Can Weight Training Machines Really Help You Jump Higher?
The machines versus free weights debate really has been run and done. It is generally accepted that free weights are the superior choice. However, this doesn't therefore mean that you should never use a machine when training to improve your vertical jump. Quite the contrary in fact. In this article we examine what their role in vertical jump training is and how they can be incorporated for some great gains.
The Pros and Cons of Weight Training MachinesThere are a variety of pros and cons to using machines, here are some of the more relevant ones:
PRO 1: Safety. If you are inexperienced at training with free weights and are unsure of the correct way to complete a lift, machines are great. You almost never see or here of anyone hurting themselves on a machine. In all training we take a view of safety first which is why we mention this at the top. Never forget though that if you have the opportunity to learn correct form and technique with free weights - THEN DO IT!
PRO 2: They Allow you to isolate a muscle. This may seem odd given the number of times we mention on this site how jumping is a full body exercise and it is best to train it with full body lifts such as deadlifts and squats, but if you do have a lacking muscle group, it may not be getting trained sufficiently with compound exercises due to the other muscles over compensating for it.
It is still always better to train your muscles in the overall context of the desired movement (i.e. jumping), however sometimes doing a bit of isolated work is the best way to bring a lagging muscle up to speed.
PRO 3: Designed For specific Purpose. In just about all free weight exercises there is a sticking point. The cause of the sticking point is that due to leverage you get off your joints using free weight there are going to be portions of the lift where you are just going to be stronger.
Machines have been designed to provide accommodating resistance where the effective weight will be lower at the weaker portions of the lift enabling the athlete to overload specific portions of a movement. This not only eliminates the sticking point, but also the portions of the the lift where you otherwise lose of muscle tension.
Other machines such as the Supercat machine (see photo below) easily and safely allow ballistic movements such as jump squats to be performed. Ballistic exercises rapidly improvemuscular power and vertical jump, but are not usually either comfortable or easy to do with regular free weights.
specifically designed machines that allow ballistic movements and accommodated resistance are superior for jumping athletes because of the way they removethe decelerative component at the end of a rep. When you jump you are trying to moveexplosively through the whole range. Compare this to a a regular squat where you need to slow down (decelerate) at the top of the lift. This slow down not only limits the development of explosiveness, but prolonged use can actually cause a decrease in muscular power.
CONS 1: Machines don't fit everybody. If you are over 6 foot 3 the chances are that most machines will be too small for you. If you are 5 feet tall or under the chances are that most machines will be too big. Free weights fit everybody (although it should also be noted that not everybody is suited to all free weight movements).
CONS 2: Loss of Stabilization Development. Free weights do a much better job of recruiting extra muscle fibers because there is nearly always a balance component involved. This balance requirement tends to recruit a lot more muscle fibers.
How To Use Machines To Your AdvantageLet us just be clear here. Besides the methods we mention directly, as well as a few others that can be applied in limited circumstances, we are are firm believers in the use of free weight training as the preferred option.
Having said that, there are some things that can be done on machines that offer enormous benefits to an athlete trying to improvetheir vertical jump and to ignore them is to miss out on some potentially awesome training results.
The two biggest and in our opinion, most beneficial things we like doing on machines are:
Jump Squats on an incline leg press or hack squat. If we had to choose just one exercise for improving vertical jump it would probably be jump squats. It is specific, explosive and rapidly develops both power and rate of force development.
Performing jump squats with a barbell or dumbells can be both uncomfortable and awkward. The bar on your back on landing can be painful even with a rubber wrap (our advice - try using a Manta Ray instead. This is by far the best way to do do jump squats with a barbell). Dumbells are both hard to hold and stressful on your shoulder and elbow joints, particularly if you use a decent weight.
Enter the hack squat or leg press. These machines basically allow you to explosively jump or lift under load with minimal impact or discomfort. The fact that they are on a guided rail type system causes friction and slows the movement.
You can use this friction to your advantage. It can be beneficially incorporated into the overall resistance on the concentric or explosive part of the lift, and it also helps slow down the eccentric portion(landing) making it easier on the joints.
One of our favorite machine exercises is the explosive 45 degree single leg press. Essentially you assume the starting position as normal, but you only use one leg.
As with the jump squat versions on the hack machine, the goal is to press the weight up as explosively as possible thus replicating the speed and nature of the jumping movement. You should use a weight that when pressed explosively is lifted off your foot by 2-4 inches by the momentum of the push.
As per our article on unilateral training, this is not only a more functional version of the exercise, but it also allows you to easily address muscle strength imbalances between your left and right legs. A month or two of training incorporating this exercise will add noticeable inches to your vertical.
ConclusionMachine development has come a long way over the years with a lot of great ones being designed to meet a variety of needs. Regular training on say a Supercat Vertical Jump machine would without doubt be a great way to maximize your vertical jump.
However, you don't need to have access to these special jumping machines to obtain similar training benefits. The jump squat variations on the hack squat and leg press are also great alternatives that will provide some impressive gains.
We doubt whether machine training will ever replace free weights, but if you are one of these athletes that only believes in free weight training, you may be missing out. Open your mind and take a second look. The selective use of certain machines may just help lead to some nice gains in your vertical.
Related ArticlesLifeline USA Power Jumper: Our review of the excellent Lifeline Portable Power Jumper.
Low Impact Training: Jumping is hard work on your body but it doesn't have to be. Follow a few of these simple low impact strategies and give your joints a break without sacrificing your gains.
Strength Training: Getting strong is vital for jumping high. Part 1 of our 2 part look at strength training covers the various theories behind strength training.
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