In today’s article we’re going to look at a couple of the best leg workouts you can do to increase your vertical jump.
Before we look at how to construct the perfect leg workout for jumping higher, it’s really important that you understand what factors that will contribute to your vertical improving.
You can’t simply walk in the gym and start lifting weights randomly and expect it to be a particularly effective vertical jump workout.
This type of training is fairly nuanced and requires some understanding of a number of training principles to get the most from your workout.
Before we begin, I would strongly urge you to check out my recent roundup article discussing the best vertical jump programs of 2023…
These programs will give you access to the absolute best leg workouts one could possibly do to increase their vertical jump!
Leg Workout Principles To Increase Vertical Jump
Before you set foot in the gym, below are six of the most important vertical jump training principles you absolutely have to understand. Once this stuff makes sense to you, you’ll have a much better idea of what you’re trying to accomplish when it comes time to actually perform your workout.
Strength X Speed = Power
And power = a bigger vertical. It’s really quite simple.
The vertical jump can be broken down into its strength component and its speed components. You can train each of these aspects individually or at the same time, but you need both strength and speed (speed we’ll often refer to as ‘rate of force development’) to increase your vertical.
Some athletes need to work more on their strength than their RFD and for others, it’s the other way around.
Increase Your Fundamental Level Of Strength
We increase strength by doing heavy lifts in relatively low rep ranges. The below would be considered strength exercises.
- Back Squat 5×5 @ 80% 1RM
- Hip Thrusts 5×6 @ 80% 1RM
- Glute Ham Raise w/ 40kg 4×8
- Smith Machine Bulgarian Split Quarter Squat @ 90% 1RM 3×3
These would all be viable exercises if we were looking to train for strength specifically. These exercises barely resemble the vertical jump but that’s okay because our objective is simply to make the muscles involved in the vertical jump as strong as possible. It’s fine if we ignore the aspect of specificity a little bit when training purely for strength.
Speed Training Should Be Jump Specific
A speed workout on the other hand is the complete opposite. This is where specificity is king.
When training for speed or explosiveness or rate of force development, the objective is to condition your central nervous system to be able to use those strength gains in the sport specific movement of the vertical jump. Below are some exercise highly effective at doing this.
- Depth Jumps 4×4
- Single Leg Bounding 5×6 EL
- Depth Drops 4×5
- Max Running Vertical Jump Attempts x10
These exercises are all pure bodyweight exercises and are designed to be completed as explosively as possible. Your goal with these plyometrics is to get your CNS to fire up your muscle fibers as quickly as possible here.
Include Power Training Too
Power training could also fall into the category of ‘rate of force development’. These exercises aren’t going to develop strength a whole lot, but they’ll enable you to generate force more quickly and efficiently.
Power exercises are often referred to as speed strength or ballistic exercises. Basically they’re the marrying together of pure strength and pure plyometric exercises into a hybrid. Below are a few of my favorites.
- Power Cleans 6×3
- Medicine Ball Tosses x10
- Barbell Jump Squats 6×3
These are similar to plyometric movements except with a relatively light load and the goal should be to move said load as explosively as possible.
Now you should have a rough idea of what a strength, plyometric, and power focused workout will look like.
Do Explosive Exercises First
If you are going to do a workout where you’re incorporating a variety of each of these exercises, some strength and some RFD exercises, then it’s a good idea to do the plyometrics/speed work first, before your strength training.
This is simply to ensure you’re able to perform quality reps with maximum explosiveness while you’re still fresh. If you try to do depth jumps after your legs are already wobbling from some heavy squats, you risk injury and your CNS simply won’t process the jump work as well as we want it to.
Use Post-Activation Potentiation
However what you can do is marry strength and speed work together using post-activation potentiation. In vertical jump training what this looks like is following a power or strength movement with an unloaded/plyometric variant. It’s easiest if I give some examples first and then explain how it works.
- Barbell Squat Jumps x3 followed by Max Standing Vertical Jump Attempts x3
- Depth Jumps x5 followed by Max Running Vertical Jump Attempts x3
The idea is that you’re tricking your CNS into thinking you’re performing the loaded movement still, even though you’ve switched to a pure bodyweight unloaded exercise. You’ll actually find that you can temporarily jump higher after performing weighted movements directly beforehand.
For more info on how you can leverage this temporary increase in performance to instantly jump higher, which is ideal for testing your vertical, check out my full article on post-activation potentiation in the vertical jump.
Training Focus & Periodization
Depending on how advanced you are as an athlete and what sport you play and at what level, you may want to experiment with the idea of periodization. Training periodization is essentially just scheduling your training into different focus periods for a given duration.
Periodization for the vertical jump will typically look like the following.
- Hypertrophy Phase – 4-6 weeks
- Strength Phase – 4-6 weeks
- Power Phase – 3-4 weeks
- Plyometrics Phase – 3-4 weeks
During each phase, your focus is on one single objective while you put the other aspects of training on the backburner. The reason we do this is to make tangible progress in one particular area and to overcome plateaus that often arise when you’re training everything at the same time.
This doesn’t mean completely ignoring the other aspects of training, but you’re simply looking to maintain those areas as well as you can while actively progressing on the focus area.
For example, if I’m in a strength phase, most of my training volume is geared towards increasing my strength and I’m just doing enough to maintain my power and explosiveness. If I was in the plyometrics phase, I’m doing just enough to maintain my strength gains, while focusing my effort on jumping.
Typically it takes about a third of the volume you used to make the gains to maintain them. So if I was doing 12 sets of back squats per week during my strength phase, when I move onto the power phase, I’ll be able to get away with only 4 sets a week.
If you’re playing a sport like basketball or volleyball, it’s important to plan ahead when it comes to periodization. Know when your season starts, when the important tournaments are, how long you have during the off-season, etc.
You’ll typically be jumping your highest after that final plyometrics phase. This is when you’ve successfully taught your CNS how to actually utilize those earlier size and strength gains in the specific movement of jumping efficiently.
Be sure to read my extended piece on periodization in vertical jump training if you’d like more information.
Focus On The Prime Movers
All the time I see people asking questions like, how many calf raises should I do to increase my vertical jump? It’s really not so important.
What’s important is that you focus your time and energy on the quads and glutes which contribute the vast majority of the force generated in a vertical jump. But do it in a way that’s smart.
What that means is instead of sitting there doing leg extensions or leg press all day, get in the squat rack and under a barbell! Studies have shown squats to be far more effective than leg press when it comes to vertical jump progress.1https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26439782/
That’s not to suggest that these exercises are useless or don’t have a place, but that certain movements simply carry over to the vertical jump better than others because of the way they mimic triple extension.
Fix Your Explosive Strength Deficit
Your explosive strength deficit (ESD) is the difference between how strong you are and how well you’re able to make use of that strength in the vertical jump.
If you can squat really heavy but can’t jump very high, you have a high ESD and need to focus on rate of force development. You’re already strong, you just need to learn how to use that strength quickly to create power.
If you’re skinny and have barely set foot in a weight room, but have amazing natural springiness, you have a low ESD. You’re able to efficiently utilize the strength you do have when jumping. Your focus should be on getting stronger.
Best Leg Strength Workout To Increase Vertical Jump
Let me first preface this by stating that you can use this exact same workout when you’re in a leg hypertrophy phase as well, just that the rep ranges will be considerably higher. Let me give you a couple of example workouts.
Strength Workout 1
- Warm Up – You should perform a dynamic warm up to get some blood flowing. Avoid static stretching if at all possible. I wrote a full article on warming up for vertical jump training so be sure to check that out.
- Back Squats 5×5 – This is a very typical rep range for strength. You should start your strength phase doing 6-7 reps per set and towards the end of the strength phase, aim for 2-4 reps. So over time you’re tapering the reps down and increasing intensity.
- Standing Calf Raises 5×12 – Even though 12 reps seems high, it’s actually a relatively short set when it comes to calves where you’ll be doing upwards of 20 reps in a hypertrophy phase. In a strength workout, keep the reps below 12 for calves. We’re doing calves as our second exercise to give our upper legs a chance to rest before the next major compound movement.
- Hip Thrusts 5×6 – Same thing as the above will apply for all exercises listed here: taper reps down as you progress through the training phase.
- Core: Ab Pulldown, Med Ball Russian Twists, Planks, Woodchops, etc – Select two of your favorite core exercises and do four sets of moderate reps but go quite heavy. Just like calves, we’re doing core as a supplementary exercise. Since volume is fairly low we can get through these four exercises without too much fatigue.
Strength Workout 2
- Warm Up
- Weighted Glute Ham Raises 5×8 – Probably don’t taper this one down to less than six or so reps.
- Seated Calf Raises 5×12 – I like to alternate between seated and standing calf raises but if you don’t have access to a seated calf raise machine, feel free to do these standing.
- Smith Machine Bulgarian Split Squats 5×8 – It’s important to include some unilateral exercises and the Bulgarian split squat is simply the best.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s important to still be doing some jumping and explosive movements while in a strength phase. Be sure to do some plyometrics on your day off, or if you want to you can add in a few sets of plyometrics after your warm up before you begin your primary strength work.
Best Leg Power Workout To Increase Vertical Jump
The first workout in this section will be more of a power focused routine and the second workout will be geared more towards pure explosiveness.
In the power workouts there’s less of a focus on tapering volume and increasing intensity over time as there is in the strength phase. We still want to increase weight gradually but staying around the listed rep ranges is best.
- Warm Up
- Medicine Ball Tosses x12 – Rest as long as you need to between each rep, at least five seconds. You want each throw to be as powerful as possible.
- Barbell Jump Squats @ 40% Squat 1RM 5×4 – The official recommendation is anywhere around 35-45% of your back squat 1RM for these but you want to pick a weight that’s relatively comfortable and not too heavy. It’s better to keep the weight lower and simply jump higher than it is to increase the weight while your jump height decreases. Check out my full article on barbell jump squats for more details.
- Max Standing Vertical Jump Attempts x10 – We’re doing these directly after (of course you can rest for five minutes) the jump squats to harness some of that post-activation potentiation effect we discussed earlier.
- Hang Power Cleans 6×3 – You can replace this exercise with power cleans if you prefer starting off the ground.
- Back Squats 2×6 – We’re remembering to incorporate some strength maintenance work here by including a couple of sets of heavy back squats towards the end of the workout.
- Core: Med Ball Slams 4×5– Any variation of this is fine. Typically I’d do 2×5 overhead slams (into the ground) followed by 2×5 wall slams (into the wall). This is a great exercise to fully activate our core and to also get our upper body involved.
- Warm Up
- Depth Jumps 5×5 – Focus on replicating the ground contact time of your typical jump approach. You don’t want to be too quick or too slow off the ground.
- Max Running Vertical Jump Attempts x10 – Again we’re doing these directly after the depth jumps to gain the potentiation effects. This will help train our CNS to become more efficient at these regular max jump attempts.
- Depth Drops 5×5
- Glute Ham Raises 2×8 – Again we’re simply working in some strength maintenance work on the back end of the workout. Work your way up to two pretty heavy sets.
- Core – Approximately 20 minutes of any of the aforementioned core exercises is fine.
By now you should have a solid understanding of what the ultimate leg workout for increasing your vertical jump should look like.
I’ve given three examples of different vertical jump leg workouts each with a slightly different training focus.
By understanding the training principles mentioned at the beginning of the article, you should now be able to construct a well-designed, personalized leg workout that’ll have you improving your weaknesses while getting stronger and more explosive.