Body Composition or Skill: Which Is More Important for Jumping?
For athletes, asking how high you can jump may well be the equivalent of, “How much do you bench?” Research on predictive qualities of jumping performance has been mixed, however, until a recent Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study.
The authors of the study wanted to test two major hypotheses about jumping performance. The first hypothesis had to do with the physical characteristics of the participants. The researchers thought body composition would be a significant factor in jumping height. In other words, they believed muscular, but light people would show the best performances. They also thought the strength of the muscles controlling leg extension would contribute in large degree.
The next factor the researchers planned to test was the jumping experience level of the participants. More specifically, they believed that the physical characteristics noted above would lose significance in the more advanced the athletes, irrespective of factors like leg strength.
The second hypothesis could only be true if the most significant component of jumping ability was technical, meaning it was a skill that can be developed through training. Even a weaker and heavier athlete may out-jump another stronger and lighter athlete if they have had more practice.
The tests were quite simple. Both advanced female volleyball players and active female non-athletes were tested. The two groups were chosen to represent the different skill levels. Each of the participants were tested for their lean mass and fat mass, leg strength on a leg press machine, and jumping height. The jumps were done with and without arm swing, a skill component that may have clouded the results if only one type was chosen.
In those not skilled in jumping, body composition was indeed a strong predictor of performance. Both the level of body fat and muscle were shown to correlate with jumping potential. However, as hypothesized, this relationship diminished with experience. Although body composition was still a factor with experienced athletes, it didn’t have the predictive power that it did in non-athletes.
Leg strength, however, was less cut and dry. While leg strength was indeed predictive of jumping ability, it had a similar relationship in all the participants. This was especially true for the rate of force development, which seemed to be a better predictor than maximal strength.
Based on these results, it’s difficult to tell how skill affects jump performance. It could be that strength alone makes up most of the difference between the recreational exercisers and the stronger elite athletes. However, as is typically the case with movements as complex as jumping, skill is still a substantial factor, even though it can’t be shown by these results alone.
So if you want to become a better jumper, the first step is to get your body composition in line with that of an elite athlete. Once you look the part, make sure your relative lower body strength and power are high. Lastly, as always, practice makes perfect, so get out there and jump, jump, jump.
1. Nemanja Ćopić, et. al., “Body composition and muscle strength predictors of jumping performance: differences between elite female volleyball competitors and non-trained individuals,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000468
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