The ability to jump requires not just strength but power, which is a combination of speed and strength. To lift your body weight into the air, your muscles must contract quickly and forcefully. Athletes spend many hours training to increase the height of their vertical jump. In various sports, such as basketball and gymnastics, the ability to jump can be the key to success. However, you can lose your jumping ability due to aging, inactivity or even the way you train.
Your body has two major types of muscle fibers: slow-twitch and fast-twitch. Slow-twitch, or Type I, fibers are responsible for movements that require endurance, according to the BBC website. When you run or cycle over long distances, you depend on slow twitch fibers to move for extended periods of time without getting tired. Fast-twitch, or Type IIA, fibers rapidly contract and are used for powerful and explosive movements, such as jumping or sprinting. Fast-twitch fibers require a lot of energy and exhaust quickly. The difference between a slow-twitch fiber and a fast-twitch fiber is size. The fast-twitch fiber is larger and can generate more force. A third type of fiber, the Type IIB, has characteristics of both slow-twitch and fast-twitch fibers and is used for movements requiring endurance and strength.
As you age, you lose muscle mass due to inactivity and your body’s selective loss of fast-twitch muscle fibers. After age 30, your muscles grow less dense, while the amount of intramuscular fat increases, according to Thomas Baechle’s book “Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning.” The deterioration of fast-twitch fibers leads to a reduction in the ability of your muscles to generate force rapidly, which directly impacts jumping ability. When you get older, you lose power even more quickly than you lose overall muscle strength.
When you lift weights, you’re typically instructed to use slow and controlled movement. While this technique promotes the building of muscle mass and reduces the risk of injury, it primarily targets Type IIA muscle fibers and recruits some slow-twitch fibers. You don’t use any fast-twitch fibers when lifting weights in this way. According to “The Men’s Health Home Workout Bible,” by Lou Schuler and Michael Mejia, you’ll steadily lose fast-twitch fibers due to lack of use. When these fibers atrophy, you lose your ability to jump. If you change your technique to one that uses quick and explosive moments in such exercises as power cleans, hang cleans and jump squats, you can reverse the deterioration of your fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Restoring Jumping Ability
According to “Playing Tennis after 50,” by Kathy Woods and Ron Woods, you can reverse the negative effects of aging and the loss of power via resistance training. By overloading your muscles and boosting the demands you make on them, you can rebuild lost strength and power. You don’t have to use weights. You can use your own body weight, resistance bands, even jugs of water or food cans.
Your joints suffer wear and tear over the years. Low-impact training techniques, such as jumping in sand or box jumps, as well as doing two-leg versus one-leg jumping exercises, can help to restore your jumping ability.
- The Men’s Health Home Workout Bible; Lou Schuler and Michael Mejia
- Exercise for Your Muscle Type: The Smart Way to Get Fit; Micelle Lovitt and John Speraw
- Verticaljumping.com: Jump Training for Older Athletes
- Playing Tennis After 50; Kathy Woods and Ron Woods
- Senior Physical Education: An Integrated Approach; David Kirk et al.
- Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning; Thomas R. Baechle et al.
- BBC: Science: Human Body & Mind, Muscles – Fast and Slow Twitch
- Coachesinfo.com: The Biomechanics of Jumping