Back in the day, height was the first option for sports like basketball, volleyball, football, soccer, etc. Fast forward to today, a lot of people have started to prove that aside from natural height, there are other ways to compete. But how do the ‘vertically challenged’ (I’m only 5′ 7″) go toe to toe with the giants who can seemingly overpower them vertically?
The obvious answer is increasing one’s vertical jump. Nowadays, most athletes are focusing on different leg workouts to enhance their performance in this area. With people like Michael Jordan, Vince Carter, Dwayne Wade, Muggsy Bogues, Spud Webb, and Isiah Thomas proving to the world that higher verticals can give you a shot at playing in the big leagues, a lot of people have been following their steps, and the game has changed since the golden years.
On the 25 September 2000, “The Dunk of Death” happened. Frederic Weiss, a then import of French descent who stands at 7 feet and 2 inches tall, felt the wrath of highflyer, Vince Carter. Carter is only 6 feet and 6 inches tall and, although that still makes him a giant himself, 8 inches in height difference is not a joke anyone can throw around. As the Frenchman stood his post, the young Carter dunked over him. The entire world was shocked, and today people still look back at the historic moment.
Aside from genetics, hard work pays off – Even more so, if not equally. One is no longer born into sports because of being blessed with height. As the great Connor Mcgregor once said, talent does not exist. We develop skills and hone them through obsession. Obsession is the manifestation of pure passion. Passion is the fire that fuels your existence.
Strength vs. Explosiveness
Beginner athletes, often the younger ones, focus on building maximal strength. Over time – with constant training and repetition – these athletes will gain sufficient maximal strength. Once this is acquired, speed will be the next area for improvement. Trainers and coaches would usually start to incorporate speed drills that mostly include footwork into the training regimen.
This is were explosiveness comes in, but what is it? Explosiveness is the ability to reach ideal maximal strength in as short a time as possible. Many people train for strength, but they do not have a high vertical jump due to a lack of explosive power.
How Do I Train To Reach a Higher Vertical Jump?
It is generally accepted that muscle fiber types can be broken down into two main types:
- Slow-twitch (type I) muscle fibers.
- The slow-twitch muscle fibers are more efficient at using oxygen to generate more adenosine triphosphate (ATP) fuel for continuous, extended muscle contractions over a long time.
- They fire more slowly than fast-twitch fibers and can go for a long time before they fatigue.
- Fast-twitch (type II) muscle fibers.
- Because fast-twitch fibers use anaerobic metabolism to create fuel, they are better at generating short bursts of strength or speed than slow muscles.
- However, they fatigue more quickly.
- Fast-twitch fibers generally produce the same amount of force per contraction as slow muscles, but they get their name because they are able to fire more rapidly.
- Can be further categorised into type IIa and type IIb fibers.
For higher verticals, the fast-twitch muscles have to have more power.
So how do we train fast-twitch muscles? The answer is Plyometrics.
What is Plyometrics?
Plyometrics, also known as jump training or plyos, are exercises in which muscles exert maximum force in short intervals of time, with the goal of increasing power (speed-strength).
In other words, Plyometrics is an exercise that focuses mostly on training fast-twitch muscles by letting you contract muscles immediately after stretching for higher force generation.
Plyometric exercises are great because they help burn fat and build muscle, with many athletes performing them to help improve their athletic performance by building strength, endurance, and speed.
Plyuometrics are not recommended for beginners or anyone just starting out with a fitness training programme. Thes below (example) exercises are best suited for individuals with well-developed upper- and lower-body strength.
Fly Your Style Plyo-style (Clap Push-ups)
Plyometric push-ups are an advanced exercise that works your chest, triceps, abs, and shoulders. With this type of push-up, a “jumping” element is added to the exercise to make it more challenging and explosive.
It can be performed with or without a clap. However, with the ‘clap’ version you have to push up as hard and as fast as you can to generate enough force to lift you off the ground and be able to clap your hands together before ‘falling’ back into the push-up position.
Burpees are usually associated with cardiovascular training because of its much sought-after afterburn effect (the body’s ability to stay in fat-burning mode long after your workout is finished, up to 24 hours in some cases). What a lot of people do not realise is although the burpee is already an excellent plyometric exercise, one simple variation can turn it into a plyometric punisher.
First, you have to perform a standard burpee but, as you jump, instead of the standard straight body position, try jumping and tucking your knees up and inwards toward your chest. After that, you have to stretch out again and land on your feet and move on to the next burpee.
Jump Squats While Kneeling
Squats are a great leg workout and there are many variations, but what unites them all is that they are all terrific compound exercises. Squatting is a movement that works multiple muscle groups and joints at the same time. A squat is incredibly efficient because it hits pretty much the whole lower body in one fell swoop. Squats works your glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves hard, while also strengthening the smaller stabiliser muscles and the ligaments that support your main leg muscles.
Squats also increase the mobility in your ankles and hips, which – in combination with the strength benefits – can help to reduce your risk of injury when playing sports.
Although squats are mainly focused on strength rather than speed, one small tweak can transform it into a more challenging exercise.
For example, start by kneeling on the ground. From this position quickly jump into the squatting position. It sounds more comfortable and easier than it is, so do not take this exercise for granted.
We all have different reasons for working out our legs. Some do it to enhance their performance in sports, whilst others do it for aesthetics (think body building). Good looking legs plus enhanced performance is always a plus.
However, if you want to jump higher and faster, then try plyometrics to gain a higher vertical jump.