• Introduction
  • The basics of the vertical jump test
  • Equipment needed
  • Conducting the test
  • Interpreting the results
  • Final thoughts
  • Bibliography
  • Plyometric training: short explosive exercises that utilize the stretch-shortening cycle (quick jumps etc.)
  • Rate of force development: a measure of explosive strength.
  • Stretch-shortening cycle: an action where a muscle lengthens before contracting to utilize elastic energy.

Introduction

Multiple studies have demonstrated a strong relationship between rate of force development and several components of physical performance, including sprinting, jumping, throwing, weightlifting, and quick changes in direction. This is also why power is often considered the most important characteristic in athletic performance. 

Due to its benefits in athletic performance, most training programs are periodized to augment peak power output at different times of the competitive season. This allows athletes to be prepared for the season’s biggest competitions and therefore increase their chances of winning. Interestingly, endurance athletes may also benefit from a higher power output especially during the final sprint at the end of a long-distance event. Studies have indicated that average power output has a strong impact on the outcome of a race.

Due to the aforementioned benefits on performance, peak power can be also used to differentiate athletic performance. Therefore, increasing the rate of force development can be considered a training priority for a large variety of aerobic and anaerobic activities. To safely and accurately assess peak power, several tests have been developed, each with their own distinct purpose (different segments of the body, direction of force production, etc.). These tests often resemble the strength and power demands of a specific activity, allowing trainers and athletes to monitor performance and rehabilitation progress.

This post focuses on the vertical jump test developed by Sargent in 1921 (also referred to as the “jump and reach test”). The post will also explain how to safely conduct the test for different training groups.

The basics of the vertical jump test

The ability to jump is a fundamental skill in many different sports. Because of this, researchers have examined several factors that contribute to vertical jump performance. These include muscular force production, jump technique, joint mobility, as well as anthropometric measures like body composition, weight, height, and age. Studies have found some positive correlations between lower extremity muscular strength and vertical jump height, especially when compared to the body weight of the individual. Interestingly, studies using force plates have indicated that individuals must generate more than twice their own body weight to jump higher than 30cm (11.8in). However, it has also been concluded that other factors like power, technique, flexibility, and anthropometric measures may also play an essential role in higher force to body weight ratio. It has even been theorized that lower extremity musculature may not be a strong predictor of vertical jump performance. This is because the skeletal muscle action of strength testing differs from the demands of the vertical jump test. Regardless, there appears to be a relationship between vertical jump performance, 30m sprint time, and one-repetition maximum (1RM) back squat results. This may prove useful when training with athletes from different backgrounds. 

The test itself consists of jumping as high as possible in a controlled setting. The jump height can either be measured by using specialized, commercially available devices (i.e. Vertec) or performing the test next to a wall with chalk on the subject’s fingertips. Specialized equipment tends to produce slightly more accurate results because the test conditions remain the same at all times. However, the wall and chalk option also offers relatively reliable results when specialized equipment is not available.

Instead of measuring power output of specific muscles, the test can be used to determine the level of lower body power (or vertical jump height) by comparing individual results to other descriptive data, such as other individuals performing the same assessment. Because vertical jump height cannot be compared to other quantitative power measurements, the test should only be used as one portion of an athlete’s overall testing protocol.

Because the ability to jump has a significant impact on athletic performance, many coaches, trainers, and physical therapists use the vertical jump test to determine an individual’s physical ability, to assess the effectiveness of personalized training programs, as well as track the progress of rehabilitation following an injury. Testing and developing power output of the lower limbs is therefore essential for continuous athletic development. Like many other power assessment methods (e.g. broad jump, Margaria-Kalamen power test), the vertical jump test offers an affordable and easy-to-conduct field test that can be used to assess performance in various sports. Thus, making it a good choice for athletes and trainers of all levels.

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The Vertical Jump Test


The subject jumps vertically as high as possible.At the highest point, the subject reaches and touches a vane or wall.Vertical displacement is measured by the distance between the initial reaching height and the jump height.The test is conducted three times with a brief recovery period (~30s) in between each trial.The highest of the three attempts is recorded.The test effectively measures lower body power.

Equipment needed

In order to safely and accurately conduct the vertical jump test, the following equipment is needed:

  • Vertec device or jump mat
  • Measuring tape
  • Chalk (if performed without specialized equipment)
  • Wall (contrasting color to the chalk)

Note: Although performing the measurement without a special device results in a less accurate assessment, it also makes it accessible and affordable for a wider audience.

Conducting the test

The vertical jump test starts with a brief (~5min) dynamic warmup that incorporates all muscle groups used in the test. The purpose behind this is to warm up the muscles, increase joint range of motion (ROM), and enhance neural activation of the muscles. Thus, preparing the subject for the upcoming assessment. Interestingly, when four specific and nonspecific warmup protocols (1. submaximal jump warm-up, 2. weighted jump warm-up, 3. stretching warm-up, 4. no warm-up) were compared, weighted jump warmup seemed to produce the best vertical jump results. This may be due to the fact that specific warmups neurologically prepare the body for a specific activity (post-activation potentiation).

Once the subject is warmed up, and the assessors are ready, the test is ready to be conducted. The test itself consist of the following steps:

  • The vertical jump test begins with the subject standing underneath the measuring device, or 15cm (6in) to the side of a wall. The wall or device should be tall enough to measure the full height of the vertical jump. 
  • To calibrate the correct height, the subject must reach as high as possible with their feet on the ground. 
  • When a commercial device is used, it should be set at a height at which the subject can reach the lowest vane. If using a wall instead, the initial reach height can be marked using chalk. The initial height is always taken from the subject’s fingertips. 
  • The subject is instructed to stand with their dominant side next to the apparatus or wall, with feet shoulder-width apart.
  • The subject is instructed to either keep their hands on their hips, or to swing their arms as they jump. The squat depth may be determined by the test subject.
    • Note: arm swings have reportedly increased vertical jump performance over 10%. Therefore it is essential that all test subjects use the same technique.
  • From a static position, the subject jumps as high as possible. At the highest point, they extend their arm and taps a vane on the vertical measuring device. Alternatively, a mark can be left on the wall using chalk. 
  • The assessor measures the distance between the initial reaching height and the jump height mark. 
  • The test is conducted three times with a brief recovery period (~30s) in between each trial. 
  • The highest of the three attempts is recorded. 

Once the highest vertical jump has been recorded, the jump displacement can be easily calculated by deducting the reach height from the peak jump height. These results can then be compared to the information in the standardized table below. 

If mechanical work is measured instead of jump height, the force generated can be calculated using one of the following formulas:

  • The Lewis formula: average Power (Watts) = √4.9 x mass (kg) x √VJ (m) x 9.81.
  • The Sayers formula: peak power (W) = 60.7 x VJ (cm) + 45.3 x mass(kg) – 2055.
  • The Harman formula: peak power (W) = 61.9 x VJ (cm) + 36.0 x mass (kg) + 1822.
    • Average power (W) = 21.2 x VJ (cm) + 23.0 x mass (kg) – 1393.
  • The Johnson & Bahamonde formula: peak power (W) = 78.5 x VJ (cm) + 60.6 x mass (kg) -15.3 x height (cm) -1308.
    • Average power (W) = 41.4 x VJ (cm) + 31.2 x mass (kg) -13.9 x height (cm) + 431

Interpreting the results

As previously mentioned, the ability to jump is linked to better performance in several sports. This include activities like football, volleyball, basketball, and handball. Due to these reported performance benefits, many youth, collegiate, and professional sports teams use the vertical jump tests to determine the lower body power of their athletes. 

The main purpose of any power assessment method is to provide information regarding an individual’s current level of fitness, and to track the effectiveness of the current training program. These tests allow coaches and trainers to compare athletes to each other, as well as to established values. These results can later be used to create new goals and fine-tune the next phase of periodized training programs.

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Final thoughts

The vertical jump (i.e. Sargent jump test) is a common way to assess lower-body power. How this test is conducted depends on the availability of specialized equipment. Two of the most cost-effective versions consist of jumping and reaching to a vane or a wall at the highest point of a jump. However, poor shoulder mobility, poor coordination and bad timing may hinder the accuracy of the assessment. To remedy some of these downsides, the instructors must provide consistent instructions to all subjects (arm swing etc).

The most accurate vertical jump methods use force plates to calculate both the height of the jump, and the power output of the subject. This method even offers information about the difference in force output between legs, as well as contraction times of muscles. The countermovement jump (CMJ) is the most common vertical jump test when force plates are used.

To increase vertical jump performance, the most common training methods are strength training, plyometric training, and Olympic lifts. Strength training increases the capability to produce maximal force. However, since jumping is a plyometric movement (explosive jump exercises using the stretch-shortening cycle), plyometric training can significantly improve performance due to increased muscular power and enhanced coordination. Finally, power-based weight training (i.e. Olympic lifts like the clean) produce extraordinary high-power outputs. This can be especially beneficial for advanced individuals, provided that they have good technique.

Did you learn anything new about the vertical jump test? Let us know in the comments.

Bibliography

  • Bosco, C., Luhtanen, P., & Komi, P. V. (1983). A simple method for measurement of mechanical power in jumping. European journal of applied physiology and occupational physiology, 50(2), 273-282.
  • Bobbert, M. F., Gerritsen, K. G., Litjens, M. C., Van Soest, A. J., & Hofman, A. (1996). Why is countermovement jump height greater than squat jump height?. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 28(11), 1402-1412.
  • Burkett LN, Phillips WT, Ziuraitis J. The best warm-up for the vertical jump in college-age athletic men. J Strength Cond Res. 2005 Aug;19(3):673-6. doi: 10.1519/15204.1. PMID: 16095424.
  • Castro-Piñero J, González-Montesinos JL, Mora J, Keating XD, Girela-Rejón MJ, Sjöström M, Ruiz JR. Percentile values for muscular strength field tests in children aged 6 to 17 years: influence of weight status. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Nov;23(8):2295-310. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181b8d5c1. PMID: 19826295.
  • Davis, D. S., Briscoe, D. A., Markowski, C. T., Saville, S. E., & Taylor, C. J. (2003). Physical characteristics that predict vertical jump performance in recreational male athletes. Physical Therapy in Sport, 4(4), 167-174. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1466-853X(03)00037-3
  • Markovic, G., & Jaric, S. (2004). Is vertical jump height a body size-independent measure of muscle power?. Journal of sports sciences, 22(3), 259-265.
  • Myer, G. D., Ford, K. R., Brent, J. L., & Hewett, T. E. (2006). The effects of plyometric vs. dynamic stabilization and balance training on power, balance, and landing force in female athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 20(2), 345-353.
  • Sargent, D.A. (1921). The Physical Test of a Man. American Physical Education Review, 26, 188-194.
  • Slinde, F., Suber, C., & Suber, L. (2008). Power and vertical jump. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 22(1), 275-277.

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