ArticlePDF Available
Training the Vertical Jump
to Head the Ball in Soccer
Antonio Paoli, BSc, MD,
1,2
Antonino Bianco, PhD,
3,4
Antonio Palma, MD,
3,4
and Giuseppe Marcolin, PhD
1
1
Department of Human Anatomy and Physiology;
2
Human Movement Sciences School, University of Padova, Padova,
Italy;
3
Faculty of Sports and Exercise Sciences; and
4
Department of Legal, Economic, Biomedical, Psycho pedagogic
Studies of Sports and Exercise Sciences, University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy
SUMMARY
IN MODERN SOCCER, HEADING
THE BALL IS BOTH AN OFFENSIVE
TOOL USED TO SCORE GOALS
AND A DEFENSIVE MEASURE
AGAINST OPPOSING TEAMS. PRO-
FICIENCY IN HEADING THE BALL
REQUIRES PROPER TECHNIQUE IN
CONJUNCTION WITH AN EFFEC-
TIVE VERTICAL JUMP. THE AIM OF
THIS ARTICLE IS TO ADDRESS THE
FACTORS INVOLVED IN VERTICAL
JUMP PERFORMANCE AND HOW
THEY RELATE SPECIFICALLY TO
HEADING THE BALL.
INTRODUCTION: STRENGTH OR
POWER?
Researchers involved in the train-
ing methodology to improve
jump ability proposed a variety
of techniques and exercise modalities
(22,15,4). Nevertheless, the question on
what percentage of training should be
dedicated to strength and what to
power seems unresolved. First of all,
to better understand the matter, we
have to stress the difference between
strength and power. Generally speak-
ing, in athletics, the rate of force
development (RFD) is much more
important than strength alone; the
average RFD (mRFD) can be esti-
mated as the ratio F
max
/T
max
, where
T
max
is the time to reach the peak
force, whereas F
max
is the maximum
force. This ratio is also named explo-
sive strength, commonly computed, for
applicative purposes per 1 kilogram of
body weight (26). Explosive strength is
a fundamental conditional capacity for
a soccer player, and more specifically,
vertical jump height is primal to suc-
cessfully impact the ball. Explosive
strength is fundamental for a soccer
player to obtain the jump height nec-
essary to head the ball or, in other
words, the maximal ability of a muscle
to exert force or torque at a specific
velocity (16). This kind of neuromus-
cular quality is often assessed by the 1
repetition maximum (RM) test, but
1RM strength maybe useful only for
a few athletic events like weightlifting
because during the 1RM test, low
acceleration values are usually obtained.
Referring to concentric movements, the
difference among strength and power
generation is due to the velocity of the
muscle contraction. In fact, power is
given by the product of force and
velocity: the higher the force, the lower
the velocity of concentric muscle action
(14). This is explained in Figure 1.
SOCCER JUMPING HEADER:
TECHNIQUE AND TRAINING
CONSIDERATIONS
This skill (Figure 2) begins with the
loading of the leg (or both legs) in
preparation for the jump, then the arms
move from bottom to top, and the
take off starts. At the beginning of the
flight, the trunk and the legs extend
backward; the further back the trunk
extends, the greater the maximum
forward velocity of the upper trunk
and head. Force is produced by a strong
contraction of the trunk flexors, hip
flexors, and knee extensors before
impact (20). After impact, the jumping
header finishes the movement with the
landing phase.
It is clear how take off is a key point to
reach a consistent jump height and
needs specific training. This phase is
similar to a counter movement jump
(CMJ) (with both legs or with a single
leg depending on the game situation),
where the muscles involved are first
stretched and then shortened to accel-
erate the limb. As a consequence,
storage of elastic energy in both muscle
and tendon occurs, with a direct re-
utilization in the subsequent concentric
phase, contributing to increase the
jump performance (5). Another con-
tribution to strengthen the concentric
action is because of the increase of
muscle neural stimulation elicited by
the mechanical stretch stimulus
(10,11). This action of the lower limb
muscles, known as stretch-shortening
cycle (SSC) (17), involves some inter-
esting neural and mechanical processes
extensively studied in the scientific
literature (5,8,10,12,23). A second train-
ing point is the strengthening of trunk
and hip flexors together with the knee
extensors to obtain great trunk and head
acceleration for a powerful ball heading.
In addition, the complexity of heading
the ball requests great degree of coor-
dination. As a matter of fact, explo-
sive strength depends on the level of
intermuscular coordination considering
agonist, antagonist, and synergist muscle
activities. In fast movements, low levels
of resistance should be recorded, and the
relaxation of the antagonist muscles
should be simultaneous and well coor-
dinated with the agonist ones. In this
KEY WORDS:
heading; soccer; vertical jump
VOLUME 34 | NUMBER 3 | JUNE 2012 Copyright ÓNational Strength and Conditioning Association
80
direction, specific training may reduce
agonist-antagonist cocontractions, stre-
ngthening the coordination pattern and,
as a consequence, the role of agonist and
synergist muscles (23).
Literature investigations on soccer
heading concentrated mainly on bio-
mechanical aspects. Kristensen et al.
(20) investigated the segmental
characteristics in jumping headers with
particular attention to the head’s
velocity relative to the torso at impact
along with the contributions of the
upper and lower extremities (19).
Results showed that the head acceler-
ated relative to the torso throughout
the impact phase as a nonrestricted
free segment and that the arms had
little role in creating high ball speed
after impact. The authors concluded
that movement of the legs was
the single most important factor in
the skill. Because of the body jackknife
movement around the pelvis, the
authors suggest developing muscle
strength in the stomach, back, and
pelvis and to put no restrictions on
head and arm movement to optimize
the jumping header (20). Marcolin and
Petrone (21) proposed a functional
evaluation method considering the
height of the jump, the ball velocity,
and its angle after impact. In particular,
they identified a maximum efficient
heading elevation of the header related
to the ball speed increments and to the
correct ball angles useful to evaluate
training effects during the season.
Furthermore, they introduced an eleva-
tion index defined as the percent ratio
between the jump elevation and the
anthropometric height of each subject
and correlated it with the ball velocity
to classify a player’s ability to head high
balls with high impact energy. Shew-
chenko et al. (24) developed biome-
chanical methods and a numerical
model to investigate head impact re-
sponse and the influence of heading
technique. If the aim is to reduce impact
Figure 2. Jumping header technique. (a) Loading of the leg. (b) Take off and arms movement. (c) Trunk and legs backward extension.
(d) Ball impact. (e) Beginning of landing. Adapted with permission from Marcolin and Petrone (21).
Figure 1. Force/velocity and power relationship for skeletal muscle. Vm, maximal
velocity; Pm, maximal power output; Fm, maximal isometric force output.
Strength and Conditioning Journal | www.nsca-scj.com 81
severity, their mathematical modeling
suggested an increased risk of neck
loads performing alternative techniques.
TRAINING CONSIDERATIONS TO
IMPROVE JUMPING HEADER
PERFORMANCE
Bosco and Komi (5) studied the rela-
tionship between jump performance
and stretch load application showing
an increase of the jump height with
an increase in the stretch load. This
explains, for example, why in the drop
jump, the performance improves with
the increase of the drop height. On the
other hand, a too high stimulus with
excessive stretch loads lead to an
inhibition of the muscle contraction
because of the Golgi tendon organ
reflex (10,23). It is noteworthy that
nonathletes or athletes unaccustomed
to intense SSC tasks may show better
performance during a CMJ than during
a drop jump, and often, their drop jump
height could be lower than the squat
jump (SJ) (23). It also appears logical
that vertical jump performance imp-
roves more markedly after strength
training in subjects with an initial low
value (1) than in previously strength-
trained athletes (12). In addition, com-
bined strength-power training seems to
be more effective than power or
strength training alone in recreationally
trained subjects (7). According to these
results, it is clear that the ability to
rapidly generate force is the major
contributor to vertical jump height both
in presence of SSC (CMJ) and in the
absence of it (SJ) (6). For soccer players,
both skills are important to be trained,
allowing development of great levels of
strength in short periods (Figure 3).
Many scientists (11,3) demonstrated the
importance of mRFD for explosive per-
formance and that squat training with
heavy loads (70–120% of 1RM) improves
maximal isometric strength but not
mRFD (13). Therefore, in soccer, in-
termediate loads should be preferred to
the heavy ones to train lower limb force
and power. To support this, recent data (2)
showed that weightlifting and plyometric
exercise have different effects on muscle
activation, and knee and hip angle of
soccer players, suggesting that weightlift-
ing training might be more appropriate in
the precompetition period improving
vertical jump height via changes in
power and technique (9), whereas the
plyometric exercises should be preferred
in the competition period.As reported in
the description of the jumping header
technique, trunk and hip flexors and also
abdominals have an important role in
giving speed to the impacted ball. The
trapezius muscle group stabilizes the
head and trunk in preparation for ball
impact (25). Therefore, weightlifting has
an important role not only for the
quadriceps but also in reinforcing the
role of the trapezius muscle groups in
heading the ball. For these reasons, in the
preseason, training including crunches
and jackknives should be taken into
account(18). During the transition phase
from precompetition to the com-
petition period, plyometric exercises
should be mixed with series of CMJs
(also with single leg) with the arms free
to move in such away to simulate
a double or a single-leg soccer heading
take off. The use of the ball is recom-
mended to improve the coordination of
the jumping heading and should be
emphasized above all inthe competition
period, whereas in the precompetition,
the main focus of the training should
be to increase the strength and muscle
power. An example of a periodized pro-
gram for ball heading in advancedsoccer
players is illustrated in the Table and
should be integrated with the other
athletic and technical training sessions.
CONCLUSIONS
The importance of jumping heading is
well documented in the literature; a study
across different soccer leagues indicated
that players impact the ball more than
6 times per game (20). This skill can also
determine the outcome of a match,
considering that in the Japan and Korea
Fe
´de
´ration Internationale de Football
Association world cup, more than 20%
of the goals were scored by headers (20).
Vertical jump height, along with the
ability to head the ball with power, is
the key point for an efficient jumping
heading. Vertical jump performance
depends not only on lower limb level
of strength but also on the rate at which
they are able to generate force, on the
contraction velocity, on the ability of
SSC utilization, and on the degree of
intermuscular and intramuscular coor-
dination. The increase of strength
obtained with traditional weight train-
ing appears to be effective to increase
jump height only in athletes with low
level of initial strength. With experi-
enced well-trained athletes, programs
should aim to improve RFD and muscle
Figure 3. Time and force relationship in experts and beginners. Experts develop higher
levels of force in less time with respect to beginners.
VOLUME 34 | NUMBER 3 | JUNE 2012
82
Training for Heading the Ball in Soccer
Table
Weightlifting training program for vertical jump improvement in soccer headers
Preseason: Phase 1 (4 weeks) traditional lifting
Day A Day B Day C Day D
Bench press 4 38 RM* Squat 4 38 RM Lat pull-down 4 38 RM Technique of Olympic-style lifting;
only barbell without added loads
(snatch pull, clean pull, push press,
push jerk, overhead squat, power
clean, clean and jerk, snatch)
Incline bench press 3 310 RM Deadlift 4 38 RM Seated row 3 310 RM
Biceps barbell curl 3 38 RM Leg extension 3 310 RM Triceps pull-down 3 38RM
Biceps dumbbell incline bench 3 310 RM Seated leg curl 4 38 RM Triceps extension 3 310 RM
Jackknives 33max Shoulder press 3 38 RM Vertical calf 3 38RM
Lateral raises 3 310 RM Jackknives 33max
Crunches 33max
Precompetition: Phase 2 (4 weeks) traditional lifting and Olympic-style lifting
Day A Day B Day C
Power clean 5 35 RM Clean pulls 5 35 RM (floor) Snatch pulls (waist) 5 35RM
Snatch pulls (knee) 5 35 RM Push jerks 5 35 RM Push press 5 35RM
Bench press 4 36 RM Squat 4 36 RM Lateral pull-down 4 36RM
Push press 5 35 RM Stiff leg deadlift 4 36 RM Overhead squat 4 36RM
Competition: Phase 3 (4 weeks) Olympic-style lifting and plyometric training
Day A Day B
Clean and jerk 5 35 RM Snatch 5 35RM
Push jerks 5 35 RM Squat jumps (30% 1RM) 5 35RM
Drop jumps 3x8 Snatch pulls (waist) 5 35RM
Competition: Phase 4 (4 weeks) Olympic-style lifting and specific heading technique
Day A Day B
Clean and jerk 5 33 RM Snatch 5 33
Power clean 5 33 RM One leg ball heading jumps 5 35
Drop jumps with ball heading 5 35 Two legs ball heading jumps 5 35
* RM = repetition maximum.
Strength and Conditioning Journal | www.nsca-scj.com 83
power output. Because of the multifac-
eted nature of the vertical jump, a mul-
tivariate training approach seems to be
more effective with respect to a single
approach because it provides various
stimuli for the development of different
athletic qualities. For this purpose,
particularly interesting seems to be the
combined training of traditional weight
training with sprints and Olympic-style
exercises performed in different periods
of the competitive season. The proposal
of plyometric exercises mixed with
a series of CMJs with the arms free to
move simulating a double or a single-leg
soccer heading take off is helpful to link
exercises focused on increased jump
height with training to improve trun-
k/lower limbs coordination. Finally,
a simplified video analysis method for
a functional evaluation of the jumping
headers considering some of the pa-
rameters presented in the literature (21)
such as jump height, ball velocity, and
the initial angle described by the ball
trajectory would be useful in comparing
the players classifying their ability in
heading high balls with high impact
energy and in evaluating training effects
during the season.
Antonio Paoli
is an assistant
professor of Exer-
cise and Sport Sci-
ence at the
University of
Padova.
Antonino
Bianco is an
assistant professor
of Fitness and
Human Perfor-
mance at the Uni-
versity of Palermo.
Antonio Palma
is a professor of
Human Perfor-
mance at the Uni-
versity of Palermo.
Giuseppe
Marcolin is
a postdoctoral
research fellow at
the University of
Padova.
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... One of the key factors in heading maneuvers is the vertical jump height. One-foot and two-feet jumping headers have different characteristics but, in both cases, jumping height is critical, depending on well-developed lower-limb intermuscular coordination, elastic energy storage in both muscle and tendon, stretch-shortening cycle, and the strengthening of trunk and hip flexors (Bosco and Komi 1979;Paoli et al. 2012). A previous study concluded that increase of the 'elevation' index (ratio in percentage between vertical height reached by head marker and subjects' height) contributes to improving ball directionality as, at higher heights, players are able to touch the ball under better conditions for passing, shooting, intercepting, or clearing the ball (Marcolin and Petrone 2007). ...
... Despite the importance of vertical jump height for heading (Marcolin and Petrone 2007;Paoli et al. 2012), the majority of studies on the topic have focused on other aspects, such as head acceleration (Caccese et al. 2018), kinetic variables (i.e., ground reaction force) (Paoli et al. 2012), and other kinematic variables (i.e., segmental characteristics) (Kristensen et al. 2004;Erkmen 2009). ...
... Despite the importance of vertical jump height for heading (Marcolin and Petrone 2007;Paoli et al. 2012), the majority of studies on the topic have focused on other aspects, such as head acceleration (Caccese et al. 2018), kinetic variables (i.e., ground reaction force) (Paoli et al. 2012), and other kinematic variables (i.e., segmental characteristics) (Kristensen et al. 2004;Erkmen 2009). ...
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... After strength and plyometric training, torque around the knee joint within a kicking position (similar to that of a tackle) was seen to be increased by up to 13.6% (25). Similarly, both vertical jump height and levels of maximal strength have been reported as essential to heading performance (15,20,24), with players who display superior jumping ability having the potential to produce headers with greater ball velocity (20). ...
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... To the best of our knowledge, very few studies analysed headers and, even so, in a very reductive way (Dellal et al., 2011;Kristensen et al., 2004;Liu et al., 2016;Paoli et al., 2012;Rampinini et al., 2009;Vint & Hinrichs, 1996). However, a header is an integral and important action in high-performance football. ...
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