Athletes from which sport have the highest vertical jump? Most people would think the answer is basketball or volleyball but the actual answer is weightlifting. Olympic weightlifters are not only incredibly strong but they can produce force at amazingly high rates. As we know, strength combined with rate of force development is the recipe for vertical jump success, and these guys do it extremely well.
So should we emulate Olympic weightlifters to become similarly strong, powerful, and explosive?
Olympic lifts, such as the snatch and clean, are an excellent way to increase your vertical jump, but they are difficult movements to perform which require mastering technique before any significant vertical jump gains will be realized.
Luckily, however, there are some very technically simple lifts which mimic these Olympic lifts which are far easier to learn and about as effective!
In this article we’ll take a look at some of the research on Olympic lifting and the vertical jump, which of the Olympic lifts are worth learning (if any), and what the best alternative movements are.
Why You Don’t Need To Include Olympic Lifts To Jump Higher
While it’s a good idea to include some of these lifts, they can be really tricky to master. Unless you can learn proper form from someone who knows what they’re doing, I recommend not bothering with Olympic lifts, or picking something relatively simple to learn like the hang power clean and practicing that.
Olympic Weightlifting WILL Make You Jump Higher
The evidence is undeniable, these lifts work.
One recent meta-analysis looked at the efficacy of Olympic weightlifting on vertical jump height, compared to plyometric training and typical resistance training. The results found were that Oly lifting was far more successful at increasing vertical jump than traditional weightlifting, but not more so than plyometrics alone.1https://www.researchgate.net/publication/285543288_Olympic_weightlifting_training_improves_vertical_jump_height_in_sportspeople_A_systematic_review_with_meta-analysis
Of course you need to include plyometrics in your jump training, but they’ll only get you so far unless you’re also lifting heavy as well.
I like to think of the Oly lifts as the glue that brings the strength and plyometric side of things together. These exercises are known as power or ballistic movements and I believe they should be included alongside your strength and plyo work for optimal results.
But Is It Really Worth It When The Alternatives Work Just As Well?
The good news is that you don’t actually have to learn how to perfect the snatch or clean to get the benefits from these lifts. All these movements are doing is triple extension with a load moving as forcefully as possible.
It’s totally possible to recreate the training effects of the Olympic lifts without actually doing any Olympic lifts…
One study compared barbell jump squats to the hang high pull and found the following…
Loaded jumps seem equally effective as weightlifting derivatives for improving lower-body power in experienced athletes. Because loaded jumps require less skill and less coaching expertise than weightlifting, loaded jumps should be considered where coaching complex movements is difficult.2https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28426514/
So not only were jump squats about as good as doing the Olympic lift, it really doesn’t need to be coached at all. Why go through all the effort of learning to do a fancy lift if it’s no better than the simpler alternative?
Seriously, Just Do Jump Squats…
As we know, the jump squat is infinitely easier for any athlete to perform; there’s absolutely no learning curve.
Other really simple power movements include the med ball toss. Launching a medicine ball as far into the air as you can isn’t all that different to performing any of the Olympic lifts. You’re still moving a load explosively and you’re getting pretty close to triple extension.
You could very easily get away with just doing jump squats and med ball tosses without doing a single Olympic lift, and you’d probably have really good results still!
Olympic lifts can be finicky as well. With cleans you need to catch in a front squat position while racking on your upper shoulders near your throat. Younger, less developed athletes will often have trouble catching lifts properly and can experience wrist pain particularly if they lack tricep mobility.
Best Olympic Lifts For Vertical Jump?
Suppose you do want to give the Oly lifts a go, which ones are the best for increasing your vertical jump? As I mentioned earlier, we really don’t want to be doing these lifts at all unless we can get the technique as sound as possible or have a coach who can teach us some of the more advanced lifts.
Pick The Easy Ones & Avoid Snatches
My answer will always be to pick the lifts which are most simple to learn. Once we have decent technique, we can focus on adding weight which is where we’re going to realize gains.
For that reason, I prefer to avoid any snatch variants. If you know how to do them, great, but if you’re relatively new to these lifts and don’t have a coach, maybe forget about snatches for the time being. They require a lot more coordination than the cleans and also don’t allow us to generate as much power.
High Hang Pull
This exercise is a clean derivative and is relatively simple to learn and will help you become familiar with moving the bar powerfully.
You can do anywhere from 4-8 sets of 2-6 reps with these. Experiment with different loads.
Power/Hang Power Clean
This is my all-time favorite Olympic variant because it’s super simple to do, allows you to load up with some serious weight, and if you have knee issues you get to avoid catching the bar in that deep full squat position.
Usain Bolt is one of the most powerful athletes to have ever lived and he also frequents the hang power clean!
Both of these lifts are easy enough to learn with a little practice and in my opinion should be staples during your power-focused training period.
My Experience With Oly Lifting & Vertical Jump
I remember when I first started learning the Olympic lifts at around the age of 15. I had a strength coach instructing me on proper technique the entire time and it still took weeks just to get the technique down! Apparently I had quite tight triceps which made it very difficult for me to maneuver into the clean rack position.
I remember I’d have grazes all around my upper chest and throat from where I’d been trying to catch the clean. Having a small chest and bony shoulders didn’t help things much either! My wrists hurt quite a lot initially but over time the pain went away and my technique became reasonable.
The point I’m making is that it took a long time for me to work up to where I was power cleaning any reasonable amount of weight. I could have easily spent that time just doing barbell jump squats and tossing heavy things around and my vertical probably would have been better off had I done that.
I can’t say exactly what effect learning Olympic lifts had on my vertical, because I was using them in conjunction with other power moves like jump squats and med ball tosses, but I got the feeling that I wasn’t able to move enough weight to develop substantial power gains…
Having said that, I’m happy I learned these lifts because now I have them in my toolbox and can use them in combination with jump squats to give me multiple ways to train for power development.
Olympic lifts work. Those weightlifters have huge vertical jumps and amazing power. But that doesn’t mean you absolutely need to be training the same way Olympic lifters do to get similar results.
These lifts definitely increase your vertical jump by developing your lower body power, but they can take a while to learn and the research suggests they might not be all they’re cracked up to be.
Personally, I recommend just focusing on learning a couple really simple Olympic lifts like the hang high pull and the hang power clean. Perfect the technique over time while continuing to do other power movements like the barbell jump squat and you’ll be set!