by Joe DeFranco, Owner, Performance Enhancement Specialist
DeFranco’s Training Systems
(The following article is an excerpt from Joe’s best-selling training manual,
“The Vertical Jump – Advanced Speed & Strength Methods”.)
You now hopefully realize that there is a lot more to the vertical jump then you originally thought. This should also help you to understand that there’s a lot more to the training then you maybe originally thought. It’s not just about wearing some funny-looking shoes that claim to work magic on your vertical jump. There is definitely a science to this type of training. There is also a reason and purpose why every single exercise in this section was chosen. It’s now time for the fun stuff! After learning and understanding the following 15 exercises, it will soon be time to go to our favorite place in the world. . . The Gym!
In this section we will give you our Fab 15 list of the exercises we’ve found give the best “bang for your buck” with regards to improving your vertical jump. Remember that there are many exercises out there that will work, but in the training economy you want to pick the exercises that will give you the greatest results in the least amount of time. This list of exercises accomplishes that goal. These are the main exercises we have used to get our athletes to jump high… in minimal time! An added benefit of this list of exercises is that you’ll notice your sprint times will also improve. Any time you train to improve your vertical, you’ll notice you also get faster. Not a bad side effect, is it?
Anyway, let’s check out the Fab 15! (They are in no particular order.)
#1) Box Squats with bands – We love box squats in that we feel they teach the athlete to “sit back” while squatting, which further recruits the all-important hamstrings. Your hamstrings must be super-powerful if you want to run fast or jump high. We also like the fact that we can set the depth of the squat without any error. This prevents cheating, especially when athletes start to fatigue and the squats tend to get higher and higher. We squat anywhere from 6” off of the floor to 1” above parallel, depending on our goal. We also like the fact that box squatting builds “static overcome by dynamic strength”. This type of strength is important in many athletic movements (sprinter coming out of the blocks, lineman coming off of the ball in football, etc.).
Some say box squats are dangerous. That is complete crap! Box squats done incorrectly are dangerous. We’ve never had an athlete get injured box squatting. Open your mind and learn how to do them the right way! It will pay huge dividends. To learn how to box squat correctly, go to Dave Tate’s website at www.eliteFTS.com. He has numerous articles written on how to box squat correctly and does a great job of teaching it.
One of the main reasons we chose the bands for box squatting is their ability to accelerate the eccentric portion of the lift. You see, the athlete’s we train that have the best verticals are also the one’s who descend the fastest during their jumps. Newton’s 3rd Law states that “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. What this means is that the faster an athlete can descend, the faster he will explode upward and the higher he will jump. The bands train this often-overlooked component of the vertical jump.
We also like the fact that as the athlete approaches the top of the squat the bands stretch out, thus increasing the tension. This teaches the athlete to accelerate through the entire rep. Basically, as the athlete’s leverage increases, so does the tension of the bands. In order to complete the rep, the athlete must apply more force at the top then he would if there were no bands attached to the bar. After this type of training an athlete will be much more likely to explode downward, make a quick reversal, and then accelerate upward rapidly during his jumps. Put all of these qualities together and you have a huge vertical. We usually perform multiple sets of low-rep box squats, focusing on speed (on the way down as well as on the way up). We like our advanced athletes to be able to perform 2 reps in less than 2 seconds.
#2 Static Hip Flexor Stretch – In general, we’re not big fans of static stretching, especially before performing explosive activities. This stretch is a major exception. Try this. Perform a vertical jump and record the height. Then, static stretch your hip flexors – 2 sets of 30 seconds each leg. Really stretch the sh** out of them! Stretch as if you’re trying to tear that hip flexor off the bone, baby! Don’t just go through the motions! Now jump again. Chances are you’ll jump ½” – 2” higher, just by static stretching the hip flexors. Why is this, you say? We’ll tell you. You see, most athletes have super-tight hip flexors. When you jump, tight hip flexors cause a lot of friction, preventing you from fully extending at the hip, as well as reaching as high as you can. By static stretching them immediately before you jump, you not only stretch them out, but also “put them to sleep” do to the long, slow stretch. This causes less friction at the hip when you jump. This results in higher jumps. You will be amazed at how well this works. (By the way, the hip flexors are the only muscles you would ever want to static stretch before jumping.) It is also a good idea for athletes to get in the habit of stretching their hip flexors everyday, not just before jumping. This will help to increase your stride length when you run, as well as prevent hamstring pulls and low-back pain.
Any hip-flexor stretch will do but we will describe the one we use the most. Get in a lunge position with your left knee on the ground and your right foot as far forward as possible. Drive your hips as far forward as you can, while keeping your chest up. Try to get your left thigh 45 degrees to the floor. Raise your left hand as high as you can and twist slightly to your right, looking over your right shoulder and reaching over your head. You should feel a stretch in the left hip flexor as well as your abs. Perform 2 sets of 30 seconds and then switch sides.
#3) 50-Rep “Rhythm” Squats – This is a little-known exercise we usually bust out about 3 weeks before one of our athlete’s would be getting tested in the vertical. You would always start your workout with this exercise and you will only perform one all-out work set after a good warm-up. Try to go as heavy as possible for your one set. A good goal is 90 - 100% of what your max full squat is. Basically, you will perform 50 quarter-squats as fast as possible. Due the first 10 reps exploding onto your toes, then on reps 11-20 keep your heels down on the way up, then, explode onto your toes again while performing reps 21-30, keep your heels down for reps 31-40 and then finish the final 10 reps by exploding onto your toes again. It helps to have a partner count out loud so you can perform all 50 reps as fast as possible without breaking momentum. This is a great exercise for athletes with a poor elastic component. It is also a bitch!
WARNING: You may not be able to feel your legs when you’re done. TOUGH SH*T! Do them anyway! They work.
Note: You can also do this exercise with bands attached to the bar. This will help in the same way we explained with the box squats (by accelerating the eccentric portion of the lift). The bands also help in this exercise because they hold the bar down on your neck. Anyone who has done this exercise knows one of the drawbacks is that the bar has a tendency to bounce up and down on your neck once you get the “rhythm” of the set going. The downward pull of the bands helps to prevent the slightly uncomfortable feeling of a heavy barbell exploding up and down on your cervical spine!
#4 Snatch Grip Deadlifts – This exercise is basically a regular deadlift, yet you use a “snatch” grip. By taking this wider grip, you must get deeper “in the hole” when lowering the weight to the floor, thus further recruiting the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes and low back). Snatch grip deads are ungodly in their ability to strengthen the posterior chain and is a great foundation exercise to be used when training for the vertical. This exercise will put slabs of muscle on your glutes, hamstrings, spinal erectors, forearms and upper back. The only problem with this exercise is it makes sitting on the toilet very challenging the day after performing it.
#5) Depth Jumps – A depth jump or shock jump is performed by stepping off a box and then exploding upward immediately upon landing on the ground. We use boxes of varying heights, depending on the level of athlete we’re training. By stepping off a box, the muscles are rapidly stretched upon landing, which enables them to contract harder and faster when exploding upward (similar to what we were talking about with the box squats and the bands). The goal of this exercise is to spend the least amount of time on the ground as possible. We like to use .15 seconds as a guide. If the athlete spends any longer on the ground, it is no longer a true plyometric exercise because the amortization phase is too long. If performed properly, we have found this exercise to be very effective. The problem is that most athletes and coaches that perform this exercise don’t follow these rules. If an athlete crumbles like a deck of cards upon hitting the ground and then takes 5 minutes to jump back into the air; the box is either too high or the athlete isn’t advanced enough to be performing the exercise.
We usually start with a 6” box and work up to a 24” box with our more advanced athletes. Again, don’t get too crazy with the height of the box. Time and time again we hear of some super athlete who does depth jumps off of the roof of his house or some other BS. We’re not impressed. Remember that choosing a box that is too high can end up defeating the point of the exercise by increasing ground contact time.
#6) Reverse Hyperextensions – The reverse hyperextension machine was made popular in this country by powerlifting guru Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell in Columbus, Ohio. He has a patent on the original reverse hyper model. This is the one we have at our facility and it’s probably the most frequently used machine in our gym. Why is this, you ask? Because the friggin’ thing works! We don’t know of any other machine that works pure hip extension in such a synchronized manner – hitting the hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors all during the course of one rep. It also works as traction for the low back during the lowering of the weight. The bottom line is that if you want to run fast and jump high, then you should have one of these in your gym. We can’t say enough about this machine. All of our athletes use it – no matter what their sport, age, or training goal. It can be ordered through Elite Fitness Systems at www.eliteFTS.com.
#7) Dumbell Swings – This is one of those “old school” exercises you don’t see too often anymore. To perform this exercise, first grab a dumbell with both of your hands (use a hand over hand grip or interlock your fingers of both hands). Set your feet as if you were about to perform a squat, while holding the dumbell in front of you. Squat down and let the dumbell drop between your legs. Keep your back arched as you descend down and look straight ahead. Once you reach the full squat position, immediately explode up by extending at the hips, while simultaneously flexing at the shoulders and raising the dumbell above your head. Keep your elbows straight. This exercise “kills 2 birds with 1 stone” as it works pure hip extension as well as your front delts in a synchronized, explosive manner. This is exactly what happens when you perform a vertical jump. You can perform this exercise with a box under each foot for added range of motion.
Note: As you swing the dumbell upward, DO NOT leave go of it! Throwing the dumbell forward would not be a bad exercise, but we think it may piss the owner of your gym off.
#8) Bulgarian Split Squats – This is basically a single leg squat, with the non-working leg elevated on a bench behind you. Perform this exercise by holding a dumbell in each hand, descend until the back knee touches the floor and then explode back up to the start position. This exercise will crush the glutes and VMO (the quadriceps muscle on the inside of your knee) of the front leg, while stretching the hip flexor of the back leg. Remember what we said about the importance of flexible hip flexors with regards to your jumping ability? Well, this exercise makes our “Fab 15” list of exercises due to the fact it promotes strength AND flexibility in the specific muscles used in jumping. Also, because it is a unilateral movement, it helps to correct muscular imbalances that may exist in the athlete’s legs.
#9 “Pogo Jump” Warm-up – This is a warm-up we use before many of our lower body strength workouts, plyo workouts and speed workouts. It is not only a great warm- up, but we believe this “warm-up” may actually increase your vertical jump in and of itself! But first, let us describe exactly what a pogo jump is, anyway. A pogo jump is performed by jumping off of the ground by just springing off your ankles. While you’re in the air you want to dorsiflex your ankles, a.k.a. “pull your toes up”. You also must prevent your heels from ever touching the ground. The key to this exercise lies in your ability to keep your knees locked while jumping and landing on and off the ground, as well as spending the least amount of time on the ground as possible. Be sure not to flex at the hips, either. Many times when athletes perform this exercise their feet kick uncontrollably out in front of themselves. Don’t let this happen! Your whole body should remain in a perfectly straight line, with the exception of your ankles dorsiflexing while you’re in the air. We do both low and high pogo jumps in our warm-up. The technique remains exactly the same except for the height differences, of course. Low pogo jumps should be performed for speed. You only want to jump about 1” – 2” off the ground, but try to perform as many reps as possible in the required time. The goal of the high pogo jumps is to get as much height as possible by just springing off of your ankles during each jump. Pogo jumps are an incredible exercise that trains the Achilles tendon for elasticity. This will help to prevent ankle injuries as well as increase explosiveness. Here’s the warm-up we use…
A. Low Pogo Jumps – 3 sets of 20 seconds, rest 30 seconds between each set
B. High Pogo Jumps – 3 sets of 20 seconds, rest 30 seconds between each set
10) Trap Bar Deadlifts, off a 4” box – Trap bars are diamond-shaped bars that allow you to perform deadlifts and shrugs by standing inside the bar, as opposed to having the bar in front of you. This puts less stress on the low back/spine. Many athletes feel much more comfortable using these bars as opposed to straight bars while deadlifting. Because of this, we feel that they are a great tool for all athletes - young and old. We have gotten many athletes who swore they would never deadlift again, to start deadlifting because of the trap bar. One thing we like to due is have our athletes trap bar deadlift while standing on a 4” box. Once again, by increasing the range of motion, the hamstrings are further activated. This will greatly help your running and jumping ability. You can use various box heights, yet we’ve found 4 inches to be great for increasing the range of motion while not causing a breakdown in the athlete’s form.
11) Standing Backward Medicine Ball Throw – This exercise is similar in nature to the dumbell swing, but by using a medicine ball you can actually release the object you’re holding, thus producing more explosive power. (This is because you don’t have to worry about decelerating the weight.) To perform this exercise, hold a med ball in front of you, bend forward, and then toss it up and over your head, behind you, to a partner. This is another exercise that links the lower and upper body in a synchronized, explosive manner. This is vertical jump specific.
Don’t use a med ball that’s so heavy you can barely get it over your head. But don’t use something that’s so light you toss it into another zip code, either. Use common sense, huh. Our athletes usually use med balls they can toss anywhere from 10 – 20 yards. Once all of your throws start going beyond 20 yards, you’re ready to graduate to a heavier ball.
12) Power Clean/Power Snatch – We like the Olympic lifts in that we feel they teach the athlete to maximally “turn on” the higher threshold (type IIB) motor units. This is due to the fact that you cannot perform a max power clean or power snatch slowly. If you move too slow you will miss the lift. We do feel there is somewhat of a learning curve involved in being explosive and if an athlete never learned to “turn on” maximally, they would be much less likely to do so during their vertical jump – or any other athletic movement. Besides being explosive by nature, both of these exercises require a strong posterior chain (which you should now be sick of hearing about), with the power snatch involving the entire extensor chain. You should now know this is one of the major requirements for an exercise to make our Fab15 list.
13) Weighted Ab Work – Your “core” (abs & low back) is the link from your lower to upper body. It is also responsible for the transference of force from your lower to upper body. Basically, your arms and legs can be strong as hell but if you have a marshmallow in the middle you will never completely benefit from your limb strength. The vertical jump is one of the ultimate examples of this. So don’t sell yourself short by only training your arms and legs. Hit the abs hard, too. This doesn’t mean 3 sets of 10 cruches at the end of you’re workout, either. We like weighted crunches on a Swiss ball, standing rotational work using high and low cables and medicine ball training. Remember that your abs just may be the missing “link” to that big jump!
14) Push Jerk – This is another great exercise that has been highly correlated with the vertical jump. When doing push jerks, we have our athletes place their feet about hip-width apart. We have them start with the bar resting on the front of their shoulders, with their hands OPEN. By starting with the hands open, they will be more likely to initiate the movement with their legs. Start the movement by dipping down and then explode up onto your toes, while pushing the bar overhead. Finally, bend the knees, bring your heels down and hold the bar overhead for a second. Lower the bar and then repeat the movement. This is another great example of an exercise in which the power is initiated by the lower body and then finished off with the upper body. Once again, this is vertical jump specific.
15) Vertical Jumps – No, this is not a misprint. One of the best ways to improve your vertical jump is to practice vertical jumping! We have had many athletes come to us with great strength, speed and flexibility, yet they had horrible verticals. This is because their jumping technique stunk! We have made as much as a 3” improvement in just minutes of working with some athletes, not by showing them how to cheat, but by correcting their form. Hopefully, after reading through this manual, you will know what proper form is. Then, once you have the form down and start working on the recommended exercises, you will possess eye-popping jumping ability!
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