If you’re planning on testing your vertical jump, what you do immediately prior to that testing is really important and will have a big effect on how high you’re able to jump. Knowing how to effectively warm up before testing your vertical jump will make a big difference in the result you’re able to achieve.
Athletes should avoid static stretching prior to vertical jump testing and training. Instead they should focus on dynamic stretching combined with a weighted resistance warm up for best immediate vertical jump results.
In this article I’m going to break down all the research in detail and explain the principles behind why certain warm ups are better than others for vertical jump training. I’ll then package it together nicely so you’ll be able to design your own perfect VJ training warm up.
What Does The Science Say?
This is an area that’s been pretty extensively researched. We’re going to look at why static stretching sucks, why dynamic stretching rocks, and how incorporating potentiation into your warm up is the secret sauce.
To summarize it quickly, static stretching is not ideal. If you just stretch your quads and calves and hammies for 30 seconds each before you jump, you’ll actually jump lower than you would have if you’d done nothing at all.
Dynamic stretching is far superior and loosens us up adequately without taking the stiffness out of our muscles which we need for jumping. You’re essentially trying to get some blood flowing to the area without doing a static hold.
And if you can combine that dynamic stretching with some weighted jumping, you’ll get the best possible results when performing a vertical jump test.
Do Jumps But With Added Resistance
A 2005 study was conducted where four different types of warm ups were compared with regard to vertical jump performance.
In the weighted resistance warm up, the subjects were given dumbbells equivalent to 10% of their bodyweight and told to perform a countermovement jump onto a 25″ box.1https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZzn6-T4yY4&ab_channel=GeoffMorehart They did this five times in a row and this turned out to be the best performing warm up of the four they tried.
The tests showed a significant difference between the weighted jump warm-up and all other warm-ups… We concluded that utilizing a weighted resistance warm-up would produce the greatest benefit when performing the vertical jump test. When constructing a warm-up for pretesting periods, the concepts of specificity and overload should play a large role.2https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16095424/
The reason this works is because of a concept called post-activation potentiation which is where you’re conditioning yourself to perform under a certain submaximal load (in this case, the weighted jumps). By removing the load, there’s a transient period of increased motor unit activation which leads to improved performance in the unloaded movement.
Other similar research has found more or less the same thing.
It is concluded that the use of a specific warm-up that includes half-squats, performed explosively with low to moderate intensity, improves countermovement jump performance. This may be due to increased muscle activation as evaluated by the surface EMG.3https://www.jssm.org/hf.php?id=jssm-09-326.xml
So it appears if we want to warm up for jumping, we should do jump-specific warm ups and if we can add some additional load and create some potentiation effect, we’ll be able to jump our highest after we’ve warmed up.
If you’re doing your vertical jump workouts at home, a perfect solution for this would be to use a weighted vest.
Of course you can’t just pick up some dumbbells or a weight vest and start jumping when you’re completely cold. We need to incorporate a dynamic warm up as well to get some blood flowing, which we’ll get to after we look at why static stretching is a no go.
Why Static Stretching Is Bad For The Vertical Jump
There’s now a substantial amount of evidence that shows that static stretching is terrible for short term vertical jump performance.
The significant decrease in vertical jump performance supports the findings of a recent study in which a significant impairment in VJ performance was observed after static stretching across drop, squat, and countermovement jumps. Collectively, these data add to a growing body of evidence demonstrating decrements in vertical jump performance after static stretching.4https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/fulltext/2009/03000/effects_of_dynamic_and_static_stretching_on.21.aspx
But why? There’s a number of theories as to why this happens but they mostly converge around the muscle tendon unit stiffness being altered during the static stretching process.
The simpler way to think about it is if you had an old rubber band that has been stretched out a lot (i.e. static stretching), it’s going to lose that springiness and won’t be able to produce force like a brand new rubber band could (i.e. our muscles before SS).
Another study found the following…
Analysis indicated that VJ height was significantly less (4.19 ± 4.47%) after static stretching than no stretching…5https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/fulltext/2009/03000/effects_of_dynamic_and_static_stretching_on.21.aspx
So if you’re looking to jump higher in the short term, I’d advise doing very minimal if any static stretching.
You’re going to be far better off doing static stretching after the workout than beforehand.
There is still a place for SS and it does improve flexibility and can improve performance, but save it for the recovery period after your vertical jump training.
Why Dynamic Warm Ups Are Better For The Vertical Jump
What it boils down to is that dynamic stretching increases our body temperature, loosens up our joints, and prepares us for performance without taking that crucial stiffness out of our muscles.
Analysis indicated that VJ height was significantly less (4.19 ± 4.47%) after static stretching than no stretching and significantly greater (9.44 ± 4.25%) in dynamic stretching than static stretching.6https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/fulltext/2009/03000/effects_of_dynamic_and_static_stretching_on.21.aspx
Dynamic stretching is essentially any activity that involves movement and loosening up of the muscles where the muscle length isn’t kept in a static position. This includes exercises like leg swings, hip abduction stuff, fire hydrants, and all sorts of skipping and hopping.
One study found cycling to be an effective warm up as it increased VJ performance. But really any dynamic movement is likely to have a similar effect. Regardless, it certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea to jump on the exercise bike for a few minutes before jump testing.7https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26796077/
How About Foam Rolling & Massage Guns?
I recently wrote an article explaining the effects of foam rolling on vertical jump performance. All of the research on the matter concluded that it doesn’t really have any effect on vertical jump performance at all.8https://www.researchgate.net/publication/280936654_Effects_of_Foam_Rolling_on_Vertical_Jump_Performance
This means it’s safe to do before jump testing because it’s not going to negatively impact your jump performance. So if you like foam rolling to as a way to loosen up before a workout, then by all means do it before a VJ test.
Massage guns are generally considered just another form of myofascial release and should probably be looked at in the same way as foam rolling when it comes to VJ performance, though there’s no specific research on the subject yet.
Potentiation Is Massively Overlooked
In researching this article, I read every every research paper, read every blog post, and watched every YouTube video on the subject of warming up for vertical jump performance. I was shocked to find that most content out there completely overlooked the research that showed post-activation potentiation lead to improved near-term vertical jump performance.
A lot of respectable people in the field simply recommended their own dynamic warm up and completely overlooked the aspect of potentiation.
An astounding number actually included static stretching, which goes to show how the majority of fitness influencers or freelance writers just have no idea what they’re talking about.
The truth is if you want to jump your highest in a vertical jump test, make sure your warm up considers the following.
- Do not do static stretching.
- Do a dynamic warm up.
- Lastly, include loaded jump-specific movements (potentiation).
Now you don’t have to do dumbbell box jumps as your potentiation warm up, but it’s a good option. You could also do any of the following.
- Explosive jump squats with just the bar
- Med ball tosses
Speed Strength & Specificity
You can achieve potentiation with just about anything, but you want to keep it as movement specific to jumping as possible. This means opting for jumps as opposed to sprints, for example.
Lightly loaded jumping would also be better than doing a heavy back squat.
We also want to optimize for speed strength as opposed to strength speed. What I mean by this is that our potentiation exercise should be mostly quick with relatively low weight. For instance, doing jump squats with an empty bar where we jump as high as possible is going to be better than doing jump squats with 40kg on the bar but hardly getting off the ground.
3 Steps To A Perfect Vertical Jump Test Warm Up
I’m not going to give you a list of the best dynamic stretches to do in any specific order, because it really doesn’t make a difference what exercises you do, so long as you’re thinking about the right things when constructing your warm up routine.
There’s a hundred ways to skin a cat but at the end of the day, anything that warms up your jumping muscles is going to be just fine.
There’s infinite YouTube videos covering different individual exercises you can do if you’re lacking inspiration. Eventually I’ll update this post with some more specific exercises, but for now I just want to convey the key things to think about.
Step 1. Begin Your Dynamic Warm Up
- Start with something just to get the blood flowing. This could be 5 minutes on the exercise bike, or even a light shuffle on the treadmill for a couple of minutes. Jumping rope for a few minutes is another excellent one.
- Next go into some skipping up and down if you have the room. High knees, butt kicks, grapevine: all that kind of stuff is going to really warm your legs up nicely.
- Include some leg swings. Leg swings have always been a big part of my dynamic warm up as they really loosen the hips up well.
- Focus on the glutes. Fire hydrants and band shuffles are my favorite ways to warm up the glutes. You can even just do a single leg hip thrust isometric hold.
- Don’t forget your upper body. Arm swing is an important part of the VJ so remember to loosen your arms and shoulders up.
Step 2. Do Your Potentiation Exercise
- Med ball tosses are a great one. This is a great, jump-specific way to overload your legs but it’s also a full body exercise and a great way to fire up the upper body.
- Dumbbell box jumps. As per the research, this one has been proven to improve vertical jump performance. Use 10% of your bodyweight in each hand and a box no higher than 25″.
- Empty bar squat jumps. Super easy to do and super jump specific.
Just do one or two sets here of very low reps. We don’t want to fatigue the muscles at all but just stimulate them.
Step 3. Increase Rate Coding & Adrenaline Prior To Testing
We’ve already improved rate coding (how well our CNS coordinates athletic output) through incorporating potentiation work. But what can do we to increase adrenaline?
Think about music and training atmosphere. If every time you tested your vertical jump you were in a stadium full of die hard fans, clapping you into your jump attempt, you would jump a lot higher.
Obviously you can’t always be in an atmosphere like this but you can always listen to some music that fires you up directly before an attempt. Make a high-adrenaline playlist for moments like this.
Many top powerlifters listen to the same exact song directly before they attempt a big pull at any meet because it focuses and adrenalises them.
Visualise yourself jumping as high as possible. Think about what each muscle contraction will be like as you make your attempt. Be incredibly deliberate and focused during your jump attempts and never just go through the motions.
Some Final Thoughts
I should also mention this routine is specifically for vertical jump testing, but it makes a great warm up if your focus for the workout is plyometrics or speed strength work too.
Don’t be afraid to really take your time with your warm up. It can take a while to get your body temperature, muscles, joints, and tendons all exactly where you need them to be.
That’s why it’s generally a good idea to plan out a warm up routine that does a good job of getting you jump ready in a reasonable amount of time. Ideally you won’t be warming up for 45 minutes just to do a couple of jumps.
Get creative with it. As I said, there’s a wealth of exercise demonstrations on YouTube you can look at for inspiration.
Most people will warm up pretty ineffectively for the vertical jump simply because they don’t understand the concepts at play. If you combine the scientific principles I’ve discussed here into a well-designed warm up, you’ll be able to jump as close to your maximum potential as humanly possible every time.