Most people who have been readers of this site will know that one of the keys to vertical jump training is the concept of quality over quantity. So exactly what is quality in vertical jump training?
Well if you think about exactly what a maximum effort vertical jump is, whether that be a running dunk, or a straight up block in volleyball, it is a single, all out effort. It is a combination of maximum explosive muscular power and movement efficiency.
Quality training in this context is the type of training that encourages both a high level of intensity and focus. So how do you go about increasing the quality of your training?
One of the simplest and most effective ways to achieve these quality improvements is simply by using low reps per set. Fewer reps per set has a number of performance related advantages in terms of helping an athlete learn how to jump higher.
Increased Intensity Per Rep. The less reps you are doing per set the less likely you are going to be holding anything back for later reps.
Better Form Per Rep. The less reps you do the easier it is to focus executing the lift or the jump with better form.
More Weight On The Bar. The less reps you need to complete the more load you can use per set.
Higher Average Jump Heights. The longer a set goes on the lower your jumps will be due to fatigue setting in. Less reps means less fatigue and on average higher jumps per set.
The obvious question is then if using low reps are so good, why don't' we just use them all the time? Well it isn't always the most time efficient manner of training. Low rep sets generally mean performing more total sets in order to get sufficient training stimulus, and therefore can increase the duration of the workout.
Low rep sets aren't always appropriate for athletes looking to add muscle mass either as you need a greater time under tension and the low reps don't provide that.
The obvious way of implementing a low rep strategy is to just reduce the reps and add in a few more sets. So if your program called for 3 x 6 reps with 90 seconds rest between sets you could try doing 6 x 3 reps with 60 seconds rest between set.
As long as you are using the same load or performing the same jumping drill, this will result in all of the benefits mentioned above being achieved with only a slight increase in training time.
On the other hand if you choose to lift heavier weights using this method you will probably still need to keep the breaks a reasonable length.
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Another low rep method I like using for increased intensity is cluster training. Essentially a cluster involves using a rest technique where you perform a rep with as much speed and intensity as is safely possible, then rest for between 10-15 seconds before performing another rep. You do this until the total number of prescribed reps is completed.
The brief rest periods allow you to refocus your concentration and intensity for the next rep which results in more powerful movements. Clusters work particularly well in the weight room where they allow you to add intensity and focus because you have a brief period between reps where you can re-group.
Sets of 5 reps with about 10-15 seconds rest work well for this type of training as it provides a nice mix of increased intensity, the ability to use reasonably heavy loads, and also the total set only takes about 60-90 seconds to perform.
Most squat and deadlift variations are ideal for cluster type training, but you can also use them for other loaded exercises such as weighted squat jumps, step ups, and the variations of the Olympic lifts quite effectively too.
When you think about it the ultimate way to use low rep training is to perform sets of only single reps. A single rep set really does allow for maximum intensity on each effort. A single rep is also very specific to a jump improvement because as mentioned in the introduction, this is precisely what most of you are in fact training for.
So is performing single reps beneficial in a training program? Yes and no! In terms of jumping, anyone who has been using our vertical jump coaching will be familiar with the sports specific jump training sessions that are incorporated into the workouts.
These sessions are in essence single rep sets performed at maximum intensity. They are also usually the most important sessions for the athlete as they are the ones that bring all your other training together to drive improvements towards your ultimate jumping goal.
At the other end of the spectrum there is maximum effort single rep weight training. This is something that I don't feel has much of a place in a vertical jump program. I am all for some heavy lifting to get strong, but all out single's in a squat or deadlift using close to 1RM's are too taxing on the CNS and the joints when compared to using slightly lower weights for more reps per set.
The cost in terms of recovery time and potential injury risk for the inexperienced of using a lot of max effort singles outweighs the potential benefit of strength increases for this to be a particularly useful training method.
When trying to improve your vertical jump you really need a high level of focus and intensity in your training. Just going through the motions won't cut it. Using methods such as low reps, clusters, and maximum effort sports specific jumping sessions are just a couple of easy to implement ways of achieving this.
If you are finding your progress or motivation stagnating then try some of these intensity amplifiers to help turn it up a notch and you might find your enthusiasm and results getting the kick start they need.
Training Intensity - A look at what training intensity is and how it can effect your vertical jump program.
Sports specific Jump Training - How to perform a sports specific jump training session.
Squats and Deadlifts - Squats and deadlifts are the big two strength building exercises for increasing your vertical jump. Check out our introductory look at these great exercises.