Friday 21 December 2018

The Best Way to Improve Your Vertical Jump: Olympic Lifts vs. Loaded Jumps

In the world of athletic performance, few things are more impressive and dominating than a huge vertical jump. The question is, what’s the best way to improve your vertical jump? One popular and successful method is Olympic-style weightlifting variations. Another is loaded jumps. But which one is better for improving your vertical jump? Let’s see what the latest research has to say. 

Olympic-style weightlifting variations have been used for a long time to improve athlete performance and increase vertical jump. While these lifts work well, they require an investment of time to learn – especially compared to simpler exercises such as plyometrics and loaded jumps. One way to make the Olympic lifts simpler is to do only parts of them such as the hang high pull. However, this still begs the question: which is better for improving vertical jump? 

The subjects for this study were 18 competitive university swimmers with at least 1 year of training experience. The athletes were divided into two groups with 4 males and 5 females per group. Both groups followed the same training periodized full body training program twice per week for 10 weeks. The only difference between the two groups was that one group did hang high pulls while the other group did trap-bar jump squats. While the exercises and loads were different, (trap-bar jump squats were done with a lighter weight – which is best for this exercise), both groups did the same sets and reps each workout.

Here is a video of a hang high pull

Here is a video of a trap-bar jump squat

To give you an idea of the training, here is the workout from Monday, Week 1
Olympic lifting group: 1) Hang High Pull: 4 sets x 5 reps with 60%1RM, rest 120 secLoaded jump group: 1) Trap-bar jump squat: 4 sets x 5 reps with 10%1RM, rest 120 secThen, for the rest of the training session, both groups did:2a) Back Squats: 4x7, rest 90sec2b) Romanian Deadlifts: 4x10-12, rest 90sec3a) Alternating DB Bench Press: 4x8-10, rest 60 sec3b) 1-Arm Cable Row, 4x10-12, rest 60 sec4) Injury Prevention Circuit

The trap-bar jump squat group improved their squat jump 3.4cm and their countermovement jump 3.9cm. The hang high pull group improved their squat jump 1.7cm and their countermovement jump 3.9cm. In short, both groups had similar improvements in their vertical jump.

  • I absolutely love that this is a training study! Too often researchers take the easy way out and simply bring in force plate and just have subjects jump to see power output. This study actually trained athletes for 10 weeks and then re-tested their vertical jump to see what worked best.
  • I like that the used competitive university athletes with some lifting experience instead of beginners or “recreationally trained” subjects.
  • It would be interesting to do this study with athletes from a vertical-jump-intensive sport like volleyball.
  • With only 18 subjects, you have a rather small sample size. Obviously more subjects would be better. However, given the challenge of conducting training studies, I’m not going to complain.
  • While 10 weeks is pretty good for a training study, you have to wonder how this would play out in a longer study. Would the Olympic-lifting be better over a longer period? 

Practical Applications for Coaches and Athletes
  • How much time you have? Olympic lift variations are great for improving athletic performance. However, they are a longer-term investment. It will take time to learn them and then work up to using a respectable weight before you will notice performance improvements. If you don’t have a lot of time, focus on getting stronger on big lifts (e.g. Trap bar deadlifts, squats, etc.) and doing both unloaded and lightly loaded jumps. 
  • What is your coaching availability? Athletes without much access to a strength coach or strength coaches who don’t have much access to their athletes (e.g. off-season, limited staff) may want to use loaded and unloaded jumps as they are easier to learn. 
  • How is your impact stress? In a sport like Volleyball, athletes do a ton of jumping in practices and games. During the season, it is wise to not further compound this impact stress by doing more jumping in the weight room. This is especially problematic for sports or individual athletes prone to shin splints. This is where the Olympic lift variations shine – they allow you to train the jumping motion without leaving the ground. 
  • How is your orthopedic health and sporting stress? Hang high pulls leave your shoulder in a position of abduction (arms out to the sides) with internal rotation. This puts your shoulder joint into impingement. If you have shoulder issues or play a sport that places a lot of stress on your shoulders (e.g. volleyball, baseball, swimming), you may want to avoid high pulls (note: the hang power clean may feel better than the high pull). This is where trap bar jumps can shine.
  • What are your motor learning demands? Athletes already have a huge demand placed on their motor learning from their sport. The question every coach has to wrestle with is how much more skill work to you want to impose on an athlete in the weight room? There is not a universal answer, but I encourage you to ponder this question. 
  • Why not use both options? While it is nice to see a comparison of the two, I believe you will get your best results with using both Olympic lift variations and trap bar jumps. Both offer unique advantages. For example, the Olympic lift variations allow you to effectively use a lot more weight. This is great for improving performance more on the strength side of the strength-speed continuum. Trap bar jumps are done with lighter weight and thus train more the speed side of things. They also are great for training the explosive toe snap that completes triple extension.
  • Why not have an individual choice? When writing team programs, I have had great success with giving athletes choices. This allows athletes and coaches to select the variations most suited to the individual athlete. It also gives athletes a sense of ownership with their training. This can be huge for increasing buy-in and consistency. 

Oranchuk, D.J., et al. Comparison of the hang high pull and loaded jump squat for the development of vertical jump and isometric force-time characteristics. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: January 2019, 33(1): 17–24, doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001941.

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  1. Interesting mate. Always have to weight the pros and cons particularly with explosive training.

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