Being better at something means being an expert on it.
If you want to learn about how to improve your vertical jump, you have to know what you’re asking of yourself each time you push off the ground and reach for the sky.
Jumping, unlike performing a bicep curl, is complex and dynamic movement. This means that it involves several muscle groups, joints and bones.
In a jump, the brain’s central nervous system is also hard at work taking in information from sensory nerves, and continuously making motor adjustments at lighting fast speed.
A jump is one of the most complex movements the body can do, so no doubt, improving your jump in its technique and height should be a challenge.
The Central Nervous System (CNS)
How do your muscles know how far down to dip when you want to reach a particular height on the way up?
How do you measure your jump so that you don’t go too far to the left or right, and how do you time yourself to not leap into another player?
These are all the roles of the central nervous system. Often taken for granted by healthy people, without a well functioning CNS, our voluntary actions would be suddenly very difficult to perform.
The CNS is where it all begins. This is the part of your brain that controls movement, sends messages down your spinal cord and into the right nerve passageways to the muscles, telling them when and how to contract.
Reaching for your keyboard and typing a few letters without a second thought is the exclusive result of your CNS, as are all of the other voluntary movements we do.
The CNS is separated into two parts – the sensory system and the motor system. The sensory system senses information (through the eyes, skin, smell, etc) and takes it to the brain, which then sends out responses through the motor system.
All movements (aside from reflex’s) are generated at this center in the brain.
Try this experiment:
- Fill 2 glasses with different levels of water
- Set them out in front of you side by side
- Close your eyes and reach blindly for one of them
- Pick up the glass and bring it to your mouth to drink
Successful? How did you manage to do all that without crushing the glass, lifting it too high, spilling or dropping anything?
The answer is in your nervous system. Information is being passed so fast between your body structures without having to consciously think about all of them.
Here is a simple analysis of a vertical jump, broken down into its chronological parts
- Both feet placed evenly on floor, arms at side
- Shoulders and core brace for movement
- Knees and hips bend, lowing body towards the floor
- Shoulders push arms backwards, arms bend at elbows
- Knees continue to bend to about 110 degrees, hips bend simultaneously to about 90 degrees
- Push feet evenly into the floor, arms swing straight above head, straighten knee and hips, toss head back
This simple and quick evaluation of a jump shows how many different joints are involved.
Every body part from the feet and ankles right up through the neck and head are working together to get your body to launch into the air. Without the engagement of all these parts, the jump will be lacking in height.
The muscles which are particularly involved in jumps are those in the calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, lower back and shoulders, all of which are actively contracting to produce movement.
The other muscles which are engaged are used in isometric contractions to stabilize your body, including your abs, upper back and neck.
Using Momentum In Vertical Jumps
Momentum is one of the biomechanical advantages used when in a jump.
In scientific terms, when preparing for a jump, we wind up by creating an action potential. There are many other activities which incorporate the same principle.
Take for example a pitch in baseball. The pitcher doesn’t just toss the ball with his shoulder. A whole wind up routine is used, incorporating the legs, hips and back, using the arm as somewhat of a sling-shot to get the ball to travel as fast as possible.
In a slap shot in hockey, the same principle applies. The only way to get the puck to go at the speed and distance it does is by winding the stick back, twisting at the shoulders and hips, and using this action potential that has been created.
Flicking an elastic rubber band means stretching it back to launch it forward.
These examples all point to the biomechanical nature of a jump. Its not just leaping upwards; finding the right technique when you wind up for a jump is equally as important.
Making the right technique a part of your habits will then be transferred into a game situation without having to think about it.
Making sense of all this may take some time, and you might want to have a look at a good resource, The Jump Manual, further explaining the principles here on the way we jump and how to train those specific parameters for the best results.