What Exercise is the Best Indicator of Athleticism?

I recently attended a football clinic, where Boyd Epley was in attendance. Boyd Epley served as the University of Nebraska’s head strength coach for 35 years and founded the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) in 1978. According to ESPN, “Epley is arguably the single most important individual in the history of strength and conditioning in college athletics.”

At the clinic, Epley asked the room what exercise best predicts the athletic ability of any human being?

Epley’s answer? The vertical jump.    

The vertical jump is the measure of how high an individual can elevate themselves off of the ground from a standstill. The reason a vertical jump is so difficult is because when you perform a a vertical jump, you are raising your center of mass higher with the use of your own muscles from a standstill position with no momentum.  It’s all based on strength and explosiveness of the muscles relative to body mass.

Boyd Epley is considered as the “Godfather of Strength and Conditioning.”  He served as the University of Nebraska’s head strength coach for 35 years and founded the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) in 1978. According to ESPN, “Epley is arguably the single most important individual in the history of strength and conditioning in college athletics.”

How can the vertical be so effective at predicting athleticism?

Most strength coaches can all agree upon the following statement.   In order to predict an athletes athleticism, the athlete must excel at the following criteria:

  1. Sprint (ability to move at full speed covering a short distance - anything under 400 meters)

  2. Agility (the ability to move quickly and easily involving changes of direction)

  3. Power (the ability to move heavy loads with explosive speed)

  4. Strength (ability to lift extremely heavy loads safely and effectively)

  5. Flexibility (the ability to bend easily without injury)

Let’s go further into detail with each by determining pivotal terms.

Quickness - the ability to move fast in a short distance.  When referring to sprints, the distance we refer to is usually under 10 yards.

Speed  the rate in which an athlete is able to move. When referring to sprints, the speed would cover the distance would be past 10 yards.

With sprints, we want the athlete to be able to move as fast (speed) as possible in a straight line. That speed is key for an athlete to get away or catch an opponent. Agility is incorporating sprinting speed however we now have a change of direction.  The change of direction is utilizing an athletes quickness. How quickly and fluidly the athlete can change direction is critical in most sports. Power will active the explosive muscle fibers which will help an athlete become quicker. Strength will enable a muscle to contract more effectively while maintaining the joints stability reducing the risk for any potential injury. Flexibility will give a muscle a greater range of motion in order to contract more effectively while reducing the risk for injuries.   

Now when we put all of these components together, sprints, agility, power, strength, and flexibility, we are talking about how to compare athletes. Everyone athlete has something they are really good at as well as something they could improve upon.    When we get an athlete who can perform all of these components extremely well, you are looking at a really good athlete.

Back to the original question.  What exercise is the best predictor of athleticism?   

When you put all of the components together, the vertical jump stands tall above all other exercises. Sprinting speed, quickness from agility, explosive power, effective strength, and muscle contractions from a greater range of motion are all combined into one explosive powerful movement.  

If you want to test your athleticism, find out your vertical jump.Incorporate vertical jumps into your workout routine. While jumping off of the Earth looks easy, it’s harder than it appears. If you are an athlete, it is essential that you perform verticals in your workout at least once a week. After a month, you will be surprised as to how well you move athletically in other activities.

Steven Zahn

ACE Certified Personal Trainer

NASM Certified Personal Trainer

Pre and Post Partum Certified

Dragondoor Publications: HKC Russian Kettlebell Certified

Szahn@lifetimefitness.com

For information on 1on1 Personal Training or Nutrition Coaching, feel feel free to contact me at szahn@lifetimefitness.com.