Have you ever dreamed of increasing your vertical jump but didn’t know where to start? Like the rest of your game, carefully executing a well-designed jumping program will help you reach your potential and improve your game. Players like LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Zhaire Smith have a tremendous innate ability, but their attention to detail in the area of jump training further adds to their success on the court.
Why Everyone’s Fascinated with Vertical Jump Training
For those who refuse to vertical jump train, good luck! A good to great vertical jump improves your ability to finish at the rim, contest shots on defense, rebound, and oh yeah, throw it down when you play for your local high school; all very important and exciting to the game of basketball. Developing your “vertical” will help off-set other areas of your game that need work. Once you improve your weak areas, your game will elevate to another level. Without the ability to get off the floor, you better be very skilled in every facet of the game in order to make up for it. Hopefully, your skill will override your inability to jump and you will be able to have some success. Obviously, this is not the preferred route. For the purpose of this article, jump training will be used synonymously with plyometric training.
By nature, jumping is a plyometric activity; meaning, your muscles are placed in a stretched position then immediately contract. Imagine lowering your body to go up for a rebound. Once you reach the lowest point of your decent, you pause momentarily, then immediately explode into your vertical jump. The level of explosion that occurs will depend largely upon the attention you have placed on training.
Your ability to jump, good, bad, or otherwise, is a function of your strength, speed of movement, and your body weight. This is power related to your body weight. Power = Work/Time. If you improve your leg, hip, and core strength, the speed in which you perform the jump, and your weight decreases or stays the same, your vertical jump will increase. The faster, quicker, and stronger you are, the more effective you will be in any physical endeavor. As you know, this is especially true in basketball.
Basketball and Plyometrics – History and Basics
Plyometric training, jump training as it was called at the time, dates back to the 1920s. It began gaining significant recognition with Olympic track and field athletes from eastern countries when they demonstrated success in the 1960s with their training methods. It wasn’t until 1975 that track and field coach, Fred Wilt, coined the term plyometrics to define this form of training. This became more mainstream over the following decades leading up to today where it is expected that athletes employ such a program. Almost all sports benefit from plyometric training, especially basketball.
Common Questions for Basketball Jump Training
When looking for a vertical jump program that is best suited for you, it’s important to stick to the basics. There is no need to get fancy and elaborate with a particular program or with high-dollar equipment. At the end of the day, the fundamental element in training is system overload. Does the workout program you will be utilizing properly overload the muscles, energy systems / intensities to meet your training goals AND is the program safe? It is not uncommon to encounter questions and challenges along the way in your training. Here are a few with a brief answer that follows:
- Should I have a strength base in order to start a plyometric training program? Plyometric training is ballistic in nature and can stress the body to the point of injury if proper precautions aren’t taken. Therefore, the primary benefit to having a strength training base prior to plyometric training is that the stronger you are, the less likely you are to be injured. However, if you have been playing the game of basketball for any period of time, I am sure you have realized that basketball is a “plyometric” sport. It requires constant running, changing of direction, jumping, etc. A jump training program will augment your jumping ability and a strength training program will serve as an enhancement to your jumping ability, strengthen your skill to finish at the rim with contact, box-out, win possessions with 50/50 loose balls, improve confidence which leads to a much more aggressive, faster style of play, and help prevent injuries from occurring. In other words, strength training and jump training play off of each other and the key here is to do both!
- What do I do if I don’t have access to a gym to train in? Although it’s nice to have access to a weight room or fitness facility for the use of its equipment or a basketball goal to target touching the net, backboard, or rim, they are not a necessity. A great jump training program (INSERT LINK) requires little to no equipment and can often times be performed at home.
- How do I measure my improvement? Feel free to use a Vertec or Probotics Just Jump System if you have access to either one, but if you don’t, try the following. If done correctly, it can be just as accurate.
- Stand sideways next to a wall.
- Reach as high as you can with your arm closest to the wall while standing flat-footed.
- Have a friend place a marking on the wall with a pencil or piece of tape to determine the highest point where your finger tips reach.
- Then, perform a standing vertical jump with your friend marking the highest point on the wall that you touch with the same method that you used to mark your reach on the wall.
- Repeat several times and select the highest jump you perform.
- Measure the difference between your standing reach and your jump reach to determine your vertical jump height.
- How often should I jump train? This all depends on how often you are playing basketball and what you do during the off-season. Are you playing year-round basketball on a school and select team, or do you take time off during the off-season? Do you play other sports during basketball’s off-season? Today’s approach to year-round basketball / other sports renders it very difficult to participate in a plyometric training program and still get the rest and recovery you need to see improvements and not be injured. If you engage in a true off-season and are not playing any organized sports, jump training should be performed 2-3 times a week with at least 48-hours of recovery time between workouts. Plyometric workouts can be more intensive than playing basketball, so it is imperative that you get the recovery time that your body needs. Also, make sure that your program is progressive in resistance and / or volume (sets and repetitions).
- Should I train with Olympic lifts and what are the risks? The very nature of an Olympic lift is to create explosive power that can be useful for enhancing your basketball game, however, with that comes an injury risk that should not be taken lightly. More often than not, these lifts are treated as exercises not like the sports that they are. Both the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk have over 30 coaching points, more than the quarterback position in football. Progression exercises of these lifts can be performed ONLY if proper technique is used and qualified personnel (USA Weightlifting Advanced Sport Performance Coach) is available to assist and instruct you; Clean Pulls, Push Press, and Plyometrics (example of plyometric exercises only).
- How do I know what jump exercises are best for me to perform? Specificity, specificity, specificity! Your body adapts to the type of training in which you engage. A training program that includes jumps (off two legs, one leg, etc.) and muscle strengthening exercises that train similar movement patterns and energy systems (strength and power, not endurance) is your friend and should be utilized frequently.
Benefits of Basketball Jump Training Other than the Dunk
Nothing can change the momentum of a game or excite a crowd like a thundering dunk. It has become such a measurement of athleticism that many think that their rite of passage occurs with their first dunk. The thought that at some point you could be providing this exciting game-changing event is great motivation to train specifically for that time. However, once you realize that jump training can benefit other areas of your game, it becomes more than just a dunk, it can transform you as a player. The following are additional benefits to improving your vertical jump through plyometric training. Imagine:
- that you improved the quickness of your first step to the point you were beating defenders off the dribble routinely;
- that you were better at second chance rebounds because you were jumping higher and quicker;
- that your defensive quickness improved such that your coach had you defend your opposition’s best player;
- that your change of direction become so quick that you regularly beat your opponent to the point of attach; and
- that your new found general explosiveness were to breed a confidence and an aggressive mindset such that it had a profound impact on your game.
Goal Setting: A Recipe for Success in Basketball
Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals is essential for success. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Action-based, Realistic, and Timely. Goals that do not measure-up to this standard and are set without an accountability buddy or group often fall apart and go unrealized long before goals would otherwise be reached. Almost always, this leads to loss of motivation to train and virtually no improvement at all. Living Wheat-Free for Dummies (Ch. 5, pp. 70-74) can help you with setting S.M.A.R.T. goals.
Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals for increasing your vertical jump is no different and can be just as effective as setting S.M.A.R.T. goals for weight loss, earning an “A” in math class, or implementing stress management practices into your life to alleviate stress. It is a matter of staying committed to the process. Keep in mind that with individual differences such as a different amount of fast twitch muscle fibers, recovery times from workouts, body weight, training experience, etc., different results will be realized. Therefore, be wary of any claims on products that “guarantee” results. There are just too many variables to substantiate a “guaranteed” claim.
Vertical Jump Improvements in Basketball: Factors Affecting Performance
As a middle or high schooler, there are three different areas that will affect your jumping ability and how it progresses over time. First, there is a natural improvement as you age and physically mature. This development may account for several inches (3”-5”) in progress even without training. During this time, you will become stronger and more powerful. This can be attributed to the hormone explosion during the phase of life we call puberty. I have a client who stopped lifting for nine months due to an injury and when he returned to the gym he was 10% stronger in several of his lifts for having done nothing. But keep in mind, your opponent is developing just like you and this will not be enough to “put you in the lead.”
Second, the saying, “practice makes perfect,” is only in your best interest if you are practicing perfect form. Otherwise, whatever you practice becomes better, even if your form is terrible. So, similarly to your basketball shooting form, learning to swing a golf club or baseball bat, perfecting your vertical jump technique over time with good quality repetitions will lead to improvement. It some estimations, this technique upgrade can lead to an additional 2”-5” on your vertical jump.
Third, as mentioned earlier, strength and power complete the vertical jump maximum improvement formula. Once this is added to the hormonal explosion during puberty and technique perfection, serious improvement will be realized. Imagine you start off with a 20” vertical jump and gain 4” in each area; a 32” vertical, or 60% improvement. By anyone’s definition, that’s impressive!
Jump training, like all other types of training, requires an all-in mentality. When you don’t come to your workouts with an intense desire to jump higher, chances are, you won’t. Here are three sticking points that can prevent you from reaching your vertical potential:
- Lack of Training Consistency – Performing your workouts when you can as to making it a priority will only get you discouraged because of your lack of improvement;
- Lack of Maximum Effort During Workouts – It is easy to “slack off” when fatigue sets in but pushing through during these times of your workouts will lead to the best results. No one ever increased their vertical jump by training with 50% effort; and
- Not Connecting Training to Your Game – Do you extend at your top height on every rebound, every block attempt, and every layup? Basketball itself provides for an excellent jump training workout, but it is not enough. Transferring your jump training to game-like situations is what it is all about.
Vertical jump training has inspired many to become the next great dunk champion. Although this has its appeal, there are many other areas of the game that stand to benefit from a great vertical jump. Understanding basic principles, setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, and having a program in place are essential elements in developing an explosive vertical jump that will improve your overall game. A commitment to excellence and maximal effort while training is required for optimizing training effect. So, train hard, have fun and watch your game elevate to a whole new level.
“People ask me if I could fly, I said, ‘yeah … for a little while.’” – Michael Jordan
Rusty Gregory, MS, CSCS is the coauthor of Living Wheat-Free for Dummies (Wiley Publishing). He received his B.S. (Commercial and Industrial Fitness) in 1989 from Texas Tech University and his M.S. (Kinesiology) in 1991 from the University of Michigan. In 1991, he began his personal training business in Austin, Texas, and became a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). In 1995, he opened Forte Personal Fitness, a private personal fitness studio where he trains athletes from a multitude of sports and people of all ages, health backgrounds, and physical limitations.
Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to assist male and female youth basketball players in enhancing his or her jumping ability. With any physical training program injury is a risk. Consult with your licensed physician or healthcare provider before beginning a training program for his or her professional advice regarding the program in which you will be participating. Always be smart with your training, learn to jump higher, and most of all, HAVE FUN!