vertical jump training

A Periodization Approach to Vertical Jump Training

Written by Jack Woodrup for

Periodization of training is something that has been massively misunderstood in athletic circles. When it is used incorrectly an athlete can go around in circles not making any gains. However when used correctly, periodization can be of immense benefit for someone looking to improve their vertical jump. In part one of this two part topic we examine exactly what it is and why it works, and just as importantly, why sometimes it doesn't work.

What is Periodization

If you do a rudimentary internet search of the term periodization you will find all sorts of lovely text book sounding definitions. However in plain English it is the act of planning your training out into distinct phases each with a separate short term goal (fat loss, strength, power, speed, etc). These individual phases are designed to build on the prior one to culminate in you reaching peak condition for what is commonly known as the competition phase.

How you split out the phases (duration, focus, exercise selection, intensity, training volume etc) will depend on a number of things including the physical requirements of your sport, the needs of the individual athlete, and the frequency and duration of the competition season.

For example Olympic lifters might cycle their training to peak once every four years (an Olympic cycle) whilst a pro basketballer has to focus on getting ready for a new season every year.

An Olympic weight lifter also has to focus on training for an event that essentially requires them to lift once in a matter of seconds. A NBA basketballer on the other hand needs to be able to compete over 48 minutes using a combination of speed, power, strength and endurance.

It is stating the very obvious to note that different sports have different training requirements and as such a periodized approach must be tailored to address those specific needs.

Why Does Periodization Work

Periodization works because it ensures you are always taking steps forwards towards an ultimate goal. In our case, we want to jump higher. So do we build our strength with heavy weights, or maybe we should we drop body fat to make ourselves light? Maybe we should concentrate on plyos to get quick and explosive?

Each of those three traits are important in developing a huge vertical jump, but each requires different sorts of training. The key is to identify which one you need to focus on first, then train for that. Once you have reached a certain level of proficiency, then you start training for the next requirement and so on.

Training this way is much better than a hotch-potched approach of weights one week, plyos another, maybe a bit of both in there somewhere.

By focusing your training on the attainment of one short term goal you will reach it much quicker. To illustrate you see people in gyms who say they want to lose fat and build muscle. Whilst this isn't impossible, they are essentially two mutually exclusive goals. Burning fat and getting lean requires calories restriction, and cardio on top of weights. Building muscle on the other hand requires calorie surplus, little to no cardio, and plenty of heavy lifting. It is easy to see why aiming for these two things at the one time is doomed to fail.

If you just focus on building muscle you will get there much quicker by just lifting heavy and eating more. Once you have the muscle you can progress to the next goal of fat loss (the extra muscle will help with that too). In the long run, you will make more consistent, more rapid and much greater gains.

If we were to look at this from a vertical jump perspective we might start off with a reduction of body fat phase, then go to a strength phase, and then a more power/plyo based phase. It makes no sense to try and lose body fat whilst at the same time trying to build maximum strength. You just end up sending confusing signals to your body and limiting your improvement.

Downsides to Periodization

The type of periodization we discuss here is known as Western or linear periodization. The two most common criticisms of this type of approach are that in focusing on only one athletic trait at a time the others tend to deteriorate, and also, not all athletes have the available time to spend working through all the phases.

These are both valid arguments against a linear periodization approach. With regard to the loss of one athletic trait as you change phases, modern interpretations of periodization recognize the importance of certain traits and accordingly programs are designed to minimize any losses of these abilities by incorporating continued maintenance work during the other phases.

For example, an athlete trying to improve their vertical jump having high levels of strength is important as it is the base for their muscular power. Consequently even in the later phases of the program (transition and competition - see part 2 of this topic) they are advised to continue some heavy lifting in order to maintain the gains they made earlier.

The criticism of time constraints is also valid. To a certain extent this can also be mitigated by shortening the duration of the less directly beneficial phases to allow for more prioritizing of the important ones. For example, if you are already an experienced lifter with decent muscular size and aren't carrying any serious injuries or imbalances, you probably do not need to spend too much time in either the adaptation or hypertrophy phases.

Who Should Use Periodization

This type of planned out training methodology isn't necessarily for everyone but there are two groups of athletes we feel can benefit greatly from this kind of approach. These are people who are new to weight training, or who have the luxury of longer periods of time can benefit the most from taking a linear periodized approach.

For our money the main benefits that it provides are in the way it progresses from phase to phase.

This foundation will not only help you minimize injuries, but also helps you to learn the correct techniques of the various lifts, helps you set baselines from which you can improve, and also helps you progressively adapt to the ever increasing demands of the training.

For more advanced athletes, or those with time constraints there is another popular periodization technique known as the conjugate method. This system is preferred by the world class powerlifters at Westside Barbell and many Eastern European countries. This involves mixing and matching exercises, loads, rest, tempo etc in order to train more than one strength trait at a time whilst also avoiding burnout.

It is also a great way to organize your training, but like everything, is too complex to discuss in a paragraph or two. As such we will discuss the conjugate method in much more detail in a future article.

Conclusion of Part 1

We have explained here in simple terms what periodization is and why it has been proven to be so effective over the years. As they say failing to plan is planning to fail. This is true with all types of training, vertical jumping included.

In part two we will look in more detail at the individual phases that make up the periodized approach and how they relate to vertical jump training. Click on the link below to read that article now.

Periodization Part 2

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