Being able to jump higher is highly useful for a range of sports and athletic activities and is also just a great physical ability that's fun to pursue. And you never know when it might come in handy…
For basketball players, martial artists, traceurs (free runners), gymnasts, high jumpers and more – jumping height is well worth developing. As such, there are a number of training methods out there that have been shown to be effective in helping to improve jump height and that you can incorporate into your training if you want to become more explosive and springy on your feet.
Here we will look at some powerful techniques, tips and tricks, all of which can help you to increase your vertical jump and feel as though you have super-powerful springs coiled into your calves.
Stretch Your Hips
Your hip flexor and extensor muscles are the muscles that bring your legs up to your chest and back down again respectively. These take a lot of punishment during jumping training and can become stiff and sore – so stretching them can help a great deal.
Stretching your hips has another advantage too though, in that it can help you to reduce stiffness and tightness that can otherwise prevent you from achieving full jumping height. Consider that most of us spend all day with our legs at right angles – in sitting position. This shortens our quadriceps which are our main hip flexors and as a result it means that they can end up 'pulling' our legs into this folded-up position when we try and jump… not good.
Stretching your hip flexors in particular then prior to a jump is a great way to loosen your legs and see immediate increases in jumping height. You can do this with moves like lunges. If you stretch regularly enough, you'll see permanent long-term benefits in regards to your jumping height.
Stretch Your Tibialis Anterior
Likewise, it can also be very useful to stretch your tibialis anterior. The tibialis anterior is the muscle on the front of your shin that is responsible for pulling your foot up in order to point your toes at the sky. This is the opposite direction that you want your foot to move when jumping so again any tightness can have the unwanted effect of slowing down the power of your calves. Stretching this muscle by bending your foot forward and going onto tip toes can again have both short and long term benefits for your jumping height.
Train All the Muscles Independently
It's important to understand precisely which muscles are involved in jumping and how to train them. That way, you can train them individually as well as together in a compound fashion.
Your quadriceps are the muscles on the front of your legs and are hip flexors responsible for straightening your legs at the knees and thereby pushing you up from the floor. Train these using squats, lunges and box-jumps.
Your hamstrings are the 'biceps' of your legs and are used to curl your heel up towards your buttocks as well as to straighten out your leg as hip extensors. You can train your hamstrings by squatting and using box-jumps (particularly by squatting).
Your gluts are the muscles that make up your buttocks and they're again very important for straightening out your legs. Again, squats, lunges and box-jumps will all train the glutes.
When you go to jump, you will often find that you lean forward slightly and then rapidly straighten your back. This helps to create upward momentum, along with movement of your arms and requires the erector spinae to keep your spine upright. You can train it with a range of bodyweight exercises, as well as with deadlifts.
Your erector spinae are two of the muscles that make up your core, but in order to achieve the maximum jump height you need to ensure that your core strength is completely developed and that you thus have the ability to tense your entire body and particularly your mid-section during a jump. By doing this, you will be able to plug all energy leaks in order to keep your body more rigid and to improve your energy efficiency while jumping.
Meanwhile, training your abs will help you to curl your body downwards, which as we will see is very important in order to 'load up' for your jump like a spring.
The calves are foot flexors, which make them important for giving you that last powerful surge that takes you off of the ground. Bearing in mind that you will often be jumping off of just one foot, it's particularly important to build these with calf raises and single-leg calf raises.
Flexor Hallucis Longus
The flexor halluces longus is a little known muscle that mustn't be forgotten in the bid to increase jumping height. The flexor halluces longus is located on the lower portion of the fibula and inserts into the distal phalanx of the big toe. Its job then is to flex the foot and to flex the big toe.
Calf raises and single leg calf raises in particular can train the flexor halluces longus, while leaning slightly onto the big toe during repetitions will help to engage it specifically.
Another method you can use for training each aspect of your jumping movement, is to try jumping while only using certain muscles. For instance, you can try jumping off of the floor while only using your calves – in other words you will be jumping off of your toes but without bending your legs at all in the process. You can also do this on one foot, which is a fantastic way to train your calf muscles explosively.
Alternatively, you could try jumping by only bending your legs. Keep your feet flat on the floor at all times, bending your legs and heave yourself off of the ground.
Likewise, you can also try using a reduced range of motion – such as using 'quarter squats' at the top of bottom of your 'ROM'. This will help to increase your muscles' elasticity and ability to 'bounce back' from a movement and it will also help you to develop strength in a particular portion of the movement and the control needed to slow yourself down halfway through the movement.
Fast-Twitch Muscle Fibers
Jumping is an example of an explosive movement that requires a large amount of power to launch yourself up and off of the floor. This means that it requires the use of your most explosive fast-twitch muscle fibers, which only come into play when you are using close to maximum force.
The only way to engage your fast-twitch muscle fiber during training though, is to push against an incredibly heavy weight or to attempt to accelerate that weight with extra speed. Both of these types of movement require more force than lifting with a normal, slower cadence and thus they necessarily recruit the fastest and most powerful fibers which are the only ones capable of generating such force.
To train explosively then, you need to either strain against your maximum weight (or even a weight that you can't move), or you need to launch yourself up in the air. This is why box-jumps happen to be particularly useful for training your explosive strength and increasing jumping height. Likewise, any other type of training that involves jumping will be too. You can even try jumping while weighed – but you must make sure to be careful when landing so as not to injure your knees.
In order to push against an immovable force meanwhile, you can try lifting a weight on the squat rack that is too heavy for you. Put it low on the rack and push as hard as you possibly can through your legs (being careful not to involve your back). This will recruit all of the strength and power in your legs and help greatly to increase both.
When trying to increase your jumping height, it is a mistake to think purely about the upward portion of the movement. Just as important, is to focus on the rapid descent that you will make before you jump. The speed of your descent prior to jumping is actually one of the single most important factors when it comes to impacting your jump height.
The reason for this, is that descending suddenly and rapidly before jumping allows you to utilize the elastic nature of your muscles and connective tissue, meaning that you will almost 'bounce' back up. This is partly controlled by what's known as your 'reflexive strength' which responds to sudden eccentric or concentric contractions by making us exert force in the opposite direction.
If you are performing a vertical jump from standing, then you can start with your arms straight up like an Olympic diver and then swing them down to drive yourself into the ground before swinging them back up to increase your ability to launch yourself up off of the floor and into the air.
Running and Jumping
Most of us though won't jump from standing, but will rather need to jump from running. This is more useful in basketball as well as in other sports and it's also the technique we would likely use in order to jump 'over' something.
When using this technique it is still important to focus on the rapid downwards descent, which can still be aided by bringing your arms down rapidly. A basketball player might do this by bringing both arms downward rapidly in front of them while holding onto the ball and then swinging the one arm they're shooting with up in order to help accelerate into the jump.
In terms of your legs though, you don't want to squat as far as you would jumping from a standing position.
This technique is a little complicated generally, so here are a few tips to follow when you're running into a one-footed jump…
• Don't slow down as you approach the jump. Ideally you're going to be converting some of your forward momentum into the force that drives you upwards and forwards through the air, so slowing down is counter-productive. Practice jumping from a run without stuttering before the launch.
• It can actually help to build speed as you run – so start slower and then accelerate into the jump – this means that you're going to be increasing the cadence of your strides taking faster and faster strides. Only with practice though will you find your MAV or 'Maximum Approach Velocity' which is the fastest you can travel while feeling comfortable to take off. If you pinpoint the spot you want to jump from though and accelerate towards it, your body will help you to naturally find this point.
• Once you're in position, you want to stop with a short stride and a slight, shallow squat. You're then going to swing your arms up and you can also swing up the other leg in order to provide yourself with even more upward momentum.
• Ideally you want to be starting from a position of dorsiflexion. That means that your toes will be pointing slightly upwards (engaging that tibialis anterior) ready to drive down further to launch you up off of the ground.
• An alternative strategy is to still jump off of both feet, in which case you can actually perform a smaller jump prior to your big jump. Run up to your spot, jump from one foot into jumping position and then spring back up using the technique described previously in order to launch yourself up into the air.
Most of all, the best way to improve your jumping height is simply to practice as with anything else. Simply practice jumping on the spot for as many repetitions as you can and measure your height over time in order to monitor your progress. Remember: that which is measured, improves!
Or better yet, why not use the old ninja technique of planting a sunflower and jumping over it every day. Gradually the sun flower will grow and as it does your jumping height will improve just a fraction of a centimeter. Once it's full size, you'll be leaping meters into the air! In theory anyway…