A good indicator to someone's athletic ability is the vertical leap. With this in mind, assuming you are participating in some form of sport, it would be in our best interest that we would want to improve our vertical leap. There aren't many sports that will forego the requirement for a powerful athlete, which is why it is such a good ability to improve upon.
The rate at which you can recruit muscle fibres via the nervous system will determine your 'speed', the cross sectional size of your muscles that are being recruited typically determines your 'strength'. This is what power is; combine these two to leap up as high as you can.
How do we measure the vertical leap?
The easiest way to measure one’s vertical leap is chalk the fingers of the dominant hand and stand next to the wall with your hand up as high as possible, leaving chalk on the wall. Then stand next to the wall with your dominant hand closest to wall. From standing, drop into a squat whilst counterbalancing with your arms, then thrust the body upwards as high as you can, making a mark on the wall at the top of your jump. Take your result by measuring the difference between the standing chalk mark to the jump chalk mark.
What exercises best improve the vertical leap?
It might not come as a surprise when I suggest plyometric squats and squatting will increase your vertical leap the most.
Plyometric work will help in general your rate of force development (speed at which you can apply force, the higher this is, the better your jump). Bodyweight plyometric work for the beginner such as:
- Vertical jumps
- Box jumps
- Single leg bench jump
More advanced athletes could opt for adding resistance work to their plyometric movements:
- Dumbbell weighted jumps
- Weighted vest box jumps
- Weighted vest single leg bench jump
- Barbell Squat jumps
Perform one or two of these exercises at 3-4 sets for anywhere between 3-5 reps, at the start of your workout. I would suggest resting a minimum of a minute between sets, and for the more advanced athlete, even up to 5 minutes can be required.
We would also need to increase the amount of strength the athlete has, so variants of squats will be the go-to movements.
For beginners, you can try one of these movements:
- Dumbbell squat
- Goblet squat
- Double kettlebell front squat
More advanced lifters I would highly suggest opting for the following movements:
- Back squat
- Front squat
Work for 4-5 sets at between 4-6 reps on one of these per workout, making sure you are hitting depth below parallel.
Olympic lifting for power improvement
For more advanced lifters and athletes you can use Olympic lifting to increase your power output. However, there is a steep learning curve for Olympic lifts movements. Without learning an entirely new skill, but still utilising phases of Olympic movements, you can still get reap the benefits.
If you are still wanting to get the benefits of Olympic lifting, but not wanting to learn the full lift you can still use shed-load of power, with half the learning curve.
After a thorough warm up, perform 1-3 reps for 4-5 sets of 1 of the following exercises:
- Hang clean
- High pull
Have these exercises at the start of your workout. You can follow these on with some more of the simple plyometric work mentioned earlier, or go straight into your strength.
As always, if you are unsure, talk to a fitness instructor/personal trainer/strength and conditioning coach before trying any of the suggested movements.
Retest to see improvement
If you are looking to see if you have improved, give it anywhere from 8-12 weeks to retest your jump, and with these movements in your programme, an increase should be seen.
Onwards and upwards
With an improved vertical leap, your athletic ability within your chosen sport should increase; therefore your performance in the sport itself should too.
From a clean and jerk stance and grip width, start in a position so that your back is straight with hips low. Explode off the starting position and look to pull the bar up as high as you can whilst extending your hips as fast forward as possible, coming up to tip toes.
Hang barbell just on bottom of thighs. Explode up, extending hips forward and pulling the bar up like in the high pull, but jump up instead of coming up onto the toes. Slam feet into the floor as you come underneath the bar to catch the bar in your front squat position, elbows forward.
Starting from the floor, hips low and clean and jerk stance and grip width. Explode up, extending hips forward and pulling the bar up like in the high pull but jump up instead of coming up onto the toes. Slam feet into the floor whilst coming underneath the bar to catch the bar in your squat position, elbows forward.