Unstable Surface Training and Other “Neat” Vertical Jump Training Techniques

December 21, 2009

Vertical Jump

Let’s get real for a second.

I’m assuming…

  • You want results from your training.
  • You want the best results in the quickest possible time.

Just because your workout is ‘neat’, and just because it is difficult does not mean it is creating the desired training effect.

This sounds silly, as well as obvious.

However, there are plenty of often exciting or difficult training techniques that can easily elude us into engaging in less effective training techniques.

Let’s pick on unstable surface training for a moment.

I have worked with trainers and athletes all over the world and am always surprised when an athlete or trainer chooses a “neat” technique over an effective one.

A classic example of this is the flood of unstable surface training (UST) you can find in nearly any gym.

This usually involves Bosu balls, instability pads, and so on.

Athletes and trainers love to use these because they are a challenge to the athlete and give the trainer and athlete a misconception of progress.

Don’t get me wrong. UST does have a place in a training regime.

Unstable surface training creates an unstable environment (duh) in which the athlete is required to re-balance constantly.

It is most effective for rehabbing ankles and knees.

Often the cause of ankle problems is NOT lack of strength but lack of proper reactions.

UST helps to train the proper reactions and neural signals to prevent recurring ankle and knee injuries.

It is also a great way to keep your athlete entertained.

This is mostly relevant to trainers who are helping non-competitive athletes get into shape, or for kids who are learning to train.

As long as the athlete is aware of what he or she is sacrificing (effectiveness) this is okay.

But you must keep something in mind…

UST will slow the progress of your vertical jump training.

Unstable surface training WILL train your body to use slower activation patterns, and undermine the development of power in your training program.

UST for any other purpose than the above stated purpose is probably being used incorrectly.

Squats on unstable surfaces, lunges on unstable surfaces, and jumping on unstable surfaces are counterproductive.

Well-documented studies have been performed showing that these neat and difficult exercises actually train your muscles to improperly activate and lower your power output for your actual vertical jump.

So while the increased strength from doing squats on unstable surfaces will increase your vertical jump, a normal squat will give better progress.

The lesson here?

Unstable surface training is one example of how neat and challenging exercises and techniques can fool us into thinking we are making progress.

They awaken the hope that we have found the “new” and “magic” formula.

Our hopes are then reinforced by the difficulty level of the training.

New, interesting, and challenging training often trick us into pursuing the wrong training focus.

Beware of new neat training techniques that make you think, “Now that is interesting!”

Some techniques can be effective, but many are fads that capture interest yet waste time and effort.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when considering a training method.

  • Does the technique increase strength in the target muscle area or prime movers and in the proper joint angles for the desired activity?
  • Does the technique train the body to properly recruit muscles for the target activity? (Specificity)
  • Does the target activity put the body in undue risk of injury?
  • Are there more effective and safer alternatives?
  • Have studies been done proving or disproving the effectiveness of the technique for the specific outcome?(www.pubmed.gov is a great place to start)

If you are training with a certain technique because you trust the source, a good bit of healthy skepticism can help you choose between effective and less-effective techniques.

Many trusted, certified, and respected trainers even fall prey to ineffective methodologies from time to time.

Avoid taking everything one trainer or source says as “gospel.”

For more information on proven and effective techniques to maximize your athletic ability check out the Jump Manual.

About the author:

Jacob Hiller is a performance enhancement specialist focusing on vertical jump and speed development. Jacob has worked with professional basketball and volleyball players, as well as professional dunkers, Olympic ski jumpers, martial artists, Parkour athletes, and ice skaters.Jacob is the author of The Jump Manual, considered by many around the world to be the authoritative guide to comprehensive vertical jump training

You can visit Jacob’s vertical jump training blog.

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7 Responses to “Unstable Surface Training and Other “Neat” Vertical Jump Training Techniques”

  1. JP Says:

    Right on. Training on unstable surfaces has a negative effect on rate of force development. While UST might help balance, it will also decrease speed and power. There is no good reason for athletes to use unstable surfaces during strength and power workouts.


  2. raqueon Says:

    good info! dont know what “neat” means


  3. Donte Says:

    Hey its me Donte and i am a friend of DAN O’s and I wonder if having a 8 or 12 pack will help you dunk easier and faster and my email adress is kingbling@yahoo.com


  4. Jacob Says:

    Donte, funny you ask… as I am posting an article on this very subject in the next few days.


  5. Johnnylu Says:

    Hi enjoyed your post. Good advice for anyone wanting that perfect jump.


  6. Ash Says:

    hey im a high jumper and need a good jump but good balance im kinda confused what should i do?

    by the way jacob isuggest u take a look at powerbalance and tell us ur thoughts


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