By Carl Valle
Every year, I field questions about whether somebody should invest their coaching budget in a VertiMax system and, if so, whether it should be one unit or a fleet of them. For nearly 20 years, parents and coaches have asked whether the VertiMax works, and what are comparable options if the science holds up. The answer isn’t exactly clear, as there seems to be only a handful of research studies done on the VertiMax system, and empirically, athletes are not getting hurt or failing to improve with the training.
This article is a special one, as it not only goes over the research pertaining to the VertiMax, but also covers the science of elastic cord jump training. If you are interested in buying a VertiMax or want to know more about the science behind vertical jump training with elastic resistance, this review is perfect for you.
What Is the VertiMax Training System?
Unless you have been living under a rock here in the U.S., you know that the VertiMax is one of the most visible training devices today. The VertiMax is a small platform, with cords similar to bungees attached to it for jumping and other sporting actions. As its name suggests, most of the attention the device gets is for improving jumping performance, especially an athlete’s vertical jump.
I was first exposed to the VertiMax in the early 2000s, but older systems like it have existed for nearly 100 years. At first glance, the VertiMax simply looks like a pulley system, but the engineering is very clever. According to the patent, the strength of the “apparatus” is the following design:
“Generation of the nearly constant force is accomplished by directing one or more of the elastic cords beneath or away from the exercise area, thus allowing use of an increased length of cord. Directional control for the jumper, cord following to prevent fouling of the cord, and reduced friction are provided by a pivoted tracking assembly with pulleys which also serves as a force imbalance indicator for the elastic cords.” –Google Patent Summary
The engineering is important because many knockoff products exist that imitate the system but fail to replicate the tension of the cords. Attaching tubing or elastic bands to the ground is hardly new, but most of those other systems fail because rubber or springs function in way that doesn’t jive as well with jumping exercises as it does with general resistance training.Many knockoff products imitate the @VertiMax system, but fail to replicate the tension of the cords, says says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
I have covered variable resistance training with bands and chains in another article, but jumping is a different animal. I haven’t talked about elastic resistance too much here on SimpliFaster, as most of the best modalities for resistance sprinting are either sleds or mechanized devices. Assisted sprinting is popular with bungees because they’re inexpensive, but due to the limitations of elastic bands, the results have been feeble overall.
Video 1. This video shows the typical jumping experience with the VertiMax system. The key difference with the VertiMax is that the cord tension is nearly constant, thus providing a better resistance experience than conventional elastic bands.
It is important that you know the VertiMax system has evolved over the years, moving from a jump-specific product to a multi-purpose and multi-athlete training system. The platform increased the number of cords and attachment options, and refined the entire platform to be more user-friendly and easier to repair. In addition to the equipment, a certification program is now available, along with many facilities offering specific training sessions on the equipment.#VertiMax has evolved from a jump-specific product to a multi-purpose, multi-athlete training system, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
The company recently released the Raptor system, a near-constant resistance system that enables coaches to perform multi-directional speed and agility training. The Raptor device, not to be confused with my Raptor test battery, is different than other elastic resistance tools because it attempts to keep the resistance tension the same over the entire distance traveled, instead of nearly exponential as the athlete travels farther.
What Does the Research Say on Elastic Resistance for Jumping?
I wish I could get into the research on elastic bands for throwing, kicking, punching, sprinting, and even golfing, but this is a jump-specific article. I will likely cover the Raptor resisted sprint device from VertiMax later, while this article will clarify the most common use of the VertiMax system: improving leg power.
In this section, I cover the immediate benefits of elastic resistance and the training results over time as well. For purposes of clarity, knowing what happens during elastic resistance training is important to understand how an intervention works. While training is sometimes paradoxical in nature—meaning, it doesn’t seem to follow conventional logic—it’s important to be fully aware of how elastic resistance training works.
It’s more complicated to talk about elastic jump training in general than it is to talk about VertiMax training specifically. This is because elastic training’s method is not uniform—different studies review different approaches to training. For example, some elastic resistance training focuses on eccentric-only overload, while others attempt to strain both the concentric and eccentric phases of the jump. Two more points that must be factored into the equation when evaluating the appropriateness of studies with training are the population of athletes and the specific training protocols used. Most of the better studies add a training modality to an existing workout program, while some studies isolate the training method and only use that technique compared to a control.
A meta-analysis, or a study of the studies on elastic resistance training on jumping, was published by Behm in 2015. My warning to you is that this study was about the immediate effects, not the long-term training effects of resisted jumping with elastic bands. I included the meta-analysis to ensure coaches understood what happens immediately during training, not just what could happen after training. It was a well-researched paper, but it didn’t seem to have a strong summary that left a coach feeling comfortable with using, or even excelling in using, elastic resistance jump training. In fact, I am now more interested in the use of assisted jumps with bands than I am with cords.
The meta-analysis was very strong at summarizing each study into a nice profile of what was pertinent for review, and its tables were excellent. Additionally, the reviewers did a great job of filtering out which studies were robust enough for inclusion. By doing so, they really enabled the reader to feel comfortable about the conclusions of the study.
Based on the findings, it appears that training with “rubber bands” is an option with specific responses that are unique. If you want to see evidence that you can improve jump performance immediately, outside of potentiation options that can be done with other methods, the paper will not provide that. Conversely, assisted jumping with elastic bands is a different story, and this was covered by Nick Newman in his article on assisted jumping. Again, the purpose of the article was to show what happens kinetically with elastic jumping, not elastic resistance training over time. Potentiation from elastic resistance may improve jumping acutely, but the goal is to see how elastic jumping works and how a training program may exploit those specifics.
In my analysis, bands are a problem with jumping for the exact reason they are great for strength training. The physiological and mechanical gifts of the neuromuscular system are not exploited with conventional bands when jumping fast, but with strength training at higher resistance lifting, the neural responses to bands are exploited. It looks like using bands for jumping is not as effective as using bands for strength training. Some comparison studies of bands versus conventional strength training are available—my own summary of the research is that bands can work when squatting and jumping in a potentiation workout, but they don’t work better overall in a long-term program.Bands are a problem with jumping for the exact reason they are great for strength training, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
It appears that using elastic resistance bands for the middle of the force-velocity spectrum with leg training is a bad idea, but assisted jumps (faster and lighter) are great and resisted squats (slower and heavier) are valuable as well. To me, the summation of forces of gravity with ballistic exercise should be explored rather than mirrored with bands. Overloading jumps with conventional weight seems to be a better option than using bands on paper, but we don’t have enough research to nail the coffin shut on this matter.
Again, I feel this is all speculation because the studies were not really training intervention studies—they looked at jump performance rather than adaptations that improved jump performance abilities. Coaches should view the meta-analysis as a summary about the modality creating an acute benefit similar to potentiation for better acute performance, rather than a developmental approach to improving jumping from elastic bands.
Does the Science Support VertiMax Use with Athletes?
To my knowledge, four primary studies have been published on the VertiMax system and training. What is great about the studies is that they are intervention-driven, including the VertiMax system in the training of athletes and checking back later to see if the results were worth noting.
Sport scientist Matt Rhea conducted two of the four studies, as he and his colleagues studied high school and college athletes using the VertiMax 10 years ago. The other two studies are interesting because the Brown study went more head-to-head with isolation and the Carlson study compared various methods. I have performed a “mini” meta-analysis with the four studies to see the big picture quickly, and here is a table similar to the great review by Behm.
Based on conclusions, jump training with a #VertiMax instead of conventional #plyometrics is better, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
Let’s go right to the Rhea studies first, because both show positive results using the equipment and have a realistic training program that anyone in strength and conditioning would agree looks solid. Both studies included the VertiMax system as a replacement for plyometrics and, based on conclusions, jump training with a VertiMax instead of conventional plyometrics is better. I like the videos on the VertiMax website because they use animation to explain one of the Rhea studies, and all companies should think about using something similar to help their customers. Make sure that you request that companies link the studies or at least a way to acquire the paper, so you can carefully review the science before purchasing.
From the two studies, it basically seems like replacing the plyometric session with a VertiMax workout session could augment the results of an entry training program composed of sprinting and lifting. Most studies that compare just one variable of training are not that interesting because when a coach attempts to include the training method, the other components of a training session wash out a small ingredient from a multi-variate training program.
The Brown study was great because it contrasted the Rhea study in two ways: It focused just on plyometrics and showed that a basic exercise like depth jumps, repeated over six weeks, was superior to a family of exercises done with a VertiMax. A straightforward program of twice-a-week training with depth jumps (one exercise) was more effective than a set of exercises of roughly the same workload with a VertiMax. One warning for those interpreting the conclusions is that the population of subjects and the training program may have biased the depth jumps.
The Carlson study was a little bit more realistic, and it was also fascinating because it used different types of plyometric workouts. Half (two) of the groups included the VertiMax, while the other two focused on general training without the device. The results were surprising, but not shocking: the four groups responded similarly and neither of the VertiMax groups stood out.
It didn’t matter what the subjects did—the results after a short, six-week period were virtually the same, statistically. The composition of the athletes was interesting, as they were Division III soccer, basketball, and volleyball athletes. As with the Brown study, both males and females participated and the researchers used conventional vertical jumps with a Vertec device. I am not a fan of the materials used, but understand that not everyone owns a set of force plates or a contact grid.The studies suggest the @VertiMax may work in some circumstances but is not effective for everyone, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
In summary, it looks like the four studies showed a mixed result; thus, suggesting that the VertiMax may work in some circumstances, but it’s not effective for everyone. A brief investigation of four weeks of VertiMax training with a Portuguese team was presented last year, but the study was not long enough to be worth considering. I did like its bio banding attempt with peak height velocity, but it was just a conference paper so it wasn’t extensive enough for me to include in this review.
How to Quantify the VertiMax’s Resistance and Loading
If you carefully read this article’s first science section on general elastic resistance, you are well-prepared to digest this section on quantification of the VertiMax. I included the quantification section of this article because there is not enough science on the VertiMax to draw a strong conclusion either way. In my setting, you must sometimes make your own science to have closure on a subject because the evidence is only as good as all the research, including internal sources.
The Rhea studies used a Tendo system, and the other two studies used a Vertec device. I believe that to do it right, you need to use a combination of video and force analysis. Those with strict protocols can get by with a contact mat or contact grid, but force analysis really teases out what makes a jump special.
Load cells are also useful for bands, as you can see the system load interact with the band resistance in real time and with post-session analysis. I recommend load cells in addition to force plates because the platform on its own isn’t ideal for a perfect assessment because it’s not concrete. While it’s solid enough to jump on, it’s not that research-friendly a surface to get a valid test. It’s not worth embedding force plates into the system, but I am confident that, down the road, someone will construct a lab-grade machine.
The work-around is to use a contact grid or mat, or a reliable velocity-based training device. Keep in mind that the shrewdest way to conduct sessions is to know what biofeedback is needed to improve a training session and what testing is valid to see the results of workouts over time. I think it makes sense to test with force plates and track with either GymAware or a contact time solution.
Video 2. Gymaware provides an excellent feedback option for coaches wanting to add a little precision to their VertiMax training. Other options exist as well, so coaches have plenty of approaches to choose from.
While I don’t have longitudinal data on the VertiMax because I am a purist with plyometric training, we tested a few systems that our colleagues had in their facility to learn more about elastic jump training. It is up to you to find out more about different VertiMax protocols and training programs and outcomes, as I am not using elastic jump training outside of strength modalities.
Other Options Similar to the VertiMax
Loaded jumping doesn’t require much beyond a pair of dumbbells, but coaches can take resisted leg power training beyond conventional strength training. I think that coaches can use elastic bands if they are designed for training and the resistance is low, but only to create a fresh stimulus.
Repeated or rebound jumping without any resistance works, as does horizontal hopping forward and backwards, and lateral and medial options. Jump squats with a hex bar and loaded jumps with a weight vest work well if properly implemented, but I like hurdle jumps and snatches from blocks. Remember that elastic jumping is only one way to develop leg power, and with so many options it should not be a problem to improve athletes with modalities other than elastic bands.
Video 3. Simple rebound jumps with light kettlebells are great additions, but I feel that unloaded stiffness jumps with highervelocity medium-load training is necessary to maximize an athlete. Some force-velocity profiling is useful for prescribing training, but with elites, the results are less effective because so many variables interact with the training.
Some coaches like very light flywheel resistance and it’s similar to the feel of the VertiMax. Both have a redirection of energy, but the science of flywheel training is far more supportive of isoinertial development than the VertiMax. Head to head though, the new science shows that isoinertial and elastic resistance are very similar in their results, if the settings are equal in tension. Also, this study was on EMG readings only, and not adaptations to the training as an intervention, so we need to be cautious with what works and what may look similar on electromyography reports. I know effect size and other statistical methods are subject to debate by the smart men and women in sport science, but I am confident that the meta-analysis of flywheels as a viable option for coaches is near airtight.
I have used biokinetic resistance devices and like the user experience, but understand the cost factor will likely deter most scholastic programs from considering them. If you are in a clinical or elite setting, I do think that investing in motorized programs is important, as they provide countless variations to use and the personalization of the training can be done so finitely that every rep is perfect. It’s up to the coach and medical professional to decide what is a good use of their budget, but at the end of the day, someone in a small country is likely to get more out of less.
Is the VertiMax Right for You?
It’s difficult to say whether the VertiMax system is a good fit for you. It is obvious that the VertiMax is a nice-to-have versus a must-have, as the results of conventional training show that you are not buying results—you are buying convenience and training reliability. It’s not about whether most technologies and equipment provide the best results; it’s usually based on how the system works in a team setting. A squat stand may service an athlete just as well as a higher-priced college weight rack, but when you buy quality, you look for durability, features, special design, and even style.Decisions aren’t always about the best results, but how well the system works in a team setting, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
The VertiMax product is built well, it’s mobile, and it comes with a one-year warranty, thus making it a potentially good investment for some coaches. I personally don’t use the VertiMax, but have tried it a few times. It has a good feel to it and works well. If you have the money and really find that athletes enjoy the system, then it may be a worthwhile investment.
Editor’s Note: Appreciation and credit to Jason Brunson of Athlete’s Arena, South Carolina, for the main photo.