The Strength Sensei on Vertical Jump Training
What to do in the weightroom to leap higher
Jumping ability is a basic athletic skill most athletes want to improve, and Charles R. Poliquin became particularly adept at helping athletes do just that.
Consider the popular quote by Karl Pearson that came to be known as Pearson’s Law: “That which is measured improves. That which is measured and reported improves exponentially.” Therefore, the first step in improving vertical jumping ability is knowing how to measure it.
In 1921, Dr. Dudley Sargent developed the vertical jump test called the Sargent Jump Test. For this test, you measure how high you can reach, then jump as high as you can – the difference between the two measurements is the result. How the test is performed depends upon how much you want to spend.
The first testing method involves no financial investment other than a piece of chalk. You rub chalk on your fingers, stand next to a wall, and reach as high as possible while a training partner measures the distance from the floor. Then you jump as high as you can and touch the wall, leaving a mark that can be measured. The difference between the two measurements is your vertical jump.
The Sargent jump evolved into a device now commonly called a Vertec and is currently used in the NFL Combine. A patent for such a device was filed in 1979 by inventor James J. Perrine and volleyball coach Allen E. Scates. This device consists of plastic tabs suspended on a pole; the tabs are moveable and set at half-inch increments. The athlete jumps and swipes as many tabs as they can.
From here, contact mats and force plates were developed to provide more precise jump measurements. With these devices, the vertical jump is determined by how long the athlete spends in the air. Using these devices is faster than the Vertec because the tabs do not have to be reset, and additional tests, such as multiple jumps, can be performed.
One resource the Strength Sensei recommended for determining normative data on jump testing results is Functional Testing in Human Performance by Michael P. Reiman and Robert C. Manske (Human Kinetics, 2009). To measure power, one formula used incorporates the bodyweight of the athlete: Power (watts) = 21.67 x Mass (kg) x Vertical Displacement (m) x 0.5. This measurement would be valuable for football linemen, discus throwers, and shot putters.
With that background, let’s look at several ways the Strength Sensei recommended to improve vertical jumping ability.
Jumping Power Basics
The most obvious way to improve vertical jumping ability is to lose bodyfat because the extra weight will weigh you down and, as the Strength Sensei was fond of saying, “You can’t flex fat!” However, he advised against using aerobic training to lose fat because such training can cause the fast-twitch fibers primarily responsible for jumping ability to behave like slow-twitch muscle fibers.
Plyometrics are one training method used to improve vertical jumping ability, but that’s a complex topic beyond the scope of this article. However, here are four principles to follow with resistance training:
- Perform both fast and relatively slow lifts. The Strength Sensei believed that fast lifts (such as the Olympic lifts) have a greater transfer to the vertical jump than relatively slow lifts (such as the squat and deadlift), but both should be performed. The slow lifts improve maximal strength, and the fast lifts improve acceleration.
Fast and relatively slow lifts should be performed to achieve maximum results in vertical jumping ability. (All photos by Viviana Podhaiski, LiftingLife.com.)
- Consider the length of the off-season. In sports with a long off-season (such as the NFL), an athlete should perform both fast and slow lifts. In sports with a short off-season (such as the NHL), primarily fast lifts should be performed.
- Emphasize Olympic lifting movements with a catch over pulls. The Strength Sensei believed power cleans and power snatches were more effective than clean pulls and snatch pulls for improving vertical jumping ability. He said that “intent” was a key component in developing power and acceleration, and that having to catch a barbell forces the athlete to put more effort into the lift. He said those few extra centimeters of pulling force are critical in optimizing performance.
- Consider the optimal ratios of fast to slow lifts. European weightlifting coaches determine program design by using specific ratios of squats to the Olympic lifts (and their assistant exercises). A power snatch, for example, should generally be 62 percent of a front squat. If the percentage is lower, the Olympic lifts should be emphasized. If the percentage is higher, squats and deadlifts should be emphasized.
If vertical jumping is your goal, consider these general guidelines from the Strength Sensei to get your game soaring higher. (TSS)