vertical jump training

Upper Body Training: How Much is Too Much?

Written by Jack Woodrup for

The question of exactly how much impact does upper body influence your vertical leap is one that has perplexed many aspiring high flyers. Nearly all jump trainers agree that it does indeed contribute, but not so clear is to what extent that contribution is.

This raises three obvious questions relating to upper body training in a vertical jump program:

1. How much does it actually contribute to your jump height?

2. If it does help, in what manner should it be trained for maximum explosiveness?

3. How much emphasis should be placed on it in your program?

How Much Does The Upper Body Contribute?

It is very difficult to put an exact figure on the contribution the upper body makes. Estimates vary but most research we have come across puts it around the 5% mark (although we have seen one report that suggested up to 20%).

Coaches and trainers loveto talk this figure up, but the reality is 5% is a small portion. Logic would dictate that you should therefore only apply 5% of your training time to upper body work. If you are doing more you are just wasting your time on something that isn't going to contribute much to your jump height.

If you want to see an example of an athlete who has realized where the focus of his training should be check out this video of Cuban volleyballer Leonel Marshall. He has a 50 inch (yes that is 50 inch) vertical leap, and if you look at his build his legs are massive and his arms quite skinny. His jumping ability is beyond freaky.

How To Train The Upper Body For Maximum Vertical

Just for clarity, when we refer to the upper body, we are talking only about the typical areas targeted by traditional body building regimes. These include biceps, triceps, shoulders, chest and back.

When we refer to the lower body we mean not just the legs, but also all the other muscles that make up the vitally important posterior chain. With this in mind, it is important to remember a golden rule of jump training: if you want to be explosive, you need to train explosively.

Not training for strength and power is one of the biggest mistakes people make when training for vertical leap. They train their legs using sound power focused principles, and then they go and lift for their upper body with high rep sets and slow controlled movements that focus on time under tension rather than power development. On top of that they do this whilst performing all sorts of bodybuilding exercises such as bench press and bicep curls that in no way is going to improvetheir jumping ability.

Exercise selection is not the only mistake people make though. Another common one is the amount of effort athletes trying to improvetheir jump spend training for hypertrophy (increased muscular size) using rep ranges of 5+ per set. From a pure vertical jump stand point this is highly counter productive.

Sure bigger muscles can potentially produce more power, but they also weigh more which not only makes it harder to jump high, but also creates more shock when you land. On top of this, if you get too big, your co-ordination may also be negatively effected. Your ultimate training goal is to improve your power to weight ratio, i.e. have more power, but without the weight. This is done using higher percentages of your 1RM for lower rep numbers (1-5).

Big Muscles

Figure 1: If your training to jump high and you look like this, it might be time to rethink your program.

Finally, and this is perhaps the most important thing to remember when thinking about the upper bodies involvement for vertical jumping, is that the benefits that your arms provide is mostly due to the momentum they help create.

By swinging your arms downward on the eccentric portion of the jump you create higher levels of downward directional force which more actively engages the stretch reflex. Then on the upswing, your arms have the opposite effect, helping to thrust you into the air.

As such your focus should be more on speed of movement instead of strength.

How Often Should You Train The Upper Body?

This question is a bit more difficult. The Vertical Project advises training upper body three times per week. Other programs such as the Vertical Jump Bible don't mention upper body training at all. So which is it?

Well, like all things vertical jump related, it depends on the athlete and their powers of recovery. As we know, high intensity jump training is very stressful on the body. Hitting the gym and doing some heavy squats or deadlifts fatigues not just the lower body muscles, but indirectly, the upper ones too!

It is the lower body muscle groups that do the majority of the work in vertical jumping, and accordingly they should be the prime focus of your training. They should also be the prime focus of your recovery efforts.

If you have been doing vertical training for a while you will become accustomed to the nature and intensity of the workouts. As you become more proficient in your training, you also become more proficient in your recovery.

None the less your body still only has a finite capacity for repair and recuperation. It is during your recovery phase that your body adapts and you develop the ability to jump higher. If you are putting in too much work on your upper body, you will limit the time you give yourself to fully recover and your vertical gains will not be what they should be.

When you factor in the need for maximizing recovery time with the lack of contribution into your jump height it is my opinion that you shouldn't be putting too much emphasis on upper body training. In fact I would go so far as to suggest that for an athlete looking purely to improvetheir vertical jump that they do no specific upper body work at all.

The upper body muscles that provide the most noticeable input to your jump are the shoulders, upper back and lats. Ideally, a well designed program should include some type of barbell snatch, kettlebell swing, or medicine ball toss. These exercises all hit not only the posterior chain, but also those upper body muscles that contribute the most directly to your vertical jump.

Now, we understand the thought of doing so little targeted upper body work might be too much for some athletes, so if your other performance goals require you absolutely must do something then try the following approach.

When you start your program, do so with with no upper body training except the snatches and ball tosses as mentioned. Just focus on the key muscles groups required for jumping. After a few weeks of this, add in an upper body session per week. After a few more weeks you might then add in a second session.

These sessions don't need to be very complicated either. A sample program might look something like this:

6 x 6 push-ups (20 - 60 seconds rest between sets)

6 x 5 dips (20 - 60 seconds rest between sets)

6 x 4 underhand chin ups (20 - 60 seconds rest between sets)

Total workout time: 10 -20 minutes.

As you become stronger you can add more sets and reps. To add resistance you can use a weighted belt or wear an X-Vest.

Don't lose site of the importance of speed on the reps though. If you add too much weight your speed will start to decrease too much. Keep it fast and explosive.

A couple of sessions a week of this should be plenty of stimulation . Lets face it, if you are doing a day or two of plyometrics, throw in a day or two of , weight training, then on top of that doing some extra upper body work, well quite frankly, it will take some effort to fully recover. As mentioned it is very important not to unnecessarily tax your immune system with sessions that only contribute a small amount to your overall vertical.


No doubt there are are some excellent jumpers that are quite muscular, but the truly freaky jumpers, the Vince Carters, Kadour Ziani's, and Spud Webbs of this world, all have or had, limited upper body size.

Don't get us wrong, we are not saying training the upper body is not important. It definitely is important. What we are saying is that greater gains will come by focusing on training the areas that provide the most lift to your jump, and it isn't those biceps or pecs.

NOTE: This article has been written with a view of maximizing an athlete's vertical jump. It does not consider that some sports performance may benefit from extra strength and size.

Most sports that require vertical jumping also require a variety of other physical attributes and if you are training for overall sporting improvement you certainly should give consideration to such requirements.

Related Articles

Upper Body Training Part 2 - Try this simple yet highly effective upper body workout for some pretty impressive results.

Kettlebell Training - How to use kettlebells to increase your vertical jump.

Olympic lifting - Olympic lifters are not only very strong, but they are also very powerful.. Learn why the O-lifts can be so beneficial for athletes in developing that important explosive muscular power.

Squats and Deadlifts - Squats and deadlifts are the big two strength building exercises for increasing your vertical jump. Check out our introductory look at these great exercises.

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