The NFL Combine was just here, and nowhere else in the world will you see so many 40” vertical jumps in one place. A leap of this magnitude is an awe inspiring display of power that certainly takes some good genetics to achieve, but is it just genetics? Of course not.
Proper training is a huge factor in jumping higher. Personally, I wasn't born with the best genes in the world, but still managed a 35" vertical jump to go along with a 7-foot high jump. Training is a huge factor for those of us who are less than blessed, or coaches who are working with any sort of athletic population.
With that in mind, here are 10 ideas for building a “Combine Grade” vertical jump.
Train jumping coordination as the #1 priority in improvement.
You might think that your athletes are jumping at 100% of their technical ability, when in reality, most athletes are only at 50-80% of the optimal muscle coordination in a vertical jump.
It is a mistake to think that lifting maxes relative to bodyweight are the only thing that really matters when jumping higher. How much you are able to lift in movements such as a high bar Olympic squat and full-catch clean or snatch are important indicators of your potential for jumping high, but unless you are connected and coordinated, you’ll be left behind.
A mind blowing jump like the video below takes huge strength levels, but even moreso, it takes perfect muscular coordination.
Utilize variation to teach athletes to eliminate wasteful or inefficient movements in vertical jumping.
There is really no such thing as a “perfect vertical jump technique” so much as there is training to eliminate errors relative to the individual. In other words, every athlete has a different vertical jump technique that is optimal to them.
Using different types of vertical jump techniques and coordination helps athletes to build motor movement programs that are more relevant across a variety of jumps and situations, and also better for building a higher absolute jump. Points 3-5 are different ways to accomplish this task.
Have athletes jump with various speeds of loading, or descending into the bottom of the jump.
Practice lots of jumps with a very rapid reversal out of the bottom, and practice jumps with static holds at the bottom of the movement.
Some great coaches don’t even care about how high an athlete jumps, so much as how fast they reverse the bottom of the jump. Clearly, most sporting situations (aside from impressing onlookers) don’t rely on maximal jump height so much as they do quickness off of the ground.
Team sport is more about rate of force development than anything. Many athletes won't jump higher right away when practicing quick reversals out of the bottom (which discourages many coaches and athletes from using it), but over time, it will pay off big time, as athletes muscles, tendons, and reflexes adapt to this style of jumping. The drill in the video below is a helpful tool to engage the nervous system with the possibility of faster jump loading.
Practice different amounts of getting up on the toes during the entire jumping movement.
Many athletes like to run heavy on their heels, all the way until the final toe-off of the jump. This practice doesn't optimize the flow of elastic energy in the lower leg. It is acceptable to run somewhat flat-footed in approaching a jump, but during the jump itself, athletes should minimize the duration of heel contact with the ground (in context of what they are capable of). Check out the video of NBA dunk-star Gerald Greene jumping, and see how well he utilizes his feet to transfer elastic energy in the jump.
It takes some practice as to what amount of flex in the foot is best, so have athletes practice jumps as high as they can their toes for the whole jump, flat footed during the jump, halfway between, etc. to allow the variation to remove potential errors from the jump process.
Practice different sized arm swings.
Have athletes over emphasize the arm swing of the jump, and also try jumping with minimal arm swings. Again, the variation will help to put together a better technique over time, although you may not see improvement the first day. Ham-fistedly throwing out the “swing your arms in as big of arc as you can” cue may not help athletes out, as it may not fit the rest of their jump technique well, but practicing different sizes and speeds of arm swing can improve an athletes technique. For an ultimate example of two amazing athletes who utilize different amounts of arm swing in their jumping, check out the video below featuring Jordan Kilganon (huge arm swing) and Justin Darlington (little arm swing).
Do more strength training that focuses on isometric holds for 3-5 seconds, and then exploding out of that position.
In order to get to the isometric position, practice rapid drops, rather than controlled movements. This will help to improve elastic response in athletes, and resembles the way that muscles actually work in sprinting and jumping. A nice example of this method is shown in the video below.
Do more strength training, such as squats, with a bar resting on safety pins.
Get under the bar, set the trunk, and explode up. This type of movement is generally better for athleticism than simply doing "up and down" squats.
Click here to learn how to perform a depth jump properly. If you neglect this aspect of training, you are leaving gains on the table. Perform multiple different types of depth jumps to various outcomes (such as over a hurdle, up to a basketball hoop for a high touch, or for maximal distance) to improve the strength and robustness of an athletes jumping motor movement programs.
Make sure that you are doing enough speed training.
Many athletes, particularly those whose nervous system is "duration" dominant, will never hit anywhere near their potential without doing enough rapid speed type workouts. For these athletes, timed line and plate hops, speed drills, wicket drills, and repeat maximal 60-150m sprints are a goldmine for quick twitch power. Many historical jumps programs in track and field have prized a higher volume of extremely fast plyometrics over longer duration plyometrics, such as high depth jumps. Clearly both types of plyometric have benefit, but for many athletes, the emphasis must be on speed.
For athletes whose nervous system is "speed dominant", a proper strength program will yield big dividends over time to improved vertical jump.
Just make sure that the strength you are building in the weightroom is useable in the scope of vertical jump, which means that high-bar squats and concentric deadlifts are in, and grinding low-bar squats are to be avoided. Also, beware of using the weightroom for building endurance when it comes to preserving vertical jump ability, as too much endurance type work in the weight room can really mess with optimal jump coordination.