Jumping is a great way to build power, explosiveness and athleticism.
I’m of Eastern European descent (sounds more interesting than white, right?), but I used to be able to leap. I swear. You don’t believe me and that’s what video is for.
Early in my career, I trained with a Zen master. Okay, he was really just a trainer who didn’t have answers to my questions. He’d blankly stare at me when I asked for evidence regarding our training techniques. I always interpreted that blank stare to mean, “just breathe, young buck.”
I learned a lot about the principles behind my training on my own. My ups came mostly from implementing squats and being 25, but I was also squarely in the midst of an obsession with plyometric training at the time. From Wikipedia:
Plyometrics are exercises based around having muscles exert maximum force in as short of a time as possible, with the goal of increasing both speed and power.
I obsessively desired speed and power as a baseball player. Jumping stairs in conjunction with my leg training was my move of choice. My thought process was simple – build strength through lower half weight training and speed through firing those same muscles as quickly as possible to propel my body through the air. Booya, I’ll be hitting bombs. From bodybuilding.com:
Power output is affected by the speed of movement. By performing movements faster you can increase power, but explosive strength may not necessarily be affected by movement speed. Conversely, explosive strength is affected by the speed of contraction, regardless of movement speed or the type of contraction.
Think about some of your favorite baseball players and how they manage to be quiet and explosive simultaneously. Evan Longoria and Robinson Cano both epitomize this concept, one that is at the core (see?) of plyometric training. Pro ballplayers are performing violent reps every game, whether they recognize it or not. The baseball swing, performed once, is an example of a plyometric move, as is a throw. Any movement, executed as quickly as possible, with as much explosive power as possible, earns the plyometric move label.
My Zen master trainer may not have been able to articulate the philosophy behind plyometric training, but that did not limit his ability to implement some useful techniques. He’s responsible for teaching me how to jump stairs.
Every set of steps is different, but the common denominator is that you can build up to your challenging level by adding a step. I performed these in reps of one to optimize for maximum burst and recovery. My goal wasn’t fatigue; it was max power, one time.
I’m a baseball player. I swing at a 0-0 pitch, then step out of the batters box. I don’t swing again right away. The pitcher walks around the mound (the game is too long, remember?) I may only have one pass in the entire at bat; I want it to count.
Back to the stairs. Let’s not get too technical and over think this. Jump one step, then two, then three until you find your max. Fine, I’ll throw you a tip or two, but hop (see?) over the minutiae.
1) Use your arms (your whole body, really). From sport-fitness-advisor.com:
A muscle that is stretched before a concentric contraction, will contract more forcefully and more rapidly (4,5). A classic example is a dip” just prior to a vertical jump. By lowering the center of gravity quickly, the muscles involved in the jump are momentarily stretched producing a more powerful movement.
2) Try to land on the step above as quietly as possible. From athletesacceleration.com:
Practice landing softly. Absorb each landing with the muscles instead of joints and ligaments. This may mean dropping the hips into a half squat position upon landing. This will allow a soft landing (the feet shouldn’t make a loud noise upon contact).
I wasn’t alone in my stair jumping. At the Metrodome in Minneapolis, there was a long series of steps that lead from the dugout to the clubhouse. There was a rumor that Cal Ripken Jr. had an insane ability to leap ridiculous quantities of said stairs. The thought of Cal airborne at the dome always inspired me. He had pop, first step quickness, balance and, clearly, endurance.
We all grew up running, jumping and playing. The more leap frog we played, the more athletic we became. Ripken never stopped hopping and never left the lineup. Perhaps he was on to something.
I never get sick of saying it. Just take the first step.