Reactive Strength Training Part 3: Training Parameters

In the first two parts of this series on reactive strength development we discussed what reactive strength was and why it was important for jumping higher. We also went through some of the more commonly used methods for increasing reactive strength.

In this article I am going to discuss some of the training parameters (sets, reps, drop height, rest etc) that should be employed when undertaking this kind of training. Now if you have read our FREE vertical jump training guide you will already know that you can’t simply say that you should do 4 sets of 6 reps with 1 minute rest of exercise xxx.

When you are designing vertical jump training programs you need to take into consideration the total work load of the athlete, the other training they are doing, their individual training experience and so on. It is because you need to take these things into consideration that you can’t make hard and fast statements about appropriate training parameters.

However, what I can do is the discuss some of the things you might take into consideration when using some of the techniques mentioned and provide some guidance about how you might set up your own program.

Training Intensity v Training Volume

First up there is something that you definitely need to know about training volume (sets and reps) and that is that there is an inverse relationship between the intensity of an exercise and the number of reps you can do.

What this means is that the greater the intensity of an exercise, the less reps you can do. For example, if you are squatting at 70% of your 1 rep max you would be able to do anywhere between 10-20 reps pretty easily. If you bump that weight on the bar up to 98% of your 1 rep max you would really struggle to do anymore than a single rep.

The same goes for vertical jumping exercises. So how do you measure the intensity of a jumping drill? I like to use the degree of impact as the yardstick here. For example, if you are jumping using a skipping rope you are only getting a couple of inches off the ground each time and as such the level of impact is very low. Accordingly we can say that the intensity of this type of jumping is also very low.

Gerald Green dunkGetting your HEAD at the rim is a HIGH intensity jump

Using the inverse relationship I mentioned earlier it stands to reason that you would therefore be able to do plenty of reps using a skipping rope without too much loss of performance – which obviously you can.

Now if you go to the other end of the spectrum you have something like depth jumps. By first stepping off an elevated box you significantly increase the landing forces on each jump. As such you will quickly find that if you try and perform too many depth jumps your ability 1) land safely, 2) rebound quickly, and 3) continue to reach decent jump heights seriously starts to become compromised.

Quality v Quantity

So what has this inverse relationship got to do with reactive strength training? Well as you may have noticed the common methods used to increase reactive strength are also those that have a high degree of impact on your body. Due to this it is important to realize that you should be looking to keep your total volume of jumps quite low on these exercises.

The other important thing to take away is that you should also be using a lower number of reps per set, and resting longer between sets to ensure you are maintaining safety and performance. So what sort of numbers am I talking here?

Well for high impact reactive strength exercises such as depth jumps, altitude landings and reactive weight training methods I like to keep sets to a maximum of 5 or 6 jumps. In a workout a total of 20 - 30 reps is usually more than plenty for most people (so 4-6 sets). With reactive strength training it is definitely a case of quality over quantity. Quality equals results, quantity equals injuries.

Rest Periods

The other factor that can impact quality besides volume is the amount of rest taken between sets and even reps. With something like depth jumps and altitude landings you get an inbuilt rest between reps because you have to climb back onto the box each time (although you can circumvent this by simply jumping back on to the box, however I don’t recommend this because you then start limiting your jump height to the box height).

That said, I still prefer athletes to regroup between each and every rep of this type of exercise. What this means is that when you are back on the box preparing to perform your next rep you should be taking a moment to gather yourself and go through in your mind the steps you need to take. I am not talking 20 seconds per rep, just a few extra seconds to prepare mentally.

reactive strength trainingTaking a breather helps maintain intensity

In between sets it is important to take enough rest to allow you to perform the next set with the same high level of intensity and effort. Even when using lower volumes it is still quite taxing on your body and central nervous system. Anywhere between 3-5 minutes is a suitable rest period for high intensity plyometrics and reactive weight training methods.

Proper Box Height: Don't Sweat The Small Stuff

Of course this brings us to another variable for reactive strength training methods and that is drop height. If you use a 4 inch box it is clearly not going to be as taxing as using a 25 inch box. So what box height is best?

One way of determining the optimal box height is to test a few different ones to see at which height box you can rebound back up the highest from. This takes a bit of trial and error but is not bad as far as a testing method goes.

Another, infinitely simpler approach is to just use whatever you have available that allows you to perform the depth jump, or altitude landing correctly. So for a depth jump you want to choose something that you can step off, and with minimum ground contact time and knee bend, spring back up. For altitude landings you want to be able to land softly on the balls of your feet with minimum knee bend to absorb the down force.

I know this may seem rather unscientific but the fact is your vertical jump gains will not hinge on whether or not you perform depth jumps from a 45cm box or a 50cm box. As long as you can perform the exercise correctly and safely, and the drop is enough to provide a reasonable amount of downward momentum you will overload the eccentric and get results.

In the past I have used fences, park benches, milk crates, a pile of bricks to name a just few. All have worked just fine.

park benchNo plyo boxes? No Problem!

Putting It All Together

When designing a workout that contains reactive strengthexercises it is important to not over do it. For example, you would not do altitude landings and depth jumps in the same workout. You might instead spend a 4 week period performing depth jumps, then another 4 week period using other training methods, followed by a 4 week period using altitude landings.

The middle 4 week period could still contain a variety of plyometric exercises just not the high intensity, eccentrically overloaded variety.

Another consideration is where to put your reactive strength training exercises into the scheme of your workout. Obviously with quality being paramount it is best to include them early on. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are the first cab off the rank. For those of you using Vertical Mastery and requiring reactive strength you will already know that in most cases depth jumps are the second exercise in the workout.

The reason for this is quite simple in that it allows the athlete to be not only warmed up physically, but also to be mentally into it as well. Often what happens is that you start your workout and it isn’t until you get a little way into that you start to hit your stride.

With that said a sample workout involving reactive strength development might look like this:

Warm up: 10 to 15 minutes – see the FREE vertical jump training guide for details

Exercise 1: power skipping, 4 sets of 6 reps each leg, 90 seconds rest between sets

Exercise 2: altitude landings (or depth drops) 4 sets of 5, 3 minutes rest between sets

Exercise 3: paused frog jumps, 3 sets of 6, 60 seconds rest between sets

Exercise 4: box jumps with a weight vest, 3 sets of 5, 60 seconds rest between sets

Cool down

Total jumps for the workout = 101 of which the frog jump and the box jumps are low impact.

Total workout time = approximately 40 minutes not including 20-25 minutes for a warm up and cool down

depth jumpsFor MAXIMUM results you need to use MAXIMUM intensity


So this concludes part 3 of our reactive strength series. At this stage you should have a good idea of what reactive strength is and why it is important for jumping high, some of the more common methods used to develop it, and now, some general guidelines you can use to implement it into your own training.

In part 4 I am going to take a look at some more methods that coaches use to develop eccentric strength to help their athletes jump higher and run faster. There are some fun and novel approaches used and it should give you plenty more ideas.

Related Articles

Reactive Strength Part 1 - What is reactive strength and why is it important to jump high?

Reactive Strength Part 2 - Commonly used methods of reactive strength development.

Reactive Strength Part 4 - Alternative training methods for increasing reactive strength.



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