The Power of Jumping: A Case Study

Recently the topic depth jumps came up in the discussion forum so I thought I’d throw in my two cents on the topic. Over the last several years, I have come to realize that few, if any, methods are more effective for increasing lower body explosive power than properly executed depth jumps. When done right, they provide a massive stimulus on the CNS and can lead to huge improvements in explosive power. On the flip side, when done wrong, they can be ineffective at best and downright dangerous at worse. Using them correctly is absolutely essential if you want to get the most out of them.

To give you an example of what can be done when they are used correctly, I was recently training a young athlete for pro day where NFL scouts would be putting him through various tests to measure speed and power. His beginning numbers were 29.5″ in the vertical jump and 8’7″ in standing broad jump. I also tested him at 5.1 w/kg in a test of alactic power that I use. In all fairness, he was coming off a 4 week period where he hadn’t been training much, so his real numbers were probably a bit better than that.

Since I only had about 8 weeks to get him ready and he was coming off a period of lower intensity training, I spent the first two weeks doing basic preparatory work, i.e. low level hops and bounds, tempo runs, squats and low weight squat jumps, etc. For the next four weeks after that, I did an increasing volume of max effort squats, depth jumps from 36-42″, double leg bounds, and combination of squats and depth jumps in series.

I started the first two weeks with these exercises performed twice per week and then in the second two weeks I had him perform them three times per week. In the peak of the loading, he was doing around 140-180 contacts of high intensity depth jumps. Keep in mind this is a VERY high volume and that’s why it was only done for a two week period.

During this period both his vertical jump and his standing broad jump were down 2-3″, but of course this was to be expected. Not surprisingly, his CNS readings on the omegawave correlated to this and showed a big drop in CNS function and his ground contact time in repeated jumps was noticeably higher.

After the loading phase, I cut back the volume significantly for the next week down to about 50% of the loading phase and then did mostly some active recovery/regeneration work with some low volume stimulation the week of the testing. Doing this type of concentrated loading and then peaking for a particular event can be tricky if you’ve never done it before and/or you don’t have a very thorough understanding of how the athlete is responding, but the results always speak for themselves when you manage the process correctly.

At the pro day he hit a 36″ vertical jump and a 9’9″ standing broad jump. This means we put 6.5″ on his vertical jump and 13″ on his broad jump. His Alactic power also went up to 5.7 w/kg, which is a HUGE difference and where I’d expect to see guys at the NFL level. Even when you take into account his beginning numbers probably should have been a little higher, this is impressive considering we only had 7 weeks of actual training time and he was a highly experienced D-1 level collegiate athlete, not some beginner or low level athlete who had never trained before.

Prior to working with me, he had never one any depth jumps before, which is mind boggling to me that a D-1 level program apparently does not use them at all. If I had more time with him to prepare, I would have used a different training strategy, but with only 8 weeks before the event, the concentrated loading was the best option and it worked very well.

Depth jumps can be an extremely powerful tool in a coaches arsenal but they must be used properly. You must make sure the necessary prep work has been done and the athlete is ready for the high stimulus they produce.

Here’s some general guidelines I follow when doing them:

  • Ground contact time should always be minimized and the athlete should not let their heels hit the ground
  • Vary the landing, ranging from trying to rebound as high off the ground as possible to working for distance
  • Start with a height of 20-24″ and never exceed 46″ even for the most highly qualified athletes
  • On the low end perform 2×10, on the high end no more than 4×10 for two series, with 10-15 minutes rest between series
  • Rest between reps, I generally use a 10-20s rest period between each rep
  • Each rep should be maximal effort, with an attempt to rebound as high or as far as possible while minimizing ground contact time
  • Never load them intensely at a high volume for more than a 3 weeks at a time

Keep in mind that depth jumps will produce the greatest improvements in vertical force production. If you are an athlete or a coach that works in a sport with such needs, then they can be very useful. Many sports don’t require this and they won’t be nearly as effective in this case since they won’t transfer as well into speed of movement for the given skills of the sport.

If you are trying to increase vertical jump, however, the only real exercises you need are squat variations (I’ll use full squats, half squats, and even quarter squats occasionally), loaded squat jumps, and depth jumps, period. You can throw in the olympic lifts for this purpose as well, provided you actually know how to do them properly, but they aren’t required either.

I’ve increased vertical jumps by huge amounts without using them. In any event, I think far too many coaches use exercises that are totally unnecessary or irrelevant when the goal is increased vertical jump and explosive power.

Since I’m on the subject of depth jumps, no post on the topic would be complete without mention of the godfather of the shock method (what many call plyometrics these days) the late Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky. I found a VERY old article of his stored on my computer from somewhere that I’m attaching for everyone to download below.

The most important point to note is that article was written in 1967 and yet depth jumps are still rarely ever used properly by coaches. Most coaches either A) don’t use them at all or B) don’t have their athletes do them properly or C) teach good technique but never use anywhere near high enough volume or intensity to see real results.

I’d also say that the Verkhoshanskys lists in the article attached below, written over 40 years ago, are still generally right on and what I use. Few methods provide a more intense stimulus to CNS than depth jumps, they can improve explosive power, max strength, alactic power, etc, and I’ve used them with great success over the last 10 years in a variety of programs.

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  1. Thanks for the information Joel. I always thought that jumps in general had to be done with a lot less volume because of their impact on the CNS. Thanks for the clarification.

  2. No, you can use rather high volumes with well prepared athletes, you just can’t do it for very long. If you were to use that kind of volume for an extended period of time you’d burn out the CNS, but for a few weeks most athletes can manage it. Just be careful not to let their vertical drop more than 3″ during the peak loading or you’re probably ovedoing it.

  3. So are depth jumps worth including in a program for athletes involved in MMA, soccer or other alactic-aerobic sports? I’m asking because, you mentioned they mostly serve to improve vertical explosiveness, which the above 2 sports don’t use much of. If not, is there a companion exercise you’d recommend for horizontal explosiveness?

  4. Re-reading your book, and now I have a question. If I remember correctly, the late Charlie Francis always talked about being fast will make you strong, but not necessarily the other way around. In your book, you mentionned that in order to incorporate the shock method, you need a fairly strong strength base. Would you say it’s best to include low bounds to “beginners” (those who don’t possess a great deal of strength) and keep the higher CNS stressing exercises (jumps in general) to more experienced individuals?

  5. Hey Joel, when you say that “you can use rather high volumes with well prepared athletes, you just can’t do it for very long”, what do you consider a prepared athlete? Do they need to have experience with plyos/jumpin or would you consider a good strength base enough?

    1. A “prepared athlete” in this case, is someone with a high level of CNS development, which of course will be reflected in a high level of explosive and/or max strength depending on their sport. To get to this level, most should already have experience with plyos and jumps in the first place but if they don’t, then you don’t want to throw them into a 40″ depth jump because their joints may not be prepared for it. Start off with lower intensity plyos first and work from there. As I said though, most athletes who are developed enough to need to use high intensity depth jumps should have already developed this foundation along the way.

  6. And what are your thoughts about this new study (2016), stating that:
    “Based on this study, there may be benefits of training using partial squats for improving vertical jump height in collegiate athletes. In fact, it indicates that quarter squats may even be better than either half squats or full squats.
    Even so, since previous studies have always found that full squats are better for vertical jumping than partial squats (Weiss et al. 2000; Hartmann et al. 2012; Bloomquist et al. 2013), the matter is certainly not closed. The jury is now out on whether partial squats are better or worse for that improving vertical jump height. We need more studies to determine the final answer.”

    Here is the link:

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