Weight Training Part 1: The Principles of Power
Weight training for your vertical jump is primarily about increasing your ability to produce ridiculous amounts of muscular power. Whilst there are other things that come into play in achieving a high vertical such as reducing your body weight and training your central nervous system, without the ability to produce the power in the first place, zero % body fat and a lightning fast nervous system won't mean a thing.
Muscular Power ExplainedIn order to correctly apply weight training to the development of muscular power we first need to know what it is. Without getting too overwhelmed with the science of it all, muscular power is basically a function of applied force over time. If an athlete can apply a lot of force in a minimum amount of time then they have terrific muscular power.
If you were to write power as a simplified equation it would look like this:
Power = Force/Time
**note 1** - the actual equation is Power = (Force x Distance)/Time, however for the purposes of a vertical jump, the distance remains fairly constant. Distance may be increased by improving flexibility and range of motion, although this is minimal.
**note 2** - You often also see the power defined as
Power = Force x Velocity
In essence this is the same as Force/Time as Time and Velocity have an inverse relationship i.e. as velocity increases time decreases. As such both definitions are applicable.
Looking at the formula aboveit follows then that you can improve your muscular power in 3 ways:
By decreasing the time of the contraction,
eg Power 10 = Force 20/Time 2
If we can reduce the time, we can increase the power.
Power 20 = 20/1
By increasing the force of the contraction,
eg Power 10 = 20/2
If we can increase the force, we can increase the power.
Power = 15 = 30/2
Or through a combination of both.
eg Power 10 = 20/2
If we can reduce the time and increase the power.
Power 30 = 30/1
Decreasing the time of a contraction is harder to achieve than increasing the force because it is easier to reach the theoretical limits. You can only move so fast. None the less, it can be decreased.
The time aspect of the vertical jump actually has two components. The first part is the absolute time of the contraction. For example if it takes you 1 second to execute a jump your muscles are effectively taking 1 second to perform the necessary contractions.
The second part is rate of force development (RFD). This refers to how quickly you can apply your force. If you can apply a high level of force but it takes you 2 seconds to do so, then you aren't going to be able to jump very high because, using the example above, it only takes you one second to jump.
While it is important to minimize the time you are taking to contract (i.e. jump), it is just as, if not more important to increase your RFD. These two time related inputs of muscular power can be improved by actively doing things quicker. In other words training to jump quicker, lift quicker, and doing plyometrics to develop the appropriate nervous responses.
This brings us to the other part of the power equation, force. The simplest way to increase your ability to produce and apply force is by getting stronger, i.e. lifting weights. As with any training program, progressive resistance leads to adaptations of the body and athletic improvements. Basically if you lift more weight, you grow stronger.
Weight Training Parameters: Safety FirstAn activity specific weight training regime such as that designed to help you jump should be similar to the action you are trying to improve. In our case a vertical jump is a single repetition at maximum intensity. It therefore follows that your training should focus on low repetitions per set performed with maximum intensity.
However, before we go any further we should mention the most important training principle of all, safety. A key criteria of weight training is that all lifts should be attempted at maximum velocity. However you should never sacrifice safety for speed or weight. Safety is the first thing to consider when doing any training program. There is no point having a great vertical leap if you can't play because you tore your rotator cuff trying to bench press too much.
Weight Training Parameters: RepsPartially due to the safety aspect, but also due to the need to provide enough training stimulus to force your body into making the desired physiological adaptations, single rep sets aren't necessarily going to be the best approach even though a vertical jump is a single rep. Positive muscular power adaptations can be readily achieved with sets of up to 5 repetitions.
If you start going beyond about 5 reps your training outcomes start to moveaway from power improvement to hypertrophy (increased size) and endurance. Generally we recommend you train with maximum explosive efforts in the 1-3 rep range. This ensures you are performing sufficient work whilst maintaining the benefits of specificity.
When selecting a weight to use people often talk in terms of % of 1RM (1RM = 1 Rep Max = maximum weight you can lift for 1 repetition). However, the % prescribed will depend on the exercise chosen. For the average trainer it is simpler to let the number of repetitions you are completing to dictate the weight you use.
As an example, if you are aiming for 3 repetitions, in order to achieve the full power benefits, you will need to lift a weight that you can safely lift for only 3-5 repetitions. If you are able to do more than you are training sub-maximally.
Weight Training Parameters: SetsThe next thing to look at is the number of sets to complete per session. This is a much trickier one because it depends on so many other variables. An experienced athlete can do a lot more sets because their bodies have adapted further to the intensity and nature of the training.
An athlete who generally has more time to spend on recovery can do more sets. This includes athletes in the off-season, and athletes who can train for longer periods (if you can only train for 30 minutes you clearly can't do as many maximum intensity sets as someone who has 60 minutes to train).
The difficulty in prescribing weight training guidelines is that the number of reps and sets to complete per training session will vary from athlete to athlete. A program such as those created for our jump coaching customers that is tailored to the individual is going to produce much better results than one that is more generic such as all of the pre-written programs available online.
However, as a general guideline a weight training session should consist of anywhere between 5 and 25 sets across 2-4 different exercises. Also on this, the heavier the 1RM% you lift the less number of sets you will do.
Weight Training Parameters: RestPower training is incredibly taxing. Even though you are doing only a few reps per set, those reps are often done with a very heavy weight and at maximum intensity. You cannot sufficiently recover in 30 seconds and expect to effectively perform another quality set. Some commonly accepted rest guidelines are a minimum of 2-6 minutes rest between sets.
This high rest time is as mentioned above, a limiting factor in the number of sets you can do in a workout. Plenty of rest between sets is important however as it is the quality of the work, not the quantity that will generate the results. This quality of effort can only be achieved if you have sufficient rest.
On the other hand if you are using lighter weights with more explosive lifts you will be able to take shorter rest periods between sets (30 to 60 seconds).
The other important aspect of rest is how many sessions per week should you train. Again there are many variables to consider such as the experience of the athlete, in season or off season, other commitments etc. Also, the more work you are doing per session the less sessions you should do.
Some guidelines on number of sessions per week are that anywhere from 1 to 4 is ok depending on the abovevariables. An experienced athlete can do more, new trainers should do less. An off season athlete can do more, and in season athlete should do less. An Athlete doing shorter sessions can do more, whilst an athlete doing longer sessions should do less total number of workouts.
Weight Training Exercises For Vertical Jump ResultsWhen choosing weighted exercises aimed at improving your vertical jump you should obviously be selecting those exercises that train the same muscles.
For jumping the main drivers are the muscles of the posterior chain being the glutes, hamstrings, and calves, as well as the hips and quads. The two best exercises in power training that really target these muscle groups are the
squats and deadlifts.
It should be noted that the Olympic Lifts are also extremely effective. Unfortunately, their application to jump training is tempered by the need for specialized coaching and equipment to master the deceptively difficult lifts. For most people finding qualified coaches and gyms with the right equipment is not always that simple.
The squat and deadlift on the other hand are very easy to learn and quite straight forward to perform. Even relatively inexperienced athletes can quickly master the techniques and execute them safely.
In part two of our weight training section we will examine some of the different schools of though on how to best develop muscular power and examine how they relate to the improvement of your vertical jump.
In the meantime focus on the key principles for developing muscular power of lifting with maximum explosive effort for a low number of reps, get plenty of rest and recuperation, and most importantly, train safely.
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