Vertically Challenged – Jumping Technique
by: Jessica Adams
As a volleyball coach, the most frequent question I get asked is how can my athlete increase their vertical jump. Rather than going into strength and power training techniques, the first thing I do, as simple as it sounds, have the parent watch the athlete do a standing jump. Nine times out of ten the athlete’s knees will come together, buckling in before they leave the ground.
The first question after this discovery is usually why is this happening? Looking purely at the volleyball experience, the answer is two-fold. First, take a look at learned defensive posture for volleyball. I have clear memories of learning to squat down and hold this posture on my toes with my feet wider than my hips and toes turned slightly toward one another. If your toes are pointing in like a pigeon and you’re squatting down with your feet wider than your hips, of course your knees are going to buckle in towards one another! Now add countless hours of practice, games and tournaments, and you have a chronic imbalance in the making.
The second think to look at is the actual jump itself. If you are trying to convert horizontal speed into power in the vertical plane, such as the horizontal approach into the vertical jump, something explosive and sudden needs to happen. In the volleyball world, this means your last two steps in your approach to hit the ball. If you keep both toes pointing straight ahead and coast through your gather steps, you’ll go broad jumping through the net. On the other hand, if you turn your feet at about a 45 degree angle towards the setter (for us right-handed hitters) and punch through your left foot, you will successfully convert all the speed and momentum you had in your approach to lift you straight up off the ground and not forward. As perfect as this all sounds, in practice, it is much more difficult to execute. What often ends up happening is one foot is at about 70 degrees to the setter and the other is at about 30 degrees, making you jump pigeon-footed. Again, what do you expect to see from knees when toes are pointed together? As with defensive posture, add years of experience, hours of practice, and your knees have now sufficiently learned to knock in every time you press a downward force on them.
In order to get maximal momentum into your vertical jump, every body part needs to be working in the vertical plane—this means arm swing, actual jump direction, and KNEE BEND. If the knees are bending in, then force is being expelled horizontally instead of vertically. That force is now lost that should have been powering your jump and this will take inches off your vertical.
With some athletes you can change their jump technique on the spot and see at least a 2 inch difference in their vertical jump. The biggest challenge is then replicating and translating this new jump to what the athlete does on the court. On the other hand, most athletes have such a chronic muscular imbalance after even a short period of time with volleyball that it takes consistent strength and power training with a professional to correct this imbalance and protect your athlete from injuries that will occur if the deficiency is not remedied.