The single-leg vertical jump, otherwise known as the unilateral jump, is something you either have or you don’t. In general, people are either good at it or they’re not. If you’re one of the single-leg jumpers, you have most certainly noticed that the majority of training resources to improve vertical jump are more oriented towards double-leg or bilateral jumping. This article is dedicated to understanding the single leg running vertical jump (from here on out referred to as the SLRVJ), and establishing a framework to help increase your ability.
Unilateral and Bilateral Jumps: The Differences
There are some key differences between the unilateral and the bilateral jumps that make for an important change in your vertical jump training.
If you take a look at the general SLRVJ form, you will notice that:
- You plant your foot on the ground.
- Your body levers over the planted leg.
- Your body rebounds up into the air.
You will also notice that when you plant your foot on the ground, you push down and back. This action involves an important amount of hip extension, making the unilateral jump favor the posterior chain, and more specifically, the glutes and hamstrings, even more so than the bilateral jump.
Another thing to note is that the quadriceps and the calves are unable to contribute as much energy in a unilateral jump, due to their role being eccentric as they help you absorb the force generated when you plant your foot on the ground so that your knee does not collapse. In a bilateral jump, they provide more power and contribute more energy towards the jump.
In a nutshell, the glutes and hip extensors are more important than the quads and calves for the SLRVJ, especially when you compare it to the double-leg running vertical jump (DBRVJ). In addition, leverage is more important to make up for the fact that you’re only using one leg to generate power.
Single-Leg Running Vertical Jump Technique
For some people, jumping technique might be an issue. For example, there are some people who can jump well horizontally, but do not know how to transfer that same power vertically. If you’re of the people who could use some help with technique, or would just like to understand jumping form, then you can benefit from reading my previous article: Jumping Technique Tips to Improve Vertical.
Chances are you’re here because you play a sport that involves a lot of vertical jumping, and so you don’t need to worry too much about the intricacies of SLRVJ technique for 2 reasons:
- To implement and start using new form, you will need to do a large amount of sub-maximal effort repetitions, which in the end, may or may not lead to an increase in performance.
- When attempting to jump as high as possible, you can’t be consciously thinking about form during the attempt due to the high speed nature of a SLRVJ. You need everything to happen subconsciously.
Some small pointers might prove useful, but in general, the vertical jump training itself, which would include strength increases, maximal jumps, new movements, and more, will allow your body to reflexively use a better form that will generate more leverage and more power.
Structural Factors Involved in the SLRVJ
There are several structural factors that come into play when determining the height of a SLRVJ. For the purpose of increasing vertical jump, they can be divided in 2 categories: The factors that you can’t do anything about, and the factors that you can influence to a certain degree.
These factors are the following:
- Hip Width
- Leg Length (Especially the thigh bone)
- Tendon Length & Stiffness
There is nothing you can do about the first 3 factors, and so I won’t go into any details, though you can always contact me if interested.
The last 2 factors are under your control though.
Unilateral jumping is more about leverage than strength. For this reason, bodyweight makes an important factor in determining the height of a SLRVJ, even more so than in a bilateral jump. This means that there is no need for excess muscle gain, and instead, you should focus on muscle mass increases mostly in the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps, while making sure to keep your body fat percentage low.
Posture plays a role in optimizing the impact placed on the ankles and knees when you plant your foot, while also optimizing the muscle contributions to allow you to get the most leverage when you jump. Unilateral jumping favors a posture primarily controlled by the glutes and hip flexor muscles, usually caused by a strong posterior chain. This also refers to driving off the balls of your feet naturally and less on your heels when you sprint or jump.
How to Improve Vertical Jump with a Single Leg
There are 4 essential things you can do to improve your SLRVJ:
- Keep your body fat in check: You should pay attention to your bodyweight and your body fat as mentioned earlier. Keep your body fat percentage in the low teens, preferably 12% or less, and you should have nothing to worry about.
- Become glute/hip extension dominant: This relates to both posture and muscle balance. Being glute/hip extension dominant will allow you to get an optimal posture and muscle balance to generate as much leverage and power as possible for the SLRVJ.
- Strengthen the quadriceps and calves: The planting of the foot phase during a SLRVJ involves a high amount of impact that needs to be absorbed by the quadriceps and calves. For this reason, you need to strengthen these muscles through squats, lunges, calf raises, step-ups, and various plyometric exercises.
If you’re thinking that unilateral exercises could be especially good for the unilateral jump, it is worthwhile to mention that general strength training provides enough benefit for both single and double leg jumps, and so there is no real need to over-emphasize the unilateral exercises.
- Train hip extension: The hip extensors play a big role in the SLRVJ, especially during the final push after the plant phase. This is why it’s important to optimize your hip power by implementing exercises that increase the strength, speed, and efficiency of the hip extensors.
Exercises such as squats, ¼ squats, and hyperextensions, are especially good for the strength part, while speed comes from good posture/form, practicing the unilateral jump (which in itself is a great plyometric exercise), as well as plyometric exercises such as single leg-bounding, single leg-skips, depth jumps, or similar.
While this might sound complicated, the fact is, there aren’t many big differences in vertical jump training to improve vertical jump with a single leg, or with two legs. If you’re a beginner, then training is almost exactly the same because you simply need to work on establishing a strength base and other essential work. It’s when you move up beyond the beginner levels that the training differences start to show, it gets more complicated, and the need for customization becomes more important.
Overall though, your training should include both strength training, and movement efficiency training (including force absorption, reactive strength, and explosive strength training), and for the big majority of people, requires a good degree of customization taking into account many factors.
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If you are serious about jumping higher and are looking for a customizable program that targets every facet I have talked about in my vertical jump training articles, then check out Vertical Mastery.