Are you familiar with Jack and the Beanstalk? In this classic fairytale, Jack, the son of a poor widow, trades the family’s only cow for a pocketful of magic beans. When his mother discovers his stupidity, she tosses the beans out the window and sends Jack to bed without his supper. The next morning, to everyone’s surprise, a giant beanstalk has grown up to the sky. Jack climbs the beanstalk, meets some giants and steals a bag of gold. He later returns for a goose that lays golden eggs and he and his mother, no longer impoverished, live happily ever after.
“What the heck does that have to do with jumping?” you may be asking right about now. The answer is simple: if you have the magic beans, you can make any dream come true, whether that dream is to have an adventure, increase your wealth or improve your max jump height. In this article, we talk to Sam Faulkner, exercise scientist and personal trainer at VP Workouts, about the four magic beans you’ll need for the latter.
Magic Bean 1: The Ankle Complex
“A lot of people have either super-mobile ankles that aren’t stable or ultra-stable ankles that are stiff and immobile,” Faulkner explains. “If you want to improve your jump height, you need to find that mid-point where you have strength, stability and mobility throughout the ankle. This will give you optimal range of motion with elasticity and spring.”
Faulkner says that the simplest thing you can do to improve your ankle complex is to practice regular SMR (or self-myofascial release) on your feet. “Your feet are really important for performance,” he says. “They take first contact to the ground for everything. If the muscles in your feet are too tight, it’s going to have an effect on your knees.”
So how do you do SMR on your feet? Faulkner says it’s as easy as taking a golf ball, placing it under one foot, pressing into it, and rolling it around to massage the muscles in your sole. “As these muscles relax, your ankle will become suppler,” he continues. “A supple ankle absorbs force and transmits energy well, which is essential for jumping.”
Faulkner also recommends strengthening drills for the ankle complex as part of a regular workout routine. One such drill is as simple as picking a sock up off the floor with your toes. “I’ll do that with the athletes I train and have them pick up the sock 100 times with each foot. It actually improves their vertical jump pretty fast.”
Magic Bean 2: Eccentric Strength
Eccentric strength is essential for creating force. Faulkner says that workout plans for developing eccentric strength need to include slow and controlled lowering movements.
“If you think about a squat, the eccentric portion of the movement is when you’re bending your knees and lowering your body,” Faulkner explains. “When you slow down your tempo in that portion of the squat, you can get really strong inside the range of motion. If you emphasize the eccentric portion of your front squats, Bulgarian split squats, hex bar deadlifts and such, it will carry over to your vertical jump by enabling you to produce more power.”
Magic Bean 3: Isometric Strength
To increase your isometric strength, you need to practice isometric movements. Faulkner says the easiest way to do this is to add pauses within the exercises you’re doing as part of your regular workout program.
“Most people don’t train isometric strength because they can’t lift as heavy when they do it,” Faulkner explains. “For example, to improve your isometric strength when bench pressing, you need to pause at the bottom of the lift, stabilize the bar and allow it to hover over your chest for a few moments before pressing it up. You’re going to have to take some weight off the bar in order to do that.”
To improve your isometric strength for a higher jump, Faulkner recommends Pause Bulgarian Split Squats. You should pause at several points within the movement to maximize your results. “A lot of studies have shown that if you pause for a few seconds inside that range of motion, you’ll really improve your power producing capabilities,” he adds. “You’re teaching your muscles to fire harder and become more stable.”
Magic Bean 4: Concentric Strength
Faulkner says concentric strength training brings all the magic beans together. “Where your eccentric strength training involves slow, controlled lowering and isometric strength training includes pauses, concentric strength training is dynamic and will improve your speed for a higher jump.
“I generally recommend concentric work in your workout routine almost every day in some shape or form,” Faulkner explains. “I like box jumps and medicine ball launches in particular. They’re very fast concentric movements where you have to move quickly and push in that vertical plain in order to produce force.”
Faulkner also recommends including medicine ball launches in your workout plan to improve concentric strength. “If you’re doing a home workout, take the medicine ball out to your driveway, or if you’re doing a gym workout, go out to the parking lot,” he says. “Starting with the medicine ball at your chest, dip down into a half squat and then explode up, throwing the ball in the air as high as you can. It’s an awesome drill because you’re teaching your body to explode in one kinetic motion.”
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By Angela Rose for VP Workouts