Power or Strength to Develop Vertical Leap?

So you are a ruckman who wants to improve their vertical leap. But what is the best way to do this? With power and plyometric exercises? Or with maximal strength exercises? Vertical leap is an expression of power (‘work’ performed in a very quick manner and short amount of time) so that surely settles it then – power training is the best way to work on it?


Whilst vertical leap is indeed an expression of power, this expression of power does require an underlying base of strength. In other words, the stronger you are in a particular movement, the better your base and the greater your potential power expression in that particular movement. For example if you aim to do a 90kg power clean – an expression of power as this movement must be executed quickly, you will require a certain base of strength first – specifically speaking the ability to deadlift at least that 90kg in the first place. This would seem obvious when pointed out this way – but the reality is that this goes for expressions of power in general. The stronger you are in a particular movement pattern, the more potential there is there for greater expression of power.

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So in short, a combination of maximal strength as well as power training is required in order to improve vertical leap. But the way in which the 2 are combined is important, rather than simply haphazardly doing a few leg exercises. So we will give a general outline of a basic progression of vertical leap training.


‘Increasing maximum strength at slow movement velocity is of limited relevance if the athlete is unable to express this greater force-generating capacity at the movement velocities encountered during athletic and sport skill movements.’
Paul Gamble
Strength & Conditioning for Team Sports


So lets say that we are talking about a 22 year old ruckman, with several years of general weight training experience and no injuries (very convenient client here) and improving vertical leap is his primary goal for the off-season/pre-season. So with outlining how this can be achieved with some general exercises an periodising, we will focus only on this particular goal. Of course, this player will also have other goals, and general demands that they must look to work o and strengthen on top of this, but for simplicity’s sake we will look only at the vertical leap component.


Furthermore, this is only a very general in nature outline, to show principles, more than specific exercises. There is not ONE way to achieve this, but this will outline how to combine strength and power training, as well as general and more specific exercises.


This young ruckman would lay a foundation of general base strength with a double-leg lower body exercise as well as a single-leg lower body exercise. I prefer front squats to back squats, due to the more upright nature of the torso as it limits pressure in the lower back, as well as more closely mimics the mechanics of a jump than a back squat does.


Front Squat 4 sets, 8-10, 60% 1RM

Split squat 3 sets, 8-10 each side, 60% 1RM


After 4 weeks of the base build, the ruckman would then be looking to progress both the weight, and the specificity. Increasing the weight on the front squats aimed at recruiting a greater portion of muscle fibers (and higher threshold fibers responsible for power) in this movement pattern (and providing the potential for more power output) as well as progressing the split squat to a step up.


Front squat 4 sets of 5-6, 80% 1RM

Step Ups 3 sets, 6-8 each side, 70% 1RM


After another 4 week block at increased weight in these 2 already reasonably specific movements (1 targeting double-leg vertical leap the other targeting single leg vertical leap), the ruckman will now look to transition to the specific expression of power in these movements.


Front squat 4 sets of 3-5, 85-90% 1RM

Power Cleans 3 sets of 3-5, 50-60% 1RM

Step Ups 3 sets, 5-6 each side, 80% 1RM


Before the final step of expressing the speed of movement to the maximal strength that has been developed.


Day 1

Explosive medicine ball overhead throw 3 sets of 4-6

Step up jump 3 sets of 4-6 each side


Day 2

Front squat 3 sets of 6-8, 60% 1RM (executed at speed)

Step Ups 3 sets, 8 each side, 60% 1RM (executed at speed)


Another option once you get to the maximal strength and transition to power stage is to put the 2 together in complex sets (strength and power together like compound sets). This is very advanced, and is only 1 example of how there are more than 1 way to achieve this.


So even just in this very limited outline, you can see a combination of both general and specific exercises to achieve a certain goal. And you can also see a gradual and systematic step by step progression to this end goal. This is important. What is also important is to understand that lifting loads of 85-90% 1RM is very advanced. This is not for someone who has just started weights training. Like we identified in the beginning, the young ruckman in question has several years experience already, and is 22 with no injuries. We merely laid out this program in this way to highlight a point.


‘What defines sports specific strength capabilities is the ability of the player to express their strength qualities during the execution of game-related activities or sports skills in the context of a match situation.’

‘Fundamentally, a players strength capabilities when lifting in the weights room is of less relevance than their ability to express that strength when executing athletic and skilled movements on the field of play.’

Paul Gamble
Strength & Conditioning for Team Sports


Strength training must not lose sight of this fact – you are preparing to perform on the field – not to simply improve your results in strength tests in the weights room for their own sake. The focus is on building athleticism in footy, not becoming a power-lifter.


So for improving vertical leap, the best results will be found in athletes who combine high force (heavy/strength) and high velocity (power/plyometric) training modes together. You need the strength and then you need the power/speed of movement.

Strength Coach

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