I’m 27, years removed from organized sports and “peak conditioning”; yet my performance metrics of speed, power, and explosiveness have never been higher.
I got my first gym membership when I was 14 and over the last 12+ years I’ve trained 5-6 days/week with one of my primary goals being to jump higher for the purpose of dunking (those who know me can vouch for that…not an exaggeration). I’ve tried everything under the sun to improve my vertical: jump-sole shoes, heavy calf raises, jump rope, squatting/deadlifts, jump training programs online… the list goes on.
I would crush myself in the gym and on the court constantly, with workouts lasting about 90-120 minutes, and being completely gassed by the end of the workout. I saw little improvement, my vertical always hovered around 28”. I assumed this was a result of “genetics” because I was working HARD enough but didn’t get the results.
Over the last number of years I’ve learned a great deal about the body. First, I got a Bachelors in Exercise Science then went on to get my Doctorate of Physical Therapy from the University of Minnesota. I’ve worked with countless clients, athletes, and individuals of all different skill levels.
The truth is, it wasn’t until about 4 months ago (at age 26) that I started implementing the 3 training changes I’m about to share with you. I’m ashamed to say it took me this long to figure some of these things out but, better late than never. And now I am going to share with you to learn from my trials and tribulations!
Why should you listen to me? Well, most recently when I had my vertical jump tested it was 34”…barefoot with no warm-up! While the actual height itself is not a super impressive number, the increase is. I am just getting started with these training progressions and these are the results I’ve already seen. And, this was after being stuck at 28” for literally the past 8-10 years.
1. Begin training barefoot.
This is something I would have NEVER considered, even one year ago (and even with my background in PT and Exercise Science). It almost sounds funny saying it, but it is the absolute truth, and in my opinion the biggest game changer to my explosiveness.
Your feet are your foundation. All force that is produced up the chain at the core, hips, knees, ankles, is transmitted through the foot for take-off. If your mind does not feel confident that your foundation is sturdy enough, it will decrease force-output, period.
There are 4 layers of muscles and 33 joints in each of your feet. That is an incredible amount of movement and power. The role of the foot is to absorb, store, and release elastic energy which ultimately propels you higher. If your feet are jammed in a restrictive shoe, or not given training attention like the rest of your muscles, they will become dysfunctional, and ultimately be an inhibitor to your power output.
The feet are the low-hanging fruit in the sports performance world. They are commonly neglected, yet yield a massive return on investment for people that begin implementing this into their training program!
Some of the best minds out there when it comes to function, movement, explosiveness, and even power development, are having people train their feet. Cal Dietz, Paul Fabritz, Nick St. Louis, just to name a few.
A few years ago if you would have told me to do strength, jump, or basketball training without “basketball shoes” I would have literally thought is was suicide for my ankles and feet. Now, I do the vast majority of my training completely barefoot, as shown in the video. If, for whatever reason, I am unable to do training barefoot, I use a minimalist shoe – including when playing basketball competitively, etc.
Note: Don’t jump 100% into training barefoot or in minimalist shoes, transition your body over time and begin working on some foot and hip mobility/stability first. But I assure you, it can make a significant change to your performance.
Barefoot training. Plain and simple, it works.
2. Train ALMOST exclusively single-leg
My primary lifts for lower body throughout the majority of my training career have been back-squats, front-squats, deadlifts, leg press, and some variation of lunges.
Once I began reading more of the work done by Mike Boyle, I began learning about the importance of training predominantly single-leg. There is a number of reasons this is effective:
- The most important reason is a concept called “bilateral limb deficit.” This is the phenomenon that accounts for the difference in maximal force generating capacity by muscles when they are contracted alone versus in combination with other muscles. Basically, a deficit occurs when the summed forces of each leg is greater than the force produced when both legs are used together.
An easy way to conceptualize this is by testing your vertical on each leg, and combining those numbers together, versus your typical vertical jump. Testing on myself; my right leg was about 18”, and my left was 20”, giving me an ideal vertical of 38” when combined together! Yet my actual vertical jump was only 28”. This is due to your brain’s natural inhibition and the bilateral limb deficit.
However, we can take advantage of this by training in single-leg patterns, in order to maximize each leg’s power and explosiveness, yielding a higher greater output than when we train with both legs together, as each leg is producing LESS total force. Even though it won’t directly correlate to your vertical jump becoming the sum of both legs together, it WILL result in each leg working harder, and providing more carry-over to your max vertical leap. Training single leg also allows you to use less total weight, because you are only training one leg at a time. However, you are able to lift MORE weight on each leg, due to the phenomenon mentioned above.
- There is no need to load weights on the spine (such as in the back squat), so there is significant reduced risk of injury. Side note: Mike Boyle does not have any of his athletes do back-squats.
- Training single leg makes your hip stabilizers and foot muscles work harder in order to stabilize you, and challenges balance more.
- It is more functional for carry-over into sports and every-day activities. Sprinting, cutting, jumping, throwing, stairs, walking, etc. almost all happen with loading on one leg at a time. This type of training allows for improved stability in all of these positions, and ultimately more force output by each leg individually.
Single leg exercises that I typically do include: Bulgarian split-squats, single-leg deadlifts, single-leg squats, multi-directional lunges, single leg depth jumps, single leg over-box jumps, etc.
The one staple exercise I do bilaterally (with both legs working together) is Trap-bar deadlifts. This does not involve loading weight on the spine, uses many muscle groups, and has good carry-over.
3. Train for YOUR goals.
This seems obvious and also very vague. What it means is training your body in the specific physiological demands of the activity you want to get good at, in order to make the body adapt in that specific way.
For jumping HIGHER, this means directing your training around maximum power-output and maximum explosiveness. It most definitely does NOT mean jumping often or high repetitions.
You should be doing high intensity, very low repetition, and be mindful of the number of foot-contacts you have in each jump training session (25-50 total times your feet touch the ground is a good benchmark to decrease injury risk). This is very difficult to implement because it feels like you can, and want to, do more. However, as you do repetitions beyond your absolute maximal force output, you are training different systems, and signaling your body for different adaptations. This means stopping an exercise or a workout when your explosiveness decreases, not when you start feeling fatigued. “Fatigue” requires oxygen in the muscles, and when you begin using ‘oxidation’, you are recruiting different types of fibers than your “max-force” fibers.
To implement this, start doing 3-5 total jumps per set for your workout and decrease the number of foot contacts as shown above. This may not sound like much, but it is about jumping as high as you possibly can and providing that signal to the body. Also, take longer rests than you think you need (1 – 2 minutes).
I can honestly say my workouts now are SIGNIFICANTLY shorter in duration, and leave me feeling much better than anything I use to do with my prior training. It is truly a matter of training smarter versus harder. I use to think this was bull$%^*, until I put my pride aside and began implementing these things.
It’s all about results and improving performance, not about crushing yourself in the gym.
Train different, see different results.
If you’d like to learn more, check out our BOUNCE program as well as the individualized programs we offer on our website. We can tailor a program specific to you, regardless of your GOALS.
Let’s optimize our performance, grow our minds, and change our systems!