Training the Jump
A common concern for beginner traceurs is that their conditioning, endurance, or strength is insufficient to do as much parkour as they would like. Almost invariably, the best solution is to just do more parkour, with any relevant complementary training on the side. For almost everything you can find a wealth of information online on how to improve with simple exercises, however, there is one glaring exception to this rule, and that is the jump. While jumping in and of itself is not parkour, it carries over and has direct benefits in many aspect of the discipline. Most importantly, a strong jump equates to strong landings. After all it is essentially the same muscles one uses for both jumping and landing. Jumping can help your climbing, wallrunning, vaults, and any other technique that requires, or benefits from, explosive power from the legs.
However, despite its obvious importance there is a lack of good information on how to train the jump. Much information found online is contradictory. Some say that the best way to train the jump is to jump vertically in ever-lengthening sets of repetitions, right into the hundreds. Others say that this only trains endurance, and advise that you should focus on the power of your quadriceps, the jumping muscles, by developing your squat. Or some say that the quadriceps is overrated and that you should focus on the calves and the gluteus maximus.
None of these techniques is inherently wrong, and none (barring injury) will hurt your jump. However, they will generally not give you a notable increase, unless the aspect of the jump that they exercise is woefully underdeveloped to begin with. This is because the jump is dependent on explosive power – the speed with which you push off of the ground is as important as the force. None of the above exercises focuses on the speed of your jump, only the power or endurance. Fortunately, there is a type of exercise that is very effective in improving both speed and power. These exercises are called plyometrics.
Plyometrics include any exercise that focuses on explosive power against resistance. For developing the jump, the ‘depth jump’ is possibly the best plyometric exercise of all.
The Depth Jump
The depth jump is an extraordinarily simple exercise that will seem extremely familiar to any traceur. Find an object you can stand on, between one and three feet (0.3m-1m) in height, and step off, landing with your feet together. When you hit the ground control your landing (you should always be working at a height where your heels do not need to touch the ground, and which does not require you to bend the knees too deeply) and immediately jump up as high and as fast as you can. You should explode upwards as soon as your descent is halted: there should be no pause or readjustment of weight or foot-placement. It must be immediate, so as to develop muscle elasticity and to improve the speed of the contraction of the muscles. Then, get back upon the object and repeat the exercise.
It is recommended that these be practised in moderation; avoid doing more than around five sets of eight in any single training session, fewer if you are doing other leg work. Overdoing this type of exercise will likely strain the muscles and incapacitate you for a short while, which will interrupt your training cycle. But if you integrate this sensibly into your training schedule, you will soon reap the rewards of your efforts.
Avoid prolonged repetition of exercises such as the ‘shock jump’ in which you step off of something much higher and, instead of jumping back up, simply stop dead and control the landing. This is the sort of exercise that will come back to haunt you due to the repetitious impact upon the joints, and arthritis at the age of forty is not a pleasant prospect.
Other Jump Exercises
You may still need to condition the other aspects of your jump, such as the level of sheer power you can generate. If you find it difficult to squat your bodyweight, you definitely need to condition for power. An obvious way to do this is to practise the traditional squat exercise in a gym, remembering to go through the full range of motion. Non-weighted squats, performed very slowly and with high levels of control, will also build up the strength of the jumping muscles.
The muscular endurance of your legs can be increased by such forms of exercise as running, cycling or swimming, as well as by regularly practising bodyweight and biomechanical exercises. And, of course, regular drilling of precisions will swiftly bring your legs up to speed! The landing of a cat-leap also works the leg muscles, requiring a sudden contraction in order to absorb the impact of the bodyweight as it connects with the wall. From this position, cat-to-cat jumps directly work the explosive ability of the leg muscles all round.
The simplest way to measure the progress that you have made is through a standing vertical jump. Put some chalk on your fingertips, find a wall that you don’t mind putting marks on, jump as high as you can and touch the wall at the top of your jump. Measure your jump again at regular intervals throughout your training, and after a short time you should begin to see the chalk mark creep up the wall. Remember to rest before you measure.
For much more information on training your jump, track down a copy of the Vertical Jump Development Bible by Kelly Baggett.