While there are a number of different physiological elements that come together to contribute to your vertical jump height, the strength of the muscles you engage is one of the main pieces of the puzzle. The quads and the hamstrings play the greatest role in your ability to generate explosive force for a jump, but they aren’t alone in this task. If you want to truly maximize your vertical jumping ability, it’s important to train all of these muscles properly so that none of them are holding you back.
The Muscles That Are Needed To Jump
The “quadriceps” is actually a group name for a collection of four muscles that run between the hips and the knee — the rectus femoris, vastusintermedius, vastus lateralus and vastus medialis. The primary responsibility of these muscles is to assist the knee in extending, obviously a crucial motion for completing a jump. They also help to stabilize the knee while you are in motion and landing.
As the quads run along the front of your thigh, the hamstrings run along the back. The name also refers to a grouping of muscles, in this case three — the biceps femoris, semimembranous and semitendinosus. These muscles are critical to knee flexion and extension of the hips when in motion.
- Gluteus Maximus (Glutes)
Referred to colloquially as the “buns,” this is the most prominent of your gluteal muscles. The main function is to help the body straighten after stooping and to assist in extension of the hips.
- Spinal Erector
This is actually a large grouping of muscles and tendons that runs vertically near the spine and is responsible for stabilizing the back and assisting in rotation. Studies of athletes performing maximal squat jumps have shown that this muscle contributes to vertical jump height by helping to extend the trunk.
- Flexor Hallucis Longus
This muscle is found on the inside of the foot, primarily supporting movement of the big toe. It plays a role in helping you push off into your jump, and can potentially add an inch or more when it is strengthened properly.
- Calf Muscles (Gastrocnemius and Soleus)
Though the calves play a small role relative to the other muscles involved in a vertical jump, they do play a role and you will see an improvement if they are trained to some degree versus a jumper who leaves them entirely untrained.
Compound vs isolation exercises is one of those ages-old gym debates that has firm adherents on either side. The truth is, you’ll need a mix of both types of exercises to properly train all of your leg muscles.
The central issue with mixing compound and isolation exercises is that the compound exercises engage muscles that you’re also doing isolation sessions with, which can cause you to unintentionally overtrain them. It’s OK to do quad and hamstring isolation exercises to some degree if your training is totally focused on vertical jump height, such as leg curls to train the hamstrings and leg extensions to train the quads. For the other muscles, however, it’s important to select and balance your compound exercises so as to not accidentally strain these muscles through overtraining. You want to isolate them when stretching to the greatest degree possible, but not when actually doing your resistance work.
One final point of consideration in your resistance training is focusing on lean muscle and explosive strength rather than vanity bulk. Bulky muscles aren’t necessarily the strongest, but they will add weight that you have to propel with each jump. One area to specifically watch here is the calves; as mentioned earlier, you do want them to have some strength as they do contribute, but as their contribution is more minimal they can actually turn into a net loss if they’re too large and heavy.