In vertical jump training, the focus is almost entirely on force production. You know – all of those squats, lifts, and practice jumps that ill-informed coaches have us doing. Yes, you need to be able to produce force in order to excel at basketball (or whatever sport you do) and get a high vertical jump. But you’ll notice that the best players who can jump the highest aren’t the ones who are the strongest. The best players are the ones who seem to come out of nowhere and suddenly fly in the air.
How do they do it? The secret is force absorption.
There is a lot of physics behind the principle of force absorption (which is also called force reduction), but I will try to explain it as simply as possible. The best way is to think about it is to imagine a rubber band. A rubber band isn’t bulky or strong. Yet, when you pull it back and let it go, it exerts A LOT of force.
The reason the rubber band can exert so much force is because it absorbs force. When you bend it backwards, it is actually storing energy in it. When you release it, all that stored force goes flying out.
Your muscles are actually a lot like a rubber band. When you stretch them backwards, they store energy in them. A good example of this is in baseball. Pitchers always pull their arms back as far as possible before throwing in order to get more force. If they didn’t pull their arms back, they wouldn’t be able to get nearly as much force.
But there is only so much force you can put into your muscles on your own. If you want even more force, then you’ve got to have something pushing back on your muscles.
Let’s say that you are angry at someone and give him a big push. From a neutral standing position, you can only exert as much force as your muscles have. But now imagine that the guy pushed you first. Your muscles recoil backwards and absorb all the energy. When you go to push him, you are now pushing back with all your and his energy!
How can we apply this to vertical jump training?
If you increase muscle tension before jumping, then you will be able to jump higher. This is called the stretch-shortening cycle (aka elastic recoil) and is one of the basic principles of plyometrics. In the Vert Shock training manual I use, there are a lot of drills and exercises you can do to improve elastic recoil. But here are some of the key points you need to focus on for improving your muscles’ force absorption so they can let all that force out in the next jump:
- Improve flexibility. I’ve talked about flexibility here before on the blog. I know most guys hate doing stretches, but flexible muscles can bend backwards more and absorb more force. Imagine how much force a stretched rubber band exerts and you will see why flexibility is important!
- Internal rotation: When doing strength exercises, we usually push outwards (think dead lifts). Instead, focus on the opposite movements.
- Eccentric Movement Training: Also called negative movement training, these are exercises in which tension increases on the muscle as it lengthens. Focus on doing the downward motion of squats slowly! Running downhill is also good for eccentric movement training.
If you want to learn more about force absorption and plyometrics for increasing your vertical jump, I recommend Vert Shock by Adam Folker. It is what helped me take my jump to the next level. Check out Vert Shock here.