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The Stretch Reflex: What Makes Us Leap?

Knee Reflexes

Understanding how we jump is important in vertical jump training. Following a good program and all the steps is equally as important as getting the bigger picture.

Throughout the body there is a mechanism which naturally occurs called the stretch reflex.

Do you ever remember visiting a doctor who takes a rubber hammer to that specific spot at the knee and it causes the leg to suddenly kick out? This is the stretch reflex.

This stretch reflex is a physiological protective mechanism naturally developed in humans. It plays a big role in the power and force generated by the muscles.

This is what makes it so much more important in activities requiring power movements- including jumping- than most people realize.

What Is It?

The stretch reflex occurs, in the example above, when the rubber hammer hits the tendon just below the knee which is the attachment for the quadriceps muscles in the thigh.

At the moment it strikes the tendon, a sudden stretch occurs in the muscle. In order to protect itself, the muscle reflexively contracts. As quickly as it is stretched, the muscle shortens by contracting.

This protects it from damage, tearing, strains and injury in general.

Like all reflexes, the sensory feedback does not travel as far as the brain, which is what makes the reaction so quick.

During a reflex, sensors in the muscle instantly feedback to the spine, where the responding command to contract is then sent from.

Where Is It?

Nearly all of the muscles in the body have this same stretch reflex to protect themselves. Only a few can be tapped from the surface of the skin, but the principle remains the same for all.

In basketball, for example, when dipping before a jump, certain muscles, including the ones around the ankle joint are stretched, reacting in a reflexive jump.

Think of the effect of an elastic band; the farther back you stretch it, the faster and harder it will snap forwards.

Training According To The Specificity Principle

There are several training principles which are tried and true methods to improve performance in any sport.

If training for basketball, there are several components, including endurance and also training to improve vertical height to catch rebounds, effectively block and to get closer to the net for shots.

In order to train to get better at these things, and specifically, to improve vertical height, training the stretch reflex to become more refined and as effective as possible is the main goal.

This means dedicating specific time to training this stretch reflex during your training to improve vertical height.

Training The Stretch Reflex

The most effective way of training the stretch reflex is to use it as much as possible.

By using it, the neural and sensory system get used to it, and it adapts to the increased use, becoming faster, and more refined.

By doing controlled plyometric jumps which replicate game situations, the power, or explosiveness of the stretch reflex are more enhanced, speeding it up, to produce the movements quicker than ever before.

Training Methods

Here, you can incorporate movements that require multiple jumps. For example, start with the simple front-back (or side to side) jumps:

‣ Use a line as a marker and stand behind it with both feet together

‣ In quick succession and without pausing, jump forwards and back across the line

‣ Use the same line to jump side to side

‣ Perform sets of 10 or 20 without stopping

You can then move on to the next level of jumping, called a jump, jump, pause:

‣ Start with feet shoulder width apart, ready to jump

‣ Jump twice without pausing as high as possible

‣ On the 2nd landing, brace yourself and pause the whole movement

‣ Repeat from this position

Next, you can move onto using small pieces of equipment to aid in your training, such as mini-hurdles or boxes, here are two such examples:

For hurdles:

‣ Set up 10 -12 mini-hurdles in a row

‣ Start with a simple forward facing hop over each without pause, as fast as possible

‣ Start again, try turning your body to face right and left, alternating at each hurdle

‣ Try different variations!

For boxes:

‣ Set up 2 boxes, one short, one taller right against each other

‣ Hop with both feet from the ground to #1

‣ Without stopping, hop to #2 and hold still once you’ve reached the top

‣ Restart

‣ Try pushing them apart, starting from box # 1

‣ Drop to ground between and hop up to box # 2

‣ Pause at the top

‣ Restart

There are many others to choose from with varying levels of difficulty.

Vertical Jump ebookIn order to get the best out of them and refine your stretch reflex to get the most amount of power and force out of it this training should become a part of your regular training regime.

On the road to taking your vertical height to new heights, check out The Jump Manual for more tips and useful training information.

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