Pumping For Jumping

A targeted strength-training plan can help your track-and-field jumpers stay in the air longer.

By Rory Beil

Rory Beil, CSCS, is Coordinator of the Exercise Physiology program at MeritCare Sports Medicine in Fargo, N.D., and a USA Track and Field Level II Coach.

Training & Conditioning, 11.8, November 2001, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/tc/tc1108/jumping.htm

If you need to increase your jumpers' time in the air, focus your training efforts on the time they spend on the ground. Specifically, long and triple jumpers need to utilize strength training to produce maximum acceleration, faster sprinting, and ultimately, longer jumping distances.

The first step in creating a strength training program for boosting horizontal jumping performance is to understand the elements that influence the distance an athlete jumps. The most important elements are take-off velocity and the ability to tolerate stretch loads.

Take-off velocity is critical because a jumping athlete essentially is a ballistic missile, like an arrow or a bullet. A ballistic missile is propelled into the air by the launching force, but once it is airborne, the propelling force ceases, and only momentum carries it forward. Thus, athletes who jump longer distances are those who have the greatest velocity at take off. Much of the strength training a horizontal jumper does is intended to help improve take-off velocity.

A major contributing factor to take-off velocity--and therefore the distance an athlete jumps--is his or her ability to tolerate and utilize stretch loads. As an athlete accelerates toward the jumping point, his or her feet must tolerate significant forces each time a foot is planted on the ground. The foot must not only tolerate the impact of landing, it must also spring off the ground quickly, adding to acceleration. This "springing off" the ground is the utilization of stretch load. If an athlete cannot tolerate and utilize these forces when running, the foot will spend more time on the ground and the athlete will lose speed. Stretch load utilization is particularly critical in triple jumps, where athletes are landing with loads many times their body weight. The strength training plans included in this article are designed to build an athlete's ability to sprint quickly and utilize stretch loads while accelerating for take off.

There are four types of strength that are applicable to horizontal jumpers: maximal, relative, explosive, and elastic. Your strength training program must focus on developing these four areas of strength in order to maximize the athlete's ability to attain peak take-off velocity.

The main role of maximal strength in jumping sports is to help minimize absorption of force upon ground contact, and thus help shorten contact times and aid in acceleration. The faster an athlete moves, the shorter his or her ground-contact times. It takes approximately 0.75 seconds to develop maximal force, but ground-contact times at maximal speed are less than 0.15 seconds. Obviously, there is not enough time on the ground to use all of the force available, so the athlete must make the most efficient use of ground contact.

When designing maximal strength exercises, focus on multi-joint, lower-body exercises to the exclusion of single-joint exercises. An athlete in motion is the result of several synchronized joints and muscle groups, and your training should reflect that integration.

Some key exercises that utilize the joints and muscles involved include back squats, lunges, and single-leg squats. When your athletes perform these strength exercises, they should use 85 to 100 percent of one rep max (1RM). Use six or fewer repetitions to focus on neural adaptations while minimizing hypertrophy. After all, any added muscle must be carried through the air.

The athlete developing maximal strength should try to perform each repetition explosively, even with very heavy weights. If the athlete does not attempt to maximally accelerate a repetition, the effort is wasted. Why? Because force is equal to mass times acceleration. The greater the acceleration, the greater the force and power.

Do not overdo maximal strength, however. It can create neurological fatigue. Therefore, use maximal strength training no more than once each week, and as little as once every four weightroom workouts (once every two weeks). Surprisingly, even at this low frequency, maximal strength will improve, assuming it is part of a comprehensive strength training program.

Relative Strength is the maximum force an athlete can generate per unit of body weight. It is a general concept used for strength training jumpers at all levels, but it has the greatest influence on performance for beginners. It is easy to regularly incorporate relative strength exercises in the warmup and in circuit training.

Exercises for developing relative strength use only the weight of the athlete's body as resistance. All exercises can be modified so each jumper is challenged accordingly. Key exercises for developing relative strength in jumpers include pushups, pullups, single-leg squats, and dips.

Have your athletes perform 10 to 15 repetitions of each exercise. Progress by increasing sets from one to three, or by reducing recovery times. For athletes who are not strong enough to do pullups, have them do incline pullups using a barbell placed three to five feet high in a power rack.

Explosive Strength provides the ability to rapidly increase force once movement has begun. Therefore, the development of explosive strength will help an athlete accelerate and rapidly produce high levels of force during take off. Some key exercises for developing explosive strength include in-place jumps, short jumps, long jumps, Olympic-style weight lifting, sled pulls, maximal power training, and medicine-ball throws.

In-place jumps are vertical jumps with little horizontal movement. These are basic, low-intensity jumps, and include ankle, squat, tuck, lunge, straddle, and pike jumps. Have athletes perform consecutive in-place jumps in sets of 10 to 15 jumps. Be a vigilant observer and stop individuals when the quality of their jumps begins to decline.

When performing short jumps, have the athlete do five or fewer consecutive jumps or hops per set. These jumps correlate well with developing acceleration speed, and include standing long or triple jumps, alternate leg bounds, double- and single-leg hops, and hurdle hops.

For long jumps, have the athlete perform alternate and straight-leg bounds, single-leg hops, bound into run, repetitive triple jumps, alternate hops, hurdle hops, and skipping for height and/or distance. Reps may include eight or more hurdle hops, 30 to 50 meters of alternate bounds or hops. Long jumps are more rhythmic than short jumps and they correlate well with maximum speed sprinting.

Olympic-style weight-lifting exercises have been shown to produce power outputs greater than other weightroom strength exercises. Have athletes perform no more than five repetitions per set, progressing to four or five sets with one to three repetitions per set. Weight should be increased each set ending at very challenging loads. The best exercises for this application include the power clean, power snatch, and power jerk.

For the sled pulls, have your athletes perform sprints while pulling weighted sleds or tires. The weight should be 10 to 20 percent of the athlete's body weight.

Maximal power training involves strength exercises using loads that maximize power output, approximately 50 to 70 percent of one 1RM. Use a chart to estimate 1RM. Perform three to five sets with three to five reps per set, for a total of nine to 20 reps, depending on the time of season. Key exercises for maximal power training include explosive squats, explosive lunges, and explosive step-ups.

When your track-and-field athletes do medicine-ball throws, have them perform two to three sets with three to six reps per set. Use medicine balls weighing six to 25 pounds. Recommended medicine-ball drills include between legs forward, overhead backwards, and squat throw forward.

Elastic Strength enhances a jumping athlete's ability to quickly switch from an eccentric to a concentric action. Developing an athlete's elastic strength helps to minimize the amount of time spent on the ground. Elastic energy is stored in the muscle complex during the eccentric phase, and if the contact time is short enough, it is returned to enhance the subsequent concentric phase.

To develop elastic strength in a jumper, use jump exercises focusing on minimal ground contact times, which range from 0.1 to 0.2 seconds per contact. An athlete's heels should not touch the ground during these exercises. Note that the types of jumps used here can be the same as those used for explosive strength. However, for elastic strength, athletes should perform the jumps with a greater speed of foot contacts and a smaller amplitude. For example, alternate leg bounds for elastic strength would be done for speed of movement instead of for maximal distance, as in explosive strength applications.

For the four types of strength to be developed, there are numerous drills and exercises that can be applied. The following training modules are designed to "plug in" to your track-and-field strength training workouts:

Now it's time to design your workouts. Before you begin, there are some general rules to follow for creating strength training workouts for horizontal jumpers.

Determine how long your season is. Create a calendar with all of the meets and any other significant days that affect training, such as holidays. Next, divide it into six-week segments, giving each segment a different focus. Work from the end of the season backward. The final segment should have a decreased volume and an increased focus on intensity allowing the neuromuscular system to recover but to remain "sharp." At this stage, athletes can maintain strength levels with only one high-intensity session per week. Evaluate the frequency of strength training sessions for the final phase based on the frequency of competitions. If the team is competing two times per week, do only one strength workout. Strength training volume should decrease greatly 10 days prior to the most important meet.

Each day's workout should have a specific emphasis. During workouts with an acceleration and speed emphasis, have your athletes do short jumps, and do the jumps before the acceleration sprints. During workouts with an emphasis on maximum speed, have your athletes do long jumps, and do them after the maximum speed sprints. In addition, focus on elastic strength during maximum speed days, because the ground contact times are more similar. Maximal and explosive strength weightroom exercises do not need to be done more than two days per week.

Create two levels of athletes for strength exercises. Group them by athletic experience and age, not by ability level. This will create a more individualized training environment as well as an incentive to progress. (see Sidebar, "An Individual Focus" at the end of this article). For example, beginner athletes would get introduced to Olympic-style lifts, while more experienced athletes will do these lifts regularly, and with less rudimentary instruction. Beginner athletes should focus on in-place jumps, progressing to short and long jumps. Single-leg hops are used only as part of the technical training for the triple jump. Experienced athletes should do relatively more short and long jumps, including single-leg hops.

Recovery times should increase up to three or four minutes, as an athlete becomes competent with an exercise and the intensity increases.

Olympic-style strength exercises and multi-joint leg exercises should be done first, before other exercises, in the weight room. Generally, athletes should perform jumping exercises before performing any weightroom exercises. However, the nervous system can be stimulated and a "contrast" effect created by performing jumping and hopping exercises over hurdles following maximal or explosive squats.

Measure or time an athlete's jumps to ensure quality efforts. In the weightroom, resistance must continually be increased within the bounds of sound technique.

Maximal efforts require maximal cognitive preparation and optimal rest. Make sure your athletes understand what maximal efforts are. Teach them to "strain" while performing maximal effort exercises, within the bounds of proper technique. The real art of coaching comes from determining an athlete's learning style and then motivating him or her to train at higher intensities. Intensity is the most important stimuli for creating neural adaptations.

My final piece of advice relates to coaching athletes in any sport: Maintain close communication with all of your athletes. Ask your athletes for their feedback and suggestions about the training and exercises, including their likes and dislikes. Based on that feedback, be prepared to make modifications to group workout plans as well as individual training plans. At the end of the day, your athletes'compliance is directly related to the perceived importance, enthusiasm, and interest of the coach and the staff.

SIDEBAR ONE: An Individual Focus

It is important to recognize the different requirements of beginner and more experienced athletes along with the changing requirements as the competitive season progresses. The following four charts illustrate early- and late-season strength training workouts for beginner and experienced horizontal jumpers. Note that the early-season workouts are moderately intense and focused on developing strength that complements event-specific technique development, while late-season workouts are more intense and focused on maintenance to allow peaking to occur.

Early-season, beginner athlete

Long jump or triple jump technique with maximum speed
In-place jumps.
Intro to Olympic lifts (power snatch, 3x5, and back squat,

Upper-body circuit or total-body circuit.

Long jump or triple jump technique with acceleration and
speed emphasis.
Intro to short jumps and medicine-ball throws.
Intro to Olympic lifts (power clean, 3x5, and explosive squats,
60 percent).

Late-season, beginner athlete

If no meet is scheduled, use the day as a speed and technique day. Athletes can do Olympic lift and lower-body strength exercises.

Power clean, 3x5 and explosive step-ups, 3x3.

Early-season, experienced athlete

Long jump or triple jump technique, maximum speed
Long, elastic jumps.
Power snatch, 5x2 or 5x3, and back squat, 5x3.

Upper-body circuit or total-body circuit.

Long jump or triple jump technique, acceleration and speed
Short jumps and medicine ball throws.
Power clean, 5x2 or 5x3, and explosive squats, 5x3 or 6x3.

Late-season, experienced athlete

If no competition is scheduled, use the day as speed, technique, Olympic lift, and lower-body strength day.

Power snatch, 1x3, 1x2, 1x2, 1x1.
Explosive squats or step-ups, 4x2.


Medicine Ball Throw Module

Forward hop (overhead backwards),
Forward hop (between legs forward),
Two forward hops (overhead back-
wards), 3x3
Two forward hops (between legs for-
ward), 3x3
Two forward hops (squat throw for-
ward), 3x3

In Place Jump Module

Lunge jumps, 3x10
Tuck jumps, 3x10
Straddle jumps, 3x10
Squat jumps, 3x10

Short Jump and Acceleration Speed Module

Squat jumps, x6
Sled pulls, 20 or 30 meters, x5
Medicine ball squat throws, x6
Standing long jump, plus five power
bounds, x4
Power hurdle hops, 5x5
Falling sprints, 30 meters, x6

Long Jump Module

Speed hurdle hops, 5x8
Straight-leg bounds, 40 meters, x3
Alternate-leg bounds, 30 meters, 3x4

Total Body Strength Circuit

Progress from one to three sets as
athletes'condition improves.
Body-weight squats 20 seconds
Run, 120 meters
Pushups, x10
High-knee skip, 50 meters
Lunge, 50 meters
Medicine ball chest pass, 30 seconds
Rope skip, 30 seconds
Skydivers, x25
Burpees, 4-count, x10
Run, 120 meters
Medicine ball full twists, 45 seconds
Tuck jumps, x10
Skipping, 400 meters

Upper Body Strength Circuit

Progress from one to three sets as con-
dition improves.
Pushups, x10-15
Incline pullups, x10-15
Dips, x10-15