What muscles make you jump higher?
How to Jump Higher: Train the Upper Body
The vertical jump is not just a lower body movement. Squats, Deadlifts, and plyometrics aren’t enough to optimize jump performance.
You also need to develop the muscles of the torso:
The erector spinae extend the trunk going into takeoff, enhancing jump height .
You should also be training the muscles of the arm:
In a study on twenty males, arm swing (compared to no arm swing) increased jump height by 3.386 inches .
In another study on 18 male elite volleyball players, adding arm swing increased jump height by 38% .
Another study found an increase of 13.6% in jump height when adding arm movement .
WHY DO THE ARMS CONTRIBUTE TO JUMP HEIGHT?
ENERGY: “The kinetic energy developed by the arms is used to increase their potential energy at take-off but also to store and return energy from the lower limbs and to “pull” on the rest of the body” .
ECCENTRIC VELOCITY: The arms add to downwards speed and force, causing an equal reaction on the way up. Read more here.
WORK DONE AT THE HIP: Adding arm swing provides additional load to the hip, increasing muscular work done .
Jumping with an arm swing increases power on the downwards phase, effectively ‘loads’ the lower body segments, heightens the center of mass before takeoff, and ‘pulls’ the body upwards on the ascent. Every one of these factors increases jump height.
PRACTICE: When jumping, synchronize a violent backwards arm swing with the descent and a violent upwards arm swing with the ascent.
STRENGTH TRAIN THE UPPER BODY: In a study comparing 25 college-age men to 25 college-age women, the arm swing (compared to no arm swing) showed significantly more increase in jump height in men than in women . The researchers speculated it was because of greater upper body strength.
Jumping with arm swing puts a high demand on the shoulder and elbow muscles . For general strength and power development of these areas, I recommend the following 6 movements:
- CLOSE-GRIP BENCH PRESS (anterior deltoid and pectoralis strength – elbows near sides – similar to a jump)
- DB ROW (latissimus dorsi strength – for forceful descent)
- DB or BARBELL PUSH-PRESS (shoulder strength – forces the upper body work with the lower body)
- NEUTRAL-GRIP CHIN UP (latissimus dorsi strength – for forceful descent)
- MED BALL SLAM (violent arm depression – similar to jump descent)
- MED BALL OVERHEAD THROW (violent arm elevation – similar to jump ascent)
- Use Concentric-Only as this causes faster rate coding (better for fast twitch recruitment and fast force production).
- Practice maximal vertical jumping, on a Vertec, with approach box jumps, and by dunking.
The Vertical Jump Protocol features two days of upper body training. The program optimizes the upper body’s effect on jump height and trains your entire body to be more forceful and explosive – adding inches to your vertical jump.
 Blache, Y., Monteil, K. (2014). Influence of lumbar spine extension on vertical jump height during maximal squat jumping. Journal of Sports Science, 32 (7), 642-51.
 Lees, A., Vanrenterghem, J., De Clercqu, D. (2004). Understanding how an arm swing enhances performance in the vertical jump. Journal of Biomechanics, 37(12), 1929-40.
 Vaverka, F.,Jandačka, D., Zahradník, D., Uchytil,J., Farana, R., Supej, M., & Vodičar, J. (2016). Effect of an arm swing on countermovement vertical jump performance in elite volleyball players. Journal of Human Kinetics, 53, 41-50.
 Mosier, E. M., Fry, A. C., & Lane, M. T. (2017). Kinetic contributions of the upper limbs during counter-movement vertical jumps with and without arm swing. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002275
 Lees, A., Vanrenterghem, J., & De Clercq, D. (2006). The energetics and benefit of an arm swing in submaximal and maximal vertical jump performance. Journal of Sports Science, 24(1), 51-7.
 Hara, M., Shibayama, A., Takeshita, D., & Fukashiro, S. (2006). The effect of arm swing on lower extremities in vertical jumping. Journal of Biomechanics, 39 (13), 2503-11.
 Walsh, M. S., Böhm, H., Butterfield, M. M., & Santhosam, J. (2007). Gender bias in the effects of arms and countermovement on jumping performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 21(2), 362-6.
 Blache, Y. & Monteil, K. M. (2013). Effect of arm swing on effective energy during vertical jumping: Experimental and simulation study. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 23(2), e:121-9.
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How to Run Faster and Jump Higher
The explosive speed of Usain Bolt and the jumping ability of Michael Jordan are the stuff of legend. One is the fastest man in the world and the other has the highest vertical jump in NBA history, measured at 46 inches.
Both men work at their skill, which means that if we can understand the mechanism that powers their exceptional ability we can begin to work at improving our own skill in running fast and jumping high. Because everything we do in terms of explosiveness is powered by our legs, having quads that are strong enough to make us faster and capable of jumping higher will also improve our performance in a host of other areas including punching power, overall body strength and overall explosiveness.
Obviously to run faster or jump higher requires strength. It also requires the ability to use that strength in the shortest possible time (explosiveness). Muscle size that’s determined by genetics is only part of the picture. Taller people with bigger muscles do have a natural advantage here but that’s not the full story. Consider that Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues the shortest player in the history of NBA is 5ft 3. He has a jump which at just over 44 inches is less than two inches shorter than Michael Jordan’s who is over a foot taller than him. Bogues is able to jump higher, faster than dozens of top NBA players who also are over a foot taller than him.
So, large muscles help but they are not what define performance. So what does? This is where the studies get really interesting.
Full Range of Motion Exercises and Muscle Strength
Strength gains are joint-angle specific. This means that the angle at which you train your muscles will train those muscles to perform at that particular angle. Doing a half squat will only train your quads to be stronger at the half-squat range of motion and doing a full squat will train them to be stronger at the full-squat range of motion (typically 0-120° of knee flexion). A quarter squat will, as you may have guessed, only train your quads to perform at the typical 0-60° of knee flexion.
When it comes to increasing the size of our quad muscles full range motion is the only way to go. Anything else simply does not challenge the muscles sufficiently to activate hypertrophy in the muscles which make them grow larger.
The question we really need to ask however is whether muscle strength or muscle size transfer into greater speed in running or greater height in vertical jumping. There are not many studies that have been carried out here, but some news ones shed light on this question with some surprising results.
When comparing the results in sprinting and jumping of three groups of athletes who trained using quarter, half and full squats, respectively the researchers found that:
- Strength is joint-angle specific and squats are very sensitive to this
- Muscle growth happens only at the full-squat range of motion
- Most gains in sprinting speed and jumping height were made by those who trained in quarter squats
The last of the findings is surprising. If muscles get stronger with larger range of motion exercises and can only grow bigger with a full squat it became puzzling to see athletes become faster and able to jump higher when they used quarter squat training techniques.
Incidentally squat hold punches (a favorite Darebee training technique) has also, traditionally, been used by various martial arts styles as a way to increase leg strength in kicking and jumping.
How Running Speed and Jumping Height are Generated from Muscles
The reason quarter squats are so good at helping athletes generate greater speed in their sprinting and greater height in their vertical jumping lies in three distinct components of sprinting and jumping:
- Hip extensors
- Angle of peak torque (the joint angle at which a muscle can produce its maximum force)
- Force vector (the direction at which muscles can exert their greatest force)
Both sprinting and jumping require the muscles to generate great force at a particular joint-angle. The joint-angle corresponds to the muscle length that’s activated. Because both sprinting and jumping happen at joint-angles that more closely correspond to the quarter squat, training in quarter squats increases the strength in the muscle length that is activated when sprinting or jumping occurs.
There are also strong indications from the research that show that quarter squats most closely correspond to muscle strength gains that can be transferred in the directional force (the force vector) demanded by both sprinting and jumping. Because they activate hip flexors well in this range of motion, that also contributes to gains in running speed and jumping height.
If you are training your quads to generate a lot of strength (to help lift weights) and also want to see an increase in muscle size then full length squats are the way to go.
For the best increase in running speed and jumping height however quarter squats appear to deliver superior results, particularly if you are already at a good level of fitness and are focusing on improving your performance.
What Muscle Determines a Person’s Vertical Jump?
Vertical jumping is an explosive type of exercise often done as part of a plyometric training program. The goal of a vertical jump is, well, to find out how high you can jump. There are a number of muscles throughout your body that determine your vertical jumping ability, but the most vital of these muscles are located in your core and lower-body regions.
Vertical Jumping Science
The power for the vertical jump starts from the ground up. In the first phase of the jump, you have to bend your hips, knees and ankles to lengthen several of your lower body’s muscles. This will allow you to to rebound and explode in an upward motion. Your muscles are similar to elastic bands in that they store potential energy when lengthened. A lengthened muscle obviously holds more potential energy than a muscle at rest, so by bending the aforementioned joints, you will be able to jump much higher than if you started from an upright and relaxed position. The more you lower your body before the jump, the higher your resultant jump will be.
Calves and Quadriceps
When you bend your ankles, you are stretching your calves, or more specifically the plantarflexors. These muscles are known as the gastrocnemius and soleus. After the stretching phase, you must extend your ankles to propel yourself off the ground. It’s these muscles that first come into play during the jump. After the contraction of the calves, you’ll do the same for the quadriceps. This muscle group was lengthened when you bent your knees and thus must contract to extend your knees. The quadriceps is the one of the largest muscles used in the vertical jump, so having strong quadriceps is a predictor for a high jump.
Hamstrings and Glutes
Two other muscles that are determinants of the height of your vertical jump are the hamstrings and glutes. More specifically, it is the biceps femoris, semimembranosus, semitendinosus and gluteus maximus muscles. All of these muscles are lengthened when you bend your hips, thus storing potential energy. When you being to jump up, these muscles will propel your hips forward via hip extension.
Your core plays an immense role in determining how high you can jump. Core refers to the muscles at the center part of your body, vertically speaking. These muscles include the rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis, internal obliques, external obliques and erector spinae. These muscles help stabilize your spine and transfer the power generated from your calves, quadriceps, hamstrings and glute muscles up to your upper body’s musculature as you jump.
- Vertical Jumping: Ankle Jump
- Vertical Jumping: High Box Jump
- ExRx: Hip Articulations
Richard Choueiri is a fitness and nutrition expert and the author of «The Human Statue Workout.» He began writing professionally in 2007 and his work has been featured in Bodybuilding.com and «Physique Magazine.» Choueiri studied exercise science and nutritional science at Rutgers University. He holds an American College of Sports Medicine CPT, and a National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association CMMACC.