Biomechanics of the Vertical Jump, Part 1

In today’s sports world, athletes who compete at a high level possess certain skills of some basic movements that leave the non-elite athlete or non-athlete in awe. Jumping is a skill that most people can perform. But for the athlete who competes in a sport where the mastery of the vertical jump is vital in their success at that sport, then the vertical jump becomes an amazing feat of athletic ability.

Volleyball is one of those sports, requiring players to jump repeatedly, blocking and attacking. It is common for elite volleyball players to jump 30 to 40 inches while attempting the spike. This incredible ability comes from strengthening legs and practice refining jumping technique. And some people seem to have an easier time jumping than others.

In order to better understand the vertical jump, this paper will look at six different articles that discuss the topic. Each article looks at the jump from a different point of view; “Storage and Utilization of Elastic Strain Energy During Jumping” by Anderson and Pandy; “Tendon Action of Two-Joint Muscles: Transfer of Mechanical Energy Between Joints During Jumping Landing, and Running” by Prilutsky and Zatsiorsky; “The Influence of the Biarticularity of the Gastrocnemius Muscle on Vertical-Jumping Achievement” by Van Soest, Schwab, Bobbert and Van Ingen Schenau; “Optimal Muscular Coordination Strategies for Jumping” by Pandy and Zajac; “A Kinematic Comparison of the Block Jump and a Training Jump as Performed by Elite College and Recreational Female Volleyball Players” by Ridgway; and “The Shock Attenuation Role of the Ankle During Landing From a Vertical Jump” by Gross and Nelson. All six articles look at the vertical jump from a biomechanics point of view.

In the study by Frank C. Anderson and Marcus G. Pandy, (“Storage And Utilization of Elastic Strain Energy During Jump”) the role of how elastic tissue contributes to the vertical jump was examined. For this study, the authors used an optimal control model developed by Pandy and five athletic males whose ages ranged from 20 to 30 years old, height from 180 to 186 centimeters, and body mass from 73 to 82 kilograms. All the subjects performed a total of ten jumps, five countermovement jumps, “a vertical jump involving significant downward motion of the center of mass of the body prior to upward propulsion” (Anderson and Pandy), and five squat jumps, “vertical jumps beginning with the body in a static, semi-squatting position” (Anderson and Pandy). Jumps were executed in alternating order. During all the jumps, subjects were asked to jump as high as they could without countermovement. Also the jumpers crossed their arms in front of their chests to eliminate arm swing. Results from this study show that 35 percent of the energy delivered to the skeletal system during vertical jump is contributed by the elastic tissue; the other 65 percent comes from the contraction of the muscles. Also found was, when jumps were preceded by a preparatory phase, that lead to more efficient jumps rather than higher jumps, due to the storage and utilization of elastic strain energy. Another interesting result is described as follows by the authors. “The amount of energy delivered to the skeleton by an actuator was heavily influenced by the compliance of its tendon. For the most proximal muscles (i.e., gluteus maximus, hamstrings and vasti), which have relatively short and stiff tendons, the total energy delivered to the skeleton was dominated by the contractile elements. In contrast, for the ankle plantarflexors, which possess longer and more compliant tendons, the total energy delivered to the skeleton was dominated by the elastic tissues. In fact, the elastic tissues accounted for almost 70 percent of the total energy delivered to the skeleton by the ankle plantarflexors.”

“Tendon Action of Two-Joint Muscles: Transfer of Mechanical Energy Between Joints During Jumping, Landing, And Running,” by Boris I. Prilutsky and Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky, examined the function of two-joint muscles, in the lower limbs in human movement, for our purposes, jumping. Three male subjects were used for the jumping phases of this study. Their heights ranged from 1.68 to 1.86 meters, and their body mass ranged from 64 to 82 kilograms. The subjects performed maximal vertical jumps, starting from a squat position, without their heels touching the ground, and without arm swing. Prilutsky and Zatsiorsky concluded from their results that, “mechanical energy is transferred by the two-joint muscles from the hip to knee and from the knee to ankle (i.e., from proximal to distal joints).” 178.6 plus or minus 45.7 J was the amount of mechanical energy transferred by two-joint muscles from proximal to distal joints, on average, during the squat jump.

Specifically those muscles were the gastrocnemius and the rectus femoris. This study also comes to similar conclusions as the first study already discussed about tendons in the role of the vertical jump.

It should be noted that Prilutsky and Zatsiorsky’s article also included information on landing and running.

Comments are closed.