To jump or not to jump?

Hey guys, this is my first post here so I hope you enjoy it. I’ll talk about the basics of jump training and the two “major types” of individuals I have ran into during my training journey. Have fun reading!

Since you’re reading this, I bet you love to jump. Do you? Most people think they do, but they actually find out they’re not that passionate of jumping after all.

Why am I saying all these? Because jumping is the most important thing to, well, jumping.

We all know that a high vertical jump is an expression of power. Power is composed of the force you can generate and the time it takes to generate that force. It is, thus, directly influenced by the strength of your muscles (they generate the force) and governed by your CNS (which takes care of the speed of the force application).

In all these years of reading endless pages of VJ-related subjects/logs/information/articles/advices/books etc, I have found out two “kinds of people”: the western guy and the eastern guy.

The western guy is the guy obsessed with strength training. It seems that in the USA is this recurrent thing of strength training and strength sports. American guys seem to love contact sports and power (as a culture in itself). Take a look at the American Football and athletes in general in the USA and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Take a look at “muscle cars” and you’ll see the same.

The western guy seems to miss a point in training for his actual goal and over-complicating stuff strength-wise. Strength strength and then more strength is his call. Makes you wonder why, since he doesn’t always get to his goal this way – to have a higher VJ.

It also has to be set what a vertical jump really is. In general terms, people talking about “increasing vertical jump” in reality talk about the standing vertical jump. This is not really “important” (it is, but this is not what athletes and players think about when they read the word “VJ”) because what is important for people training for a higher VJ is the RUNNING jump.

When you think about having a higher VJ you think dunking for basketball or you think spiking for volleyball, and these all are dynamic jumps, and not standing jumps.

Sure, you can dunk from a standing position and you can spike from a standing position, but that is un-optimal and it’s not what’s going to happen in basketball or volleyball games.

The problem with the western guy is that he’s a guy that loves strength but usually very rarely (or rare than “optimal”) is he actually training for the goal itself : he rarely goes out there on the field to jump at the rim or at the net.

Let me give you a concrete example:

Western Athlete: I’m training my legs three times per week, squatting, deadlifting, strength training. I’m so drained… I go out for 1 hour to dunk but it’s no good, I don’t know what to do!

How about this: lower the frequency of strength training and GO OUT THERE and dunk. There’s nothing more specific than dunking (considering that dunking is the goal for this particular guy). There is so much to miss when you’re not going out and dunk/train to dunk. The movement efficiency, the specific CNS shock management, stabilization, center-of-gravity understanding/positioning, coordination and automatization that govern a high running jump will all be missed and lost if the jumping isn’t done at a high enough frequency.

The question is, how much is enough? It really does depend on the subject, but I’d recommend jumping maximally everyday, in low volumes. It would appear that frequency is the most important thing in a high running vertical jump. The strength training is just AN ASSISTANCE for your jumping. Treat it as that.

To illustrate what this means I’m going to give you my example:

When I was 17-18 years old, I started dreaming and day-dreaming about dunking. My best friend and high school colleague started teasing me that I won’t ever dunk in this life, especially considering my running vertical jump off one leg was about 60 cm or 24 inches. My standing vert was very low, about 40 cm I think, and running VJ off two feet I didn’t even know it was possible (until I saw an NBA player jump off two feet running).

So obviously he was teasing me I won’t ever be able to dunk. That fueled my desire to dunk and made it an obsessive goal of my life (in fact, it is my life-long obsession since then). Back then I have no idea of training whatsoever, so I was going out and trying to touch the rim, grab the rim, dunk small balls etc everyday. I was reading some programs I ran into over the internet like Air Alert or Sky’s the limit, but I was like “hey, how can jumping countless times at low intensity is going to help me?”. So I didn’t really chose to do them, I felt like they were useless.

Instead, I was jumping everyday and A LOT. Meaning, for hours. Now right now I’d tell you that jumping for hours is going to develop resistance and conditioning, and not give you the optimal POWER to get high. Back then I didn’t knew about all this.

And STILL, after 1 year of doing stuff like that, and SOME bodyweight strength training, I was jumping close to 1 meter off one leg, or 40 inches. Probably about 38 inches or so. Without any strength training whatsoever, but with high frequency jumping.

You can safely conclude, I think, from this story that the frequency of training a “special” capacity like maximal jumping, even with the lack of proper strength training, is so important. The same can be said about proper strength training though, but it would apply for standing vertical jumps.

If at that point I would’ve chose to strength train instead of going out and dunk, I would’ve probably increased my two-feet standing vertical a lot. But the running vertical is where it’s at when it comes to dunking, because, in all honesty, nobody really likes to do standing dunks and these rarely occur in basketball games. Instead, dunking happens usually on fast breaks or cuts to the basket, and you need a high running vertical for that.

Speaking of my experience leads me to the “eastern guy”.

I ran into the eastern guy whenever I go to the track in my city Bucuresti ( Bucharest ). There I meet mostly high jumpers, some sprinters and some bobsled athletes. The high jumpers are all very thin and they train almost exclusively with plyometrics. That’s not to say they are weak strength-wise, but some of them are weaker than what you might expect from an athlete, especially at the world class level (going to the Olympics).

I was fortunate enough to speak to our national champion in the high jump with a personal best of 2.30m (or 7’6 ½”) and see what kind of training he does. He does a balanced training approach using both strength training and plyometric training. The same cannot be said about the rest of the athletes that use a much higher plyometric training frequency than strength training, and they are at lower levels in terms of performance.

The vast majority of athletes here in Romania are under the coaching of old coaches that have the old Russian methodology of training in their approaches, or bad imitation of one. Sometimes I stand on the track doing my workout and listen to what they’re saying/preaching and I either get infuriated or crack a laugh. Some of the principles are just wrong and it’s not a matter of different opinions, but a matter of downright stupidity, I dare say.

Here’s an example of a high jumper training, from my observations:

Day 1: Hurdle drills/jumps/sprints high volume

Day 2: Strength training with the likes of half squats and stuff like leg extensions or calf raises and step-ups

Day 3: Sprints 6x30m 3x50m

Day 4: Technique Approach drills and some sprints;

Day 5: Some badly executed strength training.

The volume is damn high and there is a lackadaisical approach towards training in all the athletes I have seen training. The volume of the plyometric work is horrendous. There is also an inclination towards high volumes of anything, sometimes extreme volumes, totally detrimental when it comes to power production.

The coaches preach “feeling the burn” and training tired and with high levels of lactic acid in the body, and this translates into half-effort for countless reps. Not the best thing in the world when it comes to increasing your vertical jump and power for that matter.

Now where the heck should I, you ask, start in gaining some inches on my stubborn vertical?

Well, the first thing you need to ask yourself is “am I jumping frequently enough?”. This is, like I said, so important. You should jump daily but with low volumes. In fact, even when it comes to strength training (and this is intensely preached by Pavel Tsatsouline) – high frequency, high intensity, very low volume training can be used to increase your strength (Pavel calls this “greasing the groove”).

The same can be said about jumping, so jump everyday.

The next thing you need to ask yourself is “how passionate am I about this?”. If you want your vert to increase by 10 inches in 1 month, then you might be passionate about dunking but you’re not disciplined and dedicated enough to train, and you seek quick gains because you’re too lazy to understand what proper training is and how much work there is to be put in training for a goal such as the one you just set. A real passionate guy daydreams about dunking and daydreams about training to dunk, which is both a good and a bad thing. It can be a bad thing because he might get overtrained quickly if he’s too passionate about his training, not see results although he “trained hard” and quit.

It really is all a matter of balance, intelligence, awareness, discipline (this is so important), listening to your body (or auto-regulation) and consistence. These are all mental aspects of training. The other more fiziological and physical aspects are composed of proper training, nutrition and rest. These three factors are the main pillars of increasing your vertical jump.

From this point on the discussion turns to a complex set of variables determined by the individualities of the subject in cause. The idea is to take general principles of training and smooth them around the weaknesses of the subject so that he can advance in his ability to jump. This is done through testing the qualities of the athlete and, based on that, designing a training program.

This is just one step though, as the real work will come from the athlete himself.
I have a few guys that always tell me that they are lucky they met me and they have gone so far, and I always answer back that THEY are the ones who worked for what they have, they were the ones intelligent enough to choose to train like that (and determine if what I’m “prescribing” in their training is good or not) and thus they are the ones who should be proud of their achievements. These are not big words on my part, or being politically correct, but it is the reality.

Some people are being offered the best training program, individualization, nutritional plans in the world and they still don’t gain anything because they either aren’t disciplined enough (and this is probably the most important attribute of VJ training and training and learning in general, in any domain), aren’t smart enough, are too passionate (and overtrain) or they just are training and not resting and eating well.

There is so much that can be said about this subject that it’s actually overwhelming when you enter into detail. But when you look at the whole picture, it’s all basic, simple stuff. Put into antithesis with the human nature, the concept “simple” is such a hard concept to grasp because people will always look for the complicated stuff because it makes more sense that a thing as hard as jumping high MUST be complex. This is a difficult obstacle to overcome but once you jump over it – it all makes sense.

Hopefully I can help you with your goals and make you see beyond training principles and actually getting the gains you desire and the gains you worked for.

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