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Vertical Jump Tests: A Critical Review

P. Klavora, Ph.D.
Motor Learning Laboratory
Faculty of Physical Education and Health
University of Toronto

Mailing Address:

Peter Klavora
55 Harbord Street
University of Toronto
Toronto, Canada M5S 1W6

Tel: 416 978 6096

Fax: 416 966-9022

Key words: vertical jump, explosive power, fitness testing

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The development of explosive power in the legs is important for success in a variety of athletic

pursuits, from attacking in volleyball to rebounding in basketball. But even for activities that do

not rely specifically on vertical jump per se, such as blocking in football, vertical jump tests

provide an effective measurement of power as an indirect measure of performance. Such tests

have been used for assessing weightlifters and power lifters (11, 12), football and basketball

players (6, 8), volleyball players (19), swimmers (2), and college students (7).

Coaches and strength and conditioning professionals have long used performance tests

such as the vertical jump to assess athletic ability, which helps them to identify athletes’ strengths

and weaknesses, chart and document progress, or assign positions and ranking to individuals

(13). Since most athletes and coaches strive for an improvement in performance, vertical jump

testing is being used to measure the effectiveness of various training programs in developing

explosive power, including strength training programs (14), plyometrics (18), and periodization

training (8). The vertical jump has also been used for talent identification and prediction of future

success in specific athletic disciplines, including weightlifting (12, 22) and swimming (1).

Clearly, vertical jump testing has numerous sport applications; but there are many

different protocols being used to assess vertical jump ability and explosive power in athletes.

Depending on the equipment used, the vertical jump can be considered a field or laboratory test.

Although laboratory tests using devices such as force platforms generally allow for a greater

level of precision and accuracy in testing vertical jump, these measures also tend to be more

expensive and less feasible for the average sports participant. Fortunately, many vertical jump

field tests exist that are very practical in terms of time, effort, and equipment.
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Vertical Jump Field Tests

Although vertical jump field tests are relatively easy to administer, not all field tests are created

equal. Below is a description of the most popular field tests being used today to assess vertical

jump performance.

Jump and Reach Tests

Most vertical jump tests have been derived from the original Sargent jump (20), which basically

involves measuring the difference between a person’s standing reach and the height to which he

or she can jump and touch. The basic Sargent jump has the subject stand facing a smooth, dark

wall with both feet flat on the floor and toes touching the wall. He or she then reaches as high as

possible with either hand and makes a mark on the wall (or wall-mounted jump

board/chalkboard) with a piece of chalk or chalk dust. Holding the desired jump position with the

preferred side to the wall, the subject jumps as high as possible and makes another mark at the

peak of the jump (9). The vertical jump score is the difference between the two marks (recorded

in inches or centimeters).

Many modifications of this test have been used over the years with slight variations (3,

16). One such test (16) uses the vertical power jump as a measure of work. Subjects stand facing

sideways to the jump board, the preferred arm behind the back, and the other arm raised

vertically with the hand turned outward and fingers extended. The subject’s standing reach is

recorded with him or her standing on the toes and the rest of the test proceeds as above with

chalk dust placed on the subject’s middle finger. For this test, the measure of the best jump is

used in a formula to compute a final score:

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distance jumped x body weight = foot-pounds


The results of jump and reach tests can also be used with a measure of body weight to

determine anaerobic power using the Lewis Nomogram (10).

The principles and nature of jump and reach tests are generally the same: the jump begins

either in a crouch position or with knees bent at about 90º or in a standing position followed by a

fast knee-bending movement just before jumping. Some protocols also allow a swinging arm

movement before the jump is executed.

The Vertec (Sports Imports, Hilliard, OH) is another variation of the jump and reach

protocol designed to measure vertical jump performance (1, 8, 15). However, rather than being

located next to a wall or requiring chalk, this device includes colored plastic swivel vanes

arranged in half-inch increments attached to a telescopic metal pole that can be adjusted to the

subject’s standing reach. Again, a two-footed no-step approach is used to measure jump height.

Maximum vertical jump can be determined when the subject can no longer displace the same

horizontal swivel vane on two consecutive jumps.

These continue to be the most popular field tests despite apparent drawbacks. These

traditional protocols require either jumping next to a wall (which may seriously inhibit jumping

capability) or require good shoulder flexibility and skill to reach with one hand, which may be

more applicable for athletes in certain sports such as basketball and volleyball. Even if the

vertical jump test is administered next to an overhang rather than a wall (which would eliminate

problems associated with restrictions in movement), these tests still require that subjects divide

their attention between reaching to make a mark and the jump itself, which poses a problem. It is

erroneously assumed that subjects will always mark the wall (or displace a vane) precisely at the
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peak of their jump. These tests also tend to be more time consuming and tedious when large

subject numbers are involved.

Switch Mat Tests

A new generation of tests has recently been introduced that obtain measurements of vertical jump

height through calculations involving air time (4, 5, 23-25). The Just Jump System (Probotics,

Huntsville, AL) (15) includes a square mat (27 x 27 in.) attached to a hand-held computer. With

the aid of microswitches embedded in the mat, flight time is measured as the interval between

liftoff of the feet from the mat to landing of the feet back on the mat. The computer displays both

air time (.01 s) and the height of the jump (to the nearest half-inch) simultaneously, which

removes the need for hand calculations.

Another similar device using flight time to measure vertical jumping power is the

Ergojump (Junghans GMBH-Schramberg, Germany) (4). This test consists of a digital timer (±

0.001 s) connected by a cable to a thin contact mat. Similar to the Just Jump System,

microswitches in the mat are triggered by the subject’s feet the moment they are released from

the mat and stop the moment the feet touch back down. However, this test uses the recorded

flight time to calculate the change in height of the body’s center of gravity using the following


HCG = t2 x g where g = 9.81 m/s2

8 t = flight time

These switch mats provide many advantages over traditional vertical jump and reach

tests. Aside from being more precise, they are generally more efficient and can therefore

accommodate larger subject numbers in shorter periods of time. They also eliminate the need to
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measure the height of a subject’s reach, are easy to transport, and require very little storage

space. The Just Jump System has the added benefit of not requiring any calculations to derive

jump height following each jump.

However, to ensure measurement accuracy and reliability, subjects must use a consistent

landing technique with the legs and hips extended until contact is made with the mat, since

flexing the knees or hips prior to landing will delay contact with the mat (thereby inflating air

time). These tests also assume that subjects land in the same position they took off from on the

mat, although this is a general assumption made for all tests of vertical jump.

Belt Tests

Belt jump tests also improve upon the traditional tests of vertical jump in many ways.

Abalakow’s belt jump involves a measuring tape fastened to a belt around the subject’s waist and

fed through a heavy metal plate positioned between the subject’s feet (15-20 cm apart) on the

floor (21). The initial value is read at the plate, and following each jump, the tape slides through

and stops at the apex of the jump. Subjects are permitted to bend their knees and swing their

arms before jumping, but are required to land within two rectangles (approximately 50 cm by 30

cm) on either side of the plate. The new value is read off the tape at the same point and the

difference between the initial and final values represents the subject’s final vertical jump score.

Figure 1 about here

A modification of Abalakow’s test, a new belt jump protocol developed at the University

of Toronto to measure vertical jump height (17) improves upon Abalakow’s previous test. The
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UofT belt jump (Sport Books Publisher, Toronto, ON) involves a device consisting of a tape with

a belt at one end, a 22” x 22” rubber mat, and a tape feeder attached to the center of the mat. The

feeder device provides very little resistance to tape movement and stops the tape at the highest

point of the jump. The subject stands on the mat and fastens the belt around his or her waist. A

length of blank tape runs between the mat feeder and the belt. The end of this portion of the tape,

which is threaded through a clip in the belt, is pulled taut to adjust for the height of the

individual. The measuring portion of the tape is secured by another clip at the mat feeder to

insure it is always set to zero cm/in before each jump. When the tape feeder is unlocked, the

device is ready for the performer to jump. After the jump is made, the length of tape pulled

through the feeder indicates the height of the jump. For a legitimate score the subject is required

to land on the mat. The tester simply reads off the height of the jump (in inches or centimeters),

which is clearly displayed on both sides of the tape at the feeder.

Although similar in conception, the UofT belt jump eliminates some of the problems

associated with Abalakow’s test. The improved belt clip technology and rubber mat eliminate the

potential pitfalls of having a metal plate between the subjects’ feet upon landing, and because the

measuring tape is always set to zero initially, no calculations are necessary to record the values

following each jump.


Although laboratory tests of vertical jump are more accurate and precise, vertical jump field tests

are generally simpler, easier to use, and more affordable. A variety of practical field tests exist

that effectively measure vertical jump height; however, some tests are better than others.

Traditional jump and reach tests have problems associated with jumping next to a wall, potential
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restrictions in shoulder flexibility, and the need to divide attention between the jump and making

a mark. Also, it is relatively easy to simulate a lower initial reach for jump and reach tests where

the subject’s initial reach must be obtained. When this score is subtracted from the final vertical

jump score, a higher (inaccurate) value will be obtained. Although having subjects reach with

both arms to obtain an initial reach would appear to eliminate this potential problem, final

measurements would be slightly inflated, since the eventual jump and reach is performed with

one arm, not two.

While final vertical jump scores are calculated by subtracting initial reach or equivalent

height values from peak jump scores in most jump protocols, no such computation is necessary

for the belt jump or switch mat tests, removing a step in the testing process. This makes testing

and recording more efficient and accurate. These tests also prevent potential cheating by athletes

when used as a predictive tool for selection purposes and eliminate the aforementioned problems

associated with restrictions in shoulder flexibility or the need to reach and make a mark. For

these reasons, they offer an improved alternative to traditional jump and reach tests.

Subjects also recorded significantly higher jump values when tested with a belt test (17,

21) or switch mat test (15) compared to various jump and reach tests. This suggests that belt tests

and switch mats provide a more objective measure of vertical jump performance when compared

to traditional jump and reach tests and their associated drawbacks.

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Figure 1 The UofT Belt Test is a new, relatively inexpensive vertical jump field test.