March 20, 2012

Jump training provides athletic edge


---- — Many athletes need to be able to jump high. It won't determine the outcome of a competition, but it can balance the odds in your favor when playing basketball, volleyball or track. In order to develop this skill, an athlete must first work on technique, followed by strength, and then eventually concentrate on power.

In my opinion, the first thing that should be taught in flight school is how to land. Regarding jumping, my thinking is the same. An athlete should have a good idea of how to land softly. By using a short step, athletes can practice landing correctly. Simply step off and land as quietly as possible. The ball of the foot should touch just before the heel. The hips should push backwards, and the shoulders should stay vertical over the ball of the foot. The back should also not round. The feet should be roughly hip-width apart and the arms pushed back so the hands are next to the hips. Interestingly, this is the exact position you should be in to have the most powerful two-leg jump.

Once landing is perfected, the athlete can then progress to jumping and landing, followed by repetitive jumping. When doing repetitive jumping, make sure to keep landing correctly. Once you start landing off-balance, you should stop and rest. I recommend starting with one set of 10 to 20 jumps and build up to three sets of the same.

While training the mechanics, strength training should also be performed. Squats, dead lifts, step-ups and lunges are the best exercise for jump training. These exercises strengthen the same muscles used for jumping, specifically those around the hips and knees. Most people think the calves are what do most of the work, when actually the hips are the powerhouse for this action.

The core muscles stabilize the torso (to prevent rounding of the back) and need to be strong enough to handle the power generated from the hips. If the core isn't strong enough, energy is lost from the flexion of the spine, and the vertical jump will be slightly compromised. Because of the importance of core stabilization, core-stabilizing exercise should also be done in conjunction with the hip-strengthening exercises. Planks, bridges, back extensions and Swiss-ball exercises are great for this purpose.

Once the body is properly strengthened and mechanics are sound, box jumps can be implemented. Depending on the level of the athlete, it could be weeks to years until power exercises are performed. For the novice, I suggest sticking with the previous drills for at least a year before attempting the following.

Box jumps involve using proper jumping mechanics to hop up to an elevated flat surface. Plyo-boxes made specifically for this purpose are recommended. The height of the box should be less than the height you can jump to. The point of the plyo-box is to reduce impact on the lower extremities to avoid shin splints, knee pain and foot problems from repetitive jumping. Avoid jumping back off the box, as this will negate that purpose. Instead, simply step off and jump again. For those who are more advanced, weight vests can be an option. I recommend adding no more than 30 percent of your own body weight. The extra weight should not inhibit your form by any means. By starting with one set of 10 jumps and progressing to three sets of 10, you should be able to increase your jumping height within a matter of weeks. Think about jumping higher than the box and landing on it, rather than just jumping up to the box. You should be trying to jump as high as you can. Increase the box height when you feel confident that the next height will be easy to land on, and you don't have to sacrifice form to get there.

With proper implementation of a jump-training program, your vertical jump should increase over time. Younger and less experienced athletes should focus only on mechanics, where more advanced athletes can move on to the more intense plyo-box training. With an increase in the height of your vertical, you will gain a distinct advantage in several sports.

Ted Santaniello, CSCS, is a certified personal trainer and the fitness manager at the Wellness Center at PARC, located at 295 New York Road (next to ARC) in Plattsburgh. For more information, call him at 324-2024.