vertical jump training

Fat Burning For Explosive Athletes

Written by Jack Woodrup for

If you have a few extra pounds and want to maximize your vertical jump, fat burning strategies that don't detract from your levels of muscular power are vital. Having a high power to weight ratio is a key determinant of how high you can jump. Fat doesn't contribute to your power, only to your weight. This is most undesirable in regards to jumping. Fat burning therefore is a must if you want to maximize your vertical.

The benefits of reducing your body fat aren't just limited to higher jumping either. It also means a reduction of impact every time you land. This decreases injuries, increases durability, and reduces recovery time from workouts. And this is only the start. There is a whole host of other health related benefits that come with a concerted fat burning effort.

The conundrum of this for the vertical jump training athlete is that traditional fat burning methods often call for long duration, moderate to low intensity workouts. Jumping is a very quick, very high intensity action. Long slow training will therefore negatively impact your vertical. So how do you shed the extra pounds without sacrificing your explosiveness? Read on to find out.


First thing you can do to reduce body fat is to look at your diet. The obvious thing here is that by reducing your food intake and eating healthier options, you reduce your total calorie intake to below maintenance levels. This causes your body to eat into its fat stores and consequently you will lose weight. This, in a nutshell, is the basic premise of dieting and applies to anyone trying to lose weight.

The trouble with dieting is that you often also lose muscle. In order to minimize this you should try and keep your protein intake relatively high. You might also try a CLA and or HMB supplement which research suggests can prevent muscle breakdown, particularly for those on calorie restricted diets.

Another important point to remember about dieting is that once you have achieved your fat loss goals you need to re-assess your food requirements. The reason for this is that once your body is at a state of readiness, i.e. not covered in fat, your diet will play a huge role in how well you can train, how well you can recover, and basically, how quickly you develop your vertical leap.

You may also want to implement a few more advanced strategies with regard to food timing and macro-nutrient manipulation that can really ramp up your metabolism and help you lose body fat pretty quickly.

The first couple of these advanced strategies to think about both involve carbohydrate manipulation. These techniques are carbohydrate tapering and high-low carbohydrate days. Carb tapering basically refers to the practice of eating the bulk of your carbs earlier in the day so that you have more time to utilize them.

Hi-Lo carb days are where you have 2 or 3 days of low carbohydrate intake followed by a day of much higher carb intake. This has the effect of teaching your body to use its stored energy for fuel (i.e. your body fat), and the high carb days tell your body that it is still getting enough carbs so that there isn't any need to store them up.

Both these strategies, and several other excellent ones are outlined in much greater detail in the truly incredible ebook on this topic: Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle.

This is a fantastic book aimed specifically at fat burning. It will teach you absolutely everything you could ever possibly need to know about fat loss and muscle preservation. If you do buy a copy of the book, and it really does have to be seen to be believed, you will learn an enormous amount about training and diet.

However, it is important to remember that Burn the Fat isn't aimed at explosive athletes, just fat loss and muscle development in general. It recommends a lot of cardio which isn't really in the best interests of someone trying to improvetheir vertical jump.

High Intensity Cardio

Which is a nice lead in to the next point, high intensity cardio. Basically doing long duration - medium to low intensity, cardiovascular activity is a huge no-no when it comes to vertical jump training. You want to train your muscles to contract with maximum force in minimum time. This does not involve going for a 40 minute jog, a 1.5km swim, or any other form of activity that is sub maximal for extended periods. You most definitely do not want your muscles learning how to go slow at less than 100% effort. So what is the answer?

Allow us to introduce High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT for short. There is some debate about what is the best method of exercise for fat burning, whether it be long duration slow intensity, moderate intensity, weights, or HIIT. This debate however isn't focused on the needs of explosive athletes. HIIT may not be as 100% effective as low intensity-high duration cardio, but what it does do is ensure that fat is burnt in a manner that is in alignment with the explosive athletes training goals.

So what is HIIT? Well simply put, HIIT involves picking a cardio activity of your choice, then after doing a warm up of 5 minutes or so, proceeding to do 15 - 20 minutes of that activity using bursts of very high intensity for approximately 10 - 15 seconds interspersed with rest periods of anywhere between 20 and 100 seconds.

An example HIIT recumbent bike workout might be:

Warm up: 3 Minutes

15 x 10 second intervals @ 125 rpm on level 15

Rest periods being 50 seconds @ 80 rpm on level 10

What this does is it not only burns fat in a manner that is more better for maintaining your explosiveness than lower intensity cardio training, but also:

  • Burns more total calories per pound of body weight.
  • Boosts gro with hormone levels.
  • Focuses your training on short duration, high intensity bursts (similar to running in for a dunk)
  • Elevates the body's metabolism throughout the entire day!

A word of warning before you do this though. High intensity training is very taxing. Like ALL forms of training you should build up. If you are fairly new to athletic training you should keep your high intensity bursts shorter, use less resistance, and also pedal at a lower cadence. As you get fitter and faster, then slowly build up these three intensity variables.

If you feel light headed, dizzy etc at all whilst performing this type of activity (or any type of activity for that matter) you should stop immediately. The best exercise to use for this method in terms of fat burning potential is sprint training, however if you are a little heavy it is also harder on your joints than the bike option outlined here.

The other forms of activity that I highly recommend for HIIT work are skipping with a jump rope and kettlebell swings. Bruce Lee claimed that 10 minutes of skipping was better than a 30 minute jog. Whilst the factuality of this statement might be debatable, what isn't doubted is how great skipping is.

Jumping rope is not only a fantastic fat burning exercise, but it also helps improve your co-ordination, and it will help make you very light and springy on your feet. The best way to use a jump rope for fat burning is to concentrate on speed. Go as fast as you can!

HIIT using a skipping rope can be performed with longer training intervals due to the relatively short ground contact time. A good workout involves intervals of 20 -30 seconds on, followed by 30-40 seconds rest. Provided your diet is ok, and depending on how much fat you have to lose, 3 or 4 sessions of 10-20 minute interval work a week will have you well on the way to being ripped.

High rep kettlebell swings are another excellent choice because of the way they target many of the same muscles as jumping (glutes and hamstrings in particular). Another "fun" way to use kettlebells for fat loss is by performing Tabata work. A Tabata interval is essentially 4 minutes of hell. You work at maximum intensity for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds. You repeat this 8 times for a total workout of 4 minutes. It is gut busting to say the least but that 4 minutes can really burn some fat - provided it doesn't kill you of course. If you want to find out more about how to use kettlebells for fat burning then click on the link.

Weight Training

One of the most effective methods of fat burning is weight training. Luckily for you, a vital ingredient to maximizing your vertical jump is in fact a solid weights program. The nature of the lifting required for vertical jump development isn't necessarily that great for fat loss though.

You should be focusing on training the muscles involved in jumping, and you should be lifting as explosively as possible for low reps (1-6) to stimulate muscular power improvements not hypertrophy. These topics are discussed in more detail at our upper body training page, and our strength training pages.

From a fat loss perspective bodybuilding (i.e hypertrophy training) does have an advantage over power training. As you build more muscle your resting metabolism increases, meaning you burn more calories as you rest. Power training tends to develops muscular strength and power, not necessarily muscular size.

The moral of the story is that lifting weights in the explosive, low rep manner described abovewon't put your body into the same sort of anabolic, fat burning zone as hypertrophy focused lifting. However, it will still burn fat, build muscle, and most importantly, help you develop incredible jumping capabilities.


Fat burning is a great way to improve your power to weight ratio. If you look at some of the truly outlandish jumpers such as Kadour Ziani, Vince Carter, Spud Webb, a young Michael Jordan, they are all pretty lean.

Reducing your body fat is one of the immediate things you can do to increase your vertical jump. If you have a few extra pounds dragging you down, sort out your diet, do some HIIT, lift weights explosively, and your jumping gains will start to appear before you know it.

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