The Core Muscles that Improve Vertical Jump & Reduce Injury Risk
We define the body "core" as the area of the body startign from the bottom of the hips & pelvis, all the way up through the top of the shoulders.
Basically, any muscle group that connects to the body core could generally be considered a core muscle.
Historically, when discussions first started about training the core muscles to improve sports performance, most of the focus and discussions were about the abdominal muscles.
The abdominal muscles include:
- rectus abdominis
- internal & external obliques
- transverse abdominus
The rectus abdominus is often thought of as the most important abdominal muscle group, probabaly due to the attention it gets from a viusal perspective in gyms and on the internet. For sure, there are many programs and a lot of focus on "6-pack" or washboard abs.
While they do tend to get the most attention, the rectus abdominis muscle group is the group that tends to take on the look of a 6-pack or washboard abs.
Functionally though, the rectus abdominis muscle group is not as important to sports movements and vertical jump as some of the other abdominal groups we will discuss later.
The lower back muscles are also considered to be core muscles.
There are quite a few different back muscles. We will discuss which back muscles we believe are the most important down below.
Certain muscles around the pelvis & hips are important core muscles for function & sport.
The gluteal muscles are big strong, powerful muscles, which are positioned on the back and sides of the pelvis.
While the gluteal (glute) muscles are not necessarily discussed as “core muscles” in some discussions, functionally they work to create huge forces to help improve an athlete's vertical jump height and speed, while other glute muscles also play an important role for vertical jump and injury prevention as well.
key core MUSCLES for vertical jump
Form our perspective, the top three core muscle groups as related to vertical jump, are:
- Transverse Abdominis
The Transverse abdominis or (TA) attaches to the spine, rib cage and pelvis, and this muscle group runs almost 360 degrees around the lower abdominal and lower back areas.
Because the TA muscle fibers run laterally or sideways, functionally this muscle group provides stability or control to the lower back and pelvic areas.
Lumbar Spine & Pelvic Stability
When contracted or engaged, this large TA muscle group can pull in on the abdominal area, flattening the abdominal area but, more importantly functionally controlling or stabilizing the pelvis & lower back areas.
We will discuss this in greater detail below.
TA & Vertical Jump
For vertical jump training, training & conditioning the TA to work well will move the athlete's body vertically faster, higher and more efficiently than when this muscle group is not well trained.
Neutral Abs Exercise
One exercise we really like to train the TA is what we call neutral abs.
In this exercise, the athlete gently pulls their belly button down towards the floor and holds it there.
The multifidus (MM) lies deep in the back and its muscle fibers attach and run up & down diagonally between the bones of the spine.
Because of their diagonal orientation (connecting to the bones of the spine), functionally the MM plays a critically important role of stabilizing or controlling the rotation of the spine (from side-to-side).
Common Multifidus Exercises
Planks, on elbow, knees or toes, is a great exercise to train the multifidus muscles and the transverse abdominis at the same time.
From a stability perspective (to help control rotational movements of the spine as an athlete jumps and lands), a plank exercise can be a great exercise to train the MM and help improve vertical jump.
The gluteal muscles (GT) or more commonly known as the "glutes" in the fitness or strength training world, are an important core muscle group as well.
While the biggest and one of the most powerful muscles to train for sports performance and for vertical jump is the Gluteus Maximus (GMX), there are some other smaller glute muscles that we will discuss here.
The gluteus medius (GMD) is a muscle group that lies on the sides of the hips and pelvis.
Functionally, this muscle group stabilizes or controls the lateral movements of the hips, pelvis & body.
Speed Ladder Exercises for GMD
While there are many ways to train the glute medius muscle group, we like to train them in an exercise we call the "forwards shuffle" that is performed with a speed ladder.
In this exercise, we train the athlete to get into an athletic position and then move diagonally and forwards, working to stabilize or control the hips and pelvis as the athlete moves their body forwards and sideways.
Bonus - this exercise not only strengthes & trains the GMD but tends to also train the TA & MM all at the same time!
Anytime you can perform one exercise and get many different important muscles groups trained & conditioned at the same time, this is good!
Training many different muscles groups at the same time:
- reduces training time
- improves the effectiveness of the exercise
The area around the lumbar spine and pelvis is called the lumbo-pelvic area for short.
The lumbo-pelvic area of the body is essentially a critically important area to initiate and control movements of the body generally and for sure in jumping and other sports movements.
This area is stabilized or controlled very effectively by the combined workings of the three muscle groups we have been discussing: the TA, MM and the GMD.
Exercises for Lumbo-Pelvic Stability
It’s important to understand that these muscles need to be trained adequately, building strength and endurance in these muscles so an athlete can jump high, and land over-and-over without injury.
While you can train the TA, MM or GMD muscle groups individually with exercises that tend to isolate them, this is not the ideal way to train them to increase your vertical jump.
So we have created or selected more "functional" exercises in our vertical jump program which trains the TA, MM or GMD muscles at the same time.
In our vert jump masterclass we have created many exercises, which are performed in a specific fashion & order, to train and improve stability in the lumbo-pelvic area. Even better, many of our stability exercises actually strengthen the big power-producing jumping muscles of the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes and back muscles at same time.
Athlete Jumping & Landing Analysis
Let’s watch a high level athlete, who I've trained, jump & land and lets look at how these key core muscles work to help him jump and land.
Look at this athlete and specifically his abdominal area as he prepares to jump.
As he drops down towards the ground, performing his jumping counter movement, watch as his hips and legs bend.
Do you see how his abdominal and lower back area kind of enlarging and moving out and away from the spine?
Then, as he starts to push his feet down into the ground and starts to extend or straighten the ankles, knees, hips and spine, (do you see as his body moves up vertically) how his abdominal and lower back areas tend to start to pull in towards the spine?
This shows how the TA & MM muscles working together at the same time, to pull or draw the belly button in towards the spine.
Once again, this drawing in action provides stability and control to this core and specifically the lumbo-pelvic area.
More importantly, this action helps the athlete jump of the ground, faster & higher, as compared to when an athlete hasn't trained the TA & MM muscles to stabilize the lumbo-pelvic area when they jump.
Landing after jumping creates huge forces on the body and the joints, expeicially the anklees, knees, hips & spine. Realize that 3-4 times or even 6-8 times the body weight can come down on these joints which can cause injuries.
That means for a 150 pound athlete, that between 450-1200 pounds of force can come down on the ankles ankles, knees, hips and spine. That's a lot of force which can easily cause injuries.
To avoid injuries to the joints, muscles or other body parts, the training & conditioning of the TA & MM muscles is critically important but now we want to esnure the athe GMD muscles are also engaged & working as the same time with the TA & MM muscles.
As the body lands, the ankle, knee, hip and spine joints have a tendancy to move sideways or laterally which can increase the risk on an injury.
If all of these core muscles, the TA, MM & GMD muscles, have all been trained & conditioned well and are all working effectively, they will jointly control or stop the lateral movement of the body and joints which decreases injury risk.
This is even more important in jumping and specifically hitting in volleyball where it's very common for hitters to land on one foot. The better trained the athlete has trained the TA, MM & GMD muscles, the lower the risk of injury to the ankles, knees, hips & spine when the athlete lands on one foot.