Bodyweight strength training is often incorrectly considered to be nothing more
than a last option for people who don't have access to a gym. Whilst we
certainly recommend weight training if you can, all is not lost in your
pursuit of vertical jump greatness if all you have is your own body.
Here we will discuss a few strategies that you can employ to improve
your vertical jump that require no equipment to get great results.
In an ideal vertical jump training world, yes, you would have access to weights. Over the longer term to achieve your body's maximum jumping ability you will almost certainly need to get access to a gym at some point. However, you can still make some great gains regardless. How? By using a combination of plyometrics and some of the very challenging bodyweight strength training exercises.
The best exercises are the unilateral (single leg) varieties. Lunges, high step-ups, and split squats are all highly effective. You can however also do single leg deadlifts for extra work on the hamstrings.
Designing a workout around these movements will help strengthen your key jumping muscles. The hardest of these exercises is the single leg pistol squat. Unsurprisingly, this is also the most effective. Make sure you master this exercises as a matter of priority, it should be the foundation of your bodyweight training (actually the pistol squat is a GREAT exercise even if you do have access to weights). The two video's below show how you can progress from easier to harder versions of this particular exercise.
With the exception of the pistol squat, most bodyweight exercises are easier than their weighted counterparts. Consequently you can, and will need to, do higher rep numbers than you normally would when trying to develop power.
That said the rules still apply. Doing endless reps won't develop your ability to jump, it will develop your endurance. You should still keep your reps low, but instead of 1-8 you might want to go up to the 7-15 mark. They key indicator regarding reps when doing bodyweight training is loss of form and speed. Contrast this with weights it is loss of ability to perform a rep that generally (although not always) signals the end of the set. With no weights you will still be able to perform reps after 6 or so.
In terms of the number of sets per workout, again, even though you
have no weights you still don't want to do endless sets.
With vertical jump training it is always about quality, not quantity.
Performing a total of 9-15 maximum intensity sets across 2-4 exercises
will be plenty.
If you are mixing in your bodyweight style exercises with your actual
plyometrics you will want to do less.
When you have no weights to use you need to focus on speed. What adding weight does is add resistance. Without that you can still improve your strength, but your focus will be on developing the speed at which you can apply the strength that you have.
In all vertical jump training speed of movement is important, however to get the most out of this type of training it is even more so. You are trying to become explosive so you will want to perform all your reps in a controlled and deliberate manner on the negative portion of the rep, before exploding into the concentric.
Also, don't forget the two legged exercises either. We prefer the single leg varieties and believe them to be more challenging and effective, but for variety and broader muscle development unweighted 2 legged exercises can have some benefit.
Use full range of movement. When you have no external resistance you need to go deep on everything. Squats should be all the way down. Lunges should be long and deep. High step ups should be above parallel.
Add a calf raise at the end. This doesn't apply to all exercises but some of them can be improved by adding a short but powerful calf raise at the end of each rep. This is particularly effective with high step ups.
Get creative. With no weights in the form of dumbbells and barbells etc, the challenge is to make your own external resistance. Whilst this point may go against the topic, there are actually all sorts of things you can use around the home. Single leg deadlifts with a couple of of water or buckets of sand (or rocks) work well. If you have access to something you can make into a sand bag by all means do so.
We use a product called the Powerbag. You may have seen it in some of our photos. Essentially it is just a glorified sand bag. Make your own medicine ball by filling an old basketball with sand and glue it up.There are a lot of things you can do to make your un-weighted exercises more difficult. In order to build your strength you should be looking for ways to do so.
The truth is just using bodyweight training is not ideal. However, it is also by no means ineffective. Concentrating on speed of movement and full range of motion, even without weights will go a long way to improving your neuro-muscular efficiency, your power, and ultimately your vertical jumping ability.