Developing more power
In order to run fast and jump far incredible forces must be overcome in an instant. Reactivity to the track surface is key as is optimal technical execution. But what can you do to condition this vital aspect of sprint and jump performance?
Drop (or depth) jumps are very relevant. A drop jump requires the athlete to step/run/jump off a suitable height platform, land, and then perform a jump or series of jumps from one or two legs, up, forwards or even sideways.
Perhaps the leading light when it comes to the scientific understanding and sports application of drop jumps is Yuri Verkhoshansky. The Russian rather aptly labeled this method of training – ‘shock training’. To get the most transference from a drop jump to event performance, the transition between the eccentric (landing) and concentric (jump) parts must be minimized and this is where leg stiffnes is vital. There should be virtually no absorption of downward force on landing, before the concentric movement.
Drop, hit the floor with minimal preparation, and get off it as quickly as possible
Here’s a bit of research on how drop jumps can boost speed. A team of researchers looked at this method of training’s effects on rugby union players (1). Highly relevantly, 20 professional male rugby players participated. They were tested for acceleration, over 0-10m; and for top-end speed using a flying 10m-sprint (i.e. a run where they had reached top-speed); strength (using a 3-repetition maximum squat); reactive strength; countermovement jump; drop jump; and leg spring stiffness (i.e. a measurement of leg reactivity). The sports boffins discovered that leg spring stiffness, and crucially drop jump performance were related to the flying 10m time.
Leg stiffness is dependent, as noted on the stretch/shortening capacities of muscles and therefore of the individual. Anecdotally I have observed when training my group of sprinters and jumpers that some have naturally greater leg stiffness. Some require a greater degree of knee bend, for example, when performing drop jumps to generate power (and height and distance) and other (and they the ones with the better Pbs). I’ll often be heard saying “it’s not how far you go or how high but how fast you react which is key” when it comes to drop jump performance and I’ve even been known to give marks out of 10! This motivates the athlete to move quicker creating an element of competition. No one, by the way, as ever scored a 10. Again through my experience I have found leg stiffness to be something that can be improved over time and with it comes improved performance.
Plyometric exercises appear to be key to the development of leg stiffness i.e. an athlete who has good hopping ability for example, will have good high-end sprint capacity and leg stiffness. Hence I argue that plyometric exercises and specifically drop jumps (performed optimally and sensibly) are the key S&C exercise for running faster and jumping further – and which sprinter or jumper doesn’t want that!