One Legged Jump Training – Basic Principles and Sample Workout Programs

Whereas progress on the two legged vertical jump is comparatively straightforward, the one legged jump is comprised of many variables which are harder to calculate, predict and improve from one athlete to the next. Momentum, biomechanics, limb length, body weight, reactive ability, body structure, technique, and timing all play roles in the height of a one legged jump, and any high jump coach will tell you it’s a very technical sport that takes years of practice to perfect.

As complex as the movement is however in this post I will break down 3 simple training principles you should focus on if you want to improve your one legged jump height. Before I get into those principles let me first state that I am not reinventing the wheel by any means- most of the techniques and principles I talk about in this post are built on the writing of other coaches who have put great thought into and who have analyzed the one legged jump in great detail. If you’d like to learn more about jumping off of one leg as well as a myriad of other topics related to jumping, I highly recommend you check out the following coaches writings as well:

That being said let’s get right into the training principles…

Principle One- Improve reactive ability

One key difference between the one and two legged vertical jumps is that the one legged version relies much more on plyometric or “reactive” ability. Your foot is in contact with the ground for a shorter amount of time- you only have milliseconds to apply as much force as possible to transfer your horizontal momentum vertically, which is why reactive training is crucial.

Entire books have been written about improving plyometric or “reactive” ability so I will keep this summary of a plyometric movement as short as possible. In general there are three distinct phases of any plyometric movement, including the one legged jump: the eccentric or landing phase, the amortization or transition phase, and the concentric or take-off phase. These three phases together are called the Stretch Shortening Cycle.

The Stretch Shortening Cycle

The Stretch Shortening Cycle (SCC) uses the energy storage abilities of the tendons and muscles to enable a maximal increase in muscle recruitment (force) over a minimal amount of time. The eccentric phase of the SCC begins when your front foot lands and first absorbs the forces of the impact. Similar to a rubber band being pulled back, your tendons and muscles are rapidly stretched or lengthened and as they lengthen, elastic energy is stored in them. The amortization or “transition” phase is the split second between the eccentric and concentric contractions or, in the case of the jump, the instant between the landing of your front foot and the upwards push on the take-off. Finally, the concentric phase is the body’s response to the rapid stretch- during this phase, the energy stored during the eccentric phase is released and used to increase the force of the subsequent movement as the tendons and muscles contract and shorten. This is similar to the rubber band snapping back after being forcibly stretched.

However, there is one important difference between the SCC and a rubber band – your tendons and muscles can only hold the stored energy from the rapid stretch for a split second. It’s because of this fact that, while all three phases of the SCC play a significant role in jump height, it’s the amortization phase that holds the key to reactive ability as keeping its duration to a minimum is crucial in the production of power. The shorter the amortization phase is, the more force can be applied and the higher the jump. The longer the duration of the amortization phase, the more energy that was stored during the eccentric phase dissipates (mostly in the form of heat) and the lower the jump. In other words, the more immediately an athlete is able to go from the landing to take-off, the more powerful they will be.

You can test this by doing a simple test where you purposefully extend the amortization period- first perform a simple stationary two legged jump just as you would in a standard vertical jump test. Next, perform the same exact jump except this time, at the bottom of your countermovement, right before your ascent, pause for 5 seconds before jumping up. You’ll find your first jump was much higher because the energy from what some call the “stretch reflex” was lost.

One core purpose of plyometric training is to make the amortization phase in the jump as short as possible.

Principle Two- Improve eccentric and explosive strength, especially in the glutes and hamstrings

While it’s important to be able to apply force as quickly as possible in the one legged jump, the speed at which an athlete applies force doesn’t matter if they aren’t able to generate much force to begin with. Remember- strength is the backbone from with which all other athletic qualities are expressed. Also, keep in mind that any form of jump training is high impact but especially so in one legged jumping because we are concentrating all of that force onto one leg. We have to make sure we are strong enough unilaterally to absorb those high forces and also stabilize the body.

The quadriceps and ankles play the largest part in absorbing the impact during the landing (front leg planting) phase of the one legged jump, whereas the glutes and hamstrings play the largest role in extending the hip back and propelling the body off the ground during the take-off. Thus we will mainly focus on exercises that build eccentric strength in the quads and ankles as well as exercises that build explosive strength in the hip extension and hyper extension movements.

There are two separate ways to train hip extension- in general you can use exercises that mimic vertical movement (squats, deadlifts, lunges) or you can perform exercises that more mimic horizontal movements (sprints, broad jumps, reversion hyper extensions, back extensions, hip thrusts, glute bridges and pull-backs) Though squat and deadlift variations must be included in any good jump training program, for our purposes we will prioritize horizontal hip extension exercises as they are much more effective at activating the glute and hamstring musculature. And again, because the forces that are absorbed by the legs during eccentric (take-off) phase of the jump are so high (up to 9x bodyweight) it’s important to include eccentric training in the program to ensure stability as well as make sure are no “loose kinks” where energy is leaked in the kinetic chain.

Principle Three- Practice the movement and play your sport often

Principles three is incredibly simple and obvious but probably the most important- the absolute best thing you can do to jump higher off of one leg is to practice jumping off of one leg as often as possible. 99% of the time coaches and athletes tend to make training more complicated than it needs to be, and most of the highest jumpers in the world today do nothing more than practice jumping very often. At least 2 days a week you should be going to your local court or track (or anyplace with a soft surface) and practice jumping off of one leg as high as you can until you start to get tired. Getting a lot of practice reps in as well as playing your sport frequently will improve your motor coordination, increase movement efficiency and keep you in shape, not to mention improve your actual skills.

Between basketball seasons one year I spent the entire summer in the weight room lifting and doing plyometrics without playing one single game of pick up and barely even touching a basketball. I avoided playing my actual sport with my buddies because I wanted to hide the vertical jump gains I was going to get until the season started. I wanted to surprise my teammates by maybe dunking out of nowhere in the first practice and I fantasized about how great it would be to do something unexpected like that and have my teammates looking at me in astonishment. At the end of the summer however I found that although I had made a lot of progress on my lifts, my ability to control my body as well as my actual basketball skills were nowhere to be found. It felt like I had bought an entirely new body that I didn’t know how to use. My motor coordination was completely off- my cuts where sloppy, my drives to the basket were out of control and I found that my jumping skill hadn’t actually improved all that much because I had basically forgotten how to jump efficiently. My actual muscles were stronger and more powerful but I didn’t know how to express that new strength and speed fluently, and it took months to feel like my movements on the court were “efficient” again.

One last important note- when you are actually practicing the one legged jump make sure to focus on keeping a stiff front leg. Collapsing the lead plant leg (especially common among athletes who are more quad dominant) not only severely limits the force you’re able to apply to the ground but also puts a tremendous amount of stress on the knee involved.

All that being said let’s get to a couple sample training programs. Beginners should (always) start out focusing more on building general leg strength while more advanced athletes tend to do better with a blend of both strength and explosive work.

One Legged Jump Training Program for Beginners

Day 1 (Monday):
Warm-up
Deadlift (conventional or single leg): 3×5 @70-80% of max
Barbell hip thrusts: 3×5-10
– Watch this video for tips on how to do BB hip thrusts
Reverse hyper extensions: 3×8-12
– Several ways to perform these if your gym doesn’t have a RHE machine. I prefer using the back extension device like this
Weighted calf-raise variation: 3×12-15

Day 3 (Wednesday):
Ankle jumps: 3×8
– Keep your legs relatively stiff and use only your ankles to propel you up
Step-ups: 3×8 each leg
Skips (for height):5×30 yards
Single leg bounds: 3×20 yards each leg
One legged jumping practice (limit reps)

Day 5 (Friday):
Squats: 3×5 @70-80% of max
GHRs or back extensions: 3×5-10
Glute bridge: 3×10-15
– Use bodyweight and elevate feet. Progress from two legged to one
Weighted calf-raise variation: 3×12-15

Day 8 (Monday):
One legged jumping practice until tired. Once a month or so substitute some sprint work.

Day 10 (Wednesday):
Repeat Day 1

And so on

One Legged Jump Training Program for More Advanced Athletes

The below training regimen is geared towards more intermediate to advanced athletes who have experience with weightlifting and jump training and who are adapted to a higher volume of conditioning. It would be excessive for even some advanced athletes so this is a warning to newbies- do not try this at home. The actual template is highly influenced originally by legendary strength coach Louie Simmon’s Westside Barbell program which Joe Defranco then modified in his Westside for Skinny Bastards training template.

Day 1 (Monday) – Speed/Reactiveness:

Dynamic warm up
¼ jump squats: 3×8
– Minimal knee bend
Weighted Explosive step ups: 3×8 each leg with around 20-30% of your max squat
– Can use barbell or dumbbells
– Do all reps with one leg then switch
– Focus on exploding up as high as possible
Shock jumps: 3×5
– Builds eccentric strength, focus on absorbing force on impact.
– Use moderate to high box. If your heels touch the ground when you land, lower the height.
– Take as much rest between reps and sets as you feel comfortable with. Rushing these is not a good idea.
Skips for height: 5×40 yards
– Start with BW, progress w/ weighted dumbbells or barbell
Single leg bounds: 4×30 yards
– For distance- measure and try to better each week
Jumping practice or team sports

Day 2 (Tuesday) – Weights:

Dynamic warm up
Barbell Hip thrusts: 3×5-10 @80-90% of max
GHRs or Nordic HCs: 3×5-10
Weighted reverse hyper extensions
– If your gym does not have a RHE machine you can use the back extension device and put dumbbells between your feet
Deadlift variation: 3×5 @ around 70-80% of max
– Conventional, Romanian, stiff legged or single leg
– Deadlifts will take a lot out of you if you go too heavy which will mess up your recovery for the next two weeks. Don’t go too heavy- around 70-80% of your max for 5 reps should be okay.
Hanging leg raises or pikes: 3×10
Weighted calf-raise variation: 3×12-15

Day 4 (Thursday) – Speed/Reactiveness:

Dynamic warm up
1 legged 4 star drill: 3×6 each leg
– Each rotation = 1 rep
Depth jumps: 3×5
– Use very low box (at or below 10 inches or so) to start out
– Take as much rest between reps and sets as you feel comfortable with. Rushing these is not a good idea.
– Ideally you would jump off and reach up to object and try to reach higher each week
Broad jumps: 4×30 yards
– Hands behind head, go for distance
Short sprints: 3×30 yards
– Do at about 80-90%. Don’t wear yourself out
– Focus on exploding out of the hole and accelerating
Long sprints: 3×100 yards
– Do at about 70-80%. Again, don’t wear yourself out
Jumping practice or team sports

Day 5 (Friday) – Weights:

Dynamic warm up
Paused Squats: 3×5 @70-80% of max squat
– Paused variations allow one to work on exploding out of hole
– ATG high bar back squats optimal if you have the mobility but could also do front or to parallel depth
Weighted reverse lunges or Bulgarian split squat: 3×8 each leg
Back extensions: 2×8-12
Standing hip hyper extensions w/ cable or bands: 2×8-12
Glute bridges: 2×10-15
– Use body weight and elevate feet. Progress from two legged to one

Well there you have it- a couple solid training splits for one legged jumpers. There are a million and one ways to customize both splits but I would advise keeping the basic components the same. Test them out and let me know what you think! Again, I highly recommend you check out the other coaches I mentioned in the beginning of the article to get more tips and advice on programming your workout for one legged jump training.

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