Depth Jumps – Used and Abused

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Good landing position: knees flexed slightly and below chest level.

Depth jumps are one of the most overused and abused exercise modality in all of sports training. For some reason they have come to be viewed as a holy grail of sorts; some magic pill that will ensure top-level performance; a training modality that should be used whenever possible. This is a huge mistake. Soviet sports scientists regarded depth jumps as one of the most benefiical but most intense exercise activities in the entire training toolbox. They recognized early on that depth jumps were a training modality that couldn’t be used on a very regular basis if one expected to keep their athletes out of the training room or to actually benefit from the training. Here are some common misconceptions about depth jumps:

  • Any and all athletes can perform them. Depth jumps are an extremely demanding activity and require some general physical readiness to perform them safely.
  • Depth jumps can and should be used at all times to improve jumping ability.
  • You should land on your toes and not permit the heel to touch the ground.
  • Technique doesn’t matter. This mindset will lead to less than optimal results and worse yet injuries.
  • Higher drop heights are better. If the athlete can’t handle the loads from falling from a given height OR (when performing multiple response depth jumps) they can’t make it on to the next box without becoming a contortionist the boxes are probably too high.

Some signs that an athlete isn’t ready for depth jumps:

  • It’s the first day of practice. Leave the depth jumps for much later in the year when the athlete is physically prepared to handle the stresses of the exercise and are able to perform them with proper technique. I only use depth jumps for about 2-3 cycles out of the year and only in very low volumes. I like to see ground contact made flat footed or heel first and I like to see the athlete push through the hips rather than the ankle joint.
  • The box height is more than three times your vertical jump. When depth jumps are performed with a box that is too high ground contacts become excessively long or worse yet necessitate the athlete to perform the dreaded double-hop just to get on to the next box . Also, I can’t count how many times I’ve seen athletes performing multiple-response depth jumps at inappropriate height and they are forced to use extreme flying ninja techniques just to get on to the next box because they were attempting to jump on to a 36″ box when they only had an 18″ vertical jump.
  • The athlete can’t squat their own bodyweight. This is likely far below an appropriate minimum standard but I know I see athletes all the time who don’t have the strength levels necessary to do depth jumps correctly.

My early experiences with overzealous use of depth jumps and what I have learned from Boo Schexnayder and Dan Pfaff have convinced me that depth jumps should be used very sparingly. Dan Pfaff (who knows a thing or two about speed-power development) once told me that indiscrimant use of depth jumps can be counterproductive AND injurious. I share this viewpoint but it’s a shame more coaches don’t feel the same way.

 
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Mike Young

Mike Young

Founder of ELITETRACK at Athletic Lab
Mike has a BS in Exercise Physiology from Ohio University, an MSS in Coaching Science from Ohio University & a PhD in Biomechanics from LSU. Additionally, he has been recognized as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength & Conditioning Association, a Level 3 coach by USA Track & Field, a Level 2 coach by USA Weightlifting.
Mike Young

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