A group of young athletes in a sports performance facility, Ohio Athletic Performance, located in Columbus, Ohio. The facility is well equipped with artificial turf flooring with a vertical jump tester being used by the female high school athlete, Gabi Frias, to perform the vertical jump test as a component of speed and agility training.

Training to Increase Vertical Jump Height: 5 Primary Qualities

The ability to live above the rim, the net, or elevate beyond your competition is a quality nearly all athletes seek to obtain. Many people wonder, “How can I jump higher?” or “How do I increase my vertical jump?” Or maybe you want to know, “How do I improve my vertical jump to dunk?” The good news is there are proven methods and exercises to increase vertical jump abilities. In this article we will break down what the essential elements are and why they are necessary to train if you want to learn ways to improve vertical jump.

Primary Qualities to Train to Increase Your Vertical Jump:

1. Maximal Strength:

What is it? Simply put, it’s the maximum force you can produce.

How to develop it: Lift heavy/maximal weights and/or utilize intense isometric training.

2. Reactive Ability:

What is it? You can think of it as a spring action. Reactive ability is about spending less time on the ground when transitioning between jumps or steps. 

How to develop it: Exercises like jumping off a small height and rebounding into a higher jump (called depth jumps), consecutive bounds or jumps of different variations.

3. Power and Speed Strength:

What is it? The athletes ability to move at intermediate velocities in training. 

How to develop it: Moving your body weight through various jumps or throws at optimal speeds to become more powerful. As athletes develop they can grow into moving submaximal weights roughly (75-85% of 1 RM) at optimal speeds. The barbell must move faster than it does with heavy weights, but not as fast as it does when training for explosive strength.

4. Explosive Strength:

What is it? Imagine a firework exploding. It’s the force you give out in a short time.

How to develop it: Throwing medicine balls, jumping with light weights, or simply practicing jumping as high as you can.

5. Ankle Mobility and Tendon Strength:

What is it? Your ankle’s ability to move through the range it is designed to move through. The ankle and tendons must also be strong enough to absorb and resist high forces coming into the joint.

How to develop it: Prescribing isometrics and eccentrics at various angles can give the athlete more access to their ankle mobility while also providing strength through that range.

Building the Plan to a Higher Vertical Jump

Before diving head-first into these exercises and vertical training, it’s wise to understand where you or your child currently stands in terms of these qualities. Jumping is the skill or demonstration that we witness happening. Through our lens it is simply an expression of a multitude of other qualities that contribute to the skill we all witness. Seeking a qualified and comprehensive analysis/evaluation of your athlete is the first necessary step towards helping them achieve whatever their athletic aspirations are. 

Just as there are prerequisite courses required in school before a student can progress there are training indicators used to allow for safe and optimal transitions as well. The evaluation process allows us to identify what the specific goals are for the athlete, assess where they are at the time of the eval, and then build that pathway from where they are to where they desire to go. 

Remember, if the goal is to improve the vertical jump by a specific measure, like 3 inches higher, it provides a clear target. Then it’s about setting the path to hit that target. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Some might already possess excellent strength but need to work on speed, while others might need to focus more on building basic strength. If an athlete has an ankle that does not function well it very well be the limiting factor to increasing vertical jump height. Continuing to play ball , get stronger, and work on jumping may actually decrease the athletes performance and increase injury risk.

The Vertical Jump Test Explained

After understanding the fundamentals of enhancing vertical jump ability, the next crucial step is to assess your current jump height accurately by performing a vertical jump test. In the vertical jump test at our sports performance facility, athletes begin in the starting position with their feet shoulder-width apart, ensuring a stable and consistent base. The first step is measuring the athlete’s standing reach, where they extend an arm upwards while standing flat-footed. This reach measurement is a key reference point. The athlete then performs the jump using a vertical jump tester, a specialized device designed to accurately gauge the height of the jump. As they jump, it’s important for athletes to focus on landing softly for safety. The vertical jump tester allows for a precise measurement of the difference between the athlete’s standing reach and the peak height reached during the jump. We can then use this number to calculate the overall power index of the athlete.

How do these qualities help you jump higher?

The vertical jump isn’t just about raw strength; it’s about how quickly and efficiently you use that strength. And each part of your body, from your muscles, central nervous system, connective tissue to our ankles, play a unique role in this.

  • Maximal Strength: Get Strong

Maximal strength is the base to your pyramid.  The broader your base the higher you can grow. This quality absolutely must be developed to a certain degree. How much strength is needed depends upon the demands of the position within any given sport. Strength is actually measured in speed not weight. You must know how much force you can overcome in how much time. When you put force into the ground to elevate it requires a significant amount of strength to be able to overcome the initial force and then reverse the action to get off the ground. 

Strength is not muscular size, so exclusively working on making your muscles bigger is not the goal. That does not mean increasing muscular size does not have its place, but is not the primary focus in terms of absolute force production, strength.

If your strength is not high enough to jump at the desired height then you must start working to get stronger. Lifting heavy weights (relative term) will help teach your body to overcome high forces and train the body to become stronger. The goal and necessity to get stronger does not change, but how we choose to get athletes stronger is dependent upon their training age, orthopedic status, time of year, biological age, sport, and various other factors.

  • Reactive Ability: Jump Training and Plyometrics

If you have ever been watching sports and it seems like some individuals just cannot get back up off the ground between steps or jumps, then this quality is for them. There are numerous variables that come into play with reactive ability. If you are training to improve your vertical jump, then you must address your ability to react and respond to the ground rapidly. 

Producing large amounts of force is necessary but if it takes you forever to develop it and respond with an additional step or jump then you will get beat more often than not. Reactive ability is the ability to be able to react to the ground as quickly as possible while delivering as much force as you can. You must spend 0.2 seconds or less on the ground to qualify for positive training effects of this quality. Here are a few useful options to program to effectively train this quality: 

  1. Depth jumps
  2. Sprinting (Need more acceleration help? Read HERE.)
  3. Multiple response jumps (weighted or bodyweight – pending the athlete)
  4. Different forms of bounding exercises

  • Power and Explosive Strength Development

Athletes must train to become more powerful, which is what is commonly referred to as explosive. Our goal is to increase the rate of force development (RFD). How quickly can the athlete develop high amounts of force against a moderate resistance. The weight prescription here is depending upon the training age of the athlete. In our younger athletes programming box jumps and various body weights “explosive” movements serves their development with RFD very well. As our trainees grow through our system it allows us to provide them with a more intense stress to continue to improve throughout the years of training. 

Once our athletes are able to train with an appreciable load on the bar we can utilize the dynamic effort method, 50-60% of 1 RM of straight bar weight and 25% accommodating resistance. This method of strength training is proven to provide tremendous benefit for power development in all athletes looking to increase vertical jump height. 

Training specifically for explosive strength requires moving your body at higher speeds than what we see in the dynamic effort method. Both qualities contribute to the end goal of increasing vertical jump height. If the athlete is not yet strong enough then implementing these protocols would be ill advised and simply not as impactful as other basic methods would be.  If the athlete is sufficiently strong then we can program using 30-40% of 1 RM to achieve much higher velocities and train specifically for explosive strength.

  • Addressing Weakness and Training Mobility/Joint Health

When training for specific performance outcomes you must have an intentional plan. The plan should be a part of a larger systematic way of thinking. What I mean is if I am training a basketball player I must have an understanding what demands he or she has for their sport, what joints are stressed most significantly, what physical qualities need to be developed to maximize performance, what are greatest risks of injury per position and sport, but more importantly understanding the evaluation of the individual athlete. As the strength coach we must know where the greatest opportunity for improvements lie and where are the greatest risks of injury based upon each athlete’s body. 

We see it all the time in sport. Nobody is immune from the potential of injury. It doesn’t matter how strong, gifted, or tough you are if you are injured. You will not play. 

It is critical to program proper training that is orthopedically safe and stressful enough to create some growth in the athlete. We understand the SAID principle, specific adaptation to imposed demands, and apply it through our training. If an athlete is strong enough to be successful at their sport, but their ankles are dysfunctional then they will only go as far as their dysfunction takes them.

Can Too Much Jumping Cause Injury?

Training of reactive ability is very helpful in route to increasing your vertical jump. However it very often gets used improperly and with way too much volume. If simply jumping more continually increases your vertical jump height then every basketball and volleyball player on the planet would be able to jump the rim or net. The unfortunate issue we see too frequently is lower leg and ankle pain. This stems largely from an inappropriate amount of volume of impacts (running and jumping) in such a short window.

Staying Healthy to Achieve Your Goals

We are NOT training our athletes to be as strong as possible or as mobile as possible. We are training them to be as powerful, as strong, and as mobile as necessary to perform optimally within their sport. We have to afford them the chance to perfect their skill by eliminating any weaknesses in their body and in their preparation. 

The performance that we witness happening is a representation of the internal environment of the athlete. If you have a high performance machine but it is misaligned then a break down or blowout is imminent. The athlete is the same way. If you are strong and powerful but your ankles and hips are dysfunctional then you will continue to compensate to attempt to maintain performance and/or get injured. It seems harsh but it truly is that simple. If your hips dont work and your knee has to act like a hip that can only work for so long until your knee can no longer take it. 

Training to increase vertical jump height is one quality to structure some training around but the strength coach must understand the implications of all of the training, the practice and sport itself, as well as the dysfunctions of the athletes body. In order to keep the athlete as healthy as possible as long as possible and provide substantial increase to performance outputs you must train within a system that operates with a comprehensive lens and genuine intention to grow the person.

Average Vertical Jump for High School Athletes

In our sports performance programs, high school athletes across various ages and sports undergo regular performance testing to track and enhance their physical capabilities, including vertical jump proficiency. During our latest performance testing session, the average vertical jump for female high school athletes was 19.3 inches while the highest vertical jump was 24.5 inches. The average vertical jump for male high school athletes was 26.1 inches with the highest vertical jump at 33.5 inches. If you’re curious to see how your own vertical jump measures up, don’t hesitate to contact us for a personalized testing session.

Elevate Your Vertical Jump with Ohio Athletic Performance

Navigating the specifics of enhancing one’s vertical jump requires a keen understanding of the human body and its athletic capabilities. It’s not just about jumping higher, but doing so with the right techniques, tools, and guidance. At Ohio Athletic Performance, our focus is on providing research-backed, effective, and safe training methodologies tailored to each athlete’s unique needs. With our expertise, we take the guesswork out of the equation. For anyone serious about improving their vertical jump and overall performance, considering a partnership with Ohio Athletic Performance is a practical step forward. We offer the knowledge and framework; all you need to bring is the commitment. Let’s get to work.

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