Plyometrics: jumping to improve performance

The depth jump

As part of a series focusing on targeted exercises for specific body parts or moves in different sports, Peak Performance Premium examines a training exercise that can bring improved performance in a wide range of sports, from running to football to – of course – jumping… 

Muscles involved:

Quadriceps (thigh), hamstrings, glutes (buttocks), calf muscles.

Joint motion:

Ankle extension, knee extension, hip extension.

Sports applicability:

Running (sprints, middle and long distances), field and racket sports, such as tennis, football, basketball, high jump, long jump.

Muscular action: Plyometric

Plyometric exercises work on the principle that a concentric muscular contraction is much stronger if it immediately follows an eccentric contraction of the same muscle. It’s a bit like stretching out a coiled spring to its fullest extent (the eccentric contraction), then letting it go (the concentric contraction): immense levels of energy are released in a split second as the spring recoils.

An eccentric muscular action occurs when a muscle lengthens as it contracts. The lowering phase of a biceps curl is the most obvious example of an eccentric muscular action.

A concentric muscular contraction occurs when a muscle shortens as it contracts, as in the lifting part of the biceps curl.

General conditioning benefits

The depth jump provides a great base of dynamic power for the majority of sports. This is a consequence of its ability to closely match sport- specific speeds of movement and muscular action. Most standard weight-training lifts, even when performed as quickly as possible, take between 0.5 and 0.7 seconds to complete, whereas during a depth jump the performer’s feet may be in contact with the ground for as little as 0.2 to 0.3 seconds.

Sport-specific benefits 

Although the basic depth jump is very sports- specific in itself, it can be made even more so by adaptation and variation.

Start position

Stand on top of a strong platform, 0.5m to 1.0m high (the higher the platform height, the greater the strength component; the lower the platform height, the greater the speed component).


1. Step slightly forward off the platform. Land towards your forefeet;

2. React as quickly as possible to the ground and spring immediately back up into the air;

3. Use your arms to add to your speed by pulling them back prior to stepping off the platform, and swinging them

igorously forward and upward, as your feet hit the ground;

4. Keep your back in neutral alignment, ie, not arched or rounded;

5. Focus your gaze straight ahead of you.

Training tips

Maintain neutral posture and a balanced, elevated chest position throughout the exercise. Do not attempt to absorb the impact on landing; rather, react as quickly and as fast as you can, even if this sacrifices height gained. The faster a muscle is forced to perform an eccentric contraction, the greater the concentric force it can generate. To ease your understanding: think of a rubber ball being thrown against a wall. What happens when the ball is thrown harder? It springs back even faster and further. This is the effect you should aim to achieve when performing plyometric exercises such as the depth jump.

Always warm up specifically before performing depth jumps; jog, and perform dynamic stretches.

Don’t perform more than two specific plyometric workouts a week, and allow at least five days before important competitions. Monitor the number of jumps performed. Depth jump volume is measured in ground contacts; avoid more than 60 in a session.

To allow your power-producing fast-twitch muscle fibres to be at their most effective, take 30 seconds’ recovery between exercises and two minutes between sets. Perform depth jumps on a non-slip flat surface: a sprung gymnasium floor or all-weather athletics track are ideal surfaces.

You need to be in ‘the right frame of mind’ to get the most out of depth jumping (which should be possible as you’re not exercising plyometrically more than twice a week). Going through the motions will not turn on a sufficient neuromuscular input to optimise their performance.

Start with 3 x 6 repetitions

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