vertical jump training

Strength Training Part 2: Techniques and Parameters for Improved Vertical Jump Performance

Written by Jack Woodrup for

In part 1 of our discussion on strength training and vertical jump improvement we explained why getting strong was an important goal if you want to jump high. In this article we look at some of the ways you can train in order to develop the relevant strength qualities.

As previously mentioned the main types of strength you want to develop in order to maximize your vertical jump are:

  • STARTING STRENGTH - The ability to accelerate a load from rest.

  • ACCELERATIVE STRENGTH - The ability to movethe load quickly through the concentric phase of a movement.

  • ABSOLUTE STRENGTH: Your ability to lift loads that are of a high percentage of your 1RM.

  • REACTIVE STRENGTH: Your ability to effectively transfer eccentric force back into concentric power.

  • RELATIVE STRENGTH: How strong you are per pound of body weight.

Starting and Accelerating Strength

Starting and accelerating strength play an important role in vertical jumping as they largely determine your ability to apply force quickly (i.e. your rate of force development or RFD).

Why is RFD important? RFD is how quickly you can apply your strength reserves. If you have a low RFD then no matter how strong you are you won't be explosive and you won't be able to jump high. We've said it before and we will say it again - slow jumping is low jumping. Have you ever seen anyone with a huge vertical that walks up, bends their knees slowly and then explodes 3 feet off the ground? Didn't think so.

So how then do you train starting and accelerating strength? Starting (no pun intended) with starting strength, which is the ability to accelerate a load from rest, the obvious method for developing this quality is to perform exercises that either begin from a dead start position, or can be racked between reps.

Some terrific examples are the various forms of deadlift (straight legged, Romanian, or our favorite, the trap bar version). In this exercise it is very easy to replace the bar back on the floor between lifts, rest for a moment, and then explosively re-lift the weight for the next rep.

Some more excellent exercises are the box squat and the paused jump squat. When performing box squats you sit down onto a box, briefly relaxing your hips, before exploding back up. By doing this you force yourself to work harder to overcome your inertia.

The same applies to a paused jump squat.

To replay the video just click and drag the time bar back to the start.

You can actually use this technique for any squat, but for vertical jump training we find the jump squat works best. Basically you squat down into the bottom position of the lift (so somewhere around parallel to the floor), then you hold that position for a period of between 2-5 seconds, before rapidly ascending into a jump.

This exercise can be done using loading such as a sand bag, weight vest, or barbell (we highly recommend using a Manta Ray for all barbell squats, but it is even more essential for jump squats.

Other examples of starting strengthexercises are jumps where you start from a seated position. Again, this is a good one to do with a weight vest.

To replay the video just click and drag the time bar back to the start.

You simply sit yourself down on a bench or chair with your feet resting on the ground and your hips relaxed. Then as rapidly as possible you stand and jump as high as you can. Basically the quicker you can jump the higher you will get.

In order to develop accelerating strength there isn't necessarily any particular exercises that you need to do. Accelerating strength is more about trying to movethe weights quickly. For example, if you are working with weights in the 85%+ range of your 1RM you will be moving quite slowly. However, your INTENT should always be to movethe weight as fast as possible (whilst always observing safety first).

It is the act of trying to lift as quickly as possible that develops your accelerating strength. You can however also use bands to improve your accelerating strength. The accommodating resistance provided by the bands forces you to explode through the lift. If you don't push all the way through the concentric phase of the contraction, the force of the weights plus the contractile effect of the bands makes it very hard to finish.

Olympic lifting is another great way to work on your accelerating and starting strength. You need to pick up the bar from a dead start on the floor, and if you don't lift the weight up quickly you won't complete the lift.

Absolute Strength

Starting and accelerating strength represent only half the strength picture. You still need to be able to produce high levels of relative force in order to jump high. To do that you need to do train for absolute and more importantly, relative strength.

Absolute strength training is just about getting stronger no matter what. If you just wanted to get stronger you would also look to gain muscle size (hypertrophy) as bigger muscles can movebigger weights. However, bigger muscles also weigh you down when you want to jump high. As such you should train for relative strength gains.

For either relative or absolute strength development your training would involve the heavy compound movements such as deadlifts and squats using fairly low reps and high percentages of your 1RM.

For gains in absolute strength you would use rep ranges of 1 - 7, whilst for relative strength gains you would use only 1-3 reps per set. The higher the number of reps you use the more likely hypertrophy is to occur.

Reactive Strength

In order to improve your reactive strength you will need to use exercises that accentuate the eccentric portion so that you develop the capacity quickly transfer momentum from a downward (eccentric) motion, back into the upward (concentric) jump.

The most exercise that immediately springs to mind is depth jumps. With a depth jump you stand on a box of between 12-30 inches, then you step off. As soon as you hit the ground you immediately try and jump back up again using minimal knee bend. The greater your training experience and relative strength levels the higher the box you can use.

What jumping off a box does is allows gravity to accelerate the downward momentum which significantly magnifies the eccentric force on your body. This is a fantastic exercise for improving vertical jump but is often over used. Trainers can make very quick gains using this one exercise but it is very taxing on the joints and the CNS. It is a best used in short 2-4 week bursts depending on the sets and reps.

Another great exercises is reactive squats. Basically this exercises is just like a regular squat except that instead of lowering the bar under control you forcibly pull the bar down to the mid point of the lift which is about a 1/2 squat position. At this point your goal is to as rapidly as possible reverse the downward force and spring back into the concentric phase of the lift.

A Manta Ray Squat support is also very useful for this exercise.

You can also do a reactive version of a deadlift using a trap bar as it won't bang on your knees like a straight bar will.

Another awesome way to develop your reactive strength is through bands. We have discussed the benefits if incorporating bands into your vertical jump training regime, their ability to improve your reactive strength is just another great reason why you should be using them.

There are two obvious ways in which bands can be used to improveeactive strength. The first is by attaching bands to the ground (using lifting platforms) or the rack which provides causes the eccentric portion to be optimized because the bands want to contract back to their original size at a quicker weight than gravity alone.

The second method is to attach the bands to the top of the rack and use what Westside Barbell calls the lightened method. For example, if you do a 'lightened' squat you would loop the bands over the top of the power rack and around the bar so that as you descend the bands stretch. This has the effect of de-loading the bar at the bottom. As you stand back up with the bar the effect of the bands is diminished forcing you to use more brute muscle to complete the lift.

Both these methods represent just some of the ways in which band training can be effectively used to produce some outstanding gains in your reactive strength and your vertical jump.

Relative Strength Training

Even using very low reps doesn't guarantee muscle size gains won't occur. At some point in order to get stronger you will actually need to add some size. However unwanted additions can be minimized by using low rep - high 1RM % sets. Another under utilized but excellent trick for minimizing size gains whilst maximizing strength development is to use primarily concentric based exercises.

A lot of muscle size gains occur from the damage done during the eccentric or negative portion of the lift. By reducing your exposure to the negative phases of your reps you reduce the chance of creating the micro-trauma that leads to adaptations of increased size.

A good example of a concentric based exercise is deadlifts. You start the deadlift with the concentric portion of the movement so you can focus all your energy into the act of lifting the weight.

On the lowering of the bar you can minimize eccentric exposure by doing a number of things. The first is by simply dumping the weight. This isn't really recommended as it won't make you popular in with your gym owner, or if you train at home, won't be too good for your equipment. Also if you are doing more than one rep, it tends to loosen the weights.

The better alternative is to safely lower the weights but without the strict control that is required if you were doing an exercise that starts with the negative phase. For example, if you were doing a heavy squat, once you load the bar across your back, you need to lower yourself under control otherwise the downward momentum of the weight would be too much for you to stop and reverse to complete the concentric part of the lift.

With deadlifts, you don't need to worry so much about the downward momentum because you are not going to get crushed by the bar if you drop it. The reduction of eccentric exposure is also the reason we recommend you put the bar down and let it come to a dead stop in between reps when doing deadlifts.

Other examples of useful concentric exercises are concentric only squats and good mornings using a power rack. Basically you place the bar on the safety pins at a low height, then crawl in underneath and power up through the lift.

Strength Training Guidelines

The table below outlines some suggested guidelines for the development of strength. Like all guidelines they are not meant to be interpreted as hard and fast unbendable rules. However, by designing your training around these parameters you should enjoy the types of strength adaptations you want without adding too much extra size.

Training Parameters


%1RM Load

85% - 100%

Number of Exercises


Number of Reps per Set


Number of Sets per Session


Rest Interval between Sets

2-6 minutes

Number of Sessions Per Week




Strength training can significantly improve your vertical jump because it is the key determining factor of muscular power. Lifting heavy weights as a means of achieving strength gains doesn't just build strong muscles though. It also improves intra and inter muscular co-ordination, it teaches your body to recruit higher numbers of motor units, and also develops the fast twitch fibers.

All of these things have very strong carry over benefits to not only vertical jump, but most sporting movements. It is for these reasons that getting relatively strong should be very high on your training goals.

Back to Strength Training Part 1

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