By Sam Cortes, Communications Coordinator
Have you ever been caught in the “I need to do jump training to jump higher and that’s all I need to do” way of thinking?
So, you do the stair jumps at home. Your parents build you a box for you to jump onto. Or you buy jump sole shoes to help you jump higher.
Well, I have been there, too! I was a young volleyball player and had no clue what I had to do to properly train to jump higher and be more powerful. I did all those things just to try and make a difference in my vertical jump height.
I am sure I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know what to do. I am even more sure there are still people who aren’t sure where to start, but who can tangibly change their vertical jump in a relatively short time.
The Two-Foot Approach Jump and the One-Foot Approach Jump
A lot of jump training comes down to the mechanics of a two-foot approach jump and a one-foot approach jump. The difference between these two types of jumps can be seen when you watch a volleyball player jump compared to a basketball player.
Volleyball players typically will jump off two feet, whereas a lot of basketball players prefer to take off one leg for a dunk or layup. We will get into the mechanics of the approach jump a little bit, but the main step in the approach jump we will touch on is the penultimate step, which is seen in both types of approach jumps.
Phases of the Vertical Approach Jump
If you have watched jumping sports, you may know what both the jumps look like, but do you know the specific names for the phases in the vertical approach jump?
For the two-step approach, we have our run-up phase, the second phase is our penultimate step, then the last phase before takeoff is the block step.
The only difference in the one-foot approach jump is there is no block step, and you take off from your penultimate step.
Here is an example from both volleyball and basketball:
Volleyball: Watch how powerful their second last step is when approaching to hit.
Basketball: Mac McClung won the 2023 NBA Dunk Contest. Watch how that second last step is long and powerful.
The Most Important Step You Need to Focus On: The Penultimate Step
Just like working on sprinting mechanics can help you get fast, working on jumping mechanics can help you jump higher. The most important step that athletes need to focus on is the penultimate step.
So, what is the penultimate step? The penultimate step is where the transfer of horizontal power to vertical power happens. Penultimate means “second last”, and that is exactly what is seen in the two-foot vertical approach jump: the second last step before takeoff.
A lot of athletes do not take advantage of this step enough. The penultimate step position has mechanics that need to be looked at to maximize that transfer of power. Let’s investigate what those mechanics look like.
Watch this video of the Penultimate Jump in real speed and then we will break down the mechanics.
Step 1: The Length of the Penultimate Step
Notice (below) how long the penultimate is when coming in from a two-foot vertical jump. We want to make that push off the back leg as strong as possible, so we may even get airtime between the two steps as seen in step two. This creates more momentum that we can transfer into the vertical jump.
Step 2: Creating Airtime and a Big Arm Swing
Again, notice how there is airtime between the last step and the next. The next thing to notice in this step, and that you can already see in the previous step, is how the arms are back at either the ears or even past the ears in some cases. These big arm swings help with creating momentum for when we transfer speed and power from horizontal to vertical.
Step 3: Landing With a Straight Leg and Upright Torso
In this step, notice how the leg landing is almost straight. You don’t want to see that leg bend too much, because you want to create stiffness in the muscles. If your leg is bent going into the jump, you will see your torso lean too far forward and you will create more of a stopping motion rather than creating a smooth transition from horizontal to vertical.
Secondly, the torso is long and tall. The reason you want your torso to stay long and tall is because you want to go up and not forward. If your torso is leaning too far forward, you will notice you tend to jump too far forward and you lose some of the height you could have had if you kept your torso taller.
Step 4: Transitioning from Horizontal Power to Vertical Power
The block step comes around and the arms have now swung through. You have completed the full penultimate step and are now transitioning all the power and speed we got from it into our vertical jump. Notice again how upright the torso is and how important this is to make sure you are maximizing how high you can get in your vertical jump.
As you can see there are mechanics you can work on to increase your vertical, and as a coach you can try to teach and work on with your athletes to help them jump higher. There are many ways to work on the penultimate step, one of them being doing the penultimate step just like in the previous video.
Make sure to take videos of yourself so you can watch your mechanics and see what aspects you need to improve on. Once you have gotten better at doing your penultimate step, you can add variety and constraints to it. Here are some of the drills what I have used to help with creating power in the penultimate step.
Try These 3 Drills
Drill 1: Penultimate Box Jump
The reason we progress to this drill first is because you must now jump as high as they can to a box. We have added a goal for you to create enough power through that one penultimate step to get up to whatever height of box that allows you to use maximal power.
Drill 2: Depth Drop Penultimate Jump
In this next progression, we take off from a 12-inch box. What this does is force you to absorb more of your body weight and causes you to train your stretch shortening cycle in this position.
This will also help your penultimate step in your regular approach, where you need to come down fast and explode out fast.
If you want to learn more about the stretch shortening cycle, you can reference this blog post on power and plyometrics.
Drill 3: Penultimate Hurdle Jumps
The last drill creates a scenario where you need to find a rhythm for each jump while still trying to jump as high as possible each time. Timing comes into play for this drill and allows you to think more speed and power rather than just power.
The reality is, sport happens fast. Athletes need to be able to incorporate this skill into game speed. That is exactly what this drill will help with.
Lastly, it will also help you learn to have airtime in your penultimate step, because if you don’t, you will knock the hurdles over. Out of all the drills, this one is typically the hardest for athletes because you have to time your steps and time your arm swing accordingly.
We Can Work With You to Increase Your Vertical Jump
At Sport Manitoba Performance, we have many drills just like these that will help you increase your vertical. Some work on the penultimate step and others work on other parts of the vertical jump, which also have a part to play in increasing your vertical jump.
We work these drills into the beginning of our training sessions right after the warm-up and just before we lift. If you want to learn more about plyometrics and the other ways you can help your vertical, look at this blog post by our Performance Manager, Jeff Wood.
If you are interested in training with us and working on these types of mechanics, or any other aspect of sport performance, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are a volleyball player between the ages of 13 and 15 years old who wants to work on this, plus get stronger, more powerful, and apply it in game situations and skills, we are running a volleyball tryout prep camp from August 21 – September 1, 2023.
In this camp, we will be working on the penultimate step and progressing it through a two-week period so you can be ready for high school tryouts.
To register, click here.