We often get asked by young athletes or parents how to increase an athlete’s vertical jump. One of the common misconceptions out there is that this can just be achieved through calf muscle strengthening. Although stronger calf muscles can assist with jumping, there are more important areas to address.
Consider this – if we could strengthen the largest muscle in our body and use it to jump, do you think our vertical would increase? The answer is yes. Gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body and it works alongside its 2 partners, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus, to form the muscle group commonly known as the glutes. The glutes work with the hamstring muscles to create a significant impact on our vertical jump due to the tremendous force they can produce to extend (straighten) the hips. Variations of squats and deadlifts are great options for exercises to strengthen the glutes.
One of the next largest muscle groups in our bodies is the quadriceps. The quadriceps work to extend (straighten) the knees. Squats, lunges, and step ups can be used to strengthen the quadriceps and thus work on improving the vertical jump.
Now we can go back to the calf muscles. Calf muscles work to extend the ankle, also called plantarflexion. Variations of heel raises are generally the most common exercises used for strengthening the calf muscles.
If we look at the 3 joints we just discussed and find what happens with a vertical jump we notice that all 3 of the joints must extend or straighten. This is called triple extension of the lower body and the timing of this extension at each joint needs to be coordinated to maximize the vertical force produced. When optimal timing of triple extension is combined with great strength of the glutes/hamstrings, quadriceps, and calf muscles, then a good vertical jump will result.
Strength training of these muscle groups should involve different types of training to optimize the muscle force produced. Strength is important to improve but an element of speed is essential as well. Power training combines strength and speed to create the explosiveness required for a great vertical jump.
But hang on, we can do more. We can use the physiology of the muscles to our advantage as well. Muscles are essentially a specialized group of elastics. When we stretch an elastic and then let go, it will snap back with quite a bit of force. We can use this mechanism to further improve our vertical jump. Instead of jumping from a still position, we can create something called a counter-movement. A counter-movement is a relatively small movement in the opposite direction of the direction we want to move. This counter-movement uses the elastic energy in the muscles to produce a recoil effect which unleashes greater force yet in the jumping muscles. For example, before we jump up, we can drop into a bit of a squat and then quickly change direction to explode up into our jump.
Guess what? Yep, there is even more yet we can use to jump higher. Let’s not forget about the upper body. We can use arm swing to create upward force that will assist our body to lift off the ground. As we drop into the partial squat we want to swing our arms down. Then as we quickly change direction to jump up, we also quickly change our arm direction and swing them up as high as we can and this will assist the lift-off from the ground.
These concepts not only apply to vertical jumping but also distance jumping. A dancer may not only need to jump high as part of his or her routine but may also need to jump forward, backward, or sideways just like a baseball infielder does when diving for a ball (see I told you we would come back to baseball). Some sports such as volleyball will require the upper and lower body movements to create the jump whereas other sports such as Irish Dance may rely solely on the lower body.
Our experienced team at Donald Physiotherapy can help guide you through jump training. From choosing appropriate exercises to combining strength and power training to improving timing and coordination, we would be happy to assist any level of athlete. To book an appointment or ask any questions, call us at (306) 933-3372 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org