Intensity and Vertical Jump Training
When looking to improve your vertical jump you regularly hear that you should always use maximum intensity! Actually, this isn't quite true. In this article we will define exactly what intensity is in terms of vertical jump training, and how you can manipulate it in order to best stimulate ongoing performance gains.
What is Intensity?Intensity is often mistakenly thought of as the degree of effort you are putting in. Whilst loosely this is around the mark, it isn't quite 100% correct. Effort and intensity do go hand in hand however and the greater the intensity, the more effort you will be required to put in.
However, intensity isn't just about effort. It is actually more related to the degree of difficulty of the exercise. What does this mean? Essentially most vertical jump training exercises can be categorized as being either weighted or jumping in nature.
For weighted exercises, intensity is determined by load. For example, performing a deadlift using 90% of your 1 Rep Max (1RM) is working at a much higher intensity than deadlifting with only 50% of your 1RM. This relationship holds true for all weighted exercises whether they be traditional strength lifts such as squats, or the more power orientated ones such as your Olympic lifts.
For jumping exercises intensity is defined by the degree of impact. Jumping rope, where your feet barely get off the ground, is an example of a low intensity jumping exercise (even when you are going really fast!).
At the other end of the intensity scale lies what are commonly referred to as true' plyometrics. These are exercises like depth jumps and altitude landings. When you drop down from large heights and land with minimum knee bend such as occurs for these exercises, there is a large impact to your body. These are high intensity.
The fact that intensity is determined by level of impact is quite useful as it means you can make depth jumps low intensity simply by jumping off a low box, and you can make jumping rope a higher intensity by going for maximum height on each revolution.
You can also increase or decrease the level of intensity by changing the surface on which you are jumping. Sand and grass are quite absorbent and as such the same exercise performed on them will be lower intensity than performing that exercise on concrete. This is good to know as the occasional mixing and matching of exercises is a great way to add variety to your program.
How Is This Useful For Vertical Jump improvementIn terms of how this concept of intensity can be applied to your training there are three general rules that can be followed.
Rule 1: Intensity and volume have an inverse relationship.
The higher the intensity, the lower the number of sets and reps you can and should perform. For most reasonably active people, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch for them to get out of their chair right now, and with no warm up, crank out 250 consecutive reps with a skipping rope (barring the odd timing mishaps).
However, if they tried to stand up on the desk and perform 250 consecutive depth jumps, well many would probably give up, or worse, injure themselves, well before they got even 1/5th of the way through.
The same applies to weighted exercises. With 50% of my 1RM I could knock out 5 x 10 reps pretty comfortably in well under 10 minutes. If I put my 1RM on the bar I would be very lucky to complete even 5 reps in under 10 minutes. When you up the intensity, you need to decrease the volume.
Rule 2: Higher intensity work produces greater gains.
If the majority of your training focus was on depth jumps and other high intensity exercises your vertical jump is going to improveway more than if you just spent a lot of time jumping rope and lightly skipping on grass.
In the weight room you will become stronger and more powerful when you use higher percentages of your 1RM. For example, if you can power clean 100kg for 1 repetition, then you should be trying to perform as much training as you can with weights that are as close to that 100kg mark.
Rule 3: Single leg jumps are of a higher intensity than their double leg counterparts.
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.....is more intense than this
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This is something most people who have done some form of jump training will already know. You cannot for example do a single leg depth jump from anywhere near the same height as you can a double leg version because the landing force has to be absorbed into a much smaller area and obviously only half the amount of muscles.
You Can Have Too Much of a Good ThingWhilst it is absolutely true that the higher intensity work does indeed stimulate the best gains, it is equally important to note that you cannot continuously train at those high levels for long periods of time. Lifting heavy weights and doing high impact jumping is very taxing on your body. It significantly fatigues your CNS, joints, ligaments, and your muscles. The idea is to stimulate, not annihilate.
To give your body a rest and some time to allow it to adapt to your training demands, it is more than ok (in fact it is downright essential) to de-load by lifting lighter weights in the 50 85% ranges, and doing some less stressful jumping (Low impact training anyone?).
Your need to de-load will depend on a number of factors including age, training experience etc, as well as the type of program you are using and how the overall volume and intensity is throughout that program. Some examples of planned lower intensity work are:
However you arrange your deload, they are essential to avoid burning yourself out, or worse, causing an injury. Athletes always tend to think more is better. They are wrong. After these rest and recovery periods you will come back fresher, stronger, and able to jump higher than if you had just kept pushing yourself with all the high intensity work.
With regards to weight training for vertical jump improvement some might argue that there is another benefit to using lighter weights, and this is that you can movethem much faster. Obviously a vertical jump is a rapid movement and as such many coaches suggest that lighter weights lifted in a more velocity specific manner have a better carry over to the actual jumping movement.
Without getting too far off the topic, the degree of carry over is actually more related to the experience and current strength levels of the athlete rather than the load used. We know that beginners get much better gains in their vertical jump from heavy squatting than those that are already strong, whilst stronger athletes tend to make greater improvements from using more special strengthexercises such as weighted jump squats.
Either way you look at it there is still room for both high and low intensity weight training in your vertical jump program.
ConclusionTraining for a huge vertical jump is an activity that does require a lot of high intensity work in order to see really impressive results. The more high intensity work you are successfully able to perform and recover from, the higher you will jump. However, high intensity training is just the catalyst for your athletic development. It is often during the lower intensity periods that your body is able to fully adapt, and it is during or after these periods that you will often see the best results from your training.
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