Have you tried increasing your vertical to perform better in your sport? If you did, you know it’s difficult and progress is slow to almost non-existent. But you might have heard that plyometrics are the answer to increasing your vertical. But there are a few things you should know before you implement a plyometric training program or chose plyometric drills to ensure you get the most out of the plyometric training.
Remember, nothing in the world of training works like magic, you need to know what you do and why you do it.
This post will let you know, what you need for a plyometric training to be successful and ultimately increase your vertical.
What are the benefits of Plyometric Training?
I have discussed the benefits of plyometric training before
In a nutshell, the neuromuscular adaptations to plyometric training is an increased firing frequency or in simple words, the signal from the brain to the muscle will travel faster. The muscular adaptations are an increased stiffness of the muscle and strengthening the muscle-tendon unit.
One aspect we haven’t looked at in-depth is the technical adaptation to plyometric training or the coordinative aspect.
How Plyometrics can improve jumping ability
When we look at a jump, we have basically three phases that we can influence in training
- Bottom position
I say three phases, because once you are ‘airborne’ there is very little you can influence apart from making sure you land safely.
Let’s go through the different phases;
Also called eccentric phase, because the primary movers get lengthened and are able to store elastic energy, this energy will ultimately be used for the ascending or jumping. Other words or terms for this phase ca be loading, coiling, cocking, yielding, … different names, the same concept.
Also called amortization phase, this is the switch between descending and ascending and needs to be as short as possible. The longer this phase, the more energy dissipates. Remember in the previous phase you stored elastic energy.
Well, we are talking about something far beyond the eye can see, around 20 – 50 milliseconds which is dependent on various factors (level of the athlete, amount of eccentric force applied, etc) and is difficult to generalize.
Without getting too much into detail, this phase is also highly dependent on strength levels of the athlete, the higher the strength levels, the better the ability to absorb and effectively use the stored elastic energy.
I have touched on the topic of eccentric control in the article
Which is exactly this, the ability to control the descending and use the stored elastic energy for ascending, resulting in a short amortization phase. Other words or terms for this phase are transition phase,
This is where the rubber hits the road, the stored elastic energy is used to augment the concentric force production and yields in a higher jump, stronger throw, harder hit, etc Remember the stretch-shortening cycle doesn’t only work for jumping as I have outlined in this article Why understanding the Mechanics Behind Plyometric Training will make you jump like Michael Jordan
Let’s talk about contact times during Plyometrics to increase Vertical
First take-away is, keep the amortization phase short. If that is not possible you need to look into that, whether it’s a technical issue or a strength issue.
If it’s a technical issue, you can practice it at lower intensities and progress over time to higher intensities. If it’s a strength issue, you can address this via classical strength training. I would recommend focusing on activities where you actively have to break or decelerate. The Power Clean or Power Snatch can serve or altitude landings, with a strong focus on sticking the landing.
The next point is to think about ground contact times in your sport you want to improve your vertical for.
I wrote about ground contact times for different sports in the article The 101 of Power Training for Beginners and explained the difference of a short stretch-shortening cycle (short SSC) and a long stretch-shortening cycle (long SSC) based on ground contact times in the article A Short Guide to Plyometric Training
In a nutshell, a short SSC refers to ground contact times below 180 – 200 milliseconds, a long SSC refers to ground contact times above 200 milliseconds.
The short SSC relies more on the stiffness of the muscle-tendon unit and elastic properties, while the long SSC relies more on the contractile properties. Have a look, the video on the top is a short SSC and the video on the bottom a long SSC.
In simple words, during a short SSC activity, the unit of muscle and tendon stiffens, get stretched like a rubber band during the descend and snap like a rubber band being released during the ascend. For those who want to know, what really happens, actually the muscle stiffens up to an extent, that the tendon get stretched and recoils, while the muscle contracts isometrically throughout the entire contraction cycle. More on different contraction types in the article Why understanding the Mechanics Behind Plyometric Training will make you jump like Michael Jordan
During the long SSC, however, the muscle works in an eccentric-concentric contraction and relies much more on the force producing capabilities of the muscle.
So how does all that improve my Vertical?
Take-away number two, define what type of SSC you during the vertical you want to improve, as for example a high jumper needs more short SSC, activities during training a volleyball player or basketball player more long SSC activities during training.
Next step you need to find the right activities to train either the short SSC or the long SSC.
Plyometric exercises that improve your Vertical?
If you chose to train the short SSC, appropriate plyometric exercises are
- Drop jumps
- Hurdle Jumps
(all focused on a short ground contact time)
If you chose to train the long SSC, appropriate plyometric exercises are
- Countermovement jumps
- Box Jumps
Obviously, you are not limited to this list of two exercises.
My main point is to think about what you want to achieve and then find the right plyometric exercises to achieve that.
Unfortunately too often, authors put the cart before the horse and prescribe activities without identifying what the desired outcome should be.
And then you will read of Broad Jumps, Pogo Jumps, Bounds, Leaps, Stair Jumps, etc the list goes on and on…
Concluding How Plyometrics Increase Your Vertical
In order to increase your vertical through plyometric training, you need to
- understand what type of plyometric ability you need for your sport
- minimize and optimize the amortization phase, and if you can’t do it, you need to figure out whether it is a strength issue or a technical issue
Once you know that, you can choose the appropriate plyometric drills to literally skyrocket your vertical.
More information on Plyometric Training
For more information read the article or visit the plyometric training video library