You are just touching the bottom of the net, barely dunking a tennis ball, or already throwing down tomahawk dunks? No matter where you're at right now, every basketball player wants to jump higher!
The good news: there are some easy ways you can increase your vertical jump and in this article I'm going to spill the beans!
1. Strength Training
While you don't have to be able to squat 500lbs or deadlift 3 times your bodyweight, a certain amount of strength is required if you want to jump high. The vertical jump is all about firing your muscles very explosively, but if your lower body is very weak, there's only so much you can do.
Below are some strength exercises that will increase your vertical jump:
Bodyweight Exercises for Stability
A strong core is very important for the vertical jump because it provides the necessary stability for optimal transmission of force from the lower body to the upper body. If your core is too weak you will leak force during the takeoff which will make you lose valuable inches. A weak core is also often responsible for lower back pain or bad posture. The following exercises will help you to strengthen your core:
This is a great exercise for a muscle group that is underdeveloped in a lot of athletes - the glutes. Place your upper back against a bench or couch, bring your feet back so that the knee forms a 90-degree angle. Then start to push your hip upwards as far as you can until you are hyperextending your hips. During this movement make sure to consciously squeeze your glutes and hold the movement at the top for at least 2 seconds.
This exercise focuses on lower back strength and is a great substitute if you don't have access to a reverse hyperextension machine. Lay flat on the floor and make sure that your arms and legs are fully extended. Now raise your arms and legs about 4-5 inches from the ground, and focus on contracting your lower back muscles. Try to hold this position for 4-5 seconds, lower your arms and legs and repeat the movement.
The various forms of planks are exercises that do a great job of strengthening your front and side abs. The goal is to keep your body as straight as possible while supporting your weight with the elbows and toes. Try to hold this position for as long as possible. Once you are strong enough to make it through 60 seconds you can place weights on your back to increase the difficulty.
Bodyweight Exercises for Lower Body Strength
The muscle groups responsible for most of the force generated during a vertical jump are the quads and glutes. Therefore most of the strength exercises focus on these two muscle groups. Other muscle groups like the calves, spinal erectors or arms have supporting roles, but they usually get strong enough in jump-specific exercises and don't necessarily need isolated workouts.
The following bodyweight exercises are great for athletes who are at the beginning of their vertical jump training and don't have access to a gym or weightlifting coach. But make no mistake, pistol squats are NOT easy!
Bulgarian Split Squats
Bulgarian Split Squats mainly work out your quads, glutes and inner thigh. Start standing with your front foot flat on the ground and your back foot elevated on a bench. Now lower yourself slowly into a deep squat position while making sure that the knee of your front leg doesn't move in front of your toes. Use the back leg for balance, but don't put too much weight on it. You can shift the stress from your quads to the glutes by moving the front foot further away from the bench.
Single Leg Deadlift
The single leg deadlift is a great exercise for your complete posterior chain that not only works on your strength but also improves your balance and flexibility. Plant your foot firmly on the ground and hinge your hips back while keeping the back leg completely straight. Make sure that you do not round your back during the exercise and try to keep the bend in your knees to a minimum.
The pistol squat is clearly the king of bodyweight leg exercises. It takes quite a bit of strength, balance, and flexibility to make a clean pistol squat, so don't hesitate to practice with assisted forms of this movement. If you fall on your back as soon as you bend too deep, you probably are missing ankle mobility. Try this ankle stretch to improve range of motion in the ankle.
Heavy Weightlifting Exercises For Maximum Strength
These exercises increase the maximum force that your body is able to generate. They are a nice complement to every vertical jump training program as long as you also learn how to use this strength in an explosive way through plyometrics or quicker weightlifting exercises. Athletes will often focus on building up their maximum strength during the offseason and turn towards more explosive and sports-specific exercises as the start of the season approaches.
The most popular vertical jump training program featuring heavy weightlifting is the Jump Manual:
The following exercises can lead to bad injuries if performed incorrectly, so please make sure to get a coach that can show you how to perform them in the right way:
There is a myriad of different squat varieties: Box Squats, Full Squats, 1/2 Squats, 1/4 Squats, Back Squats, Front Squats and I am sure a dozen more. Some varieties put more focus on the quads, others put more stress on the glutes, choose the version that best suits your capabilities. Make sure to pay attention to good form as injuries during the squat can be devastating. If you have trouble keeping your back straight at the bottom, try front squats or reduce the range of motion.
Dead Lifts are working out nearly all the muscles used in a vertical jump and they do an especially great job in working on your hip extension, activating the hamstrings and spinal erectors. In the attached video you can see a trap bar deadlift which is easier for most athletes because it is a more natural position. If you have problems keeping a neutral spine when lifting the barbell from the ground, try to lift the weight from a slightly elevated position. You can also try sumo deadlifts where your lower your body through a wider stance of your legs.
Weighted Explosive Exercises
Weighted explosive exercises like Olympic weightlifting are a great way to bridge the gap between slow strength exercises and the explosive and powerful movements of a vertical jump. They do a great job of teaching the body how to create a lot of force in a very short time period and translate well because of very similar movement patterns.
These exercises generate very high forces and should only be performed if you already have a sufficiently strong core. Also, make sure to have an experienced coach that can teach you proper form. If you perform these exercises correctly you will teach your body to use your strength more explosively.
This exercise is great for vertical jump training because it teaches your body how to produce very high power outputs during the actual jumping motion. You want to focus on quickness in this exercise, therefore use only very light weights. A common mistake is to use heavy weights, therefore losing speed and putting a lot of pressure on your joints. If you don't have access to dumbells you can do this exercise while holding a medicine ball in front of you or while wearing a weight-west.
The hang clean is a simplified version of an Olympic lift and focuses on an explosive extension of the hips. Its technique is not as complicated as other Olympic weightlifting exercises, but it still makes sense to have a coach look at your execution in the beginning. Isolated hang clean workouts have shown to increase the vertical jump more than isolated squat workouts which is probably due to it's quicker and more powerful execution compared to slower squats.
Backward Medicine Ball Throws:
This exercise works very similarly to the hang cleans but is much easier to learn. Hold the ball between your legs, squat down and explosively throw the ball behind you. During the throw, make sure to extend ankles, knees, and hips, you can even add a little jump in the end. This exercise not only works on lower body explosiveness but also trains the upper body to do a full and strong arms swing which is important because the arm swing accounts for as much as 20% of your vertical!
2. Plyometric Training
Plyometric training has become immensely popular in recent years and today the term is often used synonymously with vertical jump training.
The purpose of plyometric training is described as follows:
If you want to improve your vertical you need to be able to activate your strength within a very short time frame - and plyometrics are the perfect way to learn this skill!
The most well known vertical jump training program that relies heavily on plyometric exercises to achieve goal astonishingly quickly is Vert Shock:
Popular Plyometric Exercises for Basketball Players
In the following paragraphs, I will present five plyometric exercises ranging from low-intensity plyometric exercises suitable for beginners to more advanced movements that require a decent level of strength and coordination. These exercises will have a big impact on your vertical and make you jump a lot higher in just a few weeks of training!
Two-Foot Ankle Hops:
Stand with your feet shoulder wide apart and hop continuously only using your ankles. Make sure that you don't bend your knees and that you extend your ankles to the full range of motion during each jump. Also, try to limit the ground contact time to the absolute minimum. This is a great exercise to develop quickness in your feet.
This exercise is also often called "line jumps" because you draw a line on the ground and try to hop from one side to the other as fast as possible. Keep your core stable and look for very quick ground contacts, jump height is NOT important in this exercise. Every hop counts as a repetition and you can do this exercise staying in the same spot or moving slightly forward as shown in the video.
Power Skipping is a great exercise training the explosiveness off of one leg. The goal is to jump as high as possible of alternating legs while keeping a slow jog forward. While doing the exercise focus on driving the knee of the off-leg as far to the chest as possible. This exaggerated movement will improve the power of your leg swing and your one-leg vertical.
Place yourself under a basketball rim an try to tap the rim with your hands. After landing, immediately bounce back up and try to touch the rim again. If you can't reach the rim you can use the backboard or do the drill in front of a wall trying to reach the highest point possible. Focus on minimal time spent on the ground, stop as soon as the jumps get significantly lower.
Drop and Freeze:
Step off a box that is around 18-24 inches high. Make sure to land on both feet simultaneously with your knees bent and try to stop any momentum immediately. This is a great exercise for weaker athletes that are not yet used to high-impact plyometric exercises. It prepares the body to better coordinate the high forces during landing and prepares them for real depth jumps.
Single-Leg Depth Jumps:
Single leg jumps should only be done by experienced athletes and the height of the box should be chosen carefully. The athlete drops off the box like in a regular depth jump, but lands on only one foot. After the landing, the athlete tries to explode back up as quickly as possible. Make sure that your knee doesn't buckle and that the center of gravity remains over the jumping leg. As an added difficulty, add a box to jump onto.
3. Improve Your Vertical Jump Technique
Vertical jump training should always include a large amount of performing your preferred leaping style to teach the central nervous system how to perform this movement in the most efficient way possible. Early improvements in vertical jump height will almost always come from an improved vertical jump technique and less from improved strength or power.
In a lot of athletic movements, there is only one technique that is considered to be optimal. Vertical jump technique, however, is different! The most obvious difference is that some athletes prefer to jump off one foot while others like to take of off two feet. There is no definitive answer to which style of jumping will lead to a higher vertical, athletes will usually automatically pick the style of jumping that suits their physique best. But there are some general guidelines on which athletes will perform best using each technique:
One-foot vertical jump technique
In general, one-foot jumping is preferred by lean and lanky athletes who are very quick but not very muscular (think Zach LaVine). This style is defined by very short ground contact times, little bend in the knees and explosive movement of the glutes and hips. The technique takes a fair amount of coordination, and proper training instructions can bring a lot of improvement even for natural two-foot jumpers. For a detailed explanation of one-foot jump technique read more here.
Two-foot vertical jump technique
Two-foot jumping is often preferred by strong athletes with a build similar to football players. This style is defined by longer ground contact times and much deeper bending of the knee. Because of this, two-foot jumping favors strong athletes that can produce a lot of force in their quads.
Athletes that are not blessed with insane quickness and stiff Achilles tendons needed for high 1-foot jumping, can still reach impressive vertical jump height using the slower 2-foot jump technique. Find out more about how to perform 2-foot jumps correctly here.
4. Better Warm-Up & Stretching
Vertical Jumping is a very dynamic movement that puts a lot of stress on your muscles, tendons, and joints. It is therefore very important to be properly warmed-up before starting to perform high-intensity training. This warm-up will not only improve your performance but also reduce the risk of injuries significantly.
Make sure that you start with a general warm-up that gets your blood flowing and elevates your heart-rate. You could just dribble the ball around the court, drive on a bike or run on a treadmill. The ideal warm-up exercise for vertical jump training is probably the Skipping Rope - it works out your whole body, especially the muscles relevant for the vertical jump. Get yourself a great jump rope with 90-degree ball bearing aluminum handles like this one, and general warm-up is a lot of fun all of the sudden!
After the 5-10 minutes of general warm-up, you want to move to the specific warm-up. The role of this part of the warm-up is to activate the central nervous system and prepare the body for the specific movements which are to come. For jump training, good specific warm-up exercises would be tuck jumps or power skipping. Before a lower body strength training workout, squat jumps or box squats are great preparation.
The role of stretching is a bit contradictory. You want to have a decent level of flexibility and range of motion to ensure fluid motion and prevent injuries. But scientific research has also shown that long static stretching before a plyometric workout can actually hurt your results because you lose elasticity in your muscles and stability in your joints.
Therefore, you should focus on dynamic stretching before your workouts. Dynamic stretching focuses on using momentum to putting your body through the whole range of motion of upcoming exercises. Examples of such exercises are forward lunges, backward lunges, knee to chests, toe touches, lateral leg swings, straight leg swings, hip rockers and much more. Check the Youtube Video for an example of a dynamic stretching warm-up.
5. Get Enough Rest & Proper Nutrition
If you follow a good training protocol then there are two main factors that could slow down your gains: Not enough rest for your body to regenerate from the demanding workouts, and not enough fuel for your body to build up new muscle tissue.
Often times athletes tend to begin a new training regimen highly motivated and so they want to train all day, every day. Unfortunately, this comes with two problems:
- The huge amount of workouts leads to overtraining and actually hurts your vertical jump
- The new workout schedule is not sustainable and athletes quit after a few weeks.
Starting with 3 relatively short workouts per week will give your body enough rest between workouts, and is much more sustainable in the long run. Intense plyometric training is especially taxing on the central nervous system and should never be done more than 2-3 times a week. Also, make sure to get enough good sleep because most of the body's adaption to the new training happens during bedtime.
Your body reacts to the physical stress of workouts by building new muscle tissue as well as stronger tendons and ligaments. But to do so, the body needs a lot of fuel. The main building block of new muscle tissue is protein, so make sure to eat enough of it!
A popular recommendation for athletes is to eat at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. This can be achieved by eating a lot of lean meat, fish, nuts, eggs, beans, lentils or other seeds. If you have trouble getting enough protein through your regular diet, it makes sense to add protein shakes. Whey protein shakes are a very quick source of protein and drinking them right after the workout can give your recovery process an additional boost for optimal results. If you cover the large part of your protein intake through natural food, then a 5-pound bottle of good whey protein (like this) is a very good supplement and can last you for quite a while!
6. Get Better Shoes
Nothing kills a good vertical jump quite like an old pair of slippery basketball shoes. If you want to maximize your hangtime make sure that you have basketball shoes that are up to the task:
Get Basketball Shoes with top-notch traction
During a vertical jump athletes convert the speed of the the approach into a powerful takeoff. But this only works if you can plant your feet firmly and with confidence. Shoes that bite the floor can increase your vertical jump by a few inches easily.
Check out this article to find basketball shoes with the best traction.
Get Basketball Shoes with firm and stable cushioning
Basketball shoes with soft and mushy cushioning like the Lebron series can hurt your vertical jump height as you put to much of your force into the cushioning instead of into the ground.
High jumpers for example, wear super stiff waffles that allow an optimal and unhindered energy transfer.
You can find shoes that offer a great balance of cushioning and traction that is ideal for vertical jumping here.
Hopefully that's all you need to get started on your journey to rim-shattering dunks. If you're ready to start check out my free vertical jump program which will help beginners and intermediates to increase their vertical jump with an easy-to-follow 10-week program.