Increase your Vertical Jump with Velocity Based Training

Velocity based training can be an incredibly useful tool for athletes looking to increase their jump height.

Velocity based training can be an incredibly useful tool for athletes looking to increase their jump height.

And it's not just about trying to do every exercise as fast as possible, VBT allows athletes to create better structured training sessions to develop all the dimensions needed for explosive jumping ability while reducing unhelpful fatigue and stress.

Real-time Feedback

One of the easiest and most effective uses for VBT in your vertical jump training is to measure your performance in real time as a form of feedback and motivator. Athletes who are given their scores during jump attempts jump higher:

Keller, feedback increases jump height
Feedback of jump height increases jump performance

And they also see more explosiveness and greater adaptation after a 6 week training block when compared to athletes who don't get this feedback in their sessions:

Randell et al 2011, feedback increases performance
Rugby players had better power and speed adaptations when given feedback during their training

Get strong

Jumping is a power activity and power is a product of how much force you can generate and how quickly you can do it. So improving the force element is going to be crucial to a bigger vertical.

For most athletes, you can (mostly) develop the speed needed for jumping just by jumping with intent and playing or practicing for your sport. But the strength aspect requires specialised training, almost always done in the weight room.

Athletes looking to jump higher should be aiming to build well rounded strength, aiming for a 1.5x bodyweight trapbar deadlift (or similar exercise for three reps) and a 0.75x or above for a single leg exercise like the rear foot elevated split squat (also three reps or more).

Developing strength in the glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, feet and trunk is going to be essential to generating the force through your entire kinetic chain with jumping.

Using VBT

But how does VBT help with this?

Well we can measure strength in two ways, firstly you can lift more weight, or we can lift the same weight at a faster velocity. Some estimates suggest that an increase in mean velocity of 0.04m/s  on the same weight is equal to a 4-5% increase in your 1RM.

So you don't always have to be adding more load onto the bar (especially if your technique becomes a bit questionable) but can instead spend time lifting the same weight and trying to do it faster and improving your rate of force development. This strategy is especially valuable in season when you are trying to avoid too much fatigue or stress or for super strong athletes who moving into the world of diminishing returns.

Unlike powerlifting where the goal is always to increase the load on the bar, more weight isn't always going to translate into more force production for your jumping, so you instead of chasing 2x bodyweight on your lifts, you might actually get better jump improvements trying to lift 1.5x bodyweight but doing it faster.

The exercises mentioned about and all others should be done with great technique and explosive intent, including your warm up sets. You should be measuring velocity on your warm ups with the aim being to lift every set as fast as possible, always trying to beat your old best velocities. This is a sneaky way to get more power training into your week as well.

Get powerful

Another great way to develop your jumping is to directly target your capacity to create power with what we call dynamic effort training.

This can be done with a wide variety of exercises, but most commonly involves lifting moderate loads with a focus on being explosive and aggressive.

Sometimes bands or chains are used to add accomodating resistance, increasing the amount you can accelerate the barbell on standard lifts, or exercises like loaded jumps, throws and the olympic lifts allow for incredibly high power outputs.

To perform these kinds of exercises they should be done early in a session, for short sets (1-4 reps) and with lots of rest between efforts to ensure full recovery.

Less is more here with the focus being on quality of effort.

Using VBT

This type of training is where VBT can be hugely beneficial. Traditionally, it was hard to measure progress on this kind of dynamic effort training, coaches could guess if the bar was getting faster over the weeks but with velocity based training, you can precisely measure both velocity and power output of every single rep.

This allows you to track progress over time (are you generating more watts each session) but also to choose optimal training loads that allow you to target this peak power output.

To do this measure power (peak power is usually the best metric) on your warm up sets. Continue adding weight onto the bar until you notice the power number starts to decrease, if you then drop the weight slightly from this last warm up (where the power drops off) you will now have a training load that is very close to your peak power point.

This load typically changes every session based on your fatigue and readiness status, but that is OK as selecting the appropriate weight that optimises power output is the goal.

We don't care about how much weight is on the bar, we care about how much power your can create.

Peak power curve for a back squat
The point of peak power varies by exercise but is usually somewhere around 40-70% of 1RM.

Train elastically

Power can be expressed in a number of ways, but two key distinctions are between elastic power and non-elastic power.

Elastic power, is anything that uses the stretch shortening cycle, most commonly referred to as plyometrics but not all elastic movements have to be plyometrics. Springs, bounds, hops or any exercise that has a rapid eccentric (dip) phase with a quick turn around could be considered elastic, and it is these types of movements that are crucial for developing your ability to do repeated jumps and jump with a run up or gather step.

Non-elastic power, or concentric power is any explosive movement that does not have a pre-loading stretch phase. This type of power can be developed with the dynamic effort training explained earlier, or with jump training that has a pause or seat in the bottom position.

You need to be training both qualities of power, but very often athletes will have a strength and a weakness in either style. The quickest way to test, is to perform three jumps; a seated jump, a standing countermovement jump and a running or gather step jump. What you should see is a healthy and steady increase in jump height across the three jump types, if you do, you are most likely a balanced athlete, with good strength and good elasticity in equal measure. If your jump heights are flat across the three jumps you likely lack elasticity and bounce so need more plyometric type training, and lastly, if your seated jump is woeful but your running jump is huge then you possibly lack strength and concentric power.

From this you can adjust your training accordingly.

You can perform this measurement by looking at the height of your jump (with a vertec or jump mat) or even better would be to look at peak velocity using a velocity based training tool. The velocity of your jumping is a much more sensitive measure and a better indicator of your power output on the different jumps. Alternatively you could just measure peak power output directly to see how much more power you generate with each jump type.

Avoid jumping when fatigued

The most important thing you can do to improve your jumping is to jump.

Jump often and jump with intent.

No one improves their jumping by doing jumps at 80% intensity, it has to be 98% and above to truly develop your explosive power.

In order to maintain this high power output, and therefore improve your vertical you need to follow three important guidelines:

Jump early in sessions

Your true high intensity jump work should be done as soon as possible after you have warmed up

Jump with intent

Just as explained above, you don't improve your jump by going though the motions. Jumping has to be purposeful. Sure you can do some technical work or warm up jumps at a submaximal effort level, but when it comes to improving power, go hard.

Quality over quantity

Power and speed are incredibly taxing activities, it doesn't take many reps for your nervous system to start fatiguing. When this happens there is no point trying to do more reps, at that point your jump training or power exercise has become a conditioning activity - and that is not a very effective way to get fit or jump higher.

Listen to your body, learn to call it quits before you start to fatigue, not after the fatigue has already set in. 5,10,15 really great effort might be all you do in a session, but you will actually make better gains doing less than trying to squeeze 5 more reps out of a session. And this applies to your strength, dynamic effort, jump training and plyometrics as well.

Some great research has shown that athletes who do less reps in a session bounce back faster than those who work harder:

Jump performance after training to failure or not to failure
The dark blue group did a tough training session working to failure while the teal group did less work, both groups were fatigued, but the group that did less bounced back better by the 48 hour point.

They also make more progress from their training programs.

Progress in training when training to failure (dark blue) vs not to failure (teal) - doing less work leads to better recovery AND increased performance gains.

You can use velocity tracking to monitor this fatigue accumulation in your training, by measuring how much your velocity (or power) drops from the first rep of a set to the last. For strength training aim to keep this around 15-22% and for power training aim for 5-12% fatigue only - that's why power training is best done with such short sets.

20% fatigue on a velocity chart
Sticking to 20% fatigue leads to better results in the short and long term.

Track more than just inches with your jumping

The goal with all this training is to increase the height of your jump, how high you can fly.

But jump height isn't the only way to measure your jump performance, there are other key metrics that you can be tracking to see if your training is having an effect and making you more powerful.

Peak power

This is the measure of a single instant of explosive effort. It is best used to track progress on movements that do not have a deceleration phase; cleans, jumps and throws are perfect. Peak power is less relevant on squats and deadlifts, instead look at mean velocity.

I like looking at power relative to an athletes bodyweight so try focusing on watts per kilogram of bodyweight (W/KG), this allows you to see if you are maintaining power even as you gain or lose weight across the course of a season.

Velocity at take-off

This is the #1 variable that determines how high you can jump. So it makes sense to track it and try to improve it over time.

Almost always velocity at take off is the same as your peak velocity, so you can use that if your VBT tool does not have a specific take-off metric. I also like to use peak velocity as a tool to refine jumping technique, trying different arm swing tactics, deeper or shallower dips and changing up my approach steps to find the combination that leads to the best take-off velocity and hopefully jump height as well.

Contact time to flight time ratio

This is a great measure of how you are progressing on your plyometric and elastic power exercises. Over time you should be generating more flight time from the same contact time, or be able to maintain your flight time with a shorter contact. Either way, this is a strong indication that your elasticity is improving!

Free 12 week VBT program

Master the application of velocity tracking in your training with this strength training program. Includes free eBook, PDF and spreadsheet VBT templates.

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A screenshot of a laptop and phone showing velocity based training information