Vertical Jump: The Surprising Way to Boost Your Fitness

Whether your goal is to dunk, spike, or just get a little more air time, here are 10 tips and techniques to get you off the ground.
Vertical Jump: The Surprising Way to Boost Your Fitness

What does it mean to be in shape? Is it short-shorts and stamina on the trails? Is it more plates on the squat rack than a Thanksgiving dishwasher? Well, you can have all of these and still lack the fast-twitch power it takes to have a good vertical leap. Exercises increasing your “vert” are also great for increasing cardiovascular endurance, boosting strength, and generally improving athleticism. Read on for 10 tips to fly higher (and get fitter at the same time).

Spring Training — Your Action Plan                                                                      

  1. Keep it simple. Before upping the ante, it’s important to have a strong foundation; that is, plenty of leg strength. While many vertical leap guides and tutorials provide countless, often intricate exercises in order to improve jump speed, agility, and overall vertical leap, the power’s simply got to be there first. So, if you can’t squat 1.5x your body weight (a good benchmark for strength, according to Greatist Expert and trainer Jordan Syatt), start with basic squats and related exercises, such as box jumps, deadlifts, and other exercises across the vertical plane. Those who are more advanced can then move to lateral and other more minor movements, Syatt suggests .
  2. Stretch it out. Athletes of all levels often underestimate the importance of stretching. But frequent static stretching has been found to increase vertical leap and other fast-twitch power exercises. Stretching increases range of motion (flexibility), which allows for further activation of muscle groups. Too much flexibility won’t help power, but a solid stretching routine will help vert Acute effects of antagonist stretching on jump height, torque, and electromyography of agonist musculature. Sandberg JBWagner DRWillardson JM, et al. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2012, 26(5):1249-56.. Those who think stretching is for yogis… might get dunked on by a yogi.
  3. Jump around. Jumping rope is believed to improve many athletic functions that lead to a higher vertical, such as explosiveness and timing. It also strengthens muscles in the lower legs that might not be as engaged during other exercises, such as squatting. Bonus: Jump ropes are cheap, portable, and light, and can be used virtually anywhere. And don’t just skip in place — try mixing in some trickier plyometric moves.
  4. Get up, get up, get down. While weighted squats can improve leg strength and help increase your vertical, all you really need is you. Weightless squat jumps are dynamic and athletic, improving strength through actual performance of jumps with maximum effort. Or, to kick things up a notch, try “The Hundo,” a popular squat jump variation where you perform 100 squats, jumping with maximum efforts every ten. This exercise can also help you work on your landing by adding turns and other tweaks.
  5. Don’t force it. Before and after we jump, we “coil” — or bend down — allowing us to transfer energy into and out of a jump. Greatist Expert and trainer Rob Sulaver says make sure you can manage the force before and after a jump by incorporating pauses. “Squat. Hold. Jump. is a good place to start,” he says.
  6. Put your hands up. Quick fixes are hard to come by, we know. And though research varies on how much arm swinging can impact maximum vertical leap, results consistently indicate that upper body training as well as proper arm-swinging technique can in fact increase maximum vertical leap The effects of arms and countermovement on vertical jumping. Harman, E.A, Rosenstein, M.T., Frykman, P.N., et al. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 1990, 22(6):825-33.. The key is to swing your arms downward during a pre-jump knee bend, in order to maximize the upward force created when you swing your arms upward during the jump itself. Exercises that enhance this motion include cleans and snatches and kettlebell swings (see #8).
  7. Go hard. A recent study has found that core training can help improve both maximum squat load and vertical leap The effects of isolated and integrated 'core stability' training on athletic performance measures: a systematic review. Reed CAFord KRMyer GD, et al. Sports Medicine, 2012, 42(8):697-706.. Oh, and it’s time to set one thing straight: abs are abs, and the core is much more (we’re not just talking six-packs, but also the obliques, lower back, and hips.) Exercises such as woodcutters and medicine ball slams are great for activating the core in ways that are useful for vertical leap. Perform these after more foundational exercises, such as squats and deadlifts, which engage other core areas as well.
  8. Start swinging. Kettlebell swings are great for getting up high because they involve dynamic weight transfer on planes that are similar to those during actual jumping. Also, kettlebell swings are low-impact and low-pressure in comparison to squats and other exercises.  
  9. Get low. All the above exercises mainly focus on the muscles above the knee. So what about the gears and tires down below? While it is beneficial to focus on muscles such as the calves, shins, and those in the feet, not too much time should be allocated to focusing specifically on these, as they’re all engaged and strengthened with virtually every vertical-increasing exercise. For a time-efficient approach to training these lower areas, start with calf raises and toe taps, which can be added to any workout, or super-setted.
  10. Think big. Not convinced vertical leap training should be part of your regimen? Well, you can train for strength, power, speed, or stamina, but for a solid combination of all of these, try diversifying your workout. (Check out Kelly Baggett’s Vertical Jump Development Bible for a wide variety of techniques.) Depending on your fitness level and goals, the key is mixing things up. (Sorry Ice Cube, life isn’t a track meet or a marathon. It’s both.)

Remember, not all of these techniques are best for everyone. Pick a few based on your goals, and be patient! Results won’t come overnight.

Do you have success stories or cautions regarding these training tips? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author at @justiNYte.

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