How to Jump Higher: Eccentric Training

Paradox. Noun: a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.

As a young basketball player, my dream was to dunk a basketball.

During high school, I experimented with vertical jumping programs.  After years of hard training, I was disappointed – I still couldn’t dunk, I developed patellar tendonitis, and I was forced to take years off from playing basketball.

I gave up on my goals of dunking, watched Pumping Iron, and got into bodybuilding.

Occasionally, I’d test my vertical jump throughout the year.

When my legs were lacking, I tried daily maximal back squatting.  I got stronger, my vertical jump improved, but I still wasn’t dunking.

Then I read Triphasic Training and did a few weeks of slow eccentric (lengthening) work paired with plyometrics.  The eccentrics consisted of squatting heavy with a 4-5 second tempo on the lowering portion.  After 3 weeks of training, I tested my vertical – I could finally dunk.

It made no sense to me.  How could training slow make me more explosive?

So I tried it out with high school and college basketball players.  The same result – athletes jump higher.  Those that were close to dunking were now throwing it down with ease.

A paradox was developed: Training slow increases vertical jump.  It makes no sense – but digging in to the physiology proves otherwise.

Sidenote: Eccentric training also cleared up my patellar tendonitis.  It’s an effective method to deal with injuries [14, 29].

Eccentric Strength and Performance

Muscle contraction exists in three phases: lengthening, stopping, and shortening.

These are known as: eccentric, isometric, and concentric.

Before you jump, you dip down (eccentric phase).  Before you throw a baseball, you cock back your arm (eccentric phase).  Before you cut, you load up your legs (eccentric phase).

In the eccentric, muscle and tendon are stretched.  Eccentric strength refers to the musculotendon’s ability to produce and resist force while lengthening.

The research:

Vertical Jump.  Jumping is positively related to eccentric strength [6, 31] and eccentric rate of force development [19].

Eccentric training has been shown to increase vertical jump height [9, 21, 28].

Change of Direction. Eccentric strength is a predictor of change of direction (COD) performance [33], deceleration and sprinting [27].  Being stronger eccentrically can explain COD speed variance among athletes [15, 32].

Eccentric training has been show to improve COD ability [12] by increasing force absorption while cutting [16].

By training with heavy, slow eccentrics, you are improving your muscle and tendon’s ability to manage high muscle tension.  This was the benefit I saw when my vertical shot up and what I recommend for those initially starting a program.

However, to optimize eccentric strength, you have to train at a high eccentric speedNOT slowly (more on this later).

Eccentric Strength and Elastic Energy

During an eccentric contraction, you are stretching elastic structures in your muscle and tendon.  When this happens, muscle and tendon behave like springs [21].

And when you stretch springs, they store elastic recoil energy [17, 23].

Springs exist on a continuum: compliance to stiffness.  If your musculotendon springs are stiff, they will store more elastic energy when stretched.  And because elastic energy increases athletic performance [3, 5, 11, 25, 30], a high level of stiffness is exactly what you want.

Tendon stiffness adapts most to the highest loading magnitude [4].  The best gains in tendon stiffness come from high strain [1, 2, 24], training with low strain or low resistance does not work [18].  Eccentric training has the capacity to overload the musculotendon system more than regular training because eccentric strength is greater than concentric strength [20].  This means a high strain, or tension can be force upon the tendon system – forcing stiffness adaptations.

Muscle stiffness also adapts in the same manner.  High amounts of muscle forces and energy absorbed from eccentric training paired with jumping causes an increase in muscle stiffness [21, 28].

Athletes with more eccentric leg strength have more stiffness of the lower extremity [26].  When they dip down before a jump, their springs resist lengthening better because they’re able to tolerate higher stretch loads.  This leads to more energy storage [10] as eccentric strength is a major factor in energy storage capability [16].  A high level of eccentric strength ultimately leads to high muscle power output [20] during explosive athletic movements.

Eccentric Strength and Eccentric Velocity


The faster an athlete descends, the more powerful they will be.

Study #1: In a countermovement jump, the more vigorous the descent, the higher the jump [22].

Study #2: In plyometric training, a faster descent elicits more advantage in vertical jump performance than a slower descent [35].

Study #3: In 48 trained Track and Field athletes, jump height significantly correlates with eccentric (descending) velocity [13].

Eccentric velocity is determined by eccentric strength.  If your musculotendon springs cannot withstand the force of a fast descent, your body won’t let you.  Fast athletes have springs that are able to deal with a high amount of force [7, 8].  This is because they are strong eccentrically [34].  If you want to descend fast, you must build the capacity to do so (eccentric strength).

Take your major exercises: Squats, bench presses, and pulls, and perform them with a controlled eccentric for a few weeks to let the muscle and tendon adapt.  Then, once comfortable with the exercises, perform them as explosively as possible, both on the eccentric and the concentric.  This will maximize eccentric strength, elastic energy storage and utilization, and eccentric velocity capacity.  This is a feature of the Vertical Jump Protocol.

Pair these strength moves (slow or fast) with plyometrics for a synergistic effect [9].

Use band-resistance to force your body into a greater eccentric velocity.

Or as I recommend, the French Contrast Method:

Ensure your core and spinal erectors are strong enough to manage a high eccentric velocity while jumping.  Otherwise, your eccentric velocity gains will not transfer to actual vertical jump gains.  Again, this core and spinal erector training are covered in the Vertical Jump Protocol.

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I'm able to dunk again so whatever we're doing is definitely working

Christian H. - Former Collegiate Baseball Player


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