vertical jump training

Weight Training Part 2: Schools of Thought

Written by Jack Woodrup for

Weight training is no different to most other forms of training in that trying to find a consensus about the best way to do it, particularly with the aim of improving athletic performance, is near impossible. Some trainers suggest lighter weights with higher velocities, others think heavier weights with lower speed is better, and others suggest different methods entirely. In this article we will examine most of the more commonly used ones to help you decide which ones best suit your training.

High Speed and Lower Weights

The holders of this view of weight training for muscular power development advocate using lighter weights so as to not sacrifice the speed and explosiveness of the movement. The reason for this view is that as you increase the weight you simply cannot move it as fast.

They believe that although lifting heavy weights will make you stronger, you will be unable to apply that strength with any speed (i.e. have a slow rate of force development). In the case of vertical jumping, this would be undesirable.

The % of 1RM often prescribed by coaches advocating this view is around the 30-60% range. The Vertical Jump Homepage however has a far simpler method for determining the appropriate weight.

What we suggest is to start off using just the bar, and time yourself over 6 seconds. In that time see how many good form reps you can do at maximum speed. This is your baseline number of reps. Now add weight until you can no longer perform the same number of reps as you did with no weight. It is at this point that you are compromising explosiveness for weight.

Why 6 seconds? A short term, high intensity, activity such as jumping, uses an anaerobic energy system that actually has enough capacity to work for about 5-8 seconds. 6 seconds therefore is about the maximum time you want to train for. Anything beyond that is starting using a different energy system than is used in a vertical jump and is therefore sub-optimal.

High Weight and Low Speed

The coaches who suggest lifting purely with very heavy weights to improve power, believe that an athlete will be able to apply the extra strength right across the force-velocity curve. In other words, even though they may be moving the weight slowly in training, they will be able to apply the extra strength they develop at high speeds regardless.

Accordingly they suggest training at very high % of 1RM (85% or higher) in order to increase the athletes maximum strength and therefore their ability to generate force.

Interestingly a 1993 study by Behm and Sale showed that slow velocity lifting with maximal weights can in fact increase high velocity strength such as that required to jump, as long as the intent to move the weight quickly is there.

heavy squat

Figure 1: Really heavy squatting can help you increase your power as long as you focus on lifitng the weight explosively.

This approach to power training is often prescribed to athletes who already do a lot of jumping as part of their sport. Basketball players for example, do a lot of jumping in practice and in games and therefore don't need to work on the speed element of power so much.

See also Strength Training.

Moderate to Heavy Weight with Slightly Reduced Speed

This approach to power training takes a compromise on speed to lift a heaver weight. However, they do not take it to the extreme of the heavy weight at all costs group. They appreciate that you can still move a weight pretty fast even if it is relatively heavy without sacrificing too much loss of specificity.

Their recommended training range is between 50 - 85% of the 1RM. The emphasis for this type of training is to mentally and physically try to lift the weight a quick as possible, whilst acknowledging that slower rates of force development will occur. As mentioned in our fast twitch training guide, just attempting to move a weight quickly will cause your body to activate more fast twitch muscle fibers.

You can read more about muscle fibers in our fast twitch training article.

Strength Day and Speed Day

This method of training was popularized by Louie Simmons at the very famous Westside Barbell Club. Louie has trained many world class power lifters using this method.

Basically they do one day of heavy work and then they do another day of lighter weight, speed work. The obvious benefit of this approach to power training is that it targets both the key variables of muscular power. The heavy day is designed to up your strength and therefore the amount of force you can apply, whilst the speed day is designed to work on your reactive strength (i.e. rate of force development).

Westside do some pretty unique and amazing things with their training besides this split including placing a large emphasis on box squatting, a lot of work with chains and rubber bands, and a lot of concentric box jumping. The band work in particular is terrific and is explored in more detail here:

Band Training for Vertical Jump Gains

Contrast Load Training

Contrast loading has only recently started to gain a bit more attention in the development in power training. It involves doing a very heavy set, and then shortly after, doing a much lighter set. The idea is that the heavy set recruits more muscle fibers which stay activated and can be used for the lighter more explosive set.

Research on this method of training is fairly limited so far in terms of exact training specifics, but that which has been done is producing some interesting results.

To illustrate an example of contrast power training as it can be applied to vertical jumping, you might do a heavy set of 3 reps on the dead lift or the squat at around 85 - 95% of your 1RM. Then you rest for 2 minutes before doing a set of 5 reps of maximum jump squats.

The theory suggests that the heavy sets activates and recruits extra muscle fibers which then stay activated whilst the light set is performed. This process is known as potentiation because of the way it unlocks untapped muscular potential.

Research conducted so far has shown that this method of training tends to provide more benefit to those who have greater levels of relative strength so it might be one best used once you have been lifting for a while.

So Which is Best?

The simple answer is that it depends on the athlete. An athlete with very high relative strength levels will find it harder to continue to make improvements in the amount of force they can apply. These athletes would benefit more from a weight training program that has a higher focus on speed and plyometrics. An athlete that hasn't done a lot of weight work on the other hand will benefit much more from some heavy lifting to improve their strength.

If an athlete is relatively strong and is regularly playing a sport that requires a lot of explosive movements such as basketball or volleyball, a more balanced approach would certainly be recommended.

In the table below are some general guidelines for where the focus of your vertical jump training should be depending on your strength levels of the squat and the deadlift. Remember though, these are just general guidelines and should not be taken as hard and fast rules as each athlete is different.

Strength Levels

Strength and Power Training


Squat < 1.5x body weight and Deadlift < 2.0x body weight





Squat b/w 1.5 - 2.0x body weight and Deadlift b/w 2.0 - 2.75x body weight





Squat > 2.0x body weight and Deadlift > 2.75x body weight






The important thing to remember here is to work on your weaknesses. By identifying where you are lacking and then applying your training in a manner that improves upon this area, you will see much better and much quicker improvements to your vertical jump.

The better approach of course is to set out a plan from the beginning identifying your strengths and weaknesses, the needs of the sport, the time frame you have to train, etc and design a program accordingly. If this all seems a bit daunting our jump program software - Vertical Mastery actually does most of this for you.

Vertical Mastery basically takes the guess work out of your vertical jump training by designing custom training programs based on your needs.


Proper application of weight training has been proven time and time again to increase muscular power and add serious inches to an athletes vertical jump. By applying your efforts to target your athletic weaknesses, you can very quickly make big differences to your performance.

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Weight Training Part 1: Principles of Power

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