Building Your Jumping Ability

Building Your Jumping Ability

by Chris Mason

This article is for those amongst you who wish to build your jumping ability.  At the risk of stating the obvious, the ability to jump is important for most athletic sporting endeavors.  I will present to you the underlying concepts of how to build jumping ability (simultaneously dispelling some very common myths), and a basic routine which can be used effectively by all but the most advanced of athletes.

Powerlifter extraordinaire Laura Sweatt has hops!

What Physical Trait(s) Need to be Improved to Enhance Jumping Ability?

The ability to jump high involves two basic physical traits.  One is absolute strength of the involved musculature and thus its peak force production capacity.  The other is how quickly the athlete can generate force.  Speed, or rate of force development (RFD), is the more important of the two capacities once the athlete develops a reasonable amount of absolute strength.  For instance, if athlete A can squat 400 lbs for one repetition (rep) and athlete B can squat the same, but has the ability to generate more force in the .15-.18s it takes for takeoff (this range is just a rough one which can change depending on the type of jump), then athlete B will jump higher all other factors being equal.

Gretchen Kittelberger Box Jumping at the CrossFit Games

Strength training increases peak force production ability.  For untrained and insufficiently powerful athletes strength training aimed at increasing absolute strength can improve their jumping ability.  It does so because as they increase their absolute peak force production capacity, so do they increase peak force production in the very short timeframe during jumping takeoff.  This method of addressing jumping ability is one of diminishing returns, however, as the percentage of peak force one can produce in the very short timeframes of jump takeoffs does not keep pace with the increase in absolute force production.  In other words, if an athlete has a 200 lbs maximum squat and can generate 50% of that (100 lbs) in .15s, increasing their maximum squat to 300 lbs will likely not result in the ability to produce 150 lbs of force during takeoff.  The new number will be something less, perhaps 120 lbs, or 40%.

*Please note the above figures are for illustrative purposes only.

Once absolute strength relative to being a significant contributor to jumping is tapped-out, or if the athlete can only produce a low percentage of their maximum squat force during the takeoff phase, then RFD becomes the key to increasing one’s jump.  Ideally, BOTH capacities (strength and RFD) should be developed simultaneously.

RFD for jumping is trained with low load, fast movements.  These can include squats performed with 10-20% of one’s maximum as well as plyometric exercise.   Of course, the S.A.I.D. principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand) dictates that jumping itself and sport specific jumping will work as well.  I am not a huge fan of plyometric exercises due to the forces involved, but they are most definitively effective.  If they are to be incorporated they should be used sparingly, and only used with athletes who have a strength training background, are more advanced, and under the watchful eye of a coach who specializes in their proper and effective use.  The training suggestions below will not include true plyometrics.

I would like to point out a bit of misinformation that has hit the fitness world.  I have seen many trainers advocate dynamic effort (DE) strength training exercises as a means of improving explosive power for athletes.  While said training CAN help, it will do so not because of RFD, but rather due to its contribution to the athlete’s absolute strength.  The misinformation thus being DE work will translate into increased RFD to unloaded movements like jumping.  By the way, the same logic is used to justify the incorporation of the Olympic lifts.

To further elucidate, the loads used in both DE squats and Olympic lifts are too high to significantly impact the RFD required for improving one’s jump.  What they CAN do is aid with RFD for slower, maximum lift attempts.  So, either DE squats or Olympic lifts (or both) can be successfully incorporated into a program designed to increase the explosive power associated with jumping and many athletic endeavors, but only as they serve to enhance absolute strength and force production capacity.

I hope the above point really hits home.  The VAST majority of trainers and “gurus” don’t truly understand the physiological ramifications of the training they advocate.  That doesn’t mean their methods won’t work, it simply means they are likely not optimal and or while they work, the reasons you are provided for why are inaccurate.  As the wonderful Paul Harvey used to say, “And that’s the rest of the story.”

Training to Increase Jumping Ability

As noted above, the ideal training program for developing the explosive power for jumping simultaneously builds both absolute strength (at least to the point a further increase will not help jumping ability) and RFD specific to the timeframe involved in the takeoff for a jump.   If you are going to strength train you should use the best methodology available.  That, in my opinion, is the Westside Barbell method (  Westside combined with unloaded, or VERY light resistance RFD exercises provides a virtually idea combination of absolute strength training and jumping specific RFD exercise.

Luke Edwards (L) and Josh Conley (R) of Westside

A full description of the Westside system is beyond the scope of this article.  I highly recommend you go to their website and read the free articles as well as purchase the books written by Mr. Simmons on the subject.  You will never make a better fitness investment.

Below is a basic Westside template:

Monday: Maximum Effort (ME) lower body day

Wednesday: ME upper body day

Friday: DE lower body day

Sunday: DE upper body day

The basic Westside template involves using a bench press and squat variation (which can include good mornings and various deadlifts) as the main exercise for each upper and lower body ME day followed by accessory or special exercises.  DE days are essentially the same (with the exception that a box speed squat is nearly always used as the lower body main exercise).  My recommendation is to follow the main exercises on both ME and DE days with the below RFD exercises, and then to do the accessory or special exercises.

RFD Exercises:

- Half or full squats with 10-20% of 1RM for 5 sets of 5 reps performed as quickly and explosively as possible (NOT jumping squats – your feet should not leave the ground)

- Box jumps unloaded for 5 sets of 5 reps – height should be moderate with the focus on as fast of a launch as is possible

So a sample one week template would be the following:

Monday (ME lower body):

Box squat with chains

Half squats with 10-20% of 1RM for 5 sets of 5 reps (each rep as fast as possible)

Special or accessory exercises

Wednesday (ME upper body):

Floor press

Box jumps – 5 sets of 5 reps (moderate height with each jump as explosive as possible – step down after jump)

Special or accessory exercises

Friday (DE lower body):

Box speed Squats

Full squats with 10-20% of 1RM for 5 sets of 5 reps (each rep as fast as possible)

Special or accessory exercises

Sunday (DE upper body):

Speed bench press

Box jumps – 5 sets of 5 reps (moderate height with each jump as explosive as possible – step down after jump)

Special or accessory exercises

Note that a proper understanding of Westside is needed for this program to work optimally.  Please read Louie Simmons’ books and be sure you have a sound command of the methods before employing them.  Once you do, the relatively simple template above can be followed and virtually everyone but the most advanced jumpers will see a significant benefit.

This program is meant to be used during the off-season phase for most athletes.  The additional volume of sport specific conditioning and drills as well as game play dictate a different program be used for pre and in-season work.


The most important thing I want you to take away from this article is an understanding of how absolute strength and movement specific RFD relate to jumping ability.  If you understand these basic underlying concepts you know more than the vast majority of coaches and trainers out there, and you have the tools you need to formulate the best regimen for you and or athletes you work with.

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