High jumpers, volleyball and basketball players, soccer goalkeepers -- every Nestie in these sports, and many others, wants to jump the highest of all. Silver medalist Brigetta Barrett, who high jumped a personal best 6 feet 8 inches in the 2012 London Olympics, undertakes a grueling regimen in the weight room to attain precious elevation in her event. You can model the favored leg exercises of Barrett and other high-flyers.
Along with their track and field buddies -- the sprinters -- high jumpers love a few sets of squats, cleans, and snatches with a heavily loaded barbell at their training sessions. These Olympic-style lifts encourage total-body strength and stability, as well as the explosiveness needed for jumping higher. Barrett performs these as well as weighted lunges, which can involve barbells but more typically are performed with dumbbells.
Your gym may have a regular seated leg press, where you sit normally in a seat and push on a platform that pulls up stacked plates by a cable. If you are looking for the best leg exercises to jump higher, you want to follow Barrett instead to the heavy leg press machine, also called the sled 45-degree leg press machine. Here you lie back at a 45-degree angle and press a sled that pushes weight plates threaded onto a bar, generally far heavier than the stacked plates.
You can jump up on a purpose-built plyo box, a roughly cube-shaped object that can be turned on different sides to create heights from 18 to 30 inches, or a stadium step, sturdy bench or platform. You explode from a standing start from the floor to the top of the box, landing as gently as possible in a balanced squat and then rising. You can also perform altitude drops, jumping off a tall box about the height of your greatest leap and gently landing on your toes. To perform weighted step-ups, as the name suggests, step onto the box or bench, dumbbells in hand, one leg at a time.
Olympic volleyball champ Kerri Walsh Jennings, who has a spectacular 47-inch vertical leap, recommends an exercise called ice skaters for the legs. You jump dynamically from one leg laterally to the other, swinging your arms in rhythm and keeping your chest up. Ice skaters provide a powerful cardio workout, as well as a leg-strength and endurance challenge to maintain your performance in terms of your side-to-side jump width during subsequent sets.
An award-winning writer and editor, Rogue Parrish has worked at the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun and at newspapers from England to Alaska. This world adventurer and travel book author, who graduates summa cum laude in journalism from the University of Maryland, specializes in travel and food -- as well as sports and fitness. She's also a property manager and writes on DIY projects.