If you’ve taken more than a casual look at vertical jump training, you’ve no doubt heard the term “fast-twitch muscle fibers.” The basic theory is that people with large vertical jumps have a higher percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers than those who don’t. For some reason, nature has blessed great jumpers in this way.
When you see someone with big jumps, it is normal to assume that they were born that way. However, it is very likely that you were not present to see them doing the training necessary to obtain those jumps. So if you weren’t lucky enough to be born a great jumper, don’t give up hope. There are ways to train the fast-twitch muscle fibers that you have. But first, let’s take a look at the different types of muscle fibers and their role in jumping.
Types of basic muscles
First are the Type I or “slow twitch fibers”. As the name implies, these fibers take time to contract. They also have the ability to stay contracted for long periods of time. This is perfectly suited to endurance event types, but unfortunately they don’t produce the kind of slow-duration explosive contractions that jumping requires.
The following are the Type IIa fast twitch fibers. In fact, they are “fast twitch fibers” because they contract faster than slow twitch fibers. They also produce more force but fatigue more quickly than slow twitch fibers. However, they do not contract as fast or as strongly as Type IIb fibers discussed below.
Third are the Type IIb fast twitch fibers. They contract faster than Type I and Type IIa fiber and also generate more energy. They also fatigue most of the time quickly of all 3 types. Type IIb fibers have the most suitable characteristics for jumping; a strong burst of power for a short period of time. These are the fibers that the body uses mainly to jump with, to a lesser extent, the help of Type IIa fibers. Therefore, Type IIb fibers are the type that your vertical jump training should focus on.
Fast-twitch muscle fiber training
There are different schools of thought on the optimal way to train fast-twitch muscle fibers. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss all of them or specific exercises. However, the general consensus is that a combination of strength training (weights), speed training, and flexibility training provides optimal results. By including the following components in your training routine, you are sure to stimulate the fibers in your fast-twitch muscles to contract faster and more powerfully, helping you become a more explosive jumper.
The mechanics of the jump are simple and well known. The bottom line is that you need legs that are powerful coil springs. That means you need legs with explosive muscle fibers and the ability to dynamically shorten and stretch them. Proper weight training techniques can focus on building power and speed in the fast-twitch leg muscles. However, your weight training shouldn’t stop there. The act of jumping involves the whole body. Upper body strength is also important in creating the upward momentum necessary for a good jump. Some research has shown that the arms contribute an average of 10% to the takeoff speed during a jump.
Many recommend a combination of dynamic weight training and plyometrics. A good example of a dynamic weight training exercise is the jump squat. Lighter loads are recommended (30% of your max rep) and resistance is explosively accelerated throughout the range of motion. Olympic lifts like the power clean, snatch, and clean and jerk are all dynamic weight training exercises that target and recruit new, fast-twitch fibers. In fact, performing these lifts successfully requires great speed. As the athlete develops more strength, his muscle reaction time simultaneously decreases. Dynamic weight training can have a powerful effect on your jumping ability. However, keep in mind that many dynamic weight training exercises can be complex and require a great deal of attention to proper technique, as well as proper training.
A fundamental part of speed training is a discipline called “excessive speed training.” Overspeed training is where an athlete moves their body or parts of their body at higher speeds than is normally seen during competition. High speed workouts typically require athletes to run or move 10% faster than they are able to do without assistance. This is usually accomplished with the help of a partner dragging you along with rubber bands or simply running downhill. Such training exceeds the natural limitations of the muscles and stimulates the fast-twitch muscles and will even recruit new fast-twitch fiber within the same muscle groups.
Progressive overspeed training combined with standard speed training exercises like burst sprints, jumping rope, etc. It has been shown to stimulate the response and coordination of fast-twitch muscles.
Proper flexibility has long been known to be a critical part of developing a great vertical jump. Actually, there are two types of flexibility, static and dynamic. Static flexibility is the type of flexibility seen when a dancer places their leg on the bar and holds it there. The muscles that were stretched remained stretched and relaxed. In contrast, dynamic flexibility is seen when a muscle is allowed to quickly stretch beyond the normal limit of static flexibility and then back off, such as when performing a high kick. These different types of flexibility are actually two separate skills.
For the purposes of vertical jump training, flexibility is important to position the body segments in the optimal position to produce maximum force and allow the joints to move freely and quickly. Therefore, dynamic flexibility is more desirable, especially for jumping sports. In fact, one can have too much static flexibility when a muscle is so relaxed through its range of motion that it will not recover strongly. Your muscles act like rubber bands to make jumping easier. That said, an adequate amount of static flexibility is still necessary, even essential for injury prevention.
To train and recruit the majority of Type II muscle fibers, your vertical jump training program must include all three components discussed above. While you may see the benefits of training in only one area, research has shown that the maximum benefits result from a well-designed combination program. You can learn more about these various vertical jump training techniques at Get More Hops! Blog.