There’s nothing more exhilarating than seeing someone with some serious bounce simply fly through the air. Be it basketball, volleyball, or even football, having a high vertical jump is one of the most sought-after aspects of athleticism.
For the past eight years I’ve been obsessed with learning about the science behind vertical jump training.
As a full time athlete, I’ve decided to dedicate my life to achieving a 45″ vertical jump and I’ll be blogging about it here while I’m on this journey.
Today I’m going to be dishing out a ton of vertical jump training knowledge. You absolutely must understand these concepts if you’re serious about improving your vertical.
So let’s jump right into it! In no particular order…
#1 Understand Post-Activation Potentiation
Post-activation potentiation is a training concept that allows us to trick the central nervous system into temporarily performing better.
As for post-activation potentiation in vertical jump training, an example would be performing a loaded movement such as a barbell jump squat prior to an unloaded movement such as a max vertical jump attempt.
Studies have shown that by including potentiation movements during their vertical jump warm up, participants were able to jump higher than those who performed a typical dynamic warm up.1https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16095424/
This makes PAP absolutely perfect if you’re planning on testing your vertical jump and want to see how high you can possibly jump.
Incorporating post-activation potentiation into your jump training also helps your CNS learn how to more efficiently activate the muscles involved in jumping. This is why it’s so common to stack lightly loaded movements with plyometrics – it’s all about leveraging PAP to really drive home that neural adaptation.
Feel free to check out my full article on how you can use post-activation potentiation to increase your vertical jump.
#2 Train Your Tibialis Anterior Muscle
A large part of my training philosophy is to treat the muscles involved in the vertical jump as a chain. As you know, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
When it comes to jump training, many athletes give absolutely no attention to their tibialis anterior muscle (the ones on your shins, opposite your calves).
While I’m not going to sit here and proclaim you’ll gain eight inches on your vert if you start training these, you’ll almost certainly get some very short term vertical jump improvement from going after them specifically.
The tibialis plays a pretty crucial and understated role in the vertical jump. It has several roles but the two below are pretty important for jumping.
- Ankle Dorsiflexion – Adequate ankle strength and mobility allows us to get our knees into optimal position for jumping. Having good mobility here has been directly correlated with a higher vertical jump.
- Landing Protection – As you’re landing from any jump, that shin muscle is immediately switched on and acts as your first line of defence against the powerful forces going up through your lower leg. The TA muscle is an injury prevention machine.
As you know, if you’re injured, you can’t train. This is why I place such a huge importance on bulletproofing my feet, ankles, shins, and knees.
To read more, check out my full article on the importance of the tibialis anterior in the vertical jump.
#3 Modify Your Warm Up For Best Vertical Jump Results
This goes back to the discussion on post-activation potentiation. There’s a lot of research on this subject and the gist of it is as follows.
Static stretching is generally not a good idea and has been shown to reduce vertical jump performance. All the research says a dynamic warm up is a far superior jump-related warm up.
By combining some sort of jump specific weighted resistance exercise directly prior to your vertical jump attempt but after your dynamic warm up, you’ll be able to jump as high as humanly possible for you on that day!
Check out my full article on how to warm up for vertical jump testing and training.
#4 Control Your Explosive Strength Deficit
Your explosive strength deficit is the difference between your raw strength and the strength you can actually utilize in an explosive movement.
When we talk about the recipe for increasing your vertical jump, there’s always two main ingredients: horsepower (strength), and RFD (rate of force development). Your explosive strength deficit is the gap between these two.
If you’re a strong guy and can squat heaps but can’t jump that high, it means you have a high ESD. If on the other hand you aren’t putting up huge numbers in the gym but you’re super springy, that means you can make use of the strength you do have extremely efficiently. You have a low ESD.
For simplicity, you can use your 1RM back squat as your measure of strength and your vertical jump as your measure of explosiveness. If both go up in equal proportions, your ESD stays the same. If you gain 50% on your squat and only 15% on your vertical, your ESD has increased.
As vertical jump aspiring athletes, we never want our ESD increasing over the long term. It’s fine if it goes up for a few weeks – maybe we’re in a heavy strength-focused training block and haven’t been doing much plyometric work. In that case, maybe our strength went up and our jump didn’t. But after we shift our training focus to more speed strength and incorporate more plyometrics, our vertical jump will go up because of our increased strength and thus our ESD will lower.
If your ESD is increasing for months on end, you should revisit how you’re programming your vertical jump routine; chances are you’re doing something wrong.
#5 Become A Back Squat Beast
The back squat has long been held as the golden exercise when it comes to increasing your vertical jumping horsepower. This is because it not only does a fairly good job of mimicking the triple extension movement of the vertical jump, but it’s quite simply one of the most effective ways to build big and strong legs.
As long as I can remember, the benchmark of adequate strength has been a 1.5x bodyweight back squat. Meaning if you’re 200lbs, you ought to be able to squat 300lbs for a single rep, otherwise you have to prioritize getting stronger.
While it seems that people in the vertical jump world aren’t as obsessed with the back squat as they once were, it should still be one of your primary strength exercises.
If you’re looking to achieve an elite vertical jump, you should look to get that 1RM up to 2x bodyweight.
#6 Don’t Buy Vertical Jump Programs, Instead Learn About The Science
I’ve got nothing against buying vertical jump programs, but I think the better approach is to simply educate yourself as to how all this stuff works.
If you have an elite coach construct a personalized vertical jump training program for you, it’s probably going to look pretty different to any of the programs currently available on the market. The reason is because individual needs vary massively from athlete to athlete.
- Athlete A might have lower back pain and struggles getting close to depth when squatting.
- Athlete B might have debilitating patellar tendinitis and is busted up after 10 minutes of jumping.
- Athlete C might be extremely big and strong and very quad and hip dominant with a high explosive strength deficit.
Each of these athletes needs to be trained differently. They can’t all do the same program and expect anywhere near optimal results.
My recommendation is to save your money and spend some time reading about the science of vertical jump training. All of the information on this website is free!
I’m writing several articles each week discussing various vertical jump topics at great length. If you comb through these articles, I guarantee you’ll get more out of it than you would buying a VJ program!
#7 Bulletproof Your Knees & Ankles
I know talking about injury prevention isn’t sexy and is pretty boring, but if you aspire to have an elite vertical jump, your number one priority should be not getting juried.
Back when I was training full time in the national volleyball elite development program, every single athlete there was riddled with knee injuries. Patellar tendinitis was the most common one.
We didn’t do anywhere near enough knee, foot, ankle, and tendon strengthening work and we suffered because of it.
Nowadays, I go the extra mile to make sure all these little things are taken care of. I spend hours each week doing isometric holds, partial ROM repetitions, as well as deliberately training often neglected muscles like the tibialis anterior and hip flexors to ensure my strength and mobility from toes upward is on point.
I’m also incorporating sled training into my vertical jump training routine which involves dragging and pushing a training sled almost on a daily basis. It’s improved my knee health tremendously.
#8 Recognise That You’re Probably Overtraining
Ask yourself how much vertical jump training you’re doing each week. Include everything such as pickup basketball, trainings, weight sessions, cardio, etc. If you’re doing more than 10-12 hours of training total, it’s going to be pretty difficult for you to get optimal vertical jump gains because there will be a layer of fatigue masking your progress.
When I was seventeen, I was training for 43 hours a week on top of being at school all day and studying for exams at night. I thought that the reason I wasn’t improving was that I wasn’t training hard enough. So I’d get up at 5am (after 2-3 hours sleep) every day and bang out 5×5 heavy back squats before school.
Looking back on it, this was the worst possible thing I could have done. When it comes to vertical jump training, less is almost always more.
#9 Understand The Power Of The Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgarian split squat is quickly becoming one of my favorite strength exercises for the vertical jump. Here’s a few of the reasons why.
- Simple progressions with countless variations – You can really tailor this exercise to your specific needs as an athlete. Strength level, glute/quad training preference, and strength/explosive training preference can all be catered for with one of the many BSS variations.
- Unilateral movement corrects muscle imbalances – As two foot jumpers, we often completely forget to incorporate unilateral exercises into our training. But by doing so we can not only hit our muscles from a unique angle, but they’ll also iron out any extant muscle imbalances.
- Smith machine quarter squats – This exercise is one of the most effective and safe ways to generate absurd amounts of force with our legs, far more than we could generate during an approach jump.
If you’d like to learn more about the BSS, check out my full article on Bulgarian split squats for vertical jump training.
#10 Take Deload Weeks
There’s nothing more unintuitive to me than training hard for 5-6 weeks, making good progress, and then massively reducing training volume. It feels like you’re deliberately moving in the opposite direction when you had all this momentum going!
But deload weeks are vital if you’re training hard enough. Fatigue builds up over time and will eventually mask your progress unless you give yourself a chance to rest and fully recuperate. You’re taking one step backwards to take two steps forward.
Also, deload weeks aren’t an excuse to just sit around all day and do nothing. You should still be going to the gym, but just massively reduce your training volume down to approximately 30% of what it usually is. Keep the intensity reasonably high still.
I like to take this opportunity to replace some of my old training volume with lower-impact alternatives such as isometric holds. During deloads I place a huge focus on stretching and mobility. I get at least two massages during deload weeks and foam roll every day.
You should also make sure your diet and sleep are on point during this week. The whole idea is to let your body recover fully. If you decide to start slacking on your diet or staying up all night partying because you don’t have to work out, you’re wasting that opportunity.
#11 Get Shredded: Fat Guys Can’t Jump!
Take a look at any of the top dunkers or highest flying athletes. With the exception of Zion Williamson at times, they’re all extremely lean.
When it comes to the vertical jump, bodyfat is non-functional weight. If you’re carrying 10lbs of belly fat you could stand to lose, that’s the same as carrying around a 10lb weight vest all day. It’s very difficult to jump anywhere near as high as you possibly could with that additional weight.
The good news is, losing that excess fat is one of the quickest ways to improve your vertical jump.
Back when I was a volleyballer and would test my vertical every week, if I weighed in relatively light beforehand, I got pretty excited because I knew that 2lb fluctuation down on the scale would likely cause me to jump higher than I did the week prior.
If you want a number, I think shooting for around 10% bodyfat is a good starting point. Depending on your set point (what bodyfat level you naturally gravitate towards), you may be able achieve this with relative ease, or it could be more challenging for you.
In an ideal world you’d be closer to 5% bodyfat but this will be really hard for some people who simply aren’t genetically wired to be that lean. For others, it will be optimal and maintainable.
Regardless, everyone should be able to attain 10% and if you can get lower without compromising strength and recovery, then do it!
#12 Understand The Biomechanics Of The Two Foot Approach Jump
One of the quickest ways to improve your vertical jump is to record yourself jumping, analyze the footage, and then correcting your technique.
Some of the keys you’ll need to be aware of are as follows.
- Smooth, constant, and relaxed acceleration through the approach.
- ‘Push‘ into the penultimate stride.
- Cover as much ground as you can handle during your penultimate stride. The highest jumpers typically have the longest penultimate strides.
- ‘Punch‘ your block foot out aggressively to help decelerate and transfer our horizontal momentum into vertical.
- Maintain an upright torso throughout the approach and into the plant sequence. Your center of gravity should remain over the hips. Avoid ‘diving‘ which is excessive hip flexion during the penultimate.
- Maintain a neutral head and neck throughout the movement so as to avoid hinging your neck back as you look upwards. This compresses the cervical spine and reduces the range of motion of your upper back and shoulders, which negatively impacts the arm swing.
If you’d like to see annotated pictures and video breakdowns, read my full article on mastering the two foot approach jump mechanics.
#13 Train Your Weaknesses
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Not only that, but as the links in your chain get weaker, they can break (injury) causing a very weak overall chain (vertical jump).
In order to make your chain as strong as possible (vertical as high as possible), you need to give lots of care and attention to any deficiencies you might have.
I’m not just referring to muscles either. Weaknesses can vary widely. You might be super strong but not very springy, you likely have a big explosive strength deficit which is something to work on.
You might be super injury prone. Maybe you have really poor mobility. Maybe you always land hard on one foot and need to practice landing properly.
Whatever your weaknesses may be, you need to first recognize them, and then do something about them!
#14 Never Static Stretch Before Jumping
Studies have shown static stretching to actually decrease your vertical jump.2https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/fulltext/2009/03000/effects_of_dynamic_and_static_stretching_on.21.aspx
Think of your muscles as an elastic band. If you stretch the band out and hold it there for a long period of time, eventually the band gets loose and loses its stiffness.
Our muscles are exactly the same. It’s actually that stiffness we need to generate force.
So next time you’re planning on jumping, get your dynamic warm up in but skip the static stretching as it’ll do nothing for you before a workout.
Feel free to stretch until the cows come home after your workout.
#15 Depth Jumps Are Pure Gold
This is one of my favorite plyometric exercises. I tend to focus most of my training around strength and power/ballistic movements and rarely do much jumping with my bodyweight, but when I do, it’s depth jumps.
All a depth jump is, is jumping from a relatively low bench or platform, landing, and exploding back up into a max vertical jump attempt.
They can be done with varying ground contact times. I prefer to do them at a speed that is as similar to my actual vertical jump as possible, other people prefer to explode back up off the ground immediately upon contact and really hone in on that quick stretch shortening cycle.
There’s hundreds of plyometric exercises out there but few are as simple and as effective as depth jumps. Here are just some of the reasons to do depth jumps.
They Require Virtually No Equipment
You literally just need a chair, platform, bench, or anything a couple of feet high that you can jump off of. This makes them perfect for at-home vertical jump workouts.
I did a review of the best plyometrics boxes that will make life a lot easier during your home vertical jump training, so be sure to check that out if you’re interested in doing these regularly.
Multiple Ways To Overload
Depth jumps can be made more difficult by raising the height of the platform, or by adding a load such as a weight vest or some light dumbbells.
But the beauty of depth jumps is that you’re literally using gravity to overload the eccentric part of the movement already.
Recommended By Vertical Jump Bible
Kelly Baggett, the author of the Vertical Jump Bible, one of the foremost texts on the science of vertical jump training swears by depth jumps. According to him, a plyo routine of just depth and drop jumps (shock method) could easily replace the need for all other plyometrics as they’re simply that effective!
That’s good enough for me!
#16 Eat A Diet That Will Make You Jump Higher
I always say that most athletes would make incredible progress if they optimized their diet and sleep. But did you know that there are some very specific dietary things you can do that will directly affect how high you jump?
Fast Twitch Fibers NEED Carbs
The muscle fibers involved in the vertical jump (or any explosive movement for that matter) are the fast twitch, type two fibers. Your fast twitch muscle fibers prefer metabolizing carbs a lot more than the slow twitch fibers do so you should get plenty of quality carbohydrates in your diet.
Keto Is Not For Jumpers
Following on from that, eating a ketogenic diet where you’re massively limiting carb intake is not a great idea. I’m not saying you can’t make it work and it certainly can be a better diet than what most people eat, but it simply cannot compete with a high carb diet.3https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29619799/
Get Ripped But Avoid Yo-Yo Dieting
You’re going to have to be pretty lean in order to jump really high, but it can be difficult cutting weight while maintaining strength and performance in the gym.
This is why it’s best to do any bodyweight manipulation (i.e. losing fat or bulking up) as gradually as possible, so you’ll be able to continue progressing on the strength front and to ensure you’re recovering optimally.
For more vertical jump diet and nutrition tips, check out my full list of science based diet tips for increasing your vertical jump!
#17 Know How To Jump Higher Off One Foot
One foot jumping activates your jumping muscles in a pretty different way to the typical two foot approach.
The bilateral jump is primarily glute and quad focused with a small amount of calf and posterior chain involvement. The unilateral jump on the other hand is basically the opposite: your calves and hamstrings become far more important alongside your glutes, and your quads generate significantly less of the total power output.
Below is a quick list explaining some of the key differences between these two jumping styles you should be aware of.
- The unilateral jump (off one leg) requires a lot more effort from your calves and tibialis anterior.
- Those who excel at one foot jumping are usually tall, extremely lean, and have narrow hips.
- They also tend to have much stiffer Achilles and patellar tendons.
- The ground contact time in the unilateral jump is about five times quicker than in the bilateral approach.
- You need a greater amount of speed and a longer approach when jumping off one foot.
- The single leg jump responds well to partial range of motion strengthening exercises such as half and quarter squats.
- Unilateral plyometrics are often superior to their bilateral equivalents.
If you’re primarily a single leg jumper, I’d highly recommend reading my full article on how to jump higher off one foot.
#18 Use Proper Training Periodization
Becoming an elite vertical jumper requires a lot of hard training for a long period of time. You need to train for strength, power, and reactivity and in order to reach your peak, you need to marry together these aspects of explosiveness in a nuanced way.
You can simply incorporate strength, power, and plyos into every training session and this works quite well for beginners. However eventually a weakness will arise you’ll need to double down on one of these aspects of training in order to make any serious progress.
This is why breaking your training up into periods where you have a specific training focus can be advantageous. It allows you to make more substantial progress.
There are several approaches you can take to periodization but I think the key is that you simply have a basic long-term training plan.
When it comes to maximizing your vertical, you’ll ideally want to plan everything out 10-25 weeks in advance so that by the end of the training period, you’re jumping your highest. It might look a little something like the following.
- Hypertrophy Phase (4-5 weeks) – During this period, we’re simply looking to gain as much muscle as possible in order to support forthcoming strength gains.
- Strength Phase (6 weeks) – Here we’re lowering the reps per set and upping the weight considerably. Our focus is moving as much weight as possible and getting those numbers as high as possible.
- Power/Reactivity Phase (6 weeks) – And finally we’re doing a bunch of speed strength exercises and plyometrics to build on our size and strength gains. We’re trying to teach our body how to use that strength to make us jump higher. This is the RFD section.
Each of these phases builds gradually into the next one. For example, you might start the hypertrophy stage doing 4 sets of 12 and for the second half will start doing closer to 4×8. You then move into the strength phase doing 4×7 reps and ending it doing 4×1-3 reps.
As you transition from the strength phase to the plyometrics phase, it’s important to continue doing enough strength work to maintain those strength gains through til the end of the power phase.
You can generally do a decent job of maintaining gains with about a third of the volume it took to get them initially. Similarly, the goal should be to maintain your plyometric ability while in a hypertrophy or strength phase.
For more information on vertical jump periodization, check out Kelly Baggett’s article.
#19 Use the Olympic Lifts
If I were to ask you which sport has the highest jumpers, what would your answer be? Most people would probably say basketball or volleyball. But the answer is in fact weightlifting.
The reason for that is simple. These guys are extremely strong. They squat several times their bodyweight with ease. And on top of that, they’re absolute powerhouses.
Movements like the clean as well as the snatch require massive power. When performing these lifts, these guys are training their rate of force development very effectively.
So you’re left with super strong guys who have excellent RFD. That’s literally the recipe for vertical jump success.
It’s actually funny to watch some of these guys test their vertical. They have no clue how to jump and lack the basic coordination, but without even trying they’ll often outjump guys who grew up on a basketball court.
Power Clean & Hang Power Clean
These are my two favorite olympic lifts for vertical jump training. The reason I prefer cleans over snatches is that they’re typically a little easier to learn and we can actually use some meaningful weight instead of getting caught up on technique for so long.
A power clean starts with the bar on the ground with relatively light weight. The clean movement is a lot more upright than a typical clean and you catch the bar in the rack position with only slightly bent knees (as opposed to being in an ATG squat).
This movement will likely take some coaching to perfect but is a great power exercise once you know what you’re doing.
Hang power cleans are the same except your start position is holding the bar just above the knees.
#21 Improve Your Ankle Dorsiflexion
One study has found a ‘moderate correlation’ between ankle mobility and vertical jump performance.4https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5011569/
Another study found a significant relationship concluding the following.
The analysis revealed a significant group effect, as flexible players jumped higher in the arm swing squat jump, along with a significant arm swing effect on key squat jump kinetic parameters. In conclusion, a more flexible ankle joint resulted in improved squat jump performance.5https://www.mdpi.com/2411-5142/6/1/14/pdf
And a third study found very similar results.
The performance in Counter Movement Jump test correlated positively and significantly not only with right dorsiflexion test but also right Knee-to-Wall test. Based on the presented data, the vertical jump is impaired by the ankles’ mobility deficit.6https://www.researchgate.net/publication/339411744_Effect_of_Reduced_Ankle_Mobility_on_Jumping_Performance_in_Young_Athletes
So not only does ankle mobility increase your vertical jump, but if you have poor ankle mobility, it’ll actually bring your vertical down.
Ankle Mobility Test
The easiest way to measure your ankle mobility is to do the ‘knee to wall’ test.
The idea here is to see how far back you can plant your foot while still being able to touch your knee to the wall. Your heel has to stay grounded.
Any distance from your toes to the wall of 10cm or more is excellent. Between 5-10cm is acceptable but could use some work. Anything less than 5cm and you’re in the ‘needs a lot of work’ camp.
If you have poor ankle mobility, you can train your tibialis anterior to improve it. I have a list of decent exercises for this in that article! Or skip to tip #24 for another way to improve this!
#22 Take The Right Supplements For Jumping Higher
No supplement is going to be of much use to you unless your diet is already on point. However if you’ve already optimized your diet, there are a few supplements you can take that are especially useful for athletes training for explosive movements like the vertical jump.
- Creatine – The holy grail of sports performance supplements. Countless studies have found massive improvements in explosive movements when supplementing with creatine.
- Magnesium – I’ve also found studies that link magnesium supplementation with increased vertical jump!
- Protein – This is more of a practicality thing than anything. It’s imperative you get enough protein in each and every day when you’re an athlete.
- BCAAs – These have great recovery benefits and also make you more mentally sharp during long workouts.
- Collagen & Vitamin C – This is primarily for tendon health and is especially good for those who suffer from patellar tendinitis.
Make sure you read the full article to get a better understanding as to why these are the best vertical jump supplements.
#23 When Jumping, Reach For A Target
An interesting study was done which sought to find out if having an overhead goal would alter jump performance when doing plyometrics. They found that it did!
Drop vertical jump was performed both with and without the use of an overhead goal. Greater vertical jump height and maximum takeoff external knee flexion (quadriceps) moment were attained with the overhead goal condition versus no overhead goal.
These results indicate that overhead goals may be incorporated during training and testing protocols to alter lower-extremity biomechanics and can increase performance.7https://www.researchgate.net/publication/7839008_Use_of_an_Overhead_Goal_Alters_Vertical_Jump_Performance_and_Biomechanics
You can incorporate this little hack into your workouts by setting up your depth jumps with some sort of an overhead target in mind. This could just be as simple as a piece of tape on a ledge or ceiling. If you have access to a vertec, even better!
The study found that the overhead goal quite significantly changed the ankle and knee flexion angles so having some sort of external jump objective seems to improve our biomechanics almost subconsciously.
#24 Foam Roll Your Achilles Tendon
The reason this is important goes back to ankle dorsiflexion. We want as much ankle mobility as possible.
But the problem is that static stretching, as we know, reduces vertical jump performance in the near term. However SMR (self myofascial release, AKA foam rolling) has been shown to help loosen things up very effectively without this acute reduction in performance.
One study found that by foam rolling the Achilles, they were able to get a significant increase in range of motion when testing ankle dorsiflexion.8https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4387728/
This may also be an effective way to warm up before jumping if you have poor mobility in your lower legs and ankles without risking reducing your total force production.
Check out this article to find out what the best heavy duty foam roller for vertical jump training is!
#25 Focus On Your Landing
I cannot stress how important landing properly is when you’re doing any amount of jumping.
NBA players are now being coached on how to land properly and it’s something you need to be thinking about as well.
Whether you’re a basketballer or volleyballer, you have to practice landing on two feet every single time.
I understand that at times it can be awkward or difficult to position yourself to land safely on two feet, but really all it takes is some conscious thought and eventually you’ll start landing much better automatically.
It’s not so much about avoiding acute injuries like sprained ankles, but it’s far more to do with the chronic strain you’re putting on your ankle and knee joints when you’re coming down on one leg.
So if you have jumper’s knee, you must make sure you’re never recklessly landing as this is going to turn your knees to dust over time!
#26 Only Buy Training Equipment That Gets Results
There’s tons of different training equipment available on the market, but how do you know what stuff is worth buying and what isn’t?
I recently wrote an ultra in-depth review of the best vertical jump training equipment currently on the market and how those items are actually going to move the needle in your vertical jump training.