The ability to generate skeletal muscle power is a well-known predictor of sport performance (2,3,6,17). However, direct measurement is difficult and often unfeasible; especially for coaches. Most simply use the vertical jump (VJ) test as an indirect measure of leg power. Power and jumping are not identical (15,26), yet correlations link them to success in a variety of sports (rugby, volleyball, running, etc.) (6,20,37,39). Although the relationship between jumping and power appears clear, the optimal strategy for improving VJ/power remains unclear.
The variety of training methods seem unlimited, and their effectiveness depends on the exact assessment technique and subject population (1). Comparison of these methods reveals that although each independently alters specific jumping kinematics (force, velocity, peak power, rate of force development, etc.) (1), programs that demonstrate benefits share the following 3 concepts; VJ movements are performed (a) in small intraset volumes (1–5 repetitions) (b) combined with long rest intervals (2–5 minutes) (47) and (c) in an explosive manner that emphasizes velocity (8). The first 2 elements are critical because acute fatigue limits subsequent power output and overall performance in untrained (4) and highly trained athletes (5). However, as alluded to earlier, each method of VJ training provides unique benefits. The purpose of this article was to (a) briefly examine 5 training methods frequently used to improve jump height and power (bodyweight jumping, resisted jumping (RJ), assisted jumping (AJ), maximal strength training, and weightlifting movements [WLM]) and (b) outline a sample program designed to improve jump height and power in a moderately trained athlete.
PART A: IMPROVING JUMP HEIGHT AND POWER
This section addresses the influence of bodyweight, resisted, and assisted jump training on VJ and power. Body weight jumping (BWJ) refers exclusively to nonweighted lower-body plyometric exercises such as squat, countermovement, and drop jumps (see Videos, Supplemental Digital Content 1–3, which demonstrate a squat, http://links.lww.com/SCJ/A81; countermovement, http://links.lww.com/SCJ/A82; and drop jump, http://links.lww.com/SCJ/A83, respectively). According to a recent analysis, BWJ improved maximal VJ ability 4–9% and power 2–31% (28) in both athletes and nonathletes (27). BWJ is also highly practical because it requires little or no equipment, can be performed in almost any location, and requires limited technical ability.
The addition of an external load (weight vest, barbell, elastic band, etc.) during BWJ activities is referred to as RJ (see Videos, Supplemental Digital Content 4, which demonstrates a resisted jump, http://links.lww.com/SCJ/A84). Evidence indicates RJ elicits greater improvements in VJ height (36) and peak power (35,36) compared with BWJ. However, increasing external loading decreases movement velocity, a factor in adaptation (30). For this reason, some question the ability of RJ programs to improve performance in activities that require high velocity (23). RJ may also result in greater impact forces during landing, thereby increasing the potential for muscular discomfort, soreness (22), and/or injury (23).
Another method of training is AJ (see Videos, Supplemental Digital Content 5, which demonstrates an assisted jump, http://links.lww.com/SCJ/A85). AJ uses an apparatus (e.g., elastic cords or counter mass) to reduce body weight (32). A definitive conclusion regarding its efficacy is not possible as research is currently limited. Available data indicate that AJ with a 10–30% reduction of body weight acutely improves ascent variables (44) such as peak velocity, peak acceleration, relative peak power, and VJ height (1,11,27,38,46) while decreasing impact forces (1). Moreover, several weeks of AJ training improves peak acceleration and velocity, relative peak power, and VJ height greater than BWJ (38) or RJ (1) in both elite athletic and nonathletic populations (38).
In summary, BWJ, RJ, and AJ may all improve VJ performance and several factors related to power production. Of these factors, velocity seems particularly responsive to jump training. These collective studies do not suggest that one method is superior to another, but rather that adaptations (force production, takeoff velocity, peak power, etc.) are training method specific. Understanding the benefits and consequences of each style enables coaches to integrate them in a manner that maximizes benefits and decreases the likelihood of adverse events. Coaches should prioritize the amount of time allocated to each in reflection of individual athlete goals and needs.
Enhancing velocity is obviously desirable, yet force (strength) equally influences power (42). Unsurprisingly, subjects who compliment power training with strength training display greater improvements in VJ height and power output over a wide range of external loads than subjects who train for power alone (13). Another study reported that in weak individuals, BWJ training improves sprinting and jumping to the same magnitude as heavy strength training, although BWJ training provided no improvements in strength (14). Although these findings seem to diminish the relationship between strength and jumping, they more accurately demonstrate the ability of heavy strength training to render similar short-term improvements in velocity and power as BWJ. However, BWJ training will not likely promote the same gains in maximal strength (nor the other long-term benefits associated with heavy strength training); even in the relatively weak (14). However, this is not a reason to eliminate factors related to velocity because maximal strength training alone may not improve VJ performance in highly trained athletes (18,21). It is imperative when trying to improve power that most strength training is done in an explosive manner (18), emphasizing the attempt to perform each repetition at maximal velocity (8). Dualistic exercise programs instituting both high force and high velocity provide the most effective stimulus for improving power production (41,42,48). Supplementing standard resistance (e.g., weight plates) with variable resistance (e.g., elastic bands or chains) seems worthwhile because it may facilitate improvements in mean and peak velocity (7), rate of force development (40), and peak force and power (34).
Weightlifting is a competitive sport that contests both the snatch and the clean and jerk. Success in weightlifting necessitate simultaneous high force and velocity (12,31,43). As a result, it is highly associated with power and frequently mislabeled as “powerlifting.” Weightlifters are the most powerful people on the planet (10,29) and they activate fast-twitch fibers to a greater extent than non-weightlifters during submaximal muscle contractions (e.g., the VJ) (16). They also produce more power than athletes with similar years of training history (24) or those who train for only maximal speed or strength (29). Moreover, the temporal patterns of force production are similar during WLM (e.g., snatch and clean and jerk or variations of each) and VJ and as a result, weightlifters excel at jumping (9,10).
The wide-ranging benefits of WLM are indisputable and documented more thoroughly elsewhere (12,19,43). Yet, some question their ability to improve jumping, especially when compared with BWJ. Tricoli et al. (45) reported both WLM and BWJ improved performance. However, WLM were more advantageous because their benefits were broader and significantly greater in the 10-m sprint speed, VJ, and squat jump. These data indicate WLM are as effective as BWJ at improving jumping while simultaneously promoting several adaptations not seen with BWJ (e.g., strength).
The paradox of weightlifting recognizes that the high complexity of WLM enhance performance, yet discourages some from participation. The primary hesitation surrounding the use of WLM is the perceived difficulty of learning/teaching WLM (25). Although a detailed discussion is beyond the scope of this article, multiple authors have addressed these concerns at length and provide numerous instructional resources and strategies to assist in the learning of WLM (12,19,43). It should also be understood that as with the learning of any task, a small number of repetitions performed frequently and consistently throughout the year (during active recovery days or dynamic warm-ups, etc.) suitably develops aptitude and confidence. Complete mastery of skill is a byproduct of practice, not a prerequisite of involvement. Although time constraints should always be a consideration, the obligation to long-term athlete development should not be compromised by a desire for immediate success. Elimination of WLM from a program for this reason is irresponsible. Furthermore, variations such as the hang start position or modified pulls serve as short-term alternatives to the full snatch and the clean and jerk when technical flaws or other barriers limit productivity.
Other implements such as medicine balls and kettlebells are also frequently used as substitutes for WLM (33). This is a reasonable solution in special circumstances such as a lack of equipment (e.g., barbell and bumper plates) and/or space. Yet, it is imperative to recognize that these devices drive similar, but not identical adaptations. The benefits of these alternatives will not be as comprehensive or of the same magnitude as WLM, especially in trained athletes. These training methods should be considered supplements, not equal substitutes.
PART A: SUMMARY
A combination of multiple modalities and loading paradigms optimizes the potential for improvements in jumping and leg power. However, the specific adaptations of each movement variation must be recognized prior to implementation. Jumping activities (BWJ, RJ, AJ) enrich power mainly through velocity. All variations are likely to benefit less experienced athletes, but AJ is particularly advantageous for athletes with a history of jump training. Heavy strength training targets force, and thus should complement any jump training program. WLM display a unique ability to facilitate simultaneous gains in velocity and force, making them the most effective method of improving leg power.
PART B: PRACTICAL APPLICATION
The following section outlines a sample 12-week mesocycle designed to improve power production and jumping ability. The program targets moderately trained athletes with previous experience in jumping and general strength and conditioning activities, but limited skill in WLM. The foundation of its design is summarized by the phrase, “methods are many, concepts are few,” or more plainly, application of exercise determines adaptation, not the exercise per se. Prescribing general concepts (work capacity, maximum strength, speed, etc.) as opposed to strict/specific methods (exercise choice, volumes, intensities, etc.) emphasizes a focus on short-term goals and increases the potential for variation and autonomy based on individual coach/athlete preferences and limitations (equipment, time and/or space availability, etc.). The concepts are outlined in Tables 2 and 3 and a short list of sample exercises for each concept is provided in Table 4, and sample volumes and intensities are demonstrated in Tables 5 and 6. To accomplish these concepts, most exercises should be complex (requiring multiple joints) and performed with maximal intended velocity across a spectrum of loading intensities. The periodization strategy is to maintain moderate to high intensities while manipulating total daily and weekly volume (e.g., the number of exercises, sets, and/or repetitions in a given day and/or week).
The 12 weeks are separated into 3 blocks and each block is further divided into 4 microcycles (Table 1). Each block and microcycle is given an overall concept (e.g., maximal strength, strength speed, or power), with the first word of the concept reflecting which aspect dictates greater emphasis. Designing programs by concept means both coach and athlete explicitly understand weekly outcome goals, making critical decisions such as elimination or alteration of movements, volume, and/or intensity in response to unpredicted events (equipment malfunction, changes in health, other life stressors, etc.) much easier. For example, during the “Strength” phase (week 6), a coach might allow an athlete to increase intensity beyond the previously intended prescription, fully aware movement speed may be slightly compromised. However, this would not be as appropriate during the “Speed Strength” phase (weeks 9–10) as speed should be of greater concern than strength.
Designing by concept also allows high daily variation in light of a fairly routine daily structure. Each day begins with some type of mobility/injury prevention movement followed by a dynamic warm-up. Subsequent speed, power, strength, and work capacity components occupy the bulk of the training session. Specificity is achieved by modifying the number of exercises and/or the amount of total repetitions dedicated to each specific adaptation (speed, power, strength, or work capacity) within each microcycle. For example, during the “Strength Speed” week, 2 speed and 3 strength exercises are prescribed with a total weekly volume of 50 and 100 reps, respectively. Yet, during the following “Speed Strength” week, speed increases to 4 movements while strength volume decreases to 1 movement. Thus, the total number of speed reps increases from 50 to 150, whereas the total number of strength reps decreases from 100 to 50. Altering the amount of time per day dedicated to each adaptation slightly alters the overall microcycle adaptations, and the combination of each microcycle reflects the goal of its corresponding block.
The figure demonstrates the change in total weekly training volume, per component (speed, power, strength, and work capacity), across the sample mesocycle. In summary, speed is moderate in Blocks 1 and 2, and increases dramatically in Block 3; power remains constant throughout; strength is similar in Blocks 1 and 3, but increases considerably in Block 2; work capacity is high in Block 1, drops off substantially in Block 2, and is almost completely eliminated in Block 3. Because its well-rounded nature permits simultaneous training of speed, power, and strength, WLM are the backbone of all 3 blocks. Briefly, total volume is high in Block 1 because the predominant goals are to learn movements and develop work capacity. Low impact BWJ could function well here if applied in a manner that reinforces proper jumping mechanics while gradually increasing workload. Total volume declines heavily during Blocks 2 and 3 as the focus shifts to maximal force and then velocity. The second block emphasizes force by reducing work capacity volume, maintaining speed and power training, and increasing strength exercises. Higher impact BWJ, RJ, and heavy resistance movements are ideal exercise choices during this phase. The steady decline of volume continues into the third and final block (power) as work capacity and strength training are reduced in favor of maximal velocity and power. Implementing AJ here would further promote recovery and unloading while augmenting velocity.
Power and jumping ability correlate to both anaerobic and aerobic sport performance. Power requires velocity and force, and force requires mass and acceleration. A brief review of literature indicates several jumping-specific and non-jumping–specific training methods uniquely enhance power and jumping ability. In general, low-intensity/high-speed movements such as plyometrics improve velocity, high-intensity/low-speed movements such as heavy squatting promote force production, and WLM augment both force and velocity. Optimal programming would therefore include a highly variable combination of training modalities and loading paradigms planned around athlete-specific strengths and weaknesses.
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