Christian: Today I’m here with Jeremy Sheppard. Jeremy Sheppard is the Lead Strength & Conditioning Coach at the Canadian Institute of Sport for Snowboarding nowadays and previously Head of Sports Science Surfing Australia.
Jeremy has a broad experience working as a Strength & Conditioning Coach with Volleyball and Beach Volleyball and was mentored by Istvan Balyi.
How to Increase Your Vertical Jump for Volleyball
Christian: Today’s topic will be touching on your experience with Volleyball and Beach Volleyball and the theme for this interview will revolve around the questions ‘How to Increase your Vertical?” and ‘How to increase your Vertical Jump for Volleyball?’
I also want to look at the implementation of plyometric exercises that help you jump higher and how to plan a plyometric workout.
The specific question, how would you go through planning of a Volleyball Plyometric workout
Jeremy: Volleyball is a great context, because as a Strength and Conditioning Coach in some sports you are torn in many different directions on what you can affect the sports performance with. What I love about working with Volleyball players is, that although there are many things you could help with, there is really one that just stands out and it is just so important.
And that is the speed of their movement on court and their Vertical Jump.
If you can improve their Vertical Jump, you can also improve their speed quality.
The Volleyball Vertical Jump training and the speed training are complementing each other.
The Vertical Jump for a volleyball player is king!
An important aspect for many people is, that they often see impressive vertical jumps from short people and they assume that tall volleyball players cannot have a good vertical jump.
The opposite is true, tall men or tall women have a longer push distance through their vertical jump. As these tall athletes go through growth and are getting used to getting their tall body coordinated, they can have extremely impressive Verticals.
When it comes to prioritizing how to improve your Vertical Jump for Volleyball, it is important to have your criteria assessment for Volleyball Vertical Jump measurements. Specifically, that is a Spike Jump and a Counter-Movement Jump.
Specific Vertical Jump Tests for Volleyball
The Counter-Movement Jump resembles a block or any movement that doesn’t involve an approach to the net. The Counter-Movement Jump can be done with 2 arms, like a block with one arm, as a reaching movement.
The Spike Jump or Approach Jump the athlete can use, three steps, four steps or however many steps that they use on the court.
As equipment, you can use a Vertec.
Once you have the results of these two jump tests, you already have something to compare.
The question that stands out ‘What is the percentage difference gain from the approach?’
As an example, if a Volleyball player has a Vertical Jump of 330 centimeters on a Counter-Movement Jump and their Approach Jump is 345 centimeters, they are not getting a lot of additional gain from the horizontal approach.
You can then look and break down the jump testing results.
Is this a technical factor? Is it that they don’t have the knowledge of how to do it? Is it a physical issue or a biomechanical issue? When you answer these questions, you can start to break that down further.
Then from there, I would add in other assessments to further determine what their Vertical Jump training should look like, rather than just say ‘You have got a 330 centimeters Counter-Movement Jump, here is your training program.’ You need to say ‘I need more information. I need to know well where is that coming from.’
You can then look at something like a Drop Jump and see if they are getting additional jump height from a drop jump?
Following up on the example of the Volleyball player with the 330-centimeter Counter-movement Jump. If this player drops off a 20-centimeter box and the Vertical Jump is 325 centimeters, you know, this player is not getting an additional gain in vertical jump height from dropping. That means that the ability to tolerate eccentric loading and absorbing forces is low.
This suggests, that there is a great window of opportunity to start training stretch load tolerance, with depth jumps, drop jumps and/or accentuated eccentric loading.
If the athlete is not ready for depth jumps, they can do a regression from a depth jump, like a tuck jump or a jump variation, that will start to develop that tolerance to the stretch load.
With a Volleyball player, you can do a complete vertical jump profile and test the 20 cm, 30 cm, 40 cm, 50 cm and 60-centimeter drop jump for maximum vertical jump height.
Profiling the Volleyball Athlete
Christian: How does such a Vertical Jump test profile work?
Jeremy: You let them perform a drop jump from the heights I have just outlined and record the vertical jump heights achieved on each drop jump height.
The results can give you more insights into the actual jump performance, as I presented at the UKSCA Annual Conference in 2011.
It is possible, that you have two players, that have the exact same Vertical Jump height in a Counter-Movement Jump but show a complete different Vertical Jump test profile.
With these results, you can determine, where there is the biggest scope for improvement for every individual player. It could be the plyometric ability or it could be the maximum strength levels.
Christian: Would you use the same Vertical Jump profiling process for younger Volleyball players?
Jeremy: It depends on the training history of the athlete, as well as their maturation status. For example, a 14-year-old who doesn’t have a good training history you might not do all the different drop jump heights, but you might do some 20 cm, 30 cm, and 40 cm.
In any case, whether it’s a young athlete or a professional athlete, you can compare the different Volleyball players and graphically look at the results and decide one volleyball player might benefit from depth jumps from 20 centimeters, and one of them may need to do depth jumps from 40 centimeters.
Christian: This is a bit of a philosophical question, right?
Do you want to ‘strengthen the strength’ or ‘weaken the weakness’?
Jeremy: That is a really good point and I suppose it is a philosophical question. It is something that I have discussed with different people and I, in this case, it is a weakness.
On the other hand, I don’t necessarily look at it as targeting their weakness, much rather than looking at an opportunity to where the most adaptation could occur from.
In a bigger picture sense, I do agree that ignoring your strengths and only attacking your weaknesses as an individual philosophically speaking may not always be the right approach.
Another example, I have had volleyball players who weren’t very strong in the weight room setting, but they were inherently explosive jumpers with very good vertical jumps.
One approach that most people would take is to attack the weakness, but that might not always work.
I work with snowboarding now and I have a snowboarder who snowboards very well, but if we are trying to attack his weaknesses, he doesn’t respond very well.
Therefore I actually can’t attack his weaknesses, because it tears apart everything else that we are trying to achieve.
But, he is an extreme example.
For me, I haven’t had a lot of these extreme examples.
With the example of the volleyball players, who weren’t very weight room strong, we didn’t have any negative repercussions like the explosiveness disappeared, when we did Front Squats and other heavy lifting activities.
They had great depth jumps and were amazing at Plyometrics. Therefore I didn’t need to give a lot of additional plyometric exercises since they seemed to be inherently good at the plyometric training. However, when I gave additional resistance training, it didn’t make anything else worse.
On the flip-side, with the snowboarder I mentioned before, I can make him worse very quickly.
In the weight room, we are focusing more on the velocity of movement. When we put a lot of tension through his body and he squats with lower velocities, that allows him to only move the bar with average speeds of 0.3 to 0.4 meters per second through the concentric part of the squat, the problems that come with this high load, low velocity training are not worth the benefits that we gain from this.
But he can squat with lighter loads, that he can move at 0.5 or 0.6 meters per second and when he starts to move these loads even faster, then we can increase the loads and this approach doesn’t ruin his snowboarding.
Volleyball Plyometric Routines
Christian: Let’s talk about Plyometric Workouts and Plyometric Training Programs. How do you design a plyometric training program? What are your progressions, if you implement the general plyometric training program? How do you approach the season for Volleyball Players, or how do you design a long-term plyometric training program throughout the entire season.
Jeremy: I use an expression in my mind, that has helped throughout the years.
The training program needs to be athlete specific and sports relevant.
The same is true for the plyometric training program, it has to be specific to the needs of the athlete and relevant to the sport of Volleyball. In practice that can mean, that I have a volleyball player that is working with plyometric training progressions that are not as aggressive as some people might think. People might think “He is a volleyball player, he should be doing more Plyometrics.” But because of the results of our force profiling, that we do in addition to the jump profiling that I mentioned earlier, I may actually be using very, very small doses of very, very specific plyometric exercises, that are only in the plyometric training program to complement the heavy resistance training or heavy ballistic training progressions. Once I have achieved a few things, that I was looking for, I then lay out the full plyometric training program.
Meanwhile, another player, that is on the same team and right beside him on the court, is also right beside him in the weight room doing a completely different training program. Sometimes we had Volleyball Coaches visiting our training sessions and I had to explain, that these volleyball players are on the same team and sometimes even in the same position on the court and have the same responsibilities but there are huge disparities between one training program and another training program.
But this is what I mentioned before, the training program needs to be sport relevant, but also athlete specific. And this explains, why the athletes do different training programs.
If we dive into that example we might have one guy who has one plyometric exercise for a couple micro-cycles, maybe even for a couple meso-cycles.
And it might be, that the other player is doing Accentuated Eccentric Drop Loads with 30 kilograms, which means 15 kg in each hand. I might do that to teach him the motor aspect of the explosive transition from the eccentric movement to the concentric movement. I do that in addition to the heavy strength training, to contrast it with something explosive. Another example could be, that I pair the heavy strength training with an Over speed Jump so that I don’t lose or minimize that velocity side of things.
Accentuated Eccentric Loading – Advanced Plyometric Exercises
Christian: For those who are not familiar with Accentuated Eccentric Loading, can you elaborate, what it is, how it works and what adaptations you can expect?
Jeremy: Accentuated Eccentric Loading is advanced plyometric exercises. Think about a jump, where you hold two dumbbells in your hand and you jump. With the Accentuated Eccentric Loading, you only hold onto the dumbbells for the dip and let go of the dumbbells in the bottom position. You basically do the dip with your body weight plus the dumbbells, but the actual jump only with your bodyweight.
Studies have shown, that Accentuated Eccentric Loading can lead to superior power outputs, higher jump velocities and an increase in your vertical.
The adaptations are a combination of myogenic adaptations, adaptations on the muscular system and neurogenic, adaptations on the nervous system.
On the muscular system, because the eccentric phase is done with additional loads, on the nervous system, because there is a potentiation effect when you let go of the dumbbells and the nervous system sends a stronger signal to the muscle fiber to fire.
Christian: With the Accentuated Eccentric Loading or the Over speed Jump you are looking to train both ends of the Force-velocity continuum? High loads and low velocities on one side of the continuum and Low loads and high velocities on the other side of the force-velocity continuum, correct?
Jeremy: Exactly, because I really think of it like a continuum and I think many coaches do think so as well. Therefore we do not only see our plyometric exercises also as continuums, but also the physical qualities as a continuum.
Meanwhile, in our example of the hypothetical athlete, who is not working a lot on that low load and high-velocity end of the continuum, he might do more work on the other end of the continuum with high loads and lower speeds. This athlete is the mainly working with the Olympic Lifts and derivatives of the Olympic Lifts, such as Hang Cleans, Hang Snatches and Loaded Jump Squats. This is the typical big strong white guy strength coaches love because he can squat a lot and the strength coaches can brag about how strong their athlete is.
However, this guy might only be the second-best for his position on the national team, because his Vertical Jump is great, but it is not world class Vertical. This athlete might have a Counter-movement Jump of 330 centimeters and a Spike Jump of 340 centimeters.
But then there is this other guy with a different sort of background, different athletic makeup, who has a 350 cm Counter-movement Jump and a Spike Jump of 370 cm. And when this guy drops off a box during your plyometric training, this athlete jumps over your head. But this athlete might only Front Squats 90 kilos, which is his body weight, and he thinks that is really hard.
So, one guy can grind through the lower velocity and high load training, whilst the other, the more explosive guy has difficulties with higher loads. This athlete could use the high load low-velocity training as an opportunity for improvement while making sure he doesn’t lose, what makes him really good.
Different Vertical Jump Strategies: The ‘strength guy’ vs the ‘plyometric guy’
Christian: Expanding on the two examples you just outlined, with the strength guy you normally see a different jump profile, with a deeper dip and more a ‘strength-based’ jump, whilst the explosive and plyometric guy, uses shorter dip but very bouncy jump and more use of the elastic components for the Vertical.
Jeremy: Yes, that is correct. The stronger guy uses a longer push distance. And the more plyometric guy uses a high rate of movement. And the first example, the stronger in the weight room guy favor a longer length of the stretch-shortening cycle activity.
Both of them stimulate stretch-shortening cycle activity, the difference lies in the rate at which they do it, slow vs fast; as well as the range in which they do it, short vs long.
Christian: I remember, when I was working with Indoor Volleyball and Beach Volleyball towards the Olympic Games in London 2012, we classified athletes in these two groups, the strength-dominant athlete, and the plyometric-explosive athlete. One question always stood out ‘Can you make the strength-dominant athlete into a more plyometric-explosive athlete? What is your take on that?
Jeremy: I don’t know if you can make the strength-dominant athlete completely into a plyometric-explosive athlete, but you can tap into the opportunity that they currently don’t have. And I see that with some level of confidence because I have been consistent with monitoring those physical qualities so that I can observe those physical changes.
The athlete, who is not that explosive might have that 330-centimeter Vertical Jump and going back to that score, his vertical of a depth jump from 20 centimeters is 325 cm. We can get those guys up to 335 of the 20 cm Depth Jump, and what will often find is, that the Counter-movement Jump goes up to 335 cm.
They improve both scores, but with a severe bias towards the one that was lacking, to me, that really stands out.
If you jump off a box and you can’t get a higher Vertical Jump I would say to them, ‘Don’t get depressed, get excited, because we just found something we can work on.’ and then they work on that quality.
And then the next step is, how we might lay that out?
The athlete has not really got a drop height that is really optimal because theoretically, you would have a drop height where you get your best Vertical Jump from. Then you philosophically ask, ‘Do we use that drop height where he gets the best Vertical? Is that what it means?’
Maybe. I don’t know for sure.
But maybe we use that drop height and little higher drop height. Or maybe there are ways to use lower drop heights, but that changed the nature of the plyometric exercise.
I use part of Maarten Bobbert’s work from the University of Amsterdam, he uses different classifications of Drop Jumps.
I use two of Maarten Bobbert’s proposals, one Drop Jump, where you emphasize the short contact. For this one, I might use lower heights for that. The other Drop Jump variation, where you maximize vertical jump height, with longer contact times, I use higher drop jump heights.
The Role of the Short Stretch-shortening Cycle vs the Long Stretch-shortening cycle in different types of Vertical Jumps
Christian: Yes, Maarten Bobbert talks about Bounce Drop Jump and the second one a Counter-movement Drop Jump.
Jeremy: Yes, and then I think he has a third one. For me, practically speaking I stick with those two. For the Bounce Drop Jump, I instruct the athletes, that the idea is to literally bounce off the ground or flip a Volleyball.
I don’t get too descriptive because that can confuse the athletes and I just say to them, ‘Drop off the box and go bang like this.’ and I just drop a Volleyball and bounce it quick.
With the Counter-movement Drop Jump, I say, ‘I want you to jump off the box and find a way to jump as high as possible.’ Because, if you tell them that, that is the outcome they will look for. They won’t over-think what they need to do, like how much to dip or whatever.
They still might ask me that question, ‘How much am I supposed to dip?’ I reply, that they need to figure that out. I again instruct ‘Drop off the box and do whatever you need to do to jump as high as possible.’
In addition to that, I might put the Vertec for them to test, what gives them the best Vertical.
Coming back to the original question, where do we start? We use those two different types of drop jumps and layer it out. We might start with lower heights and then monitor it, as we improve the vertical height on those lower drop heights, we start raising the drop heights.
If I think of a great Volleyball player, I use the example of Igor Yudin a professional Volleyball player in Poland.
Igor used to drop off a 40 or 50-centimeter box and get his best vertical jump height.
Then the question which fascinated me, if I should use that drop height for him?
If I accept this as a good idea, then maybe, I should also use drop heights a bit higher and a bit lower than that. Almost like a mixed method approach to plyometric exercise selection.
Having said that, Igor was such a good Volleyball player and such an amazing jumper, that my role would be to do everything I can, to make him handle his landings better. Because the better the Volleyball player, the more balls they are going to get from the setter in the attack. The more time you are going to jump and consequently land from those jumps, which is a high impact.
So I needed to figure out, how to extend his career so that he can have a longer career and provide for his family longer.
I was wondering, whether this was my contribution? So again, philosophical approach.
Christian: Comes down to the responsibilities of a Strength & Conditioning Coach, which is improving performance and preventing injuries, and therefore prolonging the career longevity.
Jeremy: For sure. Our contextual purpose is to win volleyball games or to improve the performance of our athletes. But at the same time, our overall purpose is to upgrade people’s lives, and one of those lives that you can upgrade is the people you are working with.
It may be obviously winning games for the team is great and for the individual as well. But teaching them how to take care of themselves is a big responsibility, and it is a legacy we could and should leave. I live in Canada and Igor, to come back to the example of Igor, lives in Poland and I think part-time in Australia and still plays for the Australian National Volleyball team. If I have taught him something that helps him now and adds quality to his life and the lives of his family, that adds a tremendous amount of satisfaction to me.
That is different than if he was a just a player on a piece of paper, where you would say, ‘Look, he’s got an amazing Drop Jump from 40 centimeters.’ And I might be using 40 and 50 cm Drop Jumps, and then when I begin to see improvements in the 40 cm and the 50 cm, then I can be confident that we might move to higher drops, such as 45 cm, 55 cm or even 60 cm. But I always layer in higher drop landings to prepare for the added stretch loads.
Christian: Can you give a specific example, how you use the Landings to teach and train to absorb forces and use Drop Jumps to train force production and power production?
Jeremy: Definitely, for example, this amazing and explosive freak Igor, he might be doing Bounce Drop Jumps off 20 or 30 centimeters, and in the same micro-cycle doing Counter-movement Drop Jumps from 40 and 50 centimeters for maximum Vertical Jump height, as well as doing 60 centimeters Drop Landings, to work on stabilizing quickly and landing softly.
How to integrate Plyometric Exercises into a Plyometric Training session
Christian: How would you sequence Plyometric Exercises in a Plyometric Training session? Do you start with Plyometric Exercises focussed on absorbing forces first, or do you start with the most explosive Plyometric Drills first?
Jeremy: Good question. We would warm up to start with plyo drills focussed on absorbing forces. We do not start with dropping from heights, we start with Drop Squats focussing on a quick drop and stabilizing, we progress the Drop Squats from double leg to single leg.
I also like to do some basic gymnastics with almost every sport I work with. Obviously now with Snowboarding and Surfing, there are a lot of direct applications of gymnastics, but even with Volleyball players doing things like a forward roll and then re-stabilizing on your feet is a basic skill that can help to improve Volleyball performance.
It is relevant for their backcourt play, where the Volleyball player might have to dig a ball at an angle and then roll efficiently and come back up quickly. Because one of the hardest physiological challenges in Volleyball is actually getting up off the ground when you are really tall and big athlete. They have a vertical jump thousands of times per week in practice and competition and that is where our main focus lies. But they also dive about 150 or 200 times and usually very little focus is put on the dive, the roll and the recovery back into the Volleyball court.
And they are really big people and getting up off the ground is actually really hard. If you can teach them to actually roll better and be a bit better at basic gymnastic skills in how they recover their body weight from digging a ball or chasing a ball and trying to bring it back into play, that helps too because it is less stressful for them.
Back to the integration of Plyometric exercises into a Plyometric Training session. As outlined we start warming up for the absorption and start our plyometric training with drop landings. We might also do the drop landings at the end of training, to teach effective landings and force absorption under fatigue, but that depends. That is the Art and Science aspect of coaching, you go with your instinct and your data.
Where do I put each individual athlete?
That is a kind of a fun decision to make, to switch it up for each individual athlete if required. I do the same thing with our gymnastics and balance training. Sometimes it is after the warm up before we do our main plyometric training, and sometimes it is at the end of the plyometric workout to challenge them under fatigue.
Christian: Thanks, Jeremy, I could talk for hours to you. It looks like we have to go back to our next presentation.
Thank you for your time, it was great!
Jeremy: Yes, appreciate it.