Training methods including heavy resistance training, explosive resistance training, plyometrics, electrostimulation, and even vibration platforms have all been used to potentially enhance vertical jump (or vertical leap) performance. But which ones have been proven to be the most effective?
Leg muscle power and vertical jump performance are considered critical elements for successful athletic performance, not to mention for simply performing successful daily activities. Not surprisingly, a lot of research has focused on the development of vertical jump performance. Here are three studies that I think stand out from the crowd.
In a study called Does plyometric training improve vertical jump height? A meta‐analytical review, the researchers found that, yes, plyometric training significantly improved vertical jump height. Researchers actually saw an increase in jump height between 4.7% and 8.7%. With results like that, plyometric training appears to be an effective form of physical conditioning for augmenting the vertical jump performance in leaping individuals.
Then there is a study called Improved Maximum Strength, Vertical Jump and Sprint Performance after 8 Weeks of Jump Squat Training with Individualized Loads which concluded that eight weeks of jump squat training resulted in significant improvements in countermovement jump, squat jump, maximum isometric squat force and average force over 100m, as well as 50m sprint time. This suggests that short-term (8 weeks in this case) jump squat training can improve your vertical leap plus a bunch of athletic performance abilities simultaneously.
Finally, a study called Evaluation of Plyometric Exercise Training, Weight Training, and Their Combination on Vertical Jumping Performance and Leg Strength provides support for the use of a combination of traditional weightlifting, Olympic-style weightlifting exercises, and plyometric drills to improve vertical jumping ability and explosive performance in general.
Take a balanced approach to your training inputs in order to maximize the different strength characteristics involved in jumping.
This final study, combined with the other studies, reinforces the importance of taking a balanced approach to your training inputs in order to maximize the different strength characteristics that are involved in jumping. Weight training improves your ability to generate force, while plyometrics help you apply that force quickly. Put them all together and they will help you jump higher.
How High Can You Jump?
I don’t know who said it first (someone smarter than me, for certain) but it is true that you can’t improve what you don’t measure. So, let’s look at how you can measure your own jump height before we try to improve it.
Here is one way to measure jump height:
- Find a wall that is high enough for you to execute your highest jump and not be limited by the ceiling (or anything else that could impede your vertical velocity).
- Stand next to the wall and extend your arm fully above your head. Mark your standing reach on the wall (or get a friend on a ladder or chair to help).
- From a standing start, jump as high as you can and touch the wall at the top of your jump. Wet or put some chalk on your fingertips so that you leave a distinct mark on the wall.
- To get your vertical jump distance, measure between your standing reach and your jumping reach. Done. Now you have a starting point.
You can have a few tries, and either take an average of the tries or choose your highest jump. It is up to you. Once you can touch the ceiling, I guess you have to move to a bigger house? I don’t know. I’m a white guy and everyone knows we can’t jump.
How Do You Stack Up?
The first thing to keep in mind is that average vertical leaping ability differs quite a lot between men and women. This is due to differences in muscle mass, body size, and strength.
You can have the greatest jumping muscles in the world but if your brain does not yet know how to recruit those muscle fibres in an effective and efficient manner, it's all for naught.
Also keep in mind that if you don’t jump on a regular basis, don’t have cause to jump often, or have never spent any time thinking and working on your jumping abilities, you are starting with a distinct disadvantage, neuromuscularly speaking. You can have the greatest jumping muscles in the world but if your brain does not yet know how to recruit those muscle fibres in an effective and efficient manner, it's all for naught. Don’t worry though, all it takes is practice. Your brain will figure it out.