Vertical jump testing is a popular way to assess an athlete’s power and explosiveness, but how do you perform the tests properly, and how do your results stack up against the competition? In this article we’re going to cover:
- 1 What is the vertical jump test?
- 2 What does the vertical jump test measure?
- 3 Vertical jump components of fitness
- 4 What is a good score for the vertical jump test?
- 5 Vertical jump test validity & reliability
- 6 Advantages and disadvantages of the vertical jump test
- 7 Vertical jump test equipment
- 8 Vertical jump summary
- 9 Further reading
- 10 Reference
What is the vertical jump test?
The vertical jump test describes a wide cohort of jump tests in which athletes aim to jump as high as possible. This loosely includes countermovement jumps and squat jumps, performed both with and without arm movement.
What does the vertical jump test measure?
The vertical jump test is most often used as a measure of power and explosiveness. Athletes who are stronger and who can produce force more quickly tend to score better.
It is a popular field test due to its simple and inexpensive nature.
Vertical jumps are also sometimes used as measures of athlete readiness to train. In this context, coaches may have athletes perform a few vertical jumps at the start of each training session, and adjust training volume, intensity and difficulty based on how each athlete scores in relation to their average vertical jump values.
Vertical jump components of fitness
The vertical jump contains the following components of fitness:
Jumping movement ability:
Vertical jumps can simply be used to assess the motor control and movement component of an athlete’s fitness, i.e. how well can that athlete actually jump and land?
Studies have shown jumping is an essential motor skill across a wide range of sports, including but not limited to soccer (Stølen 2005), basketball (Ziv 2009), volleyball (Sheppard 2008) and handball (Kruger 2014).
As a coach, I tend to look for a balanced, midfoot jump, plenty of height, and a landing in which knees are in line with toes, with force absorbed through toes and mid foot, an upright posture and a braced core.
When we say that vertical jumps are used as a measure of power, it would actually be more accurate to say that they do so indirectly, by collecting related data such as jump height and flight time.
This data can then be plugged into equations to derive power, or when using equipment such as force plates, the data can be fed into various computer programmes (Bioware) to calculate this information (plus much more) for you.
If you’re planning to use the vertical jump as part of your fatigue monitoring plan, then it can be conducted at the start of each training session. Alternatively, if you’re using it as a performance tracking measure, I recommend testing something in the region of once every 6-12 weeks.
Here’s how it’s done…
Vertical jump test procedure
- Set up your wall, vertec, jump mat or force plates.
If using a vertec jump pole, have your athlete stand side on to the pole and reach up as far as possible with the hand closest to it. Feet should be kept flat on the ground, and the point of the fingertips should be marked/recorded.
- (Optional) Record body weights
If you plan on using the Sayer’s Power Equation later, this is a good opportunity to take athletes body weights as well.
- Decide upon and explain jump style
This is the time to decide whether your athletes are going to do countermovement jumps, and whether or not they’re going to be allowed/encouraged to use their arms. It doesn’t matter which jump style you use, so long as it is consistent from test to test, and that the athlete knows how to consistently perform it.
Personally, I like countermovement jumps with arm usage as in my opinion they’re more relatable to sporting movements. With that said, the ability to standardise squat jumps without arm usage (hands on hips) might make them more internally valid as a measure of lower body power.
- Conduct practice attempts
Give athletes at least 3 practice attempts to ensure consistent technique.
- Athletes jump and you record data
Have each athlete perform between 3 and 5 single, maximal effort jumps, separated by at least 1 minute. As these jumps take place, record your results either on paper, or ideally, on a laptop/computer setup.
When recording data, jump mats and force plates will display jump heights and extra data automatically, whereas with vertec or chalk wall testing you need to measure the distance between each athletes’s standing reach height and their jumping reach height.
- Analyse data
You can either take each athlete’s best result, or take an average of their jumps, personally I prefer the latter, as it tends to better account for anomalous high or low results, and give a truer representation of how that athlete tends to jump. To be fair, though, it doesn’t really matter so long as it’s consistent between athletes and between tests.
You can also go on to derive data such as power, impulse, force, side to side asymmetries etc if so desired using software like Bioware, or by manually plugging a lot of numbers into various physics equations.
Realistically, though, you have to have a good reason for data collection, and if you aren’t going to use it to impact your coaching decisions, extra data is just a waste of time and effort.
What is a good score for the vertical jump test?
Good vertical jump scores vary depending on the type of jump, i.e. countermovement, squat jump, with arms, without arms etc. The following two sets of normative data are both based on vertical jumps being performed with a countermovement and the use of arms.
Vertical jump test norms using Vertec (Countermovement with arms) Via TopEnd Sports:
Vertical Jump norms by age (Countermovement with arms):
A large-scale study (Taylor 2010) of almost 2000 school children in the UK collected the following data…
So if you were reading the data…
- A 12 year old male who jumped 34cm would be in the 90th percentile of jump ability
- A 14 year old female who jumped 30cm would be in the 75th percentile
- And so on
Hypothetically, this data could be used as part of a talent identification process, but the reality of talent identification is far more complex with dozens of factors at play, and so the overall usefulness of normative data for the 10-15 age group should be taken with a strong pinch of salt.
We should also consider that this data is specific to children in the UK, and that normative values will likely differ around the world.
Vertical jump test validity & reliability
Studies (Rodriguez-Rosel 2016) have generally found that vertical jump testing is a valid and reliable test of lower body explosive power.
With that said, vertec devices have been found to have variable results in comparison to jump mats and force plates, as well as to be susceptible to variations in jump execution.
What this means is that jump testing is valid and reliable, but that results from one type of testing device should not be compared against results from a different type of device.
It also means that standardising how each jump is performed is important.
Advantages and disadvantages of the vertical jump test
Advantage 1: Simple and quick to use
The vertical jump test is simple to use. You either set up a vertec jump pole, roll out a jump mat, or give your athlete a piece of chalk and have them jump next to a wall. For coaches with limited time and lots of players, this is perfect.
Advantage 2: Cheap
A vertec pole costs a couple hundred dollars, or you can make your own with a couple hours of pretty basic DIY effort. For coaches on a budget, this is great.
Advantage 3: Fun
Through years of coaching, I’ve found that pretty much every athlete loves jump testing. Athletes are by nature competitive, both with themselves and their teammates, so if you give each athlete multiple attempts, you’ll often see a fun gym environment created.
Advantage 4: Safe
So long as athletes land in a decent squat pattern, vertical jump testing is safe, with very little risk involved. This also means that one coach can safely and effectively supervise multiple athletes. Compare this to say, 1-rep max squat or power clean testing, and you can see why it’s significantly safer.
Disadvantage 1: Lack of standardisation makes results comparison difficult
Since the term vertical jump test is such a broad banner, it can mean different things to different people, and is often not standardised.
For example, let’s say an athlete performs a ‘vertical jump test’ at club A, and scores 50cm. This jump was a countermovement jump with arm swing. They train hard for 3 months, only to perform another ‘vertical jump test’ at their new club B, this time with no countermovement and no arm swing. The athlete now finds that they only jump 45cm!
Not only is this disheartening for the athlete, but it also poses difficulty for coaches, because it provides no real indication of how training has been going.
With that said, this disadvantage can be significantly reduced through proper communication between clubs and tests, or simply through making a note of the test style used.
Disadvantage 2: Athletes jumping technique can impact results
This disadvantage is essentially a continuation of the first disadvantage. Athletes need to have decent jumping technique and landing mechanics in place. Without decent jumping technique, it can be hard to conclude that training has improved power production, versus say the athlete just improving jump technique.
In my experience, this issue can be avoided through the use of a familiarisation session, and by taking a few opportunities to teach athletes jumping mechanics BEFORE testing is conducted.
Disadvantage 3: Basic tests don’t factor in body weight
One of the biggest disadvantages of field-based vertical jump testing is that it doesn’t equate for body weight. Heavier athletes are always going to achieve less jump height, because they simply have more weight to jump with.
For example, let’s say you have two athletes, one who weighs 75kg, and the other who weighs 100kg. The 75kg athlete records a vertical jump score of 62cm, whilst the 100kg athlete records a score of 55cm. Coaches might incorrectly conclude that the 100kg athlete is less powerful.
Whereas in reality, the 100kg athlete could very likely be equally, if not more powerful than the 75kg athlete.
To adjust for this, we can use the ‘Sayers Power Equation,’ which is:
Vertical jump test equipment
There are numerous options for vertical jump test equipment, ranging from the incredibly simple and cheap, through to the incredibly expensive and complex.
At the cheap and simple end (£5-10) we have…
- Tape Measure
- A Wall
Slightly up from this we have (£200-400 or DIY)
- Vertec jump pole
Up in price once more (£600-1000) we have
- Jump mat
- Plus optional laptop/phone/tablet to plug in and save/record more data
And then right at the top end (£1500-£10000) we have
- Force plates
- Housing frame
- Connection cables
- Plus computer and analysis programme such as Bioware
Another high cost option is Optojump, which uses laser breaking software to measure flight jump and jump height. The laser system is fairly simple, but the equipment is more expensive as it can be used for a wider variety of tests, including sprints.
Vertical jump summary
The vertical jump test is a versatile test used by coaches for it’s simple and easy estimations of jumping ability, recovery status and power output. It is generally considered to be reliable and valid for its purpose, provided that movement execution is standardised.
- Kruger et al. (2014) – Physical Performance Profile Of Handball Players Is Related To Playing Position And Playing Class.
- Rodriguez-Rosell et al. (2016) – Traditional vs. sport-specific vertical jump tests: reliability, validity and relationship with the legs strength and sprint performance in adult and teen soccer and basketball players.
- Sheppard et al. (2008) – Relative importance of strength, power and anthropometric measures to jump performance of elite volleyball players.
- Stølen et al. (2005) – Physiology of soccer: An update.
- Taylor et al. (2010) – Vertical jumping and leg power normative data for English school children aged 10-15 years.
- Ziv & Lidor (2009) – Physical attributes, physiological characteristics, on-court performances and nutritional strategies of female and male basketball players.
If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:
Parry, A (2022). Vertical Jump Test Explained: Normative Data & Considerations. Available from: https://sportscienceinsider.com/vertical-jump-test/ [Accessed dd/mm/yyyy].
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Alex is the Owner and Head Coach of Character Strength & Conditioning, and specialises in strength & power development for athletes.
He currently works as a Tutor & Educator for British Weightlifting, and has previously delivered S&C support to gymnastics and swimming talent pathways.