vertical jump training

Olympic Lifting for Maximum Vertical Jump

Written by Jack Woodrup for VerticalJumping.com

More and more strength and conditioning coaches are starting to use Olympic lifting as a means of developing explosive power with their athletes. Why? Because it is hands down one of the best ways of doing so. In terms of maximizing your vertical jumping ability, these training tools certainly have a lot to offer.

The benefits of using this type of lifting to improve your vertical jump are many. For starters there are quite a number of parallels between the athletic demands of an Olympic lift and a vertical jump. Both an O-lift and a vertical jump require tremendous amounts of muscular power over very short periods of time, and for the most part, they are both single repetition movements.

In this article we will discuss exactly what the pro's and cons's of introducing this type of training into your vertical jump program are, as well as detailing some of the parameters in which it can be implemented.

What Are The Olympic Lifts

If you have ever watched the Olympic Games on television chances are you will have seen some of the incredible displays of strength shown in the weightlifting. It is an impressive sport. You see these odd looking athletes, who when compared to say, the sprinters, don't really look all that athletic, perform some truly mind blowing feats.

The heavyweight divisions in particular are something to behold as they throw huge weight around. During the lift the bar bends and flexes dramatically from all the weight and you are left wondering just how that guy managed to rip that sucker off the floor and abovehis head.

Below is a short clip of Shane Hamman who at 5'9 had a standing vertical of 36 inches and could dunk a basketball with two hands. In the video though Shane is doing what he does best, Olympic Lifting. The video shows the 2 main types of lift, the snatch, and the clean and jerk.

As you can see, these moves require some serious muscular power. Also obvious is that despite Shane's amazing power and ability to dunk, he wouldn't be that good at basketball. He did eat during the prime of his lifting career about 7000 calories a day mind you. So where does that leave us on Olympic lifting for vertical jump training? It might be time to look more closely at the benefits and negatives of this type of training.

Why The Olympic Lifts Are So Good

In terms of maximizing your vertical jump there are few activities that you can do that offer the types of benefits that the Olympic lifts do.

Mastering the O-lifts and incorporating them into your program will improve your co-ordination, your balance, your rate of force development (RFD), your flexibility, your neural activation, your muscular power, and on top of all this, it is also an awesome way to develop your fast twitch muscle fibers.
The main vertical jump related benefits of the O-lifts are in the way they speeds up your RFD, they train your fast twitch fibers, and the increases in muscular power they produce. Essentially working on improving these three things is somewhat of a holy grail for obtaining a massive jumping ability (along with maintaining a low percentage of body fat).

In the strength and weights training sections of this site we talk extensively about the use of squatting and deadlifts to build your strength and power. However, the Olympic lifts, combined with plyometrics, may in fact be a better choice. The reason for this is due to the range of similarities between Olympic lifting and vertical jumping.

Listed below are the two key differences between the Olympic lifts and the traditional power lifts (squats and deadlifts) as they relate to vertical jump training:

  • Unlike regular powerlifting movements, the Olympic lifts must, as a necessity to complete the movement, be performed at higher velocities. A squat or deadlift, whilst good for being able to use very heavy loads, are generally slower lifts.
  • The Olympic lifts more closely simulate the vertical jump movement in that the weight, and therefore the focus of your energy, moves from the lower body to the upper body, particularly with the variations of the snatch. When you jump, you transfer your upward momentum from your legs during the initial push, up through your body and finally into your arms as you forcefully swing them up aboveyour head.

In a deadlift or squat, the weight doesn't travel from those lower to higher planes as it either rests on your shoulders, or only comes up to the mid thigh region. Accordingly you do not have that same level of lower to upper body effort. Having said all of that, deadlifts and squats will always have a place in vertical jump training because they are some of the best tools for developing your maximal strength.

Drawbacks of Olympic Lifting

When we talk about the drawbacks of Olympic lifting they are more logistical than functional. For example, in order to do them properly you do really need a special area and special equipment to train in this manner. In the video clip you see Shane Hamman slamming down the bar at the end of his lifts. If we were to do that at our local gym they would probably ask us to leave and never come back.

The second negative is that there is a much steeper learning curve in perfecting the techniques. Unlike a squat or a deadlift which are both relatively easy to learn, the Olympic lifts require a bit more training to perfect. This isn't in any way insurmountable, but it does take a certain amount of time and patience before most people get them right.

Technique is important to learn for all exercises, but is even more vital for the Olympic lifts. When performed correctly they are actually quite safe and have a very low incidence of injury. This is actually quite remarkable given the ballistic nature of the exercises and the weights thrown around. The key point here is "performed correctly".

This second point is in fact something that shouldn't be underestimated. At the start of this article we mentioned that many coaches use the Olympic lifts because they are great for developing explosiveness in athletes. Yet despite the many benefits, a just as many, if not more coaches still choose not to use them. One of the main reasons is the time it takes to learn the techniques.

There are a lot of coaches who feel that the time it takes to properly learn the O-Lifts could be much better spent doing more traditional lifts such as squats and deadlifts. In many ways these coaches are quite right. As much as we lovethe Olympic lifts they are still just one of many training options available to help make an athlete more explosive and jump higher.

Incorporating Olympic Lifting Into Your Program

Study after study shows that explosive lifting is one of the quickest and most effective ways to increase you muscular power. Olympic lifting is the most explosive of all lifting types and therefore, certainly one of the most result producing.

To include it into your program you should, like all new training protocols, start slowly until you have mastered the techniques. Try practicing with just the bar, or if that is a bit difficult, even a regular wooden stick will do.

Once you are proficient at the actual movement of the lifts you can then start adding more weight. It is in these early stages we recommend getting some proper coaching if you can as it that will set you up for safer and better quality safer lifting, and therefore more results.

Once you are comfortable with the techniques and are capable of lifting some challenging weights you would start to use the Olympic lifts as regularly as your schedule and your bodies recuperative abilities allow.

Despite the very taxing nature of this type of training on your fast twitch muscle fibers, it is actually quite hard to over train. Unlike body building which tends to break down your muscle tissue and take a while to repair, Olympic lifting, performed with low reps (<=5 or 6), high 1RM%, and withexplosive speed, more heavily trains your CNS.

This CNS development is vital as it is the CNS that tells the body to fire of as many muscle fibers as quickly possible to generate more power. The more it is trained the better it gets. The better it gets, the more fibers it triggers in less and less time. The result, a huge vertical jump.

Another interesting point to note, is that unlike plyometrics which tends to more heavily fatigue your CNS to the point that several days are required to allow it to fully recover, you can, with the right mix of exercise selection and work volume, quite easily train up to 4 days per week.

A typical off season session might involve anywhere between 10 to 15 total sets of various pulls, snatches and cleans, mixed in with some squats and deadlifts (yes we still absolutely lovethose two exercises). This might seem a like a lot of sets but the rep ranges will usually max out at 3, often much less. The 1RM% will range from 55% x 3 reps for the first few sets to warm up to 90+% x 1 rep once you are in the groove.


Alternatives to Olympic Lifting

The reason the O-lifts are so effective at improving an athletes power is due to the way you have to movethe weight fast. If you don't lift fast you won't complete the lift. The same goes for vertical jumping. if you don't jump fast you won't jump high.

The lesson to take away from this is that if you can find exercises that also require you to movefast under load you can get the same types of benefits as doing the O-lifts. Fortunately there are many good alternatives, including many modified versions of the O-lifts themselves (thus removing large portions of the learning curve). For us though the best of the best of the alternative exercises is probably the jump squat.

Really, it doesn't get much more specific than jump squatting. In fact there have been a number of scientific studies that concluded that weighted jump squatting is in fact THE best way to improve your vertical. Whether or not this is true however is a whole other article.

Conclusion

There used to be an advertisement for Sony products that had the slogan "its an art, but is an art well worth your learning". This is exactly how we feel about Olympic lifting and vertical jump training. If you were to go and ask just about any elite level explosive track and field athlete they would nearly all be doing some form of this type of lifting.

It is a terrific way to build your explosive power. There are some obstacles that may need to be overcome (equipment and coaching) in order to be able to fully integrate them into your training, but once you do you will never look back.

Oh, and one more thing, you don't need to eat 7000 calories day and look like Shane Hamman (no offence Shane) to see the benefits of explosive Olympic Lifting.


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