The group of vertical jump tests is easy to perform for assessments of both lower-extremity explosiveness and raw talent. (Tests can be administered with equipment as simple as a smartphone, or as specific as a force plate; jump test equipment will be discussed later in the blog.) Currently, performance coaches and sports scientists employ jump testing to manage power, monitor for excessive or unexpected fatigue, and identify possible talent in youth populations. Scientific literature has proven that vertical jumps are strongly associated with speed (sprint tests) and strength (1 rep max testing), and the jumps are used as a proxy to determine improvement in training or athletic development.
We cover the supportive science in this guide and, more importantly, the right procedures and protocols to conduct a test properly, as well as analyze the results. Included in this resource is an up-to-date list of common jump devices (such as contact mats, infrared sensors, smartphone apps, force plates, and more) that you can use to evaluate the common vertical jump tests and individual tests such as the countermovement jump and reactive rebound jumping.
The Common Vertical Jump Tests
Vertical jumps are popular because they are extremely safe and easy to perform, and correlate well with other forms of performance. Some research suggests that horizontal jumps are valuable, but the landing and technical demands are the reason jumping up and down is desired in coaching circles. All the tests below are valid options if you want to monitor and manage athletes, and each test has pros and cons depending on what your staff needs. The specifics of which tests to use are beyond the scope of this resource, but we recommend that you use what is pertinent to your program and your athletes’ abilities to technically perform.
Jump and Reach
The NFL still uses the commercially available Vertec, and it is accepted as a basic way to estimate jumping ability. The athlete uses their arms and a countermovement to jump and literary reach a flag or other marker of height. Due to accuracy and reliability issues with the test, it’s not sensitive to use in any scientific analysis outside of, perhaps, talent identification when on a budget.
The athlete jumps with or without arm contribution, usually and ideally with their hands on their hips or holding a very light bar or dowel. By excluding the arms, the consistency of the jump improves and the data can extract better insight into the trends in leg power.
A squat jump uses a static and bent position to initiate the jump, and this option doesn’t rely on the stored energy of the lower body. Some coaches add a load to the jump to measure workouts, but this style of test is mainly used to contrast countermovement jump performances.
Reactive or Rebound Jumps
A rebound jump is a bouncing and quick repeated jump with two legs, and it provides a reactive strength index (RSI) score. Commonly referred to as incremental drop jumps, the reactive jump family sometimes uses boxes of various heights to calculate the RSI and to monitor the neuromuscular system.
Single Leg or Hop Tests
Return-to-play programs and screening commonly use single leg hops, but they are valuable in training programs as well. The athlete usually jumps up and lands on the same leg, and they can do this with one hop at a time or repeatedly in a rebounding manner.
Your staff can sequence the tests in specific orders based on their needs and priorities, and the time available. Those electing to perform repeated testing should use a protocol that they know can be repeated over time so proper comparisons can be made.
Time and Space Required for Testing
A coach or sport scientist can purposely isolate vertical jump testing from training or embed it into the training itself, depending on their goals. If the data needs to represent an athlete’s true ability, then you should administer the test when the athletes are fresh and free of any residual fatigue. If you monitor the athlete in an applied setting, change and repeatability are more important than absolute valid scores.
On average, it usually takes two to three minutes per athlete to test. Depending on equipment access, this can take an entire training session or, if cleverly planned, just a few minutes before an intense workout. The required space should be large enough to accommodate a team with everybody standing and observing freely, and have enough room for the tested athlete to feel comfortable and land safely. You should set up all equipment safely so that athletes don’t interfere with the testing. We highly recommend back-up equipment.
Equipment and Procedures
In order to collect valid and meaningful data, the tests need to be performed in the same conditions as much as humanly possible. Subtle changes in the surface, athlete instructions, and even motivational conditions can limit data. In addition to the athletes being properly rested, we encourage the use of a warm-up that is short and repeatable.
Required Equipment for Jump Testing
Countless jumping systems are available to coaches internationally, and it is not necessary to list them because each coach or sport scientist should do their own research on the validity and reliability of the testing products. We have listed common device categories though, and each system has its own pros and cons that you should consider before investing in them. Finally, the data collected and the way it’s collected may appeal to different departments, so a heterogeneous environment is common with teams and facilities.
Contact Mats for Jump Testing
A contact mat is a device that detects if a load is on or off its surface, and you can use it to get a useful measure of flight time to estimate jump height. Due to the dependence on jumping technique, scores are often inflated and the research suggests that the scores should be adjusted with a correction formula to improve their accuracy.
Infrared Stations for Jump Testing
Microgate and MuscleLab equipment are popular internally because they enable athletes to use the surfaces in gyms and training environments as landing zones. Similar to contact mats, infrared technologies use flight time and contact time to calculate jump height. Infrared technology is great for calculating the reactive strength index, or the ratio of time on the ground to time in the air.
Smartphone Apps for Jump Testing
Like contact mats and infrared stations, high-speed cameras in tablets and smartphones enable coaches to access a practical field test for basic jump testing. However, note that like the video software before smartphones, the workflow and administration times are not as efficient or convenient as with dedicated equipment.
Accelerometers and Linear Encoders for Jump Testing
The use of velocity-based training (VBT) devices is not just for measuring barbell speed, but also for actual displacement (linear encoder) and estimated jump height (accelerometers). We highly recommend that you evaluate accelerometer or linear encoder sports technologies for validity and accuracy before you invest in them.
Force Plates for Jump Testing
A single force plate can calculate an array of measurements that are both direct and accurate. The reliability and validity of force plates make them the gold standard in sport science, and the additional information collected beyond flight time and jump distance is considered a best practice.
Scientific Testing Procedures
The most important parts of the testing procedure are the jump technique, rest period, and number of jumps used. Every organization must use a standardized protocol that is explicitly defined and written down, and followed by everyone involved in the testing and analysis process. Expectations should be high and athletes must follow the directions and not be allowed to cheat or alter the testing methods. The athlete should restrict arm action if needed, start and land as instructed, and fully extend their legs while in the air unless they’re using a force plate. Typically, three to six jumps are used, depending on how close the athlete is to their baseline data and the purpose of the testing.
The most common error in jump testing is the inconsistent use of a repeatable protocol—meaning the testing procedure isn’t the same from test to test. In addition to the procedure used, the equipment must be the same and the athletes should follow the same instructions in the same testing environment. In order to improve the data quality, coaches should not include any tests that violate the known guidelines in jump testing, such as rocking, leg landing technique, and improper use of arms if the test merits no contribution from the upper body.
Analyzing Vertical Jump Performances
Depending on the equipment, sport, development of the athlete, and training phase, jump testing will require additional analysis outside of scoring the performances. Most commonly, the easiest metric to work with is jump height, but current sports teams are also interested in how the athlete creates the performance—not just what they can do on a given day. Due to the price and portability of force plates, some programs use contact mats, infrared device stations, VBT systems, and even smartphone apps. Force analysis from a platform system is still considered the gold standard, and the rest are often considered indirect measures and acceptable compromises.
Peak and mean power, eccentric braking force, takeoff velocity, net impulse, and the indices of rate of force development are now all part of the vocabulary of sports performance. Other measurements are popular and useful in the right circumstances, and we recommend that your staff is educated and trained on applying the information after testing. You should only use measures that coaches and sport scientists are comfortable with in both reporting and analysis.
In addition to the scores and metrics mentioned, testing asymmetry and individual leg performance is more common now, due to the popularity of bilateral force plates. Those using two force platforms can collect asymmetry data, so medical professionals must coordinate budgets with the rest of the staff.
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