vertical jump training

Pool Plyometrics

Written by Jack Woodrup for

Performing pool plyometrics is becoming more and more popular as athletes seek a less stressful way to maximize their gains. Here I will provide a comprehensive look at the pro?s and con?s of this form of training.

Firstly, a little background. A few years ago Ohio State University in America conducted an 8 week study on 32 female volleyball players to compare how traditional jump training in a gym or other ?dry land? environment compared to doing similar exercises in a swimming pool. Up until this point swimming pools hadn?t really been considered as a training environment for explosive athletes..

The study found that the pool based athletes not only gained a little bit more height on their vertical leap, but they also experienced reduced muscle soreness and recovery times.

Advantages of Pool Plyometrics

One of the obvious benefits of pool plyometrics to an athlete, particularly one focused on improving their vertical leap, is that the impact of landing is significantly reduced when exercising in water. This reduces the stress and strain placed on the muscles and joints, and, as a flow on, reducing the incidence of injury.

Another benefit of pool training is that the water itself provides resistance. In terms of vertical leap the resistance decreases as you get higher. So you have maximum resistance at the bottom of your jump, and as you explode out of the water you encounter less slow down effect.This is great for accelerating through the jump.

Disadvantages of Pool Plyometrics

By now you are probably wondering why, if pool plyometrics is so good, you don?t just transfer all of your training to the pool. There are several reasons you don?t want to do that, but the main one is that your chosen sport more than likely doesn't occur in a swimming pool, and as such the movements aren?t going help you in other areas such as developing coordination and non-vertical movements.

For example, when a volleyballer goes up for a spike they first must bend their knees into the eccentric portion of the jump before exploding upwards. It is well known that the quicker you bend those knees and get down, the greater the energy transfer you have and the higher you can jump. Dropping down into the water as occurs in pool training slows down the descent portion of the jump so you lose some of that training efficiency.

Another disadvantage of pool plyometrics is that due to the drag factor when moving horizontally, it isn?t very good for developing explosive power in any direction but up. For exercises such as bounding or skipping, pool work tends to be counter productive as it forces you to move much more slowly.

You can test this for yourself. Jump in the pool and try running as fast as you can across the pool. Your leg speed will be much slower then your on lands speed. Now try jumping straight up and down. There isn't anywhere near as much difference on the upward portion of the jump.

Actually it is for this reason that we cringe when we read of programs that sensibly include pool work, but then also include lots of bounding, and zig zagging type exercises. These really are more for rehabilitation purposes. When we see them in a jump program it just suggests they have been randomly thrown in there to fill up the exercise listing.

Other factors to consider are that jumping on a ?dry land? environment does place far greater strain on your joints. However, this strain, provided you don?t over do it and hurt yourself, creates an adaptive response so that when you are actually playing your sport, your body is better acclimatized to the demands of that sport.

For example, if someone whose main form of exercise is cycling then tries to run a 100m sprint there is a good chance they will hurt their hamstring or knee due to the different muscles used in those different activities and the fact that cycling is a non impact sport. However, if the cyclist takes a month or two to adapt to the demands of sprinting, their chances of injury are significantly reduced.

It is for reasons that most programs that incorporate pool training do so every fifth week or so. This is generally considered a recovery week before you get back to the hard core ?on land? training. However, if you are in season and don't want to stress your joints too much you could certainly do 100% of your plyometric work in the pool.

Implementing Pool Plyometrics

Incorporating pool plyometrics into your vertical leap program is pretty simple. You should find a pool with a depth somewhere between is midriff and armpit level, with armpit level being better for stronger participants and those who cannot tolerate heavy impact. The lower the water level, the greater the impact (which is a great way to add variable resistance to your program by the way. Jump from shallow to deeper water to make it harder, or visa versa to make it easier).

Next select some exercises. Two foot squat jumps, hops and ankle jumps are all very effective. However, the big guns in pool plyometrics in our opinion are what we call the Vandersteens which we named after their creator, Mark Vandersteen.

The two versions of the Vandersteens take full advantage of the training in water to provide an intense and highly effective pool training exercise. A Vandersteen is basically a jump where instead of minimum knee bend, you have maximum knee bend. For example, a double leg Vandersteen involves dropping down into a deep crouched position at the very bottom of the pool before exploding up and out of the water. As you descend you drop all the way back down under the water returning to the start position.

A single leg Vandersteen is essentially a jump from the pistol squat position. Here you start by dipping down into a deep pistol squat position before exploding back up. As you splash back down you once again descend into the deep pistol squat starting position. You do need to control your breathing when doing these exercises as you are going in and out of the water. It is not unusual to feel light headed from all the deep breathing if you do too many.

Pistol Squat

Figure 1: Pistol Squat Imagine doing this whilst sitting on the bottom of a pool. This is the start position for a one legged Vandersteen jump. Of course you probably wouldn't be wearing shoes and you would also be holding your breath.

The single leg Vandersteen in particular is fantastic for developing your explosive leg power for your running jumps. Even more beneficial is that it can serve as a nice introduction to dry land pistol squatting which many people find hard to otherwise do. Once you have picked your exercises, go to a pool and get into it.


Pool plyometrics is a great way to add variety to your training. Better still it yields results whilst minimizing the impact on your muscles and joints. As jumping athletes know, looking after your knees is of paramount importance.

So, if you are having some nice weather and want a cooler, less stressful way to train, give a pool plyometric session a go. They are fun, safer than regular plyometrics, and may even add an inch or two to your vertical that you weren't expecting.

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