Three Exercises to Build Speed and Quickness (Vertical Jump, too)

Reading Time: 7 minutes

(Disclaimer: Consult a doctor before starting any new fitness initiative.)

Last time, we talked about the importance of transferable athletic training and why speed ladders are a waste of time.

Here are three exercises that’ll deliver results, no matter what sport you play. They can be incorporated into any training program.

Note: You need to complete a good dynamic stretching warm-up before you participate in any explosive activity. The “hamstring stretch” routine you learned in gym class will not cut it. Your muscles need to be properly prepared to run and jump—the oft-used “jog-a-little-stretch-a-little” warm-up will get you injured.

This link provides a good base for a warm-up routine and you can always contact me for more suggestions.

On to the Plyometric exercises…..

1) Four Corner Drill

Sets: 5

Reps: 10

Find a spot with at least four feet of free space on each side of you.

Imagine four dots about two feet apart in a pattern that looks like this:

You do not need to draw these dots on the floor with spray paint or chalk; as long as you can visualize and jump a consistent amount of distance between spots in a square pattern you will be fine.

Start at “1” and jump in a clockwise pattern in numerical order. When you get to dot “4”, immediately reverse course, jumping back to “3”, then “2”, then “1”.

That is one repetition, six total jumps without pause.

Do 10 reps without stopping to complete one set. Rest a few minutes and do it again. 

Five sets total.

You can perform this drill using both feet or just one at a time.

The emphasis here is on jump quickness, not height: your feet should only be a few inches of the ground with each hop. Stay on your toes—do not land flat-footed (more on this later).

You should be trying to hop as quickly as you can while maintaining a relatively tight “square” jumping pattern.

(I am aware of the apparent contradiction in recommending another “narrow, limited motion” exercise here while tearing down speed ladders. Where this drill trumps speed ladders, is, not only are you building foot speed, you are moving in a rapid “left, right, forward, back” motion that mirrors the sort of quick “hop to the left to avoid the oncoming defender” movements one has to make in most sports. No such carryover with most speed ladder exercises.)

2) Depth jumps 

Sets: 5 

Reps: 6

This one is good for elevating your reactive ability, the degree to which you can absorb energy from one action to power another.

The earth exerts what some physicists call a “Normal Force”. Every time we walk or apply force to the ground, the earth sends back an equivalent force through whatever point of our body is in contact with the ground.

The concept is related to Newton’s “equal and opposite reactions” law.

I still remember this from high school physics. 

(“Hat tip” to my physics teacher, Mr. Hayon.)

Translate this concept of reciprocal force to sports, and you see how depth jumps can be useful, how they enhance combination skills like jumping to catch a football, landing, and immediately evading a tackler in one smooth motion.

Stuff like this:

Here’s how do you a depth jump:

Start with a plyometric box with a height between two and three feet. You can increase the height of the box as you gain experience.

(Most people don’t have plyo boxes lying around, so find a chair, some steps, anything you can safely jump on and off of. If you live near a park, there’s a bench, table, or bleacher section calling your name.)

1) Get on top of the box and step (not jump) off of it, making sure to hit the ground with both feet.

2) As soon as you hit the ground, jump as high as you can, putting as much force as you can muster into the leap.

Your goal for this exercise is to learn how to land and then jump quickly—without sacrificing all of the downward energy gained from gravity.

You want to land, gather your body as quickly as you can, and launch into an explosive movement with as little wasted time as possible.

The longer you are in contact with the ground after landing, the less kinetic energy available to power your successive movement, hence the emphasis on rapid movement.

Each jump counts as one repetition.

Do six reps without pause to complete one set. Rest four or five minutes and repeat, for a total of five sets.

Always land on the balls of your feet (i.e. The pads of your toes), not your heel. Your toes are better suited to dissipating the force generated from your jumps. Landing with your entire foot on the ground sends shock through your heel to the rest of your body, increasing wear and tear.

Your toes do not completely alleviate this problem, but they do a much better job of shock absorption than other parts of your foot.

(Anthony Mychal’s book on hip dominance offers an effective, long-term solution to the problem of knee pain and force absorption.)

There is a reason runners are coached to run on their toes with each step, keeping their heels off the ground. Not only do you minimize joint pain, you move faster as well. Your toes have some buoyancy, propelling you forward with each step.

Landing on your toes is a skill you will have to practice. There are ample resources for learning how on the internet.

Over time, you will get more efficient at depth jumps, seeing a marked improvement in how well you transition from landing to jump. You can increase the starting box height as you get better.

Whatever equipment you use, make sure you are landing on a surface with some give.

Grass or turf works well.

Never run, jump, or do any strenuous exercise on concrete. It’s dangerous for your joints, offering zero cushioning for high-impact activity.

While sand is usually an excellent choice for workouts, it does not work for depth jumps.

The whole purpose of this exercise is to learn how to harness Normal Force more efficiently. Sand absorbs most of the kinetic energy created from your jumps, diluting the impact of the exercise.

(This is why people rehabilitate injuries on sand. The sand absorbs all of the shock that would normally hit your knees, feet, and muscles.)

3) Sprinting

First, a word on training frequency:

Because sprinting is so taxing, you should not be sprinting AND doing a host of other plyo exercises on the same day.

Maybe you can get away with doing one or two plyo exercises BEFORE you sprint, but you’d probably do better to have a specific day for sprinting and one for non-running plyo exercises.

Remember, building speed is not about volume; it’s about maximum effort. Your central nervous system needs time to recover.

There’s a certain “Goldilocks” principle at work when training for speed and vertical jump height: too much volume is just as bad, if not worse, than too little.

Loading up on exercises seems like it will get you to the promised land faster, but it just stalls progress.

The fatigue from plyometric workouts is different than most other workouts. There’s no obvious build-up of lactic acid, profuse sweating, or noticeable muscle soreness.

Plyometric exhaustion is indicated by a difference in how you move, subtle signals from your body that you are done for the day. You have trouble hitting that top gear you were cruising on forty five minutes ago. This fatigue is difficult to describe, but once you have some experience working with a solid plyo program, you will understand it when you feel it. 

Once you hit that point, it is time to end the workout.

It is counter-intuitive, but it’s the truth.

If you are training below max effort, because of fatigue, you are just putting mileage on your body without any desired gains to show for it.

To be clear, there is a difference between sprinting for speed and sprinting for conditioning. I cannot overstate this point.

You should be doing some kind of post-workout sprint work for conditioning, but the “rest/work” protocol
 for that is different than the “maximum rest” condition that should be present. You can and should sprint to build your lungs and mental toughness, as long as you understand it is not enhancing your top speed in the process.

Sprinting is inherently plyometric. It builds the muscles responsible for both running and jumping while torching fat in the process.

There’s a reason why sprinters have the most sculpted physiques in the Olympics.

The following is a good sprint program for any explosive sport, particularly those played on fields 120 yards or shorter (soccer, football, lacrosse, baseball etc.):

Before you start, make sure your form is tight.

Here’s the rep recommendation…..

10 – 20-yard sprints

5 – 50-yard sprints

3 – 100-yard sprints

One sprint equals one repetition.

Run the prescribed amount of reps for each distance. You can add or subtract 1 or 2 reps of a sprints based on how your legs feel during the workout.

If you feel like you can no longer run at full speed after the first 100-yard sprint, quit running. The point of sprints for speed is to run at maximum effort.

Rest is critical between sets. Run a sprint and then wait until you’re
 fully recovered to run the next one. This may take several minutes between reps.

 You only get faster through maximal effort and you can only run at max effort when you are fully rested.

For a complete plyometric plan for building quickness and vertical jumping ability, check out Kelly Baggett’s work. 
I used his “Vertical Jump Bible” with great success years ago and still recommend it today.

Shoot me an email if you have any questions.

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I’m an entrepreneur-among other things-specializing in helping people build businesses and develop fulfilling relationships.


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