Jump to New Heights (Vertical Jump Part 2)

It sounds so simple. Jump as high as you can, and there you have it. But go ahead and try to turn your 21-inch vertical into 24 inches. Dare you shoot for the 30-inch mark?

There's no guarantee that you'll be throwing thunderous tomahawk dunks tomorrow or next week. But you can probably improve. A lot. And it's going to take more than those special training shoes or that key exercise.

You're going to need to approach your hops holistically. That's my intent with these ten components of your best vertical. They are listed from least- to most time commitment required for the payoff.

1. Form

If your form is less than perfect, you can expect to add an immediate inch or two by tidying up a few details.

-Stance Width: Don't take too wide of a stance. You're jumping, not power lifting, and the wide base of support effectively shortens the duration of time over which your legs can uncoil and apply force to the ground. Having the feet too narrow is far less common, but that error will make your launching muscles work just to balance you out. Placing the feet just barely inside shoulder width is usually about right.

-Arm Drive: Technically yes, you DO jump with your arms. They contribute roughly 20% of your height, so get use to throwing those babies down hard as you descend. Throwing them up hard usually comes naturally, but it will take just a bit of practice to get use to throwing them down hard and then timing the transition to accelerate up. Also, make sure you're reaching the hands up and slightly forward, as it's common to see people lose a bit from reaching back.

-If you're doing a vertical jump test where the feet must remain planted, take a mental "hop-step" as you initiate the descent before launching. It's not as good as a real hop step, but it places the achilles tendon and other leg muscles on a slight stretch, which gives you some free rebound elasticity.

2. Warm Up

Investing a few minutes in an appropriate warm-up will also add another inch or so to your vertical.

-Don't! If you want to introduce a lot of force-dampening slack into your muscle-tendon units, sit down and stretch your hips, hamstrings, and calves for nice long holds of at least a minute. On the other hand, if you want to go in to a max effort test with a cold body and sluggish brain, and possibly raise your injury potential, then don't warm up much at all.

Like this, but keep your chest up.

-You know what I just said about refraining from long static stretches?

Well, there's an exception. Almost everyone acquires some degree of tightness in the front of the upper legs - the hip joint capsule and the muscle group known as the hip flexors. The typical restriction here is an issue since those muscles work in direct opposition to the hip extensors, the primary drivers of jumping. Although the hip flexors have a role in running, they're not involved with generating jumping force. So stretch 'em long.

-The best way to warm up for a test of this nature is to simply raise your body temperature and amp your nervous system. Droning away for 5 minutes on a bike or stair climber is not the best way to prime the brain for a max effort test.

-It looks fairly ridiculous to put it into words, but an appropriate warm-up should look something like this:

Take a short jog around. 

Then run in place for ten or twenty seconds before shifting gears to drive your knees up toward your chest for ten reps or so. Then proceed to kick your heels hard toward your butt for ten reps or so. 

Then stand on one leg and give a little hop as you swing the other leg forward and backwards. 

Then maintain a slight bend in your hips and knees as you perform some max effort hops by moving just your feet and ankles. 

Do 5 or 10 reverse lunges on each leg, then 5 or 10 side lunges on each leg, exaggerating the reach out and then quickly pulling back to the standing position. 

Then hit those hip flexor holds for about 30 to 60 seconds each side.

If you feel like it, do 5 or 10 split jumps and ice skater (side-to-side) hops, followed by a few quick-feet agility type drills.

What was that, about 4 minutes of activity? You're not at all fatigued, but breaking a slight sweat, with a nervous system that is primed to balance, control, and accelerate your body mass.

-Here's a cool experiment for those who are equipped, fairly experienced in the weight room, and interested in ultra potentiation of the nervous system. Try the following with either squats or deadlifts immediately before testing your vertical:

Do 6 or 8 reps with 135 lbs.
Then 3 or 4 more reps with about 60% of your "max" in these lifts.
After that, do two or three more sets of just 2 to 4 reps with about 75 to 85% of your max. 

This shouldn't be tiring, given the low reps at less than max resistance. And it has been shown to add immediate inches to the vertical jump of highly trained athletes.

And now...you're ready for take-off!

3. Practice

Jumping for maximal height is a skill that improves with practice just like any other skill. Now, how often have you practiced max effort jumping? Jogging and running stairs and jumping rope and lifting weights and a million-and-one leg exercise variations are NOT practicing the skill of maximal effort jumping.

I'm not talking about 10,000 hours of practice here. Just know that if you want to teach your brain how to launch, make sure and practice that skill when you're not wiped out with fatigue from other exercise.

Tuck jumps over objects are one practice that I've found beneficial. I've recently come across some literature that also supports their effectiveness. Giving your brain a clear goal that requires a maximal effort commitment is the opposite of endurance training. It's both fun and brutally hard work. 

A hurdle will do. So will a picnic table, a lawn chair placed on bricks, or some rubber tubing tied between trees.

If you start doing tuck jumps over things, expect to quickly post some huge gains. Most of the progress is from learning the skill, the timing of the jump and leg tuck. But the greatest benefit of tuck jumps is gaining the, uh, neurolgical aspects of ballsing into something awesome.

This video of Cort puts it perfectly!

There are certainly other important strength and power-related exercises, but tuck jumping is one of the best ways to practice the skill of max effort jumping.

[More to come...]

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