Why Does Vertical Jump Decrease With Age?

Why Does Vertical Jump Decrease With Age?

Up until your mid twenties, getting older seems to be accompanied with getting stronger and more athletic.

However as that number starts to get higher and higher, it’s far more common to see athletic performance diminish as opposed to increase.

Vertical jump does tend to decrease as we get into our thirties and beyond, however it isn’t because of age itself but rather because of the choices we tend to make and habits we adopt as we advance through life.

The good news is that getting older itself isn’t actually going to handicap you as far as your vertical jump goes, if you don’t let it.

In the rest of this article we’ll look at the research which correlates age with decreased vertical jump performance, some older athletes who go completely against this trend, and how you can regain and improve your jumping ability as you get older.

 

Why Can I Not Jump As High As I Used To?

There’s actually some science we can look at here which answers this question. What it boils down to is effectively, ‘as you get older, you get fatter and lose muscle mass’.1https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2021.643649/full#:~:text=Vertical%20jumping%20power%20declines%20with,and%20increases%20in%20body%20fat.

That isn’t exactly groundbreaking rocket science, but that’s what it comes down to.

Be sure to check out this article if you’re looking for non age-related reasons why your vertical jump went down.

Lower Testosterone Means Lower Vertical Jump

One explanation for this age related vertical jump decrease is reduced testosterone. As we get older, we start to produce less testosterone, which is effectively an endogenous athletic performance enhancing drug.

Lower test levels are directly associated with increased bodyfat storage and a harder time retaining muscle mass.

I always recommend older athletes (really anyone over the age of 30) to go get some bloodwork done to see where their testosterone levels are at. If yours are particularly low and you’re suffering from other symptoms, hormone replacement therapy might be something to look into.

 

Age Will Hit Your Reactive Strength & Explosiveness The Hardest

One study found that age-related vertical jump performance decline was most obvious when testing athletes’ reactive strength index (RSI).2https://www.researchgate.net/publication/344343639_Effects_of_age_on_vertical_jump_performance_and_muscle_morphology_characteristics_in_females

The RSI is essentially vertical jump height divided by ground contact time and is a way of gauging how springy an athlete is overall.

So it seems that older athletes have a tougher time maintaining their reactive strength.

This makes a lot of sense as our joints get pretty busted up over time as we increase the total number of injuries our bodies have had to deal with over the years.

Dodgier joints means more cartilage issues, more scar tissue, worse mobility, and as a result a reduced RSI.

 

At What Age Does Vertical Jump Peak?

Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a ton of data on this, but it’s going to be around where you’d expect: 20-30 years of age, probably closer to 20-27 years old is when you can expect to be at your springiest.

If you look after yourself really well, you might reach peak athletic performance in the 27-32 age bracket, though when it comes to explosive movements like sprinting and the vertical jump, it’s pretty rare to see guys peaking after the age of 30, even though they’ll continue getting stronger for years to come.

I’m basing this from years of training with elite athletes in this age range and seeing them test their vertical jumps on a weekly basis.

Does Your Vertical Jump Increase As You Get Older?

For men, vertical jump should continue rising until the athlete has completed puberty and even slightly beyond as they finally fill out their frame.

So for my younger readers under the age of 18, your vertical jump is going to continue trending upwards for at least 4-5 years depending on how quickly you develop.

For women, we might expect to see things reach a peak at around 20-23.

Proper Training Approach Will Allow You To Peak Vertical Jump Even Later

Just because it’s normal to be jumping your highest in your early twenties, don’t let that deter you if you’re in your late twenties, thirties, or even older!

The main reason we’re able to jump this high when we’re this young is a combination of peaking testosterone levels as well as having had less injuries overall, i.e. healthier bodies.

Kadour ZianiImage Source

Assuming your test levels haven’t dropped off a cliff and you’re able to take really good care of your body, as you get older, you will become significantly stronger which means you will jump a lot higher if you’ve optimized your training and recovery.

I was jumping my highest around the age of 17. I’m now 27 and, although I haven’t tested my vertical in a while, I’m absolutely positive I’d be able to jump higher than I did 10 years ago with enough time to prepare. I’m simply so much stronger now with an extra 10 years of lifting under my belt.

The issue is that I’ve not taken care of my joints, flexibility, and mobility over the last decade, which means I’d probably need to spend a good 6 months or more limbering up and actually jumping again.

The key is to take really good care of yourself when you’re young so you don’t have this issue when you’re older!

 

Old Guys Who Can Still Jump Really High

If it’s not already clear that you can still jump really high at almost any age and that the primary limiting factor is your attitude, I hope these examples will drive that point home.

Lebron James

As I write this, Lebron is in his 17th NBA season and is 37 years of age and a couple weeks ago pulled off one of the nastier dunks of his career when he put Kevin Love on a poster.

It’s pretty clear to those paying close attention that Lebron isn’t quite as athletic as he once was, but when he’s getting his head above the rim like this after almost two decades in the league, you could be forgiven for thinking he’s at his athletic peak.

Lebron was arguably at his prime from around 2008-2013, when he was 23-28 years old and he was probably jumping his highest around then as well.

This man is well known for spending seven figures every year on maintaining his body. He takes all aspects of training and recovery super seriously and has enjoyed a relatively low injury rate throughout his career.

Kadour Ziani

Kadour is considered by many to be the greatest pure dunker of all time and was well known for his incredible flexibility and ability to touch the rim with his foot!

This man is still getting up and throwing down at 48 years of age.

There’s no better example of a guy who had great natural jumping ability but also spent probably more time than anyone else taking care of his joints and mobility.

He mentions in a video that he spent a lot of time studying large cats and would try to emulate the way they moved and stretched. And this guy is easily as limber as a lion!

 

How Do I Get My Jumping Ability Back?

So you used to jump pretty high and you want to relive those former glory days… Is it possible to get your vertical back to what it was before? You might be surprised.

If you’ve managed to maintain or increase muscle mass over the years and have avoided serious joint damage/injury, with a little training, you have a good chance of being able to jump as high as you once were able to, and maybe even higher!

Below I’ve come up with some advice for how to efficiently get back into peak jumping condition.

If I decided to give myself 1 year from today to get my vertical jump back to where it once was, this is exactly what I’d do.

Mobility & Flexibility

This basically involves a whole lot of stretching, foam rolling, and mobility work on a daily basis to start getting rid of those cobwebs. I’d strive to do the following every day.

      • At least 45-60 minutes static stretching and foam rolling. Probably broken down into 3 separate 15-20 minute sessions throughout the day. Over time I’d find my hips and quads starting to loosen up which is a pre-requisite for me to even think about doing plyometric training!
      • Deep tissue massage 2-3 times a week. This is completely optional and is basically a luxury. I live in Thailand where I can get an hour long Thai massage for just under $10, so it makes sense.
      • Knees Over Toes training focus. I’d look to put a big focus on strengthening my Achilles and tibialis as well as VMO muscles through using advanced tibialis training in conjunction with sled training on an almost daily basis. I’d include a bunch of stuff like ATG split squats multiple times a day to try and get my knees as healthy as possible.

Reduce Bodyfat

Luckily for me, I’m pretty lean right now. But for most of you out there looking to regain jumping ability, you’re going to have to get down to ~10% bodyfat.

I’ve got a few diet tips for vertical jump training you might want to check out.

Fat don’t fly. Simple as that.

Continue Lifting Heavy

I’d probably continue doing heavy squats around once a week as I shift my training focus into more jump-oriented stuff and some power work.

Realistically, I’d start things off with a heavy strength mesocycle, followed by a power development training block, before transitioning to a reactive strength training focus.

This would involve lifting heavy right the way through, but volume would reduce greatly as the focus shifts towards jumping.

Jump Until You Can’t Jump Any Higher!

Since I’m currently the strongest I’ve ever been in my life, the only focus for me would be to relearn how to jump and get my body used to being springy again.

I’d keep my training focus on plyometrics and power movements with just a minimal amount of strength maintenance for as long as necessary until I was able to jump really high again.

For you, if you’re not as strong as you were in your heyday, you may need to go through a couple strength cycles before you’ve got your baseline strength back up to where it needs to be.

How Would I Maintain My Jumping Ability?

The key to this would be to continue executing on the mobility and flexibility work every day. I’d continue bulletproofing my knees and lower legs so that my joint integrity would stay really healthy for years to come.

I’d continue eating really healthily and getting plenty of sleep and I’d be confident that I’d not only be able to maintain my jumping ability well into my thirties, but also reach new heights as I continue getting stronger and more athletic.

 

Age Itself Won’t Stop You From Jumping Higher!

The truth is that age is kind of irrelevant when it comes to your vertical jump. Age itself doesn’t impact anything. It’s the values you develop, habits you adopt, and mindset you cultivate as you age that determines your limits.

The most important thing for young athletes who have not yet peaked their vertical jump is to take really good care of their joints. You’ve got your best years ahead of you, so don’t ruin them with injuries or hinderances!

My biggest regret in my early athletic career was not taking better care of my body.

For guys in their thirties and even beyond, there’s absolutely no good physiological evidence to suggest you can’t also peak your vertical jump in the future, with the right training.

Harvey Meale

About Harvey

I've dedicated my life to increasing my vertical jump and helping others do the same. I created Jump Stronger to share what I'm learning and to help others on their own vertical jump journey.