By Matt Hank, MS, CSCS, USAW
The vertical jump for an athlete can mean the difference between a couple million dollars for future NFL athletes or a Division I scholarship for a volleyball player compared to a Division II scholarship. There a lot of myths and gimmicks in the sports world on how to improve an athlete's vertical jump. The truth is that athletes who are looking to improve their vertical leaping abilities need to incorporate a well-designed sports performance training routine.
A high vertical jump score indicates more than the obvious fact that an athlete can jump high. The jump correlates to overall lower body strength, explosiveness, first step quickness, and overall athleticism. The vertical jump is also used as a baseline test to compare improvements during a strength and conditioning routine.
Understanding and applying the proper mechanics of a vertical jump is an important factor for maximizing an athlete's potential. To jump for maximal height athletes quickly make a downward movement by flexing the ankle, knee and hips followed immediately by extending the ankle, knee, and hips. The vertical jump takes advantage of the stretch shortening cycle, where the muscles pre-stretch before they explosively contract. Teaching athletes the correct jumping mechanics is critical for maximizing power output. Coaching tips I use when teaching the vertical jump are "position the feet under the hips, quick down/quick up, and use your arms."
Strategies for Improving Your Vertical Jump
Functional strength training has shown to increase the vertical jump height in athletes. A well-designed strength-training program will develop stronger hips, quads, hamstrings, and core muscles that will help athletes be more explosive. It is important to incorporate ground based multi-joint movements such as back squats, front squats, single leg squats, overhead squats and lunges. These exercises will have a greater transfer to the vertical jump than leg extensions, leg curls, and the seated calf raise.
Along with heavy resistance training, it is important to incorporate high velocity plyometric exercises into a workout routine. This would include different types of jumping, leaping, bounding, and hopping exercises. These exercises should be performed using both feet as well as on one leg at a time to improve deficiencies in lower body strength. Plyometric drills should be performed quickly and explosively to improve speed-strength.
Olympic weightlifting is another form of resistance training for improving lower body strength and power. There are a variety of Olympic lifts (snatch, clean, jerk, and variations of these exercises) used by strength coaches that emphasize triple extension. Triple extension is a term used to describe the forceful jumping action that takes place at the ankle, knee, and hip that is biomechanically similar to performing a vertical jump. Essentially Olympic lifts are vertical jumps with external resistance performed at a high rate of speed.
Matt Hank operates ASAP Performance Training  in the Santa Clarita Valley and works with athletes of all ages.