a point where you’ll need a bit more focus in a given area. Just like some shotputters need a bigger bench press to increase their shotput while others need to get faster applying their strength to the shotput (ie get more explosive), some vertical jumpers need more work on their strength base while others need more work on the speed that they apply that strength to their jump. Here are a couple of tests that will help determine that: 

  • Measure your regular down and up vertical jump. Next, get a box about 18 inches high and perform a rebound jump where you step off the box, hit the ground, and jump straight up. If the jump from the box is higher you’re most likely fast enough and could benefit more from increasing your strength base. If the jump with the box is lower you could probably stand to work more on explosive oriented (plyometric) training. 
  • Stand in one place and perform 5 consecutive vertical jumps jumping as high as possible with each jump. Those with highly developed speed (plyometric) qualities will usually find the height of the last 4 jumps is at least the same or higher than the height of the first jump. Thus, they would want to focus more on strength while the group that struggled jumping on the “bounce” would want to focus more on speed oriented training. 

But I heard I need to squat faster with light weights to improve power production for vertical jumping and that lifting heavy weights will make me slow?

Until you have a really good base of strength in place you will get faster with light weights by increasing the poundage on your max lifts. Let me explain: Let’s say we take someone with a 150 pound bench press who wants to be a great shotputter. Someone tells him that he can be an olympic caliber thrower if he just practices being very explosive with light weights. So he trains by putting 100 pounds on the bar and does sets of 5 as fast as he can. What’s gonna happen when he goes out and throws against 400 pound bench pressers who can throw 300 pounds around as fast as he can throw 100? He’s gonna get his ass kicked that’s what’s gonna happen. 

Just for the sake of argument let’s say that the guy who can throw around 100 pounds the fastest will have a superior vertical jump. Who’s gonna throw around 100 pounds faster – The guy with a max squat of 135 pounds, or the guy with a max squat of 300 pounds. Definitely the guy with the 300 pound squat. But if we were to compare a 600 pound squatter to an 800 pound squatter in the same task the answer may not be so clear cut. 

The main point is, unless you’re already stronger than an ox, the fastest way to improve your ability to lift light weights is to increase your maxes, and the best way to do that is to lift fairly heavy with reps between 1 and 10 with weights between 70 and 100% of your 1 rep max. Lifting light loads will not improve max strength. When lifting heav weights the load may not move that fast but it doesn’t need to move that fast. 

As for heavy weights making you slow, this is only true of people who carry strength training to the extreme. Even then, it’s not the strength or heavy weight that creates slowness, it is the excessive muscular bodyweight that can develop. To verify this all you have to do is look at olympic weightlifters. Their entire sport is based on lifting heavy weights, yet they have the best vertical jumps of all athletes and are as fast as sprinters out to 30 meters. 

Some people are sometimes under the misguided assumption that strength training with heavy weights makes one slow because it can create a temporary state of fatigue and soreness in the muscles. That fatigue will sometime temporarily “mask” explosiveness. The solution to that is very simple: Take some occassional downtime and let that fatigue dissipate. 

Is plyometric training a waste of time for someone that doesn’t have a base of strength?

Plyometric training works by boosting 2 things:

  1. The ability to move efficiently 
  2. The ability to display strength more rapidly.

In someone without a base of strength and with lack of cordination, it may help slightly to improve the ability to move efficiently, but won’t do anything to help rapidly express strength that you don’t have. 

How long does it take to see real results once I begin training

Beginners can see results in less than a week. A highly advanced athlete might require 6-8 weeks

Have you checked out any of the other jumping programs? What is different about your philosophy?

There is lots of hype and gimmicks out there and lots of people just making stuff up. The problem is as far as athletes go on average basketball players have inferior jumps compared to other athletes like track and field athletes, volleyball players, olympic weightlifters, football players and even shotputters. The average NBA player might have a 30 inch vertical jump….the average 250 pound NFL linebacker (who really has no desire to jump), has a 38 inch vertical. The world record standing broad jump is held by a shotputter weighing close to 300 pounds! Everybody wants to follow programs written for basketball players but as a whole they don’t work. If you want to know how to jump high look at the commonalities in the athletes that actually have success boosting their VJ. 

There are many different ways to get to the same end result but the principles never change. Anybody that ever increases their VJ did so because they boosted either:

  • The force behind the movement (consisting of strength plus the ability to rapidly display that  strength.
  • The efficiency of the movement

That’s regardless of whether you trained with platform shoes, rubber bands, weighted vest, pool work, weights, or whatever. 

Instead of haphazardly engaging in various training methods and maybe getting lucky and impacting one of those qualities, why don’t we start with the end result and work backwards and find the quickest way to our end goals? So, what if we ask ourselves, “ok, what is the quickest direct way to improve the coordination in the vertical jump? What is the quickest way to improve the maximum force production in the vertical jump? What is the quickest way to improve the ability to rapidly display that force? 

The answer to any of those questions is not difficult. For example, let’s take the case of improving maximum force potential. Some would have you believe that they’ve invented some new age gimmick or training technique that is the end all and be all to develop that quality. But if we look at a sport where the ENTIRE SPORT is based on who can develop the most force. What sport is that? Powerlifting! If such and such gimmick was so effective for force production why aren’t ANY top powerlifters using it? 

Now how about taking the shortline approach towards improving the rapid display of force. If something is really a miracle for increasing this quality why isn’t it being used by olympic athletes like high jumpers, triple jumpers, sprinters, and long jumpers? There is no shortage of information on this. Through 50 + years of research and observation it is quite clear that the most potent training methods to improve the rapid display of force are variations of the following:

  1. Practice the specific movement (jump if you’re a jumper – sprint if you’re a sprinter) (most important)
  2. Lift light weights with great acceleration (use jumps squats and other various explosive lifts) 
  3. Engage in plyometric “shock” training (a.k.a. – depth jumps)

Two and three are frequently not even necessary.

Are there any secrets here? No! 

So basically we can just put those things together and take the shortest path towards reaching our goals. 

So and so (insert coach’s name here) says that they have come up with a new cutting edge system called (insert system name here) that promises to give me a 50 inch vertical jump in 100 days.

What’s more likely:

  • Some 20 year old dude has a professional client list of 100’s and has miraculously discovered a bunch of top secrets for vertical jumping?     or
  • Some internet marketer thought he could make a buck so decided to pass himself off as an expert and make up a bunch of BS? 

Ever notice how these “gurus” alway claim to be the secret coach to hundreds of elite level athletes yet they never can tell you who these athletes are? I have yet to hear of a professional athlete who has any problem telling anyone who their coach is. If a coach does an athlete good athletes by and large WANT to help their coach out by spreading the word. In fact, name me one top level professional athlete and in a day or less I can probably tell you who their coach is.

What are some tips to help improve my vertical leap RIGHT AWAY?

The day you’ll be satisfied with your vertical jump is the day you have the strength to squat 2 times your bodyweight at under 10% bodyfat while having the movement efficiency to be able to jump back and forth over a knee high cone or string 20 times in 10 seconds.

Lateral Barrier Jump

If you wear regular basketball shoes stop wearing them and get a pair of Nike Frees to train in. If you’re over 10% bodyfat clean up your diet and drop some fat. If you have a tape measure you can measure your waist and get a pretty accurate estimation as to how fat you are with this formula: Body Fat Calculator

What type of training split should I follow?

Either get ahold of my Vertical Jump Manual and follow any of the multitude of routines from there or follow these generic recommendations:

If you’re a beginner with no strength training background, check out this article Applying Gymnasts Progressions To The Lower Body

Or you can follow this: Alternate back and forth between the 2 workouts for a total of 2 to 4 training days per week 

Session A:

Prior to your workout choose 1 performance oriented exercise and one movement efficiency exercise. With the “performance” exercise you’ll be performing movements that you can easily monitor for progress. These include things like measured vertical jumps, timed sprints, jumps onto a high box, broad jumps etc. On these, choose a movement and keep doing sets until your performance starts to decline. Take your time between each effort. That generally means you’d do anywhere from 3-8 sets. Then move on and choose a movement efficiency exercise and do the same thing. 

Performance Movements

  • running jumps for height
  • standing jump for height
  • on-box jumps (jumps onto or over a high box)
  • broad jumps
  • hurdle jumps (jumps over a high hurdle, string, or box)
  • sprints (choose distances from 10-40 yards)
  • shuttle drills
  • single leg triple jump
  • resisted sprints

Movement Efficiency/potentiation movements

  • single leg box jumps (do sets of 3-5 reps)
  • single leg lateral hops (do sets of 5-10 seconds)
  • low squat hops (do sets of 5-10 seconds)
  • Drop jumps (do sets of 3-5)
  • Lateral barrier jumps (do sets of 5-10 seconds)
  • Strength Training
  • Squat 3×5
  • Pull-Up 3×10 
  • Military Press 3×10
  • Leg curl or Glute Ham 3×8

Session B:

Pick again from the above list of movement and performance exercises and perform one of each prior to your workout. 

Strength Training

  • Bench Press 3×5
  • Deadlift 3 x 5
  • Seated Row 3×10
  • Lunge or split squat 2 x 8 

If you are an inseason athlete:

Day One:

  • Dips or Bench Press 4 x 6-8
  • Incline Press 2 x 10-12
  • Military Press, Or Hammer Shoulder Press 2 x 6-8
  • Tricep (skull crushers) Extensions or Tricep Pushdowns 2 x 10-12

Day Two:

  • Squats 3-4 x 6-8
  • Deadlifts, or Stiff-Legged Deadlift 1 x 6-8
  • Pull-Troughs, Glute/Ham Raises, or Reverse Hypers 2 x 10

Day Three:

  • Pull-Up 3 sets to failure
  • Barbell Row 2 x 8
  • EZ-Bar Or Dumbell Curl 1 x 10
  • Heavy Abs 3 x 10

For everyone else use The Ultimate split and gear it to either strength development if you need more focus in that area, or explosive development if you need more focus in that area. 

What are some of the biggest mistakes people make when training for increased vertical leap?

By far the biggest mistake is lack of recovery and too much plyometric volume. The reason for this is really 3-fold:

  • Most of the sports involving lots of jumping inherently involve excessive amounts of activity to begin with. A perfect example is basketball. The avg basketball player runs over 5 miles during the course of a game and jumps 100’s of times. Would you take a sprinter and train him by having him run marathons? Consider that most basketball players play year around multiple times weekly and this volumous training has a negative influence on the capacity to display bouts of extreme fast twitch characteristics like jumping or sprinting short distances. 
  • Most of the individuals that leans towards jumping oriented sports tend to have less than optimal ability to recover to begin with. Think about it: What type of athlete plays football? The natural mesomorph (muscular individual). What type of individual leans towards basketball or volleyball? The natural ectomorph (skinny and frail individual). Through years of practical observation it is known that most ectomorphs inherently struggle to make gains in speed, strength, power, and muscle size and have a reduced capacity to tolerate volumous activity. 
  • Most of the information on the market promotes large volumes of plyometric work. Most of these individuals are already getting a lot of plyometric work through their sport. This ultimately means they end up focusing 90% of their training in an area where they should be only be focusing 10%. 

Along the same lines, there is a substantial number of people who have the exact opposite problem. Instead of training with too much volume, too much conditioning, and too much plyo work, they do the exact opposite – They focus all their time and energy on strength work yet have no conditioning, no movement efficiency, and their body-fat is too high. This is the type of cat you usually hear say something like, “Well I put 100 pounds on my squat yet can’t jump any higher now than I did.” What they fail to mention is they piled on 20 pounds of body-fat and never spent a single second playing any sports or carrying out any movement drills. 

Do any of those other gimmicks like jumpsoles and rubber bands work?

They might work but only for this reason: Let’s say I take a group of fat people and give them a fake magic pill and tell them the pill will make them lost 25 pounds in 3 months. I then take them out and run them 5 miles each and every day. Three months later all of them have lost 25 pounds. Was the pill responsible for the weight loss? No. they lost weight because they got up off their butt and exercised. All training gimmicks work the same way. All of them have workouts you have to do along with the gimmick and doing anything is better than nothing. 

How important are things like hyperplasia and fast twitch muscles?

Hyperplasia (the creation of new fibers) is of no relevance because the protein content (or size) of a muscle cell (not muscle) determines how much force that cell produces. Add up the total amount of protein in all cells and that determines maximal potential force production.

Let’s say you take 2 people and they each have 10 muscle fibers of the same size. Person A doubles the amount of fibers he has so that he has 20.

Person B doubles the size of the 10 that he has. What will the difference in force production be? None whatsoever. 

Fast twitch content is important in that fast twitch fibers reach max tension quicker. Thus, the more fast twitch muscle you have, the more force you will be able to generate in a rapid movement, but it’s only really important from a starting point. Let me explain: 

Let’s say your thighs measure 20 inches around and the muscle fiber distribution of them is 50% fast twitch and 50% slow twitch. That means of the total 20 inches of muscle in your thigh half is slow twitch and half is fast twitch. 

Let’s say your best friend Jack has thighs that measure 20 inches around and he’s 75% fast twitch and 25% slow twitch.

Even though you guys have the same size thighs, Jack is likely to have an advantage in power, speed and strength over you. You’re more likely to be geared towards marathon running and the like. So, how can you increase your fast twitch content to that of Jack’s? Well, what muscle fiber type gets targeted with resistance training? The fast twitch fibers. This means that when you increase your muscle size through weight training it is the fast twitch muscles that increase in size. 

So, let’s say you resistance train your way to 30 inch thighs. In going from 20 inches to 30 inches the size of your existing fast twitch fibers doubled or even tripled. So, even though the total “number” of fibers in your thighs may not change, by doubling or tripling the size of your existing fast twitch fibers, now the total distribution in your thigh is 75% fast twitch and 25% slow twitch. Now you will be geared more towards functioning like an explosive athlete. 

How important is flexibility training? Khadour Zhiani says that all he does is flexibility training.

A minimum level of flexibilty is necessary, but too much is just as bad as too little. As for Khadour Zhiani, see the above description of the guy with 20 inch legs and a 75% Fast twitch ratio. Couple that with 5% body-fat and a perfect bone and tendon structure and you could get results sitting on your ass playing video games. 

Here is a good pre-workout Dynamic flexibility routine:

Here is a good post-workout static flexibility routine:

How important is nutrition for gains in vertical?

What kind’ve nutrition plan do you think guys like Vince Carter, Michael Jordan, Spud Webb or (insert whomever you want here) are on? Most good athletes eat copious amounts of food. Usually a significant portion of that food is made up of items that aren’t necessarily concluded super clean. Afterall, McDonalds was the fare of choice at the last olympic games.

From a performance perspective it is important that you get enough of the basic macronutrients – protein (check out Nitrean Protein for a high quality protein supplement) and carbohydrates. As the above example should illustrate, where you get those macronutrients is not really important – at least not in the short-term. KFC vs Chicken breasts?? Thirty years down the road there might be a negative impact but in the short term the body can run off anything. 

However, when it comes to making changes in your body composition (losing fat or gaining muscle), what you eat is more important for the following reasons:

  1. Losing fat is mostly about reducing calorie intake. The problem with most standard diets is it’s very easy to consume an excessive amount of calories and thus easier to put on and/or lose fat. What is harder to overeat on – apples or poptarts? Additionally, it’s difficult to drop calories and stay somewhat full when your diet is made up of pop tarts, cokes, kiddie cereal, and big-macs. 
  2. Gaining lean muscle mass without piling on an excessive amount of fat requires a good protein to calorie ratio. The average diet is terrible in this regard. I like a protein intake of 1 to 1.5 grams per pound of Bodyweight. Let’s say we have a 150 pound athlete trying to consume a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. The standard American diet is about 15% protein. That means if he took in 3000 calories he’d be getting 110 grams protein. That protein to calorie ratio is too low. At 3000 calories he oughta easily be able to get in 200 grams of protein. 

I usually tell people to try and make a gradual change to a better diet. Try to eat more of things you can shoot or grow and try to consume less of the things that are in a box or processed. 

Here’s why I suggest a gradual change: What often happens is a young person starts reading about nutrition and suddenly thinks that they have to have a perfect diet. So, someone who’s used to eating kiddie cereal, pop-tarts, fast food, McDonalds, KFC, etc. gets on an ultra strict plan and now all he’s eating are egg whites, oatmeal, chicken breast, salads, potatoes, and broccoli. What’s gonna happen? Nine times out of 10 he won’t get enough to eat and will feel like crap inside of a week. Strength and performance loss soon follows. The inevitable binge is the result. So, instead of making wholesale overnight changes in your diet I suggest you make gradual changes to more of a natural diet. 

Most young people that need to lose weight can drop all the fat they need just by cutting back on what I call the “C’s”. Cokes, candies, cakes, crackers, cereal, ice (c)ream. 

What about post-workout recovery drinks? Is there really a window where the body can absorb more nutrients and can they really impact recovery that much?

There is a period post-workout when the body can make use of more nutrients but it has really been overblown by supplement companies. As long as you take in protein and carbs within a couple of hours after your workout it really doesn’t matter if you get them through a drink or food. 30-50 grams of protien and 50-100 grams of carbs is about right. Drinks can be convenient particularly if you’re not hungry afterwards but I recommend you take in the bulk of your nutrition through real food. 

As for postworkout nutrition and the belief that taking in certain nutrients, drinks, etc will allow your muscles to recover faster so you can train more often, this is also overblown. Whenever you train you deplete muscle glycogen (carbohydrate) stores. Having full glycogen stores means your muslces have the energy required to fuel intense contractions. Depleted glycogen stores make you weak. A 200 pound man probably has about 500 grams of glycogen stored throughout his entire body. Even if all those stores were depleted, they can be repleted with one day of high carbohydrate eating. The question is: 

  • How much glycogen is depleted through “normal” workouts?
  • How long does it take to replete glycogen stores from normal workouts?
  • Are glycogen depletion and repletion the limiting factors from a recovery standpoint? 

A typical workout might deplete 50-100 or so grams of glycogen. A marathon might deplete 500 grams. Most likely your workouts are more “typical” then that of a marathon runner. If a marathon runner can refill 500 grams of depleted glycogen stores in 24 hours how long do you think it’ll take you to replete 50-100 grams? An hour? 2 hours? 4 hours? The point is, the ability to replete depleted glycogen stores between workouts is not much of a limiting factor. 

So why is it difficult to train and perform 100% day after day after day? 

The fact is, things like microtrauma (muscle damage) and nervous system fatigue induced from your workouts are more limiting from a recovery standpoint than repletion of glycogen stores (which is what supplement companies focus on). The damage inflicted to your muscles during your workouts is the reason why it’s hard to repeat balls to the wall workouts one day after the other. Your muscles need time to repair themselves. The best thing you can do to ensure proper muscular repair and neural recovery are:

  1. Get enough sleep
  2. Eat adequate calories
  3. Make sure you rest long enough in between workouts

There are a few other things you can do like using saunas, contrast showers, and ice baths that can help improve recovery to a minimal extent, but rest is far and away the most important thing. Typical recommendations are 7-8 hours of sleep per night and enough recovery time between workouts so that you note progress in some fashion most of the time you repeat a particular workout. If you’re not strong in a workout that usually means you’re not recovered. 

What about olympic lifts? Olympic lifters always jump very high and I heard the lifts are excellent for VJ development.

Olympic lifters jump high because they’re strong and explosive. The O-lifts don’t do anything special themselves but, just like plyometrics, jump squats, and other explosive oriented movements, they can help an athlete express the strength they have quicker. In my setup the O-lifts can be used as an exercise choice if an explosive oriented movement is needed. There is nothing inherently special about them but they are an effective tool in the tool-box. 

Lastly, If you are looking for a complete guide to improving your vertical jump, check out my Vertical Jump Manual

Written by Kelly Baggett

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Everything you wanted to know to increase your Vertical Jump discussion thread.

How to Coax 30lbs Out of Your Bench Press

Are you having trouble putting poundage on your bench press? Let me assure you that you’re not alone.

Besides people asking me how they can improve their vertical jump, or get big, or get lean, or get fast, the most common question I get is people asking me what to do about their bench press.

Let me ask you this: How many consistent squatters do you hear complain about not being able to make gains on their squat? How many consistent deadlifter’s do you hear complain about not being able to make gains on their deadlift?

If you hear the same things I do your answer is probably going to be, “Not very many!” I simply don’t see or hear from many people who squat and deadlift consistently who are unable to make gains on those lifts.

Now here’s another question for you. How many consistent benchers do you hear complain about not being able to make consistent gains on their bench?

Now that question yields a different response doesn’t it? More then any other lift the “bench” is the big one that everybody desires. It’s also the one that the average trainee has the most problems with. Now think about this. Why is it that average trainees (I’m not referring to powerlifters here), have so many problems making any sort of consistent progress on their bench, yet their squats and deadlifts go up easily? Think about that for a second. Ok. Now a couple of more questions:

Illustration of the Problem

How many people would be capable of training their legs the way the average trainee trains their chest? By this I mean, how many people do you see performing forced reps on each and every set of squats? How many people do you see performing a leg workout consisting of 5 sets of 8 squats, often with forced reps on 2 of those sets, followed by 4 sets of 8 hack squats, followed by 4 sets of 15 leg presses, followed by 3 sets of 20 leg extensions? How many people do you see perform a workout like the one I just described who come in the gym the next day and perform a similar workout using the deadlift and other exercises for the backside of the body? You won’t see that very often, if at all, yet you will see people who come in the gym every Monday and perform exactly what I just described for their upper body. They’ll do 4 sets of 8 benches with forced reps on at least 2 of those sets. They’ll follow this up with 4 sets of 8 incline dumbbell presses, followed by decline presses or dips, followed by a fly movement.

You’ll see these same people come in the next day and do basically the same thing for “back” or “shoulders”. Now, you might not be doing that much volume, but chances are what I’m describing isn’t all that far off. I’ve even seen plenty of high school and even collegiate coaches recommend a routine very similar to what I just described. You could even cut the volume in half and it would still be about twice as much as the average lifter uses on lower body. Hell, no wonder everybody’s bench is stuck.

The Problem – Defined

The problem is simple and let me sum it up. The reason many people get stuck on their bench is because they kill their upper body pressing muscles with too much volume and fatigue in pursuit of hypertrophy. Now there’s nothing wrong with getting huge. The problem is, everybody wants a huge upper body but there is a difference in training for a “huge” upper body and a “strong” upper body. Strength training is not size training. Yes, strength correlates with size and size correlates with strength but they do not share a completely linear correlation. In other words, the training necessary to stimulate optimum hypertrophy is generally too much volume to stimulate strength gains optimally. Your nerves fire your muscles and the junction that joins your nervous system to the muscle (the neuromuscular junction), can easily become overworked. Muscles themselves can withstand much more high intensity stress then the nervous system that controls those muscles.

In order to “tear down” a lot of muscle (necessary for hypertrophy), your nerves and your neuromuscular junctions have to fire first. Since the threshold for their fatigue is generally less then the muscle itself, they get chronically drained. Thus, making consistent strength gains often becomes a difficult process for those who train on a typical American format. Therefore, to maximize strength you need to train for it. Training for it means more of a focus on the load being lifted and minimal muscle fatigue instead of a focus on generating the most muscle fatigue possible.

Upper Body is Easy – Leg Training Hurts

This isn’t much of a problem with leg training because it’s so painful and the volume necessary to generate lots of nervous system fatigue requires more pain and gut busting work then most people are apt to perform. However, upper body training is relatively easy and even the scrawniest outfit will perform an upper body workout with enough volume to leave aspects of his nervous system as beat as a bowl of mashed rice. Think about it. When was the last time you saw a 450 + lb bencher doing forced reps on each and every set with their partner yelling “It’s all you man!” When was the last time you saw the 135 lb benchers doing that? When was the last time you saw a really strong bencher run through the typical bodybuilding “chest” workout every Monday of bench presses, incline DB presses, decline presses, and flyes? You’ll rarely, if ever, see that. When the strong guys train they complete their repetitions and, compared to a bodybuilder, they use a low volume of specific work generally training the entire upper body in on session. They’ll use a couple compound movements and a few isolation exercises.

Do you think maybe the reason people make consistent gains in squat and deadlift is because they’re not pounding the working muscles into total submission? They do enough work to “stimulate”, but not to “annihilate”. Now what if we took that same approach and applied it to our bench press?

Stimulation vs Annihilation

If you want a strong bench you have to “coax” your muscles, not punish them into submission. The acquisition of strength is a skill that requires “practice” lifting heavy loads, which requires a fairly fresh nervous system.

What I have here is just the workout for all those “stuck benches” out there. It’s a 6-week routine that should add a minimum of 20 lbs to your bench. It’s a simple scheme that “coaxes” your muscles and allows you to zero in on your target. I did a routine nearly identical to this one 11 years ago and it worked beautifully. At the time I didn’t know why it worked I just knew it did. Over the years I’ve had many other people use a version of it and it’s never failed to generate impressive bench press increases without a lot of complexity or guesswork.

Before I get into the specifics let me give you a few options for setting up your training split. The split can be quite flexible and chances are you don’t have to get far away from the split you’re currently using. The best thing for all you pump lovers is you can still continue to generate some productive hypertrophy.

Option 1

Train your entire upper body in one workout and have another day for legs. This option would look something like this:

Day 1- Upper Body Day

  • Bench routine – described below
  • Horizontal rowing movement- (t-bar row, seated row, single arm dumbbell row) – 4-5 x 6-8
  • Shoulder lateral movement- (side laterals, front laterals) – 2-3 x 12-15
  • Assistance bench or chest movement (flat or incline dumbbell press, dumbbell fly) – 4 x 6-8
  • Triceps movement- (pushdown, decline extension) 3-4 x 8-10

Day 3- Lower Body – Your choice – Feel free to perform vertical jump, speed, or whatever training you need to for your lower body on this day in addition to or in place of weights. Add a biceps movement if you feel the need to.

Train every other day alternating between the 2 workouts so that you hit upper body every 4th day and lower body every 4th day.

Option 2

Train pushing muscles one day and pulling muscles with legs on another day. This option might look something like this:

Workout 1- Push

  • Bench routine- described below
  • Dumbbell press- 4 x 6-8
  • Semi-supinated dumbbell overhead press – 4 x 6-8
  • Triceps push down- 4 x 8-10

Workout 2- Pull/Legs

  • Optional plyometric, vertical jump, or speed training
  • Wide Grip chin- 4 x 6-8
  • Single arm dumbbell row- 3 x 8-10
  • Bicep movement – 3-4 x 8-10
  • Squat – 4 x 5
  • Romanian Dead lift + shrug – 4 x 8

Perform each workout twice per week at your convenience. What follows is an example:

  • Mon- workout 1
  • Tues- workout 2
  • Wed- off
  • Thurs- workout 1
  • Fri- off
  • Sat- workout 2
  • Sun- off
  • Mon- Start over

The Cure

OK. Now here’s the actual bench workout itself. It will consist of 12 workouts. Each time you train the upper body pushing muscles, you will do one of these workouts on the bench press itself. On these days, the only other exercises that are mandatory are one bench assistance or chest movement for 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps (flat dumbbell presses, flyes etc.) and one triceps movement for 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps. (pushdowns, extensions, etc.) Alternate your assistance or chest exercises. Use an isolation chest exercise such as flyes one workout and then use a compound pressing movement such as dumbbell presses the following workout. Stay a rep or 2 shy of failure on all assistance movements. Let yourself fully rest in between sets.

Workout Sets and Reps Percentage
1 8, 6, 5 65,70,75
2 5,3,1 70,80,90
3 8,6,5 65,70,85
4 5,3,1 75,85,90
5 6, 5, max reps* 75, 85, 85
6 3, 2, Iso hold at midpoint** 85, 95, 105
7 5, 5, max reps 75, 90, 90
8 3, 2, Iso hold at midpoint 85, 100, 110
9 5, 5, max reps 80, 90, 90
10 3, 1, Iso hold at midpoint 95, 105, 115
11 5, 5, max reps 85, 95, 95
12 3, 2, 1 95, 105, 110

* Use the same weight you use in set #2 and perform as many reps as possible. If you do 8 or more, then in your next workout base your percentages off a load 5 lbs heavier then your original. If you do 3 or less base your percentages off a load 5 lbs lighter then your original.

** Here you’ll perform an isometric hold at the midpoint. Make sure you use a spotter. Unrack the weight, lower to the midpoint of the movement where your arms are roughly parallel to the floor, and attempt to hold the weight at the midpoint for 5 seconds. Try to resist the load as you fatigue. Have a spotter help you re-rack the weight.

Before you start the workout you will need to determine your 1RM in the bench press. To determine your training weights just take your max and multiply it by the percentages listed in column 3. For example, let’s say your max bench was 200 lbs. That means your first workout would look like this:

Workout 1

  • 130 x 8 (65%)
  • 140 x 6 (70%)
  • 150 x 5 (75%)

In Workout 5 you’ll notice an asterisk that says “max reps”. This means you will use the same load as you did in set 2 and try to perform as many reps as possible. If you achieve 8 or more reps assume a 5 lb increase in your max bench and use that weight to figure your percents.

Let’s say our 200 lb. Bench presser achieve 8 reps on set 3 in workout 5. In workout 6 he would assume a 205 lb max bench instead of 200. So his training weights in workout 6 would be:

Workout 6

  • 174.25 x 3 (round-up to 175)
  • 184.50 x 2 (round-up to 185)
  • 215.24 x isometric hold (round down to 215)

You should always round to the closest multiple of 5. If he had achieved 3 reps or less on set 3 of workout 5 he would assume a max of 195.

Make sure you can complete all your sets and keep the bar speed as high as possible on all the sets except for the “max reps” and the “iso-holds”. This means if you can’t complete the required reps for the first 2 sets of any given workout you need to decrease the weight by at least 5 lbs.

At the conclusion of this 6-week specialization scheme you’ll want to spend a couple of weeks solidifying your gains. I recommend you keep the weights below 85% for a couple of weeks, for sets of up to 5 reps, and eliminate any highly intense methods like the iso holds and max reps. After a couple of weeks of maintenance training, a hypertrophy phase would be just the ticket.

Written by Kelly Baggett

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – How to Coax 30lbs Out of Your Bench Press
discussion thread

Developing Speed and increasing your Vertical Jump

Wanna jump higher? Well so does everyone!

In fact the questions I’m asked more then any other are, “What are the best exercises to improve my vertical jump and help me jump higher?” Or, “What are the best exercises to improve my speed?”

A lot of people think there’s some secret exercise or movement that will turn them into explosive superstars overnight. In truth, there is and that exercise is called consistency and hard work! If you aren’t willing to put forth consistent effort no single exercise will give you what you want.

Having said that, there are many quality exercises that will enable you to focus on the specific targets that your workouts must hit to help you run faster and jump higher. Hopefully in this article I can help save you gobbles of time in the process of achieving your performance goals.

Jump Higher and Run Faster – Make It Simple

In this article I’ll attempt to shed some light on these questions and help you avoid going round and round playing a game of pin the tail on the donkey searching for that elusive magic bullet promised to make you run faster and jump higher. I’ll give you some of the top exercises that have been proven to help thousands of upper level athletes jump higher and run faster. Instead of wasting your time I’ll break speed and the vertical jump down and show you the exact qualities your workouts must target, and then give you the secrets, or exercises, that will enable you to hit those targets and make the most of your training time.

Jump Higher and Run Faster – Do They Actually Correlate?

A lot of you may wonder if the exercises to improve one area (speed or jump) work to improve the other. Will jumping higher make you run faster and vice versa? Generally speaking, the answer to that question is yes. In fact, the ability to accelerate quickly and jump high correlate very well with each other. Any time you increase your vertical jump and train yourself to jump higher, you’ll nearly always notice you also get faster and vice versa. This is because the qualities of strength required to jump high and run fast are very similar. In fact, due to this, you can many times get faster without running, and jump higher without jumping, as long as you’re enhancing the type(s) of strength required in each through your training regimen.
To prove this all you have to do is take a look around. Have you ever seen a good sprinter who can’t jump high and a good leaper who’s slow as molasses? Me neither.

So What Is The Best Exercise To Jump Higher and Run Faster?

First, understand that there really can’t be a single best exercise for everyone because different training means have different effects. The type of strength that one person needs to run faster and jump higher may be the opposite of what another needs. For example, someone who’s lacking in basic strength will get great results with common strength exercises such as the squat. Another person might have plenty of strength, but not enough “spring”, so a more specific vertical jump exercise like depth jumps will be his best training tool while the squats will do far less.

To Jump Higher and Run Faster Realize That Different Exercises Have Different Effects

Understand that different training means have different influences on speed and vertical jumping ability. Running speed and jumping ability both require an athlete to display large amounts of power. Power is a combination of strength and speed.

To Run Faster and Jump Higher You Gotta Get Powerful

Power = Strength x Speed

When performing a sprint, think of “power” as the amount of force that you apply into the ground with each stride. If you watch a sprint in slow motion, basically what a sprinter does is “jump” down the track. Obviously the greater the force, the more ground you’re going to cover with each stride. This is what is responsible for your stride length. Your stride length is then combined with your stride frequency, or, the speed at which you cycle your legs when you sprint, to determine your running speed. So, you can increase your speed by either increasing your stride length or increasing your stride frequency with the largest potential increases coming from an increase in stride length, where power is of utmost importance.

Jumping Higher – The Simple Science

In the vertical jump, you can again think of power as the amount of force you put into the ground at toe-off, which is responsible for the speed at which you leave the ground and the ultimate height of your jump. The more power you apply with respect to your body weight – the higher you’re going to jump – And with respect to technique – that’s about all there is to it to get you jumping higher!

Time Of Force Application

Realize in a sprint you have anywhere from .10 to .20 seconds to apply maximal power with each foot-strike. As you accelerate you have about .20 seconds but as you gain top speed and your stride frequency increases your legs naturally move faster so you only have about .10 seconds when running at top speed.
In the vertical jump you only have about .20 seconds to apply max power and jump as high as possible. This is why the ability to jump high and the ability to accelerate quickly have such a good correlation.

Strength Qualities

In order to display optimal levels of power so that you can cover ground like a speeding bullet or jump higher then you ever imagined, you obviously must have good levels of strength and speed. This is influenced by the following strength qualities.

Limit Strength – This is the amount of force you can apply irrespective of time. Limit strength can also be thought of as the strength of your muscles when speed of movement is of little consequence. Lifting maximal weights such as performing a 1 repetition max in the bench press or squat will test your limit strength capacity.

Attention should be paid to developing limit strength in the muscles of the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings and lower back as these are the most important muscle groups for sprinting and jumping.

These are your “jump higher and run faster” muscles. The muscles of the hip extensors should be given special attention because they are usually the weak links in the large majority of athletes. These muscles are the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.

Explosive Strength – Refers to the ability to develop max force in minimal time without the use of the plyometric stretch-reflex. Jumping from a paused position and sprinting out of the blocks both require nearly pure explosive strength because you don’t have the luxury of winding up and utilizing plyometric ability like you would if you took a big run-up before jumping, or a lead-in to a sprint.

Explosive strength relies on starting strength, which is the ability to “turn on” as much force as possible in the first .03 seconds of movement.

In order to develop maximal force in minimal time you obviously must have enough raw force or strength to draw from or to tap into quickly. This is why limit strength serves as the foundation for explosive strength. A rocket with a 5 HP motor isn’t going anywhere! Likewise, an athlete who can only apply 100 lbs of force isn’t gonna be jumping very high either regardless of how fast he applies that force.

Reactive strength
– Is displayed when your muscle/tendon complex is stretched prior to contracting and is otherwise known as plyometric strength, reversal strength, reflexive strength, rebound strength etc. This type of strength is evident when you perform a quick countermovement (bend down) before jumping. You can jump higher that way then you can by pausing and then trying to jump can’t you? Here’s why. The countermovement quickly stretches the tendons throughout your lower body. This allows your muscles and tendons to gather energy and create recoil like a rubber band. This reflexive/reactive response occurs very quickly whereas a voluntary response to muscle stretch would be too late. Reactive ability enhances the force you can generate in the first .10 seconds of movement by anywhere from 200-700%!

With each stride and foot contact of a sprint the same thing happens as your achilles tendon stretches and recoils back like a spring or rubber band. The stretching reflex responds to the speed at which your muscle/tendon complex is stretched prior to movement. Try to very, very slowly bend down before jumping and you’ll see what I mean. The faster and greater the stretch the greater the corresponding reactive force. This is why you’ll notice people who are excellent jumpers descend down quickly and sharp in their countermovement. They create greater force in one direction, that can then be transformed into force in the other direction as they explode up with a powerful jump. When your reactive ability is good, the more force you can take in, the more force you can put out. Guys with subpar leaping ability have a hard time utilizing reactive force in the hips and quads so they don’t perform the countermovement with near the velocity, smoothness, and proficiency. Fortunately this can be improved.

Jumping High and Running Fast are Largely Involuntary Activities

Most of the force generated from reactive contractions is involuntary, that is, you don’t have to think about it. This is why you can bounce a lot more weight when doing a bench press then you can whenever you pause a maximum weight on your chest before lifting it – even without really trying to. It’s also why you jump higher when you “bounce” down and then up. We tend to use reactive force naturally whenever we are given the opportunity to do so and do it without thinking about it. In fact, one of the ways you can improve reactive ability is simply to avoid screwing it up. It’s there naturally and all training should enhance it and not detract from it. One of the ways you can screw it up is with bodybuilding style training – which basically teaches your body to do the reverse of what it’s programmed to do. This is going to go against what you’ve heard but cheating, bouncing, and accelerating a weight through the sticking point are all natural occurrences and utilize and enhance reactive ability. You can detract from this with an over-reliance on prolonged eccentric training and slow training.

How to Jump Higher and Run Faster – In a Nutshell

So, to quickly recap, the power in the vertical jump and sprint come from a combination of explosive strength and reactive strength – with limit strength serving as the foundation for both. When you put the 3 together you get what is known as your static-spring proficiency. A static-spring proficient athlete is otherwise known as a spectacular athlete.

Think of basic strength as the unseen concrete foundation of a house and your reactive strength and explosive strength as the result of that foundation (your beautiful home) that everyone sees. In a static-spring proficient athlete you see the end result, the ease of movement, speed, and jumping ability, but you don’t necessarily “see” the foundation behind that.

If you’re someone without a solid foundation you must train with slow heavy weight strength exercises to build that foundation, along with using explosive strength and reactive strength exercises to enhance power or the display of your foundation. If you are already fairly advanced then all you have to do is determine which part of your power pyramid is the weak link (limit strength, explosive strength, or reactive strength), and address the deficiency accordingly. Repeat this process consistently and you’ll soon be jumping higher and running faster then you ever imagined.

Classifying Jumping and Speed Improvement Exercises

Now I’ll break the training methods down into categories of limit strength exercises, explosive strength exercises, and reactive strength exercises and show you the top exercises from each category that’ll get you jumping higher and running faster. Really there are countless exercises that are all effective, but these exercises will give you a lot of value for your training dollar.

Limit Strength Exercises

The goal of limit strength exercises is to simply increase the force or strength producing capabilities of your muscles. Progress will be evident in the amount of weight you can move in basic movements. The goal here is not to try to necessarily “mimick” sports movements, but rather just to increase the contractual force producing capabilities of the muscles that are involved in the sporting movements. Whenever you perform limit strength exercises the repetition scheme can vary, but in general, the total length of the set should be kept under 25 seconds.

Full Back Squat – There should be no real reason to have to describe this exercise but make sure you descend down to parallel or below. This exercise works all the major muscle groups we need for speed and vertical jumipng ability and is a foundation for anybody who wants to jump higher and run faster. Perform for 3-8 repetitions per set.

Deadlift – Simply load up a bar and bend down, grab the bar, and pick it up while keeping your back straight and using the power of your glutes and hamstrings to initiate the movement. Deadlifts are a superior strengthening exercise for the glutes and hamstrings and also develop whole body power through their influence on the traps, grip, and upper back. This also makes some version of deadlifts a necessity for anyone who wants to jump higher and run faster. For extra hip and hamstring recruitment, try performing deadlifts with a wide grip while standing on a box. Perform 3-8 repetitions per set.

1/2 Deadlift – This is like the deadlift but instead of starting from the ground you place the bar in a power rack or on boxes set just below the knee level. Again grip the bar and keeping your back straight or arched concentrate on squeezing with your glutes and hamstrings to pull the bar up. It also helps if you think of yourself as a bull pawing the ground down and back with your feet. Your feet won’t actually move but thinking of this action will correct your form and make sure you place stress on the appropriate musculature.

Split Squat – This is basically a single leg squat, with the non-working leg elevated on a bench behind you. Perform this exercise by holding a dumbell in each hand or with a barbell on your back, descend until the back knee touches the floor and then explode back up to the start position. This exercises torches the glutes, hamstrings, and vastus medialis while also developing flexibility in the hip flexors. I’ve yet to see anyone who wanted to jump higher or run faster who didn’t respond very quickly to this exercise. It’s definitely one of my favorites. Perform 5-15 repetions per set.

Good Morning
– Start off in a squat position with a barbell on your back placed down low on your traps – next arch your back keep your chest up and push your hips back as far as possible. As you do this your upper body will descend forward and you will feel a stretch in your glutes and hamstrings. Dig down and back with your feet to rise to the starting position. Perform 5-10 repetitions per set.

Glute Ham raise
– If you don’t have a glute ham apparatus you can always do these the old fashioned way. Find someone or something to hold your feet down while you place your knees on a pad of some sort. Next starting from the top arch your back, keep your chest out and control the downward descent. You will feel this extensively in the hamstrings. Next, try to pull yourself up with your hamstrings but assist yourself with your hands as much as you need. Remember the hamstrings are essential for anyone who wants to run faster or jump higher. The glute-ham is the kind of all direct hamstring exercises. Perform 5-15 repetitions per set.

Explosive Strength Exercises

The goal of explosive strength exercises is to either perform the movement with more speed, or with more height. For example, instead of squatting with heavy weight we’ll get you jumping with weights. You simply try to jump higher while squatting with light to moderate weights. Generally, speed of movement, especially the beginning of the movement, is more important than the load involved when it comes to these exercises. Explosive strength movements focus on developing maximal starting and explosive strength, without much involvement of the reflexive stretch-shortening cycle (reactive strength). They inherently make you focus on applying max voluntary force as quickly as possible.

Box Squat – Using a wide stance sit back on a box just below parallel and pause before each repetition. Use a load equivalent to 50-60% of your best back squat and explode up trying to use your hips and hamstrings. You can also execute these with bands and chains for added effect. Perform anywhere from 2-5 reps per set.

Paused Jump Squat – Use a load of 15-30% of your max squat. Descend down just above parallel, pause for 3 seconds and then jump as high as possible. Not only are jump squats fun but they are also very effective for jumping higher and running faster. Perform 5-10 reps per set.

Jump Shrug
– This is a lead in to a clean or snatch movement. Starting from either the floor, or from the “hang” position, explode up initiating the movement with your legs and hips. As you extend your hips and start to leave the floor follow through by shrugging your shoulders up. Re-set in between reps. Perform 3-6 repetitions per set.

Clean and Snatch Variations
– These movements are explosive by nature and in order to perform them correctly you must instantly be able to develop maximum force. They also heavily involve the hip extensors, which are key for speed and jumping ability. Olympic lifts have long been used to help athletes run faster and jump higher. Explaining the movements is beyond the scope of this article but if you can perform them correctly you can work them into your program. Perform 2-5 reps per set.

Standing Broad Jumps – Simply jump as far out as you can for distance and try to have a mark to shoot for. Pause momentarily between repetitions. Perform 3-5 reps per set.

On-Box Jumps – Find a box, stand in front of it, and then jump onto it and then step off and repeat. As you develop the capacity to jump higher you can challenge yourself 2 ways. Either jump onto a low box trying to bend the legs as little as possible, or find a high box that requires you to really give it all you’ve got. Perform 3-8 reps per set.

1-leg Split Squat Jumps – This exercise is another favorite of mine for jumping higher. Stand to the side of a box with one leg on the box and the other leg on the ground. Next, quickly straighten the leg that’s on the box and attempt to elevate yourself as high as possible by pushing off with the lead leg. Pause momentarily between repetitions. Complete all the reps for one leg before moving on to the other leg. Vary the height of the box to focus on different areas. You can also add weight to these by holding light dumbells. Perform 5-10 repetitions per leg.

Hurdle Jumps
– Line up a row of hurdles or other barriers and jump over them one after the other, pausing momentarily in between each repetition. If you only have one such hurdle or object you can simply jump then turn around and jump again etc. Make the exercise more challenging the same way you did in the on-box jumps. Challenge yourself to jump higher by using a higher hurdle, or jump higher with more clearance between you and the hurdle you’re jumping over. Perform 3-8 reps per set.

Reactive Strength Exercises

Reactive strength exercises generally consist of jumps. The goal with the reactive strength exercises is to execute the movements with either less time spent on the ground or by jumping higher. Each exercise and repetition places a premium on stretching of the muscle-tendon complex, which will boost your reactive/reflexive capacities by increasing your ability to absorb force, stabilize force, and reflexively react to that force. These movements allow you to take advantage and build upon the reflexive forces that come from the plyometric effect. They are essential for anyone wanting to jump higher and run faster.

Ankle Jumps – An ankle jump is performed jumping off of the ground in rhythm by just springing off your ankles. While you’re in the air you want to pull your toes up. You also must prevent your heels from ever touching the ground. The key to this exercise lies in your ability to keep your knees locked while jumping and landing on and off the ground, as well as spending the least amount of time on the ground as possible. Over time you’ll find you can jump higher and higher using just your ankles. Perform 20 reps per set.

Shock Jumps
– Also known as depth landings or altitude drops. What you do here is find a box equivalent to about the height of your best vertical jump. Next, step off the box and upon contact instantly try to absorb the impact without any movement and without letting your heels touch the ground. Picture a gymnast landing from a vaulting maneuver. You want to land in a powerful, yet quiet manner. You can continue to increase the height of the box until you can no longer land smooth and quiet. Don’t jump high off the box simply step off the box. You can perform these by landing in a slight knees bent position, or by landing in a deeper squat position. The more knee bend the more the hamstrings and glutes are involved. Reactive strength improves as the speed of stretch increases, so you can increase the effectiveness even more by attaching elastic bands to the ground which then attach to your belt. Perform 3 reps per set.

Depth Jumps – A depth jump is a carryover from a shock jump and is performed by stepping off the box and then exploding upward, jumping as high as possible, upon ground contact. Try to keep the ground contact time short while jumping higher and higher. To find the correct height for you, simply find the height that allows you to jump the highest after you step off the box. So, if you jump 22 inches from a 12 inch box, 30 inches from an 18 inch box and 28 inches from a 24 inch box the 30 inch box would be the correct height since it allowed you to jump higher after ground contact. If you find you can actually jump higher from the ground then you can by preceding your jump with a depth jump then you need to spend some time engaging in shock jumps before you perform this exercise. An advanced form of depth jumps calls for attaching stretch-bands to your body to increase your velocity as you descend, and then having the tension released as you begin your jump. Recall that concentric force increases as the speed of the stretch increases. This is probably the ultimate reactive technique but is an advanced exercise. Perform 3 reps of depth jumps per set.

Reactive Squats – This is a rhythmic jump squat variation and calls for you to jump higher over a full range of motion while using weight. From the upright squat position pull the bar securely down on your shoulders and quickly descend down into a 1/2 squat position and bounce back up attempting to jump. If you do the movement correctly you should feel a stretch on the muscles of your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes as you absorb, stabilize, and react to the oncoming force. Use weight anywhere from 15-50% of your maximum squat. Perform 5-10 reps per set

Reverse Hyper Extension
– The reverse hyper is a true gift for anyone wanting to jump higher and run faster. This movement works hip extension hitting the hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors all during the course of one rep. If you don’t have a reverse hyper device you can get backwards in a back raise or glute-ham machine and apply load by placing a rope or chains strung through weights around your ankles. To initiate the movement raise your legs up to parallel. You should feel a strong contraction in your glutes and hamstrings. Next, quickly allow your legs and the weight to fall and then about 2/3 of the way down regather tension and explode back up. This creates a reactive contraction in the hip extensors. Perform 8-15 reps per set.

Sprints – Very few exercises are as inherently as reactive as sprints and if you’re wanting to increase your speed and run faster you’re going to need to work on your sprinting technique. I recommend you sprint with maximum speed only once per week. On one other day go out and warm-up and build up to about 70% of your max speed and work on some technique drills. Just don’t strain too much during your “easy” session. To increase your acceleration perform 3-5 sets of 3-5 30 yard sprints. To improve your maximum speed perform 3-5 sets of 3-5 60 yard sprints. Sprints can also serve as an effective exercise for those who want to jump higher.

Vertical Jumps – There should be no real need to explain this one, but one of the best ways to improve your vertical jump is to practice jumping higher performing the actual vertical jump movement! You can use the vertical jump in place of a reactive exercise for vertical jump development. I like to use a “3-steps plus jump” approach. Find a high object you can use as a goal or mark to shoot for. Next take 3 quick steps, jump stop, and attempt to jump up and touch the object. Chart your progress and try to jump higher over time. Perform 3 reps per set with maximum effort.

Jump Higher and Run Faster – The Recipe For Success

A surefire method to make sure you’re jumping higher and running faster is very simple and consists of 3 things.

  1. Get your limit strength exercises heavier.
  2. Get your explosive strength exercises faster.
  3. Get to where you’re jumping higher on your reactive strength exercises.

If you do all 3 of these you can’t help but improve your ability to jump higher and run faster! If you do even one of them you will still notice substantial improvement.

How to Structure a Routine to Jump Higher and Run Faster

If you want an idea how to set up a convenient training split simply select one exercise from each category at each training session for a frequency of twice per week. Just make sure you have one weighted squat variation in either the limit strength or explosive strength category each workout.

Limit Strength Exercise

Pick 1 and perform 5-6 sets of whatever repetition scheme is outlined for the particular exercise.

Explosive Strength Exercises

Pick 1 and perform 6 sets of whatever repetition scheme is outlined for the particular exercise.

Reactive Strength Exercises

Pick 1 and perform 6 sets of whatever is listed for the particular exercise you choose.

If you wish to address certain deficiencies you can simply increase the volume for a particular strength quality. For example, if you know you’re strength deficient, instead of performing 1 limit strength exercise you might perform 2, and then only perform 1 reactive strength exercise and eliminate the explosive strength exercise. This will leave you with the same volume but a different training effect.

If you know you’re reactive deficient you can perform 2 reactive exercises along with 1 limit strength exercise and eliminate the explosive strength exercise.

These are just a few simple ways of incorporating these exercises. Any of these exercises can be incorporated into any training split with great efficiency and a big boost in your training economy, and I hope an even bigger boost in your training awareness on what it takes to jump higher and run faster.

For more rock solid information on vertical jump development check out my book – How To Jump Higher – The Vertical Jump Development Bible

Written by Kelly Baggett

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Developing Speed and Increasing your Vertical Jump discussion thread.

Simplifying How to Get Stronger

As a strength coach I am frequently asked if I have any certain strategies for gaining strength for sport that I find superior. To simplify the entire approach let me state that improving strength is really a matter of increasing 3 basic things.

These things are:

1. Increased movement efficiency

2. Increased motor unit recruitment

3. Increased muscle size

Increased movement efficiency

In strength training you do this by practicing the specific lifts. As you become more proficient at a lift your body learns how to accomplish the task easier. Simple enough. For an athlete, this part of improving strength is of little concern unless you are a competitive lifter and your sport involves lifting. If you’re an athlete your goal is to make the muscles stronger so that the increased “general” overall muscular strength transfers into your sporting performance. What does it matter if you increase a lift by 100 lbs if all that increase comes through an improvement in technique rather then an increase in the strength of the muscles? Only a stronger muscle will transfer into improved athletic performance.

However, in order to “make your muscles strong” so that you can transfer general strength into specific strength you have to be proficient enough at the lifts you’re performing that you “can” stress the muscle optimally, so technique is also necessary. To illustrate, a raw beginner thrown into the weight room won’t be proficient enough at performing an exercise like a squat to really stress his muscles. His form will break down long before the muscles are trained optimally.

Other activities or qualities that increase the efficiency of movement include stretching, practice, movement rehearsal, mental rehearsal, eliminating antagonistic inhibition, relative body strength, bodyfat %, soft tissue work etc.

Increasing muscular motor unit recruitment

This involves training your body to use all of the “potential” muscle strength it has in a given task. Muscle fibers are grouped under motor units with each motor unit controlling a number of muscle cells or fibers. When a motor unit receives the signal from your nervous system to fire then all the muscle fibers under control of that motor unit also fire.

So a muscle fiber or cell either fires all the way or not at all. Motor units are recruited on an “as needed” basis. When you lift a spoon to your mouth you signal your nervous system to “recruit” only a few motor units. When you curl a heavy weight you use a lot more. The more force required the more motor units you “turn on” and the more muscle cells you fire.

What’s interesting is that the average person is only capable of recruiting around 50% of their available motor units or using 50% of their “potential” strength in a given task. With training you can increase this to upwards of 90%. That means when you go in the gym and lift a 1rm load even though you’re straining as hard as you can you’re most likely not using anywhere near all your potential strength to lift that weight.

Think of motor unit recruitment as being very similar to “relative strength”, or strength per pound of bodyweight. Increasing relative strength means getting stronger without adding bulk. When you see someone who is “strong for their size” or a training technique that makes you “strong for your size” then know that that person has good motor unit recruitment abilities.

The Strength Deficit

The difference between one’s “potential” strength and “actual” strength is called the strength deficit. If we were to take any individual and ask the question “how strong could this person be with the amount of muscle size he currently has?” and then compare that potential level of strength to his current level of strength and figure the difference, the difference between the 2 is called the strength deficit. The bigger the deficit the more room for increased motor unit recruitment you have. The smaller the deficit the less room for additional motor unit recruitment you have. Obviously, you should strive to have as small of a strength deficit as possible.

  • A guy weighing 150 lbs who squats 400 lbs, runs a 4.3 40 yard dash and 40 inch vertical jump has a very small strength deficit.
  • A guy weighing 250 lbs who squats 200 lbs, runs a 5.5 40 yard dash and 20 inch vertical jump has a large strength deficit.
  • Other things that influence motor unit recruitment include increased arousal, focus, and ergogenic aids.

In a pure speed-strength activity in which the only load to overcome is one’s bodyweight, simply gaining strength is not enough. Studies have shown the key to running faster and jumping higher is relative strength and relative power, or force and power per pound of bodyweight. It isn’t merely the amount of force applied to the ground that increases speed, quickness or jumping ability; it’s the amount of force in relation to bodyweight.

If force alone was the major factor in speed, then a 400-pound man able to squat 700 pounds would win every race -but we know that’s not what happens. If we match our 400-pound behemoth against a 170-pound man who can squat 500 lbs, there’s no contest.

Big man loses. Why?

Relative force. The 400-pound man is generating a meager 1.75 times his bodyweight against the ground while our thin man is applying a whopping 2.94 times his bodyweight. Even though the big man can generate 40% more force, it pales compared to the thin man’s 68% greater relative force.

Increasing muscle size

Once you are able to recruit and use nearly all the muscle you have then the only way to improve is to increase the amount of horsepower that each contracting muscle cell generates. You do this by increasing the amount of protein contained in each muscle cell or, simply, get bigger muscles. When you do this a given motor unit will now put out more force when it fires since the muscle cells under it’s control are now bigger.

The 150 lb. guy in the example I used above can increase his performance by getting bigger muscles since he’s already most likely able to recruit nearly all his available motor units.

Some strength training techniques are better for increasing motor unit recruitment or relative strength, which again, is strength per lb of bodyweight. Whereas some strength training techniques are better at increasing the horsepower behind a firing motor unit, or giving you bigger muscles.

Strength training techniques that are good for increased motor unit recruitment and relative strength include:

  1. Low rep “relative” strength training protocols (<5 reps per set)
  2. Low volume protocols (<10 sets per session)
  3. Sets – might range from 3 to 8 for the primary exercise
  4. Frequency – at least twice per week

A lot of people like a heavy/light system with a heavy day on one day and a light day on another. Heavy might be 5-6X3 at a 4-5RM intensity, light might be 3-4X5 at a 6-8RM or even lighter (or speed work).

When performing low reps at low volume the muscle cells aren’t under enough prolonged tension to cause much muscular damage. The heavier loads involved with the lower reps train the nervous system to recruit more motor units.

For example, a max squat will make you stronger but tends not to do a whole lot for muscle size.

Training techniques that are good for improving the horsepower behind a firing motor unit include:

  1. Medium rep protocols (5-15 reps per set)
  2. Medium to high volume protocols (+ 10 sets per session)

When performing higher reps the muscle cells are under enough prolonged tension that you damage them. They respond by increasing their protein content, coming back a little bigger.

The extreme example of this type of training is bodybuilding training.

So, to sum it up we can say that:

Muscle strength = Ability to recruit motor units x size of the muscle fibers

Obviously, over the course of your training career, in order to get stronger you are going to need both more motor unit recruitment and bigger muscles. Most routines out there combine both as it’s about impossible to completely zero in on one or the other.

However, in general a set of a strength training exercise either focuses more on making you stronger or it focuses more on making you bigger. From now on before every workout and during the planning of a training cycle ask yourself, “How is this exercise going to improve my performance?”

General Guidelines

  • Performing sets of 3 reps in something like a squat exercise will be more effective at improving your relative strength and motor unit recruitment then performing sets of 5 reps will.
  • Performing sets of 5 reps will be more effective at making you bigger then performing sets of 3 reps will.
  • Performing sets of 10 reps will likely be more effective at making you bigger then sets of 3 or 5 reps will, if the number of sets are the same.
  • Performing sets of 5 reps will be more effective at making you bigger then performing sets of 10 reps, if the number of reps in a session are equal (6 sets of 5 vs 3 sets of 10)
  • Compound movements are superior to isolation movements for motor unit recruitment and muscle size
  • Trying to move a load as quickly as possible through the concentric (positive) portion of a lift works better for both increased motor unit recruitment and muscle size
  • Performing the eccentric (negative) phase of a movement slower works better for increasing muscle size
  • Performing the eccentric (negative) phase of a movement faster and firing out of the transition works better for increasing motor unit recruitment

If bodyweight is an issue, as it would be if you were a football player and need to get bigger, then your program should include both relative strength training methods and methods designed to increase your muscle size. Often a very thin individual will find the easiest path for them to gain relative strength is by increasing muscle size since the strength gains they make overwhelm their increased bodyweight. An individual in a sport like track and field can train strictly for relative strength most of the time.

Now let’s get to some specific examples.

The KISS relative strength training method – Keep it simple stupid!

Until you’ve developed a foundation there is no need to use advanced training techniques. A greater frequency of training works particularly well for beginners and novice athletes. They need to develop the “skill” of the particular movements they’re using and bridge the gap between their “actual” strength and “potential strength”.

For this type of trainee it can be beneficial to have 3 workouts per week using low reps. Unless you have at least 2 years of prior training experience I would use a split like the following:

Train 2-3 days per week and train the whole body at each session. Keep the total volume low.

Session A:

  • Dead lift
  • Bench press
  • Clean or Snatch
  • Ab movement

Session B:

  • Squat
  • Incline Press
  • Weighted Chin
  • Ab movement

*Alternate between session A & B.

Perform 2-3 sets of 2-3 reps, never to failure, using a step-type loading approach. Increase the weight for 3 consecutive workouts then decrease it for one and build back up.


  • session 1 – 100 x 2 x 3 (3 sets of 2 reps)
  • session 2 – 105 x 2 x 3
  • session 3 – 110 x 2 x 2
  • session 1 – 105 x 2 x 3
  • session 2 – 110 x 2 x 3
  • session 3 – 115 x 2 x 2
  • session 1 – 110 x 2 x 3
  • session 2 – 115 x 2 x 3
  • session 3 – 120 x 2 x 2

Good luck!

Written by Kelly Baggett

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Simplifying How to Get Stronger discussion thread.