Lets make this simple. People who have well developed fast twitch muscle fibres can run fast and jump higher than those who do not. However, just because you don't have great genetics to start with, it doesn't mean you can't develop the ones you do have into a great vertical jump.
In this article I will explain the difference between the three main fiber types, how they work, and how you can apply this knowledge to focus your training. There are many things you can do to maximize the athletic potential though so don't worry too much if you are starting behind the genetic 8 ball when it comes to having loads of fast twitch muscle fibers.
Although there are further micro variations in muscle fiber types, the three main ones are:
1) Type 1: Slow Twitch Fibres
2) Type 2a: Fast Twitch Fibers
3_ Type 2b: Fast Twitch Fibers
Each one has its own characteristics and is suited to a particular type of movement.
Type 1 fibers are slow to contract (hence, slow twitch), and can sustain muscular contractions for an extended period of time. This makes them ideal for endurance or longer distance and time events. They also contain large and numerous mitochondria which aid in their oxidative metabolism (the use of oxygen). These types of fibers are fatigue resistant but are only able produce a relatively low level of force output.
Type IIa muscle fibers are, as the name would suggest, fast twitch fibers (FTF's). However they are in the middle of the muscle fiber spectrum, as they are less fatigue resistance, produce more muscular force, and contract at a faster speed than slow twitch fibers, but not quite as much as type IIb fibers.
The type IIb fibers are the most easily fatigued out of all the fibers but also generate the most power. These are most heavily recruited for activities that require an all out burst of power over a very short period of time.
It is the type IIb fibers that are primarily responsible for your vertical jump performance, although your type IIa's also have a small role. As such it is the type II's that you should be targeting with your training.
There are a number of proven methods that target the fast twitch muscle fibers (FTF's). By incorporating some of these training techniques into your program you will ensure that your muscles are provided with the right type of training stimulus for developing your vertical jump.
Generally speaking, the heavier you lift the greater the recruitment of fast twitch muscle fibres. Obviously the heavier the load you are using the more force is required to lift it - hence the greater recruitment of the fast twitch muscle fibres.
The exception to this is if you are doing ballistic weighted exercises such as barbell jump squats. In these instances it is ok to use a lower % of your 1RM - see the next point.
Whether it is lifting a weight, skipping, jumping, bounding, sprinting, or throwing, try and do it flat out. They don't call them fast twitch muscle fibres for nothing - train fast if you want to develop the fast twitch muscles. Logically this one is pretty obvious. For example if you wanted to train to be a better sprinter you wouldn't spend your time doing too much jogging.
Eccentric training refers to emphasizing the work done as you lower a weight or descend in a jump. For weighted work this would be done using bands to accelerate gravity, or using drop and catch motions such as reactive squats. For jumping exercises the eccentric portion is emphasized in movements such as the various types of depth jump and altitude landings (see next point).
Other eccentric training methods you can use in the gym include slowly lowering your weights (i.e. taking 6+ seconds to lower each rep) and using weight releasers to overload the eccentric portion of your reps. Weight releasers are attachments you hang off the end of the barbell that will release the weight at the bottom so that you are in effect lowering a heavier load than you are then lifting. They are really great for heavy singles as you can lower more than you can lift.
Plyometrics involves the activation of the stretch-shorten reflexive response to create more powerful contractions. These contractions are primarily the domain of the fast twitch muscle fibers so doing this type of training will really stimulate those type II's.
This is one of our favorite training techniques for increasing your vertical jump. To use contrast load training you typically pick a heavy weighted exercises and follow that up with a jumping exercise. So for example you might perform a very heavy set of squats, say 75-95% of your 1RM, rest 1-2 minutes, and then perform a lighter more explosive movement such as unweighted jump squats. The initial heavy set fires up a process known as potentiation that triggers higher recruitment of fast twitch fibers in the subsequent exercise.
Potentiation is ONE OF THE MOST EFFECTIVE TRAINING METHODS for increasing your vertical jump. To find out more about how to harness this for rapid vertical jump gains you need to read our book Game Changers. There are some amazing jump training methods covered in this book.
Overspeed training is where you add some form of assistance such as having a partner pull you along, using bands to pull you along, or simply running down a slight hill. This trains your body to movefaster than it otherwise would have by forcibly recruiting the FTF's for the extra speed, and it reinforces to your brain how to send those messages that fire up the FTF's.
A great way to use overspeed training to develop your vertical jump and your FT muscle fibres is via band assisted jumps.
If you have ever seen an Olympic lifter before a lift you will know what a psyche up is. This is part of mental training. Those lifters are essentially getting into a frame of mind that tells their bodies to literally fire up the fast twitch fibers.
It works equally in your jumping and training. Spend 20 seconds before a jump mentally preparing for the effort and you will jump higher than if you just go and do it. Why does this work? Because the psyche up is a method of getting your brain ready to send the signals to the fast twitch muscles that they are about to do some maximum effort work.
The 7 methods listed here are all great ways to develop your jumping ability. But if you want something more specific that will really blow your mind with the results you can achieve than you are probably looking for something along the lines of our Game Changers book.
The training methods in this book will put insane inches on your vertical jump in weeks - not months and years. There is literally nothing else like this available. To find out more click the image below.
In order to get the most out of your vertical jump training, you should try to follow these principles. A vertical jump is a powerful, type II muscle fiber based contraction that takes place in a split second. The most effective and efficient way to train therefore is to ensure you fully develop those fiber types. Anything else is just wasted time and energy.
Training Intensity - A look at what training intensity is and how it can effect your jump program.
Sprint Training - How you can use sprint training to increase your vertical jump.
Speed and Quickness Training - Speed and quickness training goes hand in hand with vertical jump training. Find out how you can get fast AND jump higher.
Fast Twitch Muscle Fiber Testing - Mens Journal article on fast twitch v slow twitch testing and training