Biomechanics Of A Vertical Jump
So you’ve decided that it was time to improve your athleticism. How smart of you not to run over to the treadmill or worse buy new sneakers. So, if you just stumbled on this site and are one of those convinced it is your shoes and not you; welcome! You’ll soon find out it’s you, sorry mate. Now of course that’s assuming you’re wearing the right size shoe...and type. Either way again, kudos. Only the true fit savvy gym goer knows that if you improve your jump your athleticism improves too.
Oh where to begin. It almost feels as if we should be whispering this, writing in code, or in some dark alley somewhere. Just imagine if Earth caught wind of your intentions. “Why you leave, you no like me?” She’ll say. Yeah, Earth’s a girl...with poor grammar. What? You don’t have the intention of going into orbit? Oh, never mind. Alright we’ll try and keep this mortal then.
So, before we jump into the muscles let’s go a little deeper and get to know ourselves a little better. What makes your muscles perform actions? Don’t you say outside stimuli, I will reach right through this computer. Tell us, exactly how does a tree respond to being punched? Didn’t think so, smart guy. Sorry about that (Clears throat). Outside stimuli is merely the initiator, as living beings we then begin a response tactic. We do this with the use of our nervous system. So that’s where we will begin our journey to mutant like jumping.
Your nervous system has the potential of being exercised and improved just like muscles. Believe it or not, you work your nervous system every day. When you start an exercise involving a new movement, it improves exponentially. Regarding muscle function the nervous system is responsible for allowing us to adapt to new conditions. But you may be asking yourself, “How do you work out your nervous system?” No, upfront there isn’t any machine at the gym that targets the nervous system. The best way to improve your nervous system for a specific action is to attempt that specific action. So, we’ll start here.
Box jumps, lots and lots of box jumps. A box jump is [so E+25], just to emphasize the amount of “o’s” in so (scientific notation), much better than jumping up and down on flat ground. First of all you don’t get any real understanding of how high you can jump on flat ground. However, more importantly your nervous system responds differently when you perform box jumps compared to flat ground jumping. When you stare at your objective height, as in a box jump, your brain sends signals to your muscles for the amount of effort required to achieve that height. So naturally overtime, in a gradual process, your nervous system will sharpen and your vertical jump will have no choice but to increase. But, this could take many weeks if not months. Nobody has time for that, with our strength training routine we hope to shorten this procedure.
Now we can begin the fun stuff! You now know how important a finely tuned nervous system is, so we’ll now discuss the more exciting aspect, muscles. Before we mention the specific workout we used, let’s understand the muscles being recruited. Jumping is merely a translation of energy, we like to refer to it as a transition of momentum because remember momentum is mass * velocity, and kinetic energy is (½)*mass*(velocity^2). So, we say that momentum is a derivative of kinetic energy. The takeaway message from this is how fast (explosive) you move yourself will determine the amount of energy you translate and as a result how high you’ll jump.
So, let’s start from the beginning of the movement. You crouch down into a squat; this utilizes the hamstrings, glutes, and abs. That’s right, abs. Since how high you go is determined by how fast you leave the ground (remember transitional momentum) you want to crouch down quickly. When you crouch down your body recruits the abdominal muscles to perform a sort of crunch, so a strong core with strong abdominal muscles will allow you to quickly drop into the squat. You next want to bounce back, don’t pause, once you get to the bottom of the squat (to aid in the transition of momentum). So, while on the balls of your feet press through the ground (you need the power). Now utilizing your quads and glutes, perform the up motion of the squat (Again, do this explosively). Once you feel take off is imminent do one last boost by utilizing your calf muscles which act as a spring to rotate the feet down (explosively). Don’t worry this will all come naturally to you, just remember stay on the balls of your feet!
Now that we know what muscles are being utilized primarily, and the motion being performed; we can build a workout regimen around it. Since the nervous system is the key to enhancing performance let’s start with weighted jump squats, or as we like to call them “resistance jumping.” These are great because you perform the motion but at a heavier weight! This allows the body to adapt to this weight so when you take the weight away and perform it at your own weight, oh boy look out for this rocket ship! The only caution is to be sure you land softly (like drop down into a squat as you land) because you could easily injure yourself if you land stiffly. Other exercises involve isolating the individual muscles mentioned. So we do some deep squats, heavy squats, and to work out abs; front squats. We also do some straight leg dead lifts to work the hamstrings and glutes.
So that’s it, right? Nope. What are your arms doing during this whole process? Just flailing around like one of those blow-up waving guys outside car dealerships? Although that would be pretty funny, and rather impressive, no they don’t do that. Believe it or not your arms play a fairly big role in your jump. For demonstration purposes treat your body as a water balloon (Wait, I'm going somewhere with this.) and understand that when you press on one side of a water balloon the pressure builds up on the other side. Well, what if we applied that same principle to your body? What do you think will happen? You may be asking yourself, “How?” Or more importantly, “Will I pop?” Don’t worry we’ll get there, about the how…not the popping part…that won’t happen…I think. Either way, similarly to a water balloon we too are comprised of liquid (humans are mostly water) and the physical motions you perform with one part of your body can have a pretty big affect on other parts of your body, trust me. So here goes, by swinging your arms up and down you’ll aid in quickly lowering your body into the squat. This will allow you to have a greater momentum, and as a result a more powerful launch. Right then, so to do this start with your arms fully extended out in front of you, parallel to the floor, as you drop into the squat swing your arms towards your torso, explosively, keeping them fully extended (let them swing back as far as they can go…naturally). Once at the bottom and the bounce back start swinging the arms back reversing the previous motion, also as explosively as you can.
Alright, so from much anticipation here is the workout my brother and I followed to help us increase our vertical jump (video below). Remember: use light weight at first for any of the exercises you’re not familiar with. Let us know what you think. Give it your all, be patient, and check your max weekly. When you get there; your athleticism will have improved significantly so be prepared to go to the basket, end-zone, or moon.