There are dozens of plyometric exercises that can be used to help improve reactive strength and in turn improve vertical, ranging from low intensity to high intensity, and broken into 3 methods of performance: Jumps, hops, and bounds.
While I call these the “top exercises”, they are the most common exercises used when implementing plyometric training into routines because they provide good gains and are very useful when done correctly. In general though, the choice of exercises needs to be customized to your needs and divided up correctly to maximize both performance gains and recovery.
With this in mind, here are some of the most common and top plyometric exercises that will help you increase your vertical jump.
Depth jumps are an excellent exercise to help improve reactive strength. They usually provide fast and noticeable gains to your vertical jump, and due to that, they can be easily abused.
A depth jump is simply a jump performed upon reaching the ground after the athlete steps off a platform or a box. Considering the goal of the exercise is to improve reactive strength, it is important for the jump to be rapid and that there is little bending of the knees and the feet spend less time in contact with the ground.
This exercise is high intensity and impact. They are hard on the Central Nervous System (CNS) and on the joints, so you should get adequate recovery in between sets (at least 3 minutes), perform them at a low volume, and get plenty of rest between training sessions. You should also not abuse this exercise, and instead, perform them no more than twice a week and only sparingly include them in your training cycles.
There are several variations of this exercise where you use a low box or a high box, with the main difference being the box height. Using a box that is too high will increase both the intensity and the chances of injury, and in my opinion, the huge majority of people do not need to do depth jumps off a box that’s higher than 30” (inches). You can also jump on another box after the drop, like in the following video, but that’s not necessary.
Knowing all this, you need to determine the height of the box you need to jump off of. Here are the steps for it:
- Measure the height reached with a standing vertical jump (SVJ).
- Perform a depth jump for height off an 18” box and try to beat the SVJ height reached.
- If you did not reach the same height, lower the box height by 6” and then attempt again, otherwise, increase it by 6” and try again.
- If you’re increasing the height, stop when your performance declines. If your highest jump was at 18”, then that’s the optimal height for a depth jump. If you cannot beat your SVJ with a 12” box, then you lack reactive strength and should look for other exercises than depth jumps.
These are otherwise known as shock jumps or altitude landings. They require the use of a high box that is usually around 20% higher than your SVJ, and involve stepping off the box or platform, and then simply attempting to absorb the impact when you land while making sure you bend the knees as little as possible and staying mostly on your toes. Hold the landing for a few seconds then get back up on the box and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
The idea behind drop jumps is to overload the eccentric muscle contraction to teach you to better absorb force. If you’re worried about not performing any actual jumping with this exercise, it’s good to know that the eccentric strength is usually the limiting factor in most plyometric exercises, and this training provides it (Check out Dave Kerin’s study on the most direct means to achieve strength gains specific to the demands of jumping events).
This is a great exercise to start doing if you lack the strength required to do depth jumps, but similar to depth jumps, it is hard on the joints and CNS, and so you should limit volume and provide your body with adequate rest.
This exercise is more for developing power, and so is not exactly a plyometric exercise, but is usually lumped into this category. The focus though is to generate maximum force as quickly as possible, and so enables you to develop peak power from a standstill and later on from a 3-step jump.
To do this exercise, simply stand in front of a box then jump on it, then step off. This can also be done unilaterally.
While not a high impact exercise, it can be high intensity, so I would recommend keeping the volume relatively low, and limit your repetitions to no more than 10.
In a vertical jump, the eccentric phase occurs when you bend the knees before reversing into the concentric phase. I also mentioned earlier that training the eccentric portion of the jump makes up an important part of your training. Reactive squats (and reactive lifts in general) do exactly that by overloading the eccentric phase while keeping impact to a minimum, making them easier on your joints.
Reactive strength is also the ability to absorb force quickly, so what makes this different from normal squats is that you need to lower the weight in a fast manner, and so to avoid injury and make this exercise possible, it is important to use low weights.
Use anything between 20% and 50% of your max back squat for this exercise. Start in a jumping stance with your hands pulling the bar tightly across your back/shoulders. From the standing position, drop quickly down into a deep squat position and then quickly reverse direction. This is about reversing downward momentum and explosively driving the weight back up. There is no need to jump up, just focus on rebounding out of the hole.
There you have the 4 most common plyometric exercises that are used to develop reactive or eccentric strength. While these exercises are effective at increase your vertical jump, these are by no means the only ones that are out there. There are dozens of them out there ranging from low intensity to high intensity, ranging from jumps to hops to bounds, and I will attempt to cover some of these exercises in a later article.
For now, figure out your most glaring weakness, and if you need to implement any plyometric exercises in your training, then go out there and train, while making sure to get adequate recovery.
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