Volleyball is a sport where an athlete’s vertical jump can make all the difference in performance whether it’s blocking, attacking, or making a great defensive save. Here are three components necessary to elevate your vertical to its highest potential. power, jump form and comfortability.
To develop power (explosiveness), you need one equation: Force X Velocity. Force refers to the amount of force a muscle/muscle group can exert (what we typically call “strength”) and velocity is the speed at which the muscle(s) can exert that force. These two things, together, create the explosiveness needed to propel yourself into the air. In order to improve upon both parts of the equation, you need a hybrid training regimen of both classic strength training and velocity training.
Strength training is exactly what you think of when you read the words “strength training”. It can be squats, lunges, deadlifts etc. Exercises that force the muscles to exert themselves in order for you to complete the movement.
Squats, for example, make it difficult for you come back up after lowering (when using a certain amount of weight or after doing a certain amount of weightless reps). The more you squat the easier it gets as you adapt and get stronger, but at some point, you need to increase the workload if you want to continue to get stronger. This is referred to as “Progressive Overload” because you are progressively overloading the muscles to give them a new challenge to meet and a new stimulus to overcome and adapt to.
The most common way that athletes achieve progressive overload is to add more weight once the current amount of weight becomes easier to lift, but that isn’t the only way to make an exercise more challenging. In the absence of weight (or even with weight if you don’t want to add), you can do more reps, slow down the reps or increase the number of sets to achieve a greater challenge.
Slowly and safely increasing the demand placed on your muscles will cause you to grow stronger over time, but that is only half of the equation. The other half is how fast athletes can get the muscles to contract. In order to get faster, it’s important to first get more efficient at moving as fast as you already can. The most common way for athletes to achieve this is by doing plyometrics (quick squat jumps, lunge jumps, tuck jumps, depth jumps).
As athletes improve and become more efficient, to progress further, try harder variations or do more reps and/or sets like the strength training. With light weight or without weight, athletes can perform the same movements with a quicker tempo and focus on contracting the muscles faster. Wait until athletes have exceptional form to progress further.
Jump form applies not only to the approach, but also to what happens after leaving the ground as well. Jumping is a triple extension movement, meaning that you extend in three areas: hips, knees and ankles. But what happens in many cases is that there is extension at the knees and ankles, but not enough at the hips.
In some cases, this is due to hip flexor tightness as a result of spending more time in a hip flexed position (sitting at a desk at school, sitting in the car, sitting at the table to do homework, etc) than a hip extended position (standing, walking, running, jumping). In this situation, every time you jump you have to work against your tight hip flexing muscles that are trying to keep you bent over at the hips.
One way to help with this hip tightness is to do a hip flexor stretch for 30 seconds each side, daily.
A stretch should not be painful, but produce a light tugging sensation in a muscle and/or tendon. After a few weeks the hips should loosen, restricting you less during your jumps, but your body gets used to the movement patterns you perform often. Once you decrease the tightness, you still need to train yourself to jump properly. Focus on straightening your hips as you jump, in an effort to extend your ankles, knees and hips in a straight line. The more you do it, the more habitual it becomes. Once it truly becomes a habit, you will see it cross over into the jumps you perform during practice, lessons and games.
Far too often athletes think “strength” when they jump instead of “speed” when they jump. Yes, strength is a factor, but when you focus on extending as hard as you possibly can, you tend to become tense. This tension causes the athlete to be rigid, affecting the hitting form in the air, and also taking away from max jump potential. A proper jump is “springy” off of the ground and “floaty” in the air.
The key is to go from 0 to 100 and back to zero again. From your down position, extend at all 3 points, as quickly as possible. The instant you leave the ground, however, release the tension in your muscles and allow yourself to float through the air. This is harder than it may sound and is another thing that requires repetition before it transitions into play, but once mastered, makes the athlete more effective as a hitter. With less rigidity, you can apply your hitting technique to a higher degree.
It’s important to understand that increasing your vertical takes time and consistency; it doesn’t happen overnight. As an example: the athlete pictured in this article has increased her approach vertical from 15 inches to 27.5 inches in just under 2 years, at the time this is being written. Even though any athlete would welcome a foot added to their vertical, and the end result of having a 27 inch jump is quite impressive, it was achieved over a period of 23 months. That’s roughly 6 inches per year and she trained consistently 2x per week, almost every week (barring breaks due to covid-19 restrictions). While she’s proud and happy with the results, she wouldn’t be benefitting from them right now had she gotten impatient and given up.
Another to keep in mind is that every athlete is different and may be at different stages of their training. The amount of training you’ve already done and how much you’ve developed your vertical jump through training will impact the rate at which you continue to improve. Someone who’s never completed vertical jump training has a greater margin to improve from the actual strength/power training to correcting the jump form. It’s reasonably likely for an athlete at that level to gain an 1-2 inches in 4-6 weeks versus an athlete who’s been training hard for 2-3 years and added 12-15 inches in that time frame.
In summary, the three components of power, jump form and comfortability come together to give you a higher jump. Any of these components can be incorporated into your current training program to improve upon your current regimen if you are not already training them. Set realistic expectations. You can increase your vertical if you work hard, but it takes consistency and time.
About the Author
David has been a Sports Performance Specialist at Trademark Performance in Northwest Indiana since 2014. He specializes in training programs for volleyball athletes, most of which come to him seeking an increase in their vertical. Contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about David here.