If you don’t know how important a great vertical jump is, you’re either living under a rock, or I’m failing you as a coach/writer. An explosive vertical jump has carry over to nearly every sport; A vertical jump is an expression of power. The better the vertical, the better you are at putting force into the ground in an instant.
There’s no such thing as a high vertical that happens slowly, it’s impossible. This is why it’s a test that many coaches/organizations use as an assessment and performance marker. Let’s take sprinting for example, since this carries over to an incredible number of sports; during ground contact , you have a mixture of vertical and horizontal forces, these are the basis for how fast you move. Mastering how much of each is another part of the equation, but the first step is maximizing how much force you put into the ground in the first place. Plain and simple, a good vert is important.
So How Do You Build A Bigger Vertical?
Many people thinking that building bigger legs will automatically improve performance. This is false. To improve performance you need to build strength and Power. Doing heavy work will definitely help to build strength, which is a necessary base as an athlete, but adding power work will definitely help your plyometrics/Jumping.
Olympic lifting is power work. You need to explosively apply force to the ground in order to accelerate the bar up to the rack or catch position. One way to think of olympic lifting simply (perhaps overly simlpified) is to try to do a vertical jump with a loaded bar in your hands. Although this only applies to one part of the lift, its an easy way to express how closely the vertical jump and olympic lifting are related. This is not shared with traditional strength training exercises to the same extent.
One thing to note is that olympic lifting is very technical. If you don’t have the requisite skills to effectively train, using Olympic Lifting derivatives can be very helpful. This means using only segments of the lifts, like clean/snatch pulls, high pulls and jerks. Not being able to catch the bar effectively should not hold you back from the great power work that can come from the derivatives.
As I stated before, building a strong squat, deadlift or lunge CAN carry over to your vertical but that is not necessarily the case. A recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that an olympic liting program improves jump performance as compared to a traditional weight training program: “The OL program improves jump performance via a constant CI, whereas the TW training caused an increased CI, probably to enhance joint stability”. To clarify, CI is the knee muscle coactivation index, this is obtained by taking the EMG of the antagonist muscle and dividing it by the agonist muscle. Essentially what they are saying is that when olympic lifting, the different muscles around the knee are always activated in the correct ratio (which stays the same with continued training), whereas traditional weight lifting will change the ratio of knee muscle activators. No matter how hard you try to stay balanced, if you’re doing a number of different exercises it will almost be impossible to keep them at an constant ratio. For this reason, I like olympic lifting for a bigger vertical.
Now, that being said, I don’t work with any athletes whose only goal is a greater vertical jump. By no means am I going to program ONLY olympic lifts and by no means is it the only way to increase your vertical jump. Ballistic movements including plyometrics (see my two posts on the subject here and here)
are also a great way to increase explosiveness and power. This article is meant to share with athletes and coaches how valuable olympic lifting can be for athleticism. If you haven’t learned how to properly do them, then now would be a good time to hire a trainer/coach or find a good website to teach you (HERE is one that I really like or a VIDEO here). If you’d like to get started right away, here is a very easy progression plan to start doing power work.
– Do Jump Shrugs / Clean Pulls. Beginning in a hang position (mid thigh bar, bent at the hips), explosively extend hips, knees and ankles (triple extension) and shrug as the bar begins to rise. Emphasize the jump more than the shrug, but who doesn’t like big traps?
*Note that pulls are mainly vertical, so the torso should still maintain a mostly upright posture*
– Do High Pulls. This is nearly identical to the jump shrug except we’re keeping our arms loose and allowing them to bend so that the bar can travel up to rack height (shoulders).
– Do Hang Power Cleans. This is a high pull but we rotate our elbows up and catch in the power position.
If you’re a beginner, you don’t necessarily have to progress further than this, but if you’re enjoying the results or the exercises themselves then continue on to full cleans, clean and jerk and snatches. Just remember, if you’re an athlete who doesn’t compete in olympic lifting, spending too much time perfecting your lifts could take away from Sprinting and Plyometrics.
(here’s Callum Crawford of the Buffalo Bandits NLL doing 225lbs for his first time!)
It’s About Getting Better!
Reference article from JSCR -> ( Olympic Weightlifting Training Causes Different Knee Muscle–Coactivation Adaptations Compared with Traditional Weight Training by Arabatzi, Fotini; Kellis, Eleftherios) [ August 2012 – Volume 26 – Issue 8 – p 2192–2201 ]