Vertical Jump part I: The component of a vertical jump
"There’s a reason one of Michael Jordan’s most infamous dunks is when he took off from the foul line. And that reason is that there simply isn’t anything quite like flying high. The illusion of being suspended in mid-air is a graceful display of neuromuscular coordination, strength, and power. No matter what you’re doing - jumping, flipping, dunking - higher is better."
But how do you realize your potential? Vertical jump programs are aplenty, no doubt. Sadly, most of them are nothing more than a random mish mash of explosive (I dare say, “plyometric,” for reasons which we will get to) exercises without care to your specific needs.
With the vertical jump, however, your current abilities determine how you should train in order to realize the best results. Before we get to those goodies, let’s dissect the vertical jump itself.
THE COMPONENTS OF A VERTICAL JUMP
The vertical jump is difficult to conceptualize, but we’re going to give it a face to make it more life-like: Think of a can of paint on one end of a seesaw. The vertical jump is kind of like seeing how high you can get the paint can to fly into the air after pouncing onto the open end of the seesaw.
Getting the paint can in the air requires applying some kind of force to the empty end. This gives us our first buzz word in force. The idea of force is often thrown out there in the context of jumping, but force alone isn’t enough. A pneumatic piston capable of applying one bajillion units of force won’t throw the can in the air if it’s applied to the open end of the seesaw slowly. Thus, time is equally important consideration.
Anyone with a pocket protector could then tell us that, in physics terms, power is a measuring of force applied over a discrete period of time. Apply force quickly, and you get a lot of power. In a nutshell, more force is better as long as it remains proportional to the speed at which it is applied.
So we got force, speed, power, time, and all of these buzzwords, but what does it all mean? And how do they relate to jumping higher?
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SPEED JUMPERS AND FORCE JUMPERS
Distinguishing between force and speed is important because it’s the secret sauce behind the individual nature of improving the vertical jump. Some people are naturally more force jumpers, others are naturally more speed jumpers. It’s your job to find out which one you are, and then fill in the gaps to make sure you aren’t developing yourself lopsided.
Speed based jumpers are the prototypical NBA point guard. They’re usually better running one-legged jumpers. Short ground contact is the name of the game, as speed jumpers are very good at absorbing and outputting kinetic energy throughout their connective tissue to exploit the tissue’s elastic properties.
Forced based jumpers are generally more muscled and better two-legged jumpers. They rely on longer ground contact times and “muscle” the movement more.
If you’re totally untrained, increasing either your elastic capabilities, or your force capabilities will likely land you a better vertical jump. But as you trudge forward, there’s a good chance you’re going to have sure up your deficiencies.
Let’s dissect both force and elasticity to get a better understanding of this whole production.
THE DOWNLOW ON FRICTION AND ELASTICITY CONTINUUM
The relationship between frictional strength and elastic strength also has play within the nervous system with regard to the strength and frequency of nervous impulses sent to the working muscles.
Elastic: smaller, more frequent
Frictional: larger, less frequent
Putting this into a real movement sense, a primarily elastic task is something like tapping your finger as fast as possible. A primarily frictional task is grinding through pushing a car up a hill or lifting a heavy weight.
Both essentially play off of each other in some way, shape, or form. Combine them into one comprehensive category and you get static-spring proficiency - the magic behind most explosive sporting movements.
These days, most people aim to improve static-spring proficiency through plyometrics, most of which are mutated versions of Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky's shock training methods. (Click here for a more detailed guide on the relationship between mainstream plyometrics and shock training.)
So...how do you jump higher?
Getting the story straight on plyometrics doesn’t mean diving into a world of shock jumps, depth jumps, and riding off into the sunset. The reality is that there are two primary components to static-spring proficiency, and where you are now depends on where you need to go. It can’t be a blind process. Find out more in part II - How to improve your vertical jump.
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