Jump testing: What it is and how it benefits an athleteJuly 3, 2018 | by Sean McKeown, Fortius Applied Sport Scientist
One of the most frequent statements I hear when I mention jump testing to athletes is, “Well, I don’t jump in my sport so it’s not relevant to me.” This is a big misconception.
I hope by the end of this article you may have a broader understanding of what exactly jump testing entails, how it can benefit any athlete looking to inform their training.
JUMP MATS VS. FORCE PLATES
Whether its baseline testing, testing post-injury or assessing the effectiveness of a training program, at some point, most athletes go through some form of testing. And, regardless of the sport or level, this often includes a jump test of some kind.
Usually, these jump tests are done on a jump mat which measures the time the athlete is off the mat and in the air. From that information we calculate the athlete’s jump height. Just knowing the jump height, however, does not tell us anything about the process— how the athlete produced the force in their legs and coordinated their body to achieve that particular height. By understanding the process we can begin to understand how an athlete moves and creates force, which gives us actionable information toward training prescription, injury recovery and prevention.
At Fortius, we use a dual force plate system in which one leg is placed on each force plate as an athlete performs their jumps. The athlete performs three jump tests on the dual force plates: squat jump, counter-movement jump and drop jump. By looking at various measures from these jumps we can begin to create an athlete profile from which we can prioritize training for that athlete.
1. Injury risk assessment
Unfortunately, sport is sport and injuries happen all the time. But what if there were two or three simple tests that could identify your risk of specific injuries? You could use that information to decrease your risk of getting injured, missing playing time and ultimately saving money that’s not being spent on expensive rehabilitation. Research has shown that some jump measures can identify an athlete at higher risk of ACL injury, soft tissue (muscle injuries) and bony injuries. With this information, a strength & conditioning coach can devise and implement an appropriate training program to target specific risk factors and decrease an athlete’s overall risk of injury.
2. Tailored exercise selection
From the data collected with jump tests using the force plates, applied sport scientists can understand how an athlete generates force and whether the proportion of force between muscle groups is appropriate. For example, because of the skating position in ice hockey, players tend to use their quads a lot more and these muscles become over-dominant in comparison to their glutes. From jump testing, we can assess the degree to which the glutes and quads contribute to skating and identify any asymmetries between legs. By sharing these results with the strength & conditioning coach, a program can be built to develop the weaker muscle groups.
We can also use the drop jump to assess how fast someone is able to create force and complete a movement. All sporting actions are constrained by the time allowed to complete the movement. If we know a sprinter will spent .08 seconds in contact with the floor on each step, and they spend .5 seconds on the ground during a drop jump, we know we need to get the athlete off the ground faster to improve their speed. Therefore, these results can be used to tailor their training program to develop that capacity.
3. Talent identification
Many sport teams and organizations have specific ranges they expect athletes to be within to be identified as high performers, which fast track them into specific programs to develop their sporting ability. For example, many sports such as basketball and rugby have age-grade norms. Many of these measures can be assessed using the dual force plate and can be provided to the coaching or talent recruitment teams.
4. Assessing Change
Obviously, the goal of training and practice is to improve whatever it is you are working at, whether that be specific sporting skills or strength and conditioning priorities to help supplement your sport-specific performance. While initial testing can identify targets and priorities for training, none of this is worthwhile if you don’t track change over time in response to that particular training program. If there is a specific measure you want to improve, then knowing if you actually improved it is important. Conversely, if you see no improvements, then you need to reassess your training program.
For example, you and I both jump 40cm. We both go through a training program and return for testing. Again, we both jump 40cm. Have we changed anything? Using only a jump mat, that is exactly the conclusion we will come to: no change. However, using the dual force plate can assess how fast someone is able to create force and complete the movement. So, if we both jump 40cm, but on retesting you are now doing the movement in half the time while I am taking twice as long, then your efficiency has increased hugely (positive training effect) while my efficiency has decreased (negative training effect).
Force plate testing not only assesses your jump height (the outcome) but also how you came to that height (the process). In turn, these tests can indicate increased risk of injury, identify and fast track athletes with unique talent and identify areas of weakness to build an appropriate, optimal training plan. Jump testing can provide objective and actionable information for an athlete and coach to help prioritize their needs and ultimately improve performance, whether they jump in their sport or not.