The Two Best Exercises for Increasing Your Vertical Jump

Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted a higher vertical jump. Here are the two things that make a difference.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted a higher vertical jump. Whether that was due to ad campaigns such as the “Like Mike” commercials or the luster of seeing an elite athlete throw down a monster dunk, having a high vertical has been always glamorized.

But how do you actually go about increasing your vertical? The answer is in two parts:

  1. Increased force output – How much strength or energy can be applied to the ground
  2. Increased rate of force development – How quickly force can be produced and applied

The combination of these two is what allows someone to propel him- or herself from the ground to as high as possible. These two variables are the answers to the question you vertically challenged folks have been asking for years. Since our answer is in two parts, let’s take a look at both of these aspects separately and then bring them both together.

Increased Force Output

This sounds simple. It just means you should get stronger. But strength acquisition is a topic that can be overly complicated and drawn out all on its own. So we will look at the most simplified method. Given our goal of increasing vertical jump height, we will focus specifically on lower body strength.

When developing lower body strength, the king of exercises is the back squat. Specifically, the back squat at a depth below parallel. Squatting below parallel with high loads has been shown to reap the most benefit in the vertical jump.

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research took 59 participants and placed them in a ten-week training group focusing on three variations of the squat: back squats, deep front squats, and partial range of motion back squats. Beginning the training program, each participant underwent a series of tests including vertical jump, one rep max (1RM), and rate of force development. The participants placed in the deep front and deep back squat groups improved performance in the vertical jump by just over one inch. The partial squat group showed no improvements at all.

In addition, each group tested the three squat variations for improvements in 1RM strength. Results showed the deep squat groups demonstrated improvements in all three variations, but the partial squat group only improved in partial squats. The last test, rate of force development, was not changed within the deep squat group, but was significantly decreased in the partial squat group.

Through this study we are able to see three important points:

  1. Deep squats improve vertical jump height
  2. Deep squats increase force output no matter the range of motion
  3. Partial squats actually decrease rate of force development

So, we now know how to develop variable number one – force output. The research shows squatting deep can increase vertical jump and force output.

Now, how do we go about increasing the second variable, the rate of force development? I want to increase my vertical more than one inch. And I know if the force I can now produce is developed more rapidly, the amount of power produced increases dramatically.

Rate of Force Development

Simply squatting deep does not help with increasing the rate at which force is developed. Deep squatting is primarily affecting the musculature, but in relation to power or rate of force development, we need to train the nervous system. This means we must focus on recruiting more of the high threshold units. These motor units are most easily recruited by increasing load while simultaneously trying to accelerate that load as quickly as possible.

Olympic lifts are commonly used to recruit these high threshold motor units are the Olympic lifts. However, since these lifts are more complex than many other exercises, technique can limit the progress made. In order to avoid the technique issues, I suggest focusing on a simplified derivative of the clean – the mid-thigh pull.

The mid-thigh pull starts in the same position as the hang clean and requires triple extension of the ankles, knees, and hips, yet does not require the catch that a clean does. Since it is so simple, you can focus strictly on adding weight to the bar, accelerating it upward as quickly as possible, and then letting the weight fall.

Some studies have even shown that in reference to our primary goal, increasing rate of force development, the mid-thigh pull is better than the power clean. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared the power clean, hang clean, mid-thigh pull, and mid-thigh power clean. The comparison showed the mid-thigh pull to be the superior means of increasing rate of force development.

Putting It All Together

So we’ve found exactly the combo of movements we are looking for: the best method of increasing force output (deep back squat) and the best method of increasing rate of force development (mid-thigh pull). In order to program these two exercises, we will use the concept of linear periodization, which also happened to be used in the squat depth study.

These exercises can be done up to twice a week. Any more than that starts to challenge recovery, which can negate any progress. They can also be done within any training program. The only requirement is that these exercises be done early in your workout, since they require force and/or power and any fatigue will inhibit this program’s effectiveness.

Hypertrophy Phase:

  • Mid-Thigh Pull 4 x 5
  • Deep Back Squat 4 x 10
  • Rest Break: 1.5 minutes
  • Phase Duration: 4 weeks

Max Strength Phase:

  • Mid-Thigh Pull 4 x 4
  • Deep Back Squat 5 x 5
  • Rest Break: 2.5 minutes
  • Phase Duration: 6 weeks

Speed Strength Phase:

  • Mid-Thigh Pull 4 x 3
  • Deep Back Squat 5 x 3
  • Rest Break: 3 minutes
  • Phase Duration: 4 weeks

Power Phase:

In this phase, alternate one set of exercise one with one set of exercise two.

  • Mid-Thigh Pull 5 x 3
  • Deep Back Squat 5 x 3
  • Rest Break: 3 minutes
  • Phase Duration: 3 weeks


1. Hagen Hartmann, et al. “Influence of squatting depth on jumping performance.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 26, no. 12 (2012): 1.

2. Paul Comfort, et al. “Comparisons of Peak Ground Reaction Force and Rate of Force Development During Variations of the Power Clean.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 25, no. 5 (2011): 1235-1239.

Photo courtesy of CrossFit Impulse.

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