vertical jump training

The Role of Exercise Selection in Vertical Jump Training

Written by Jack Woodrup for

The importance that exercise selection has in your vertical jump program cannot be emphasised enough. Good exercise choices will bring good results and bad choices will lead to bad results. Here we will discuss some of the more important things you should consider when selecting which exercises to include in your training program.

specificity - Target the Muscles You Use

The first principle of exercise selection is specificity. This is a word you will see on this site a lot. It basically means you should be selecting exercises that mimic both the speed and movement characteristics of the activity you are training for.

In our case we are trying to develop the muscles we use for jumping so we should select exercises that not only target the quads, glutes, hamstrings, posterior chain, and calves, but requires a movement in the same, or similar manner as that of the jump.

Some terrific examples are the squat and deadlift as they both work nearly all the jumping muscles in very similar manner and plane of motion to which they are used for a jump. Exercises such as an incline leg press also train glutes, quads and hamstrings, however due to the nature of the machine you have a much lower recruitment of the core and stabilisation muscles and therefore less overall development. As such this sort of exercise, whilst still effective, is an inferior choice.

The other aspect of specificity as it pertains to exercise selection is understanding the sort of jumping you want to be doing. Single leg jumping is quite different to double leg jumping. Running jumps are different from stationary jumps etc.

If you do a lot of running or single leg jumps you would look to include more single leg exercises such as lunges, split squats, and running jumps such as the 123 drill and single leg bounding. Alternatively double leg jumpers would incorporate more squat jumps and two foot lifts into their program.

It should also be noted that you can actually take specificity too far. You are trying to mimic the motion, but not necessarily at all costs. A good example of this is squatting. When you do a traditional back squat, you bear the weight through your heels.

When you jump however, the force is transferred to the ground from the front of your feet. So should you be doing all your squatting on the front of your feet? No!

By lifting heavy and explosively on the squat movement you train the large jumping muscles to get stronger. This strength will still be readily transferable to the actual act of jumping due to the relative similarities of the two movements.

This is also not to say that some squatting where you place the emphasis of the lift on the front of your feet cannot be beneficial, you just need to be aware that lifting too heavy in this position can be very hard on your knees.

Exercise Order - Focus on Your Weaknesses First

The next principle of exercise selection is the order in which you should train. Generally the best order of your exercises is to select those compound exercises that target your weaker muscles first. This achieves a number of things. Firstly by training the big muscle groups at the beginning, it is easier to fully fatigue them without the risk of failure from the smaller, weaker muscles.

As an example, it wouldn't be too smart to do calf isolations before jump squats. If you did this your calves, which contribute much less to your vertical jump, would possibly fail before your upper legs. This in turn could cause you to have to end the set before you had sufficiently stimulated the key muscles.

Secondly, by selecting exercises that train your weaker muscles earlier in your routine, you iron out muscle imbalances which can contribute to decreased performance and increased injury. If as an example your hamstrings are weak and your quads are strong, your body physically won't allow you to maximally contract the quads on the concentric portion of a jump.

It does this as a safety mechanism because it knows that your hamstrings will not have sufficient strength to decelerate that contraction. The result, reduced power output and a lower jump. You should be trying to achieve pretty even ratios of strength in your opposing muscle groups.

Once you have performed the compound movements for the weaker muscles, then you would look at training the other groups. Using our example of weak hamstrings, after training those, you would likely moveonto exercises that hit the quads, and hip flexors.

You will find with the compound lifts that one exercise actually trains a number of muscle groups, hence the term 'compound'. Deadlifts for example not only work your glutes, but also heavily incorporates the rest of the posterior chain, hamstrings and quads.

This is also the main reason that these exercises are so important. The ability to train a lot of interrelated muscle groups in just one exercise is not just efficient, but also excellent for the improving your intra and inter-muscular co-ordination too.

Also, by the sheer nature of the way these compound lifts involve a number of muscle groups you can generally lift a fairly heavy weight. This is why these exercises are the best for the development of your strength levels, and consequently force generation capacity.

Train the Lessor Contributors - But Not Too Much

Another thing to remember with your exercise selection is to include the smaller muscle groups that don't play such an important role. This might include for a vertical jump program your calves, your big toes, and your upper body. These muscle groups certainly contribute to your overall power generation, but in significantly lessor proportions.

Failure to provide training stimulus to these groups will result in you leaving potential gains on the table. Too much focus on them will result in not enough attention being paid to the main drivers of a high vertical leap. This is actually a bigger problem than many people realise. By doing too much work on the smaller contributing muscles, not only do you eat into your recovery, but also your ability to maintain intensity,and mentally it becomes difficult to maintain motivation.

Vertical jump training requires maximum effort at all times if the best results are to be achieved. Through poor exercise selection you can very quickly drain that desire to work hard, particularly if gains slow down or even decline.

Focus on the Exercises that Target the Key Attributes of Jumping

Kelly Baggett talks about this extensively in his fantastic program The Vertical Jump Bible.What this basically means is that when setting up your program you should choose exercises that develop the different attributes required for a monster vertical jump.

The main attributes of the vertical jump that you should focus on are the to ability absorb and transfer energy from the eccentric portion of the jump back up into the concentric portion. Exercises such as depth jumps and other plyometrics help out here.

Another important one to develop is the ability to generate a lot of force (i.e. strength). Heavy compound movements using low reps and very heavy weights will help build strength levels and therefore maximum force generation capacity.

Flowing on from that is the need to be able to apply that force quickly. This is known as your rate of force development (RFD). Aside from jumping itself you can help develop a high RFD by lifting heavy weights, or more specifically concentric focused lifts such as deadlifts and the Olympic lifts.

You can break down the jumping motion further but these three categories give you the starting points for your exercise selections. By choosing at least one exercise that trains each of these areas you can ensure your jumping program is optimized to provide maximum results.


The principles of exercise selection are not difficult to grasp. However too often you see not only vertical jump athletes, but athletes of all types making the same basic errors. How often do you see someone in the gym with a huge chest get straight on the bench press. Sure, it is a great choice of exercise for training chest, but if their back is lacking they should first look at something to address that imbalance.

In your own program remember the 4 simple rules of exercise selection:

1. specificity. For vertical improvements, this means selecting exercises that work the jumping muscles in a similar manner to how you will be jumping in your sport.

2. Train your weakness first using compound exercises. This will minimise muscle imbalances, reduce the likelihood of injury, and maximise performance. It will also ensure you are training in an efficient manner, and is also the fastest way to build overall strength.

3. After hitting the bigger muscle groups don' forget to provide some work for the smaller contributing muscles. This also helps keep your body in balance and limits the chances that you are not leaving any area untrained and under performing.

4. Choose exercises that develop the different athletic attributes required for a high vertical jump (force capacity, reactivity, and RFD).

A smartly designed program such as those created by the Vertical Jump Coaching Program can make or break your training results. Train the right way and you will be able to jump very high, train the wrong way and you will just get better at training bad.

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