The vertical jump is not only a measure of lower-body power, it's also an important component of many sports. To improve it, you need specialized exercises that both develop musculature and produce relatively large forces, along with quickness.
The amount of force you apply to the ground determines how high you can jump. Your rate of force development (RFD) is more important than strength alone for optimal force output.
Include the following exercises in your program at least once per week (twice is better) for 4 to 6 weeks, and notice the difference! I recommend testing your vertical jump before and after so you can measure your improvement.
The exercises are for athletes with strength and conditioning experience. For novice athletes, working on movement and form, and doing exercises like Bodyweight Squats and Bodyweight Squat Jumps, is more appropriate.
Remember, one program does not fit all. It is best to have a program developed and monitored by a qualified strength and conditioning coach.
1. Hang Power Clean
The Hang Power Clean uses the same triple extension movement as the vertical jump. Your ankles, knees and hips all extend at the same time. It also uses relatively large forces and is perhaps the quickest weightlifting exercise.
The Hang Clean requires a Deadlift and Front Squat as prerequisites. It is a complex lift, and I recommend having a qualified strength and conditioning professional coach you in the movement.
Do not use such a heavy weight that you fail or need to take breaks between repetitions. This lift should be challenging (especially the last couple of reps) but fast. If you know your Power Clean max, use 70% of your 1 RM.
Preparation: Standing with your feet pointing forward at hip-width or slightly wider, grasp a barbell with an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder-width. I like to grasp the bar a thumb-distance from my thighs. Bend your knees and hips so the barbell touches mid-thigh, keeping your back flat as if you were performing the descending portion of a Deadlift. Arms are straight, chest out.
Execution: Shrug your shoulders and pull the barbell up, keeping your arms straight. Keep the bar close to your body. It can even graze it. At the same time, perform a Calf Raise into a jump. To "catch," pull your body under the bar aggressively and bend your elbows. Catch the bar in front squat position in a quarter to full front squat position. Stand up into finish position.
Set/Reps: 4-5x3 with 30-40 seconds rest
2. Weighted Back Squat Jumps
A heavy Squat is a lower-speed contraction, whereas this movement requires a high speed contraction. High speed contractions result in better power development than low speed contractions.
Using 60-70% of your 1RM, set up as you would for a regular Back Squat. Descending into a Quarter Back Squat, explosively ascend and jump. Land and immediately repeat. Less depth is used for better specificity for the countermovement during your vertical jump, and it allows for faster speed of movement.
Essentially this is a Bodyweight Squat Jump with weight.
Using chains or bands is an excellent alternative for more advanced lifters.
Sets/Reps: 4x4-6 with under 60 seconds rest
3. Bench Hurdles
A good vertical jump requires a good countermovement, and so does a Bench Hurdle. Furthermore, focusing on jumping up or over something takes away the over-thinking aspect and requires great power. Box Jumps provide a similar effect.
Facing a bench, perform a countermovement and jump over the bench to the other side. Immediately turn around, face the bench and repeat.
Sets/Reps: 4x4. You can do this as part of a complex: Hang Cleans, rest 30 seconds, Bench Hurdles.
Epley, B. (2004). The Path to Athletic Power. Human Kinetics. Champaign:IL.
Hori, N., Newton, R. U., Andrews, W. A., Kawamori, N., McGuigan, M. R., & Nosaka, K. (2008). "Does performance of hang power clean differentiate performance of jumping, sprinting, and changing of direction?" Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 22(2), 412-418.
Rhea, M. R., Kenn, J. G., & Dermody, B. M. (2009). "Alterations in speed of squat movement and the use of accommodated resistance among college athletes training for power." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 23(9), 2645-2650.
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