Outlines training strategies and specific exercises for how to jump higher, with a simple test to determine if you should focus on strength training instead.
An explosive, high vertical jump is one of the skills we all would like to have. It doesn’t matter whether you play in the NBA or another sport or just throw a few baskets in your free time. It doesn’t matter if you want to know how to jump higher for volleyball, dunking or any other sport. We all want to be more like Michael Jordan for a while.
But how does it work? How do you improve your vertical jump? Should we just jump as often and as high as possible until we get tired (or injure) – or should we make our training more systematic? In this post, we’ll explain what you need to do to improve your vertical jump.
The vertical jump is a skill and as such it must be practiced regularly. Because basketball and volleyball players practice this skill in the practice of their sport, these athletes can jump higher than the average recreational athlete even if they don’t do specific workouts to improve their vertical jump.
If you’re not doing a sport that involves jumping high, a simple tip would be: just practice jumping. But most of us would probably hate to spend hours trying to keep jumping up to touch the basket ring. If you can really sink the ball with a dunk, things are different: Many of the best basketball players in the world practice dunking themselves.
Genetic predisposition also plays a role in the potential maximum height of our vertical jump, but that is no reason not to work on yourself. There is always room for improvement in technique, strength, diet and / or coordination.
The mechanics of a jump
If we look at an athlete who tries to jump in slow motion, we notice that the first movement before jumping is downwards. So you basically crouch down and then catapult yourself high. The ankle joint is an important part of this movement.
The ankle joint connects the foot with the lower leg. The ankle joint is divided into the upper and lower ankle joint, which in turn are divided into further components. Taken as a whole, the ankle is one of the most complex joints we have. It is also the most frequently stressed and injured joint at the same time. Many ligaments, tendons, and muscles hold it together and stable. If even a ligament, a sight or a muscle is “unstable”, the whole joint becomes a house of cards. Twisting or overstretching are then only a matter of time. Who’s to blame? Often the (wrong) shoes. More and more cushioning and “protection zones” in modern shoes are causing the muscles in the foot to atrophy, as they have to do little or hardly any work – shoes or compression socks provide stability.
But the calf and thigh muscles are just as important as the gluteal and core muscles. So it is a muscle chain that is activated when trying to jump.
A combination of plyometric training and strength training is by far the best way to improve vertical jump. Plyometry uses the stretch-shortening cycle, which means that the muscles contract eccentrically (they lengthen after contact with the floor – with plyometric exercises, e.g. jumping from the box or from a step), followed by an isometric contraction, which is followed by an concentric contraction (shortening of the muscles) follows. We recognize the same principle when we pull on a rubber band. The stretch-shorten cycle allows us to exert more force than from a static position.
Learning to land properly
Before we begin any plyometric exercises, however, we need to learn how to land correctly. For the untrained athlete, it can make a lot of difference just to assume the correct position, as shown in the following picture – the shoulders are above the knees, the core muscles tense, the hips activated.
You can further improve your landing by performing vertical jumps from this position with the correct arm movement. This saves a lot of energy; instead of directing 100 percent of your strength on the jump, it’s only 50-70 percent. The correct landing technique in profile and from the front as well as bad technique are shown in the following pictures.
In the first picture you can see that the shoulders are just above the knees. To the right you can see that the athlete is leaning back and the shoulders are no longer above his knees. Below you can see a correct posture after landing (left) and poor landing technique (right), in which the valgus position of the knees is clearly visible.
Younger players and beginners should start with easier plyometric exercises such as ankle hops, rope jumping or line jumps.
The supreme disciplines of plyometric training
The plyometric “supreme disciplines” are low-high jumps and low jumps. The jump consists of jumping from the box (or another elevated platform) onto the floor, where the athlete tries to land as softly as possible and thereby absorb as much impact energy as possible. With the low-high jump, there is a vertical jump after landing – we shorten the landing if the feet are off the ground as quickly as possible; or we extend the duration of contact if we want to exercise maximum speed. If we want to use the stretch-shortening cycle, we shouldn’t stay too long on the ground (longer than two seconds), otherwise the accumulated energy will be lost after landing. These are very helpful exercises that are particularly challenging for the central nervous system (CNS).
When jumping low or low-high, the athlete should not jump from the box or bench, but climb down. In order to accumulate as much energy as possible after hitting the ground, the athlete should jump with heels slightly raised (so that there is room for a pen under the heel) and keep their arms behind their bodies as they prepare to take off. Immediately before the low-high jump, he should raise his arms over his head and look upwards (at the basket ring or the blanket). These two measures can ensure that the jump height improves by a few valuable centimeters.
The height of the vertical jump depends on the force that we can apply in a certain time: the higher the force and the shorter the time, the better. We should focus on getting stronger, and when we are strong and experienced enough we should try to use our strength as quickly as possible.
It is difficult to identify a single, best exercise, but it is definitely not a mistake to do exercises that strengthen the muscles used: squat, deadlift, lung, split squat, hip thrust, kettlebell swing, push press etc. Jumping is hip-heavy, but we also need strong knees and ankles to absorb the high forces during landing and to bundle as much energy as possible for take-off, and for this we need fully activated core muscles, which efficiently transfers the forces from the lower to the upper extremities. Correct dorsiflexion is another critical factor in cruciate ligament injuries that basketball players often suffer.
Squats train all leg muscles, lower back and buttocks in one. There is a direct correlation between the maximum weight on the squat and the jumping power / jump height! So it won’t help you to do as many repetitions as possible in the squat with one weight, because only the 1RM (1st maximum) will make you jump “higher”!
The calf raises are also particularly important, both while sitting and standing! You should be careful to do explosive repetitions as possible, not the classic, slow repetitions! Explosively go up, hold for 1-2 seconds and then squat down again.
Weightlifting is also very helpful in improving vertical jump because it encourages the athlete to use strength very quickly and to recruit more motor units. For very advanced athletes, eccentric force training can also be very beneficial. It is important to train relative strength (i.e. to be light and quick) and not to be unnecessarily heavy because gravity is relentless and will always pull us down. When it comes to program control, we have to keep in mind that both plyometry and strength training are very demanding on the CNS. We should therefore choose the weight of the dumbbell carefully.
A simple test
If you want to know whether to focus your attention on strength training or plyometry, do this simple test: Compare your standing jump from a static position (without knee flexion) to a jump that you do with your knees bent.
If the difference is big, you have good plyometric potential and will be able to use elastic force, so you should focus primarily on strength training to improve your speed and strength. If the difference is only marginal, however, consider adding more plyometrics to your workout to increase the elastic energy that you can generate.
Increasing the vertical jump height isn’t the only benefit this type of workout offers. Studies show that jumping to reach objects above head height changes biomechanics and makes you more resistant to injuries, and motivation plays a role because training leads to better vertical jump.
A high power output during the jump results in an overall higher power output, which is especially useful for developing speed. If you decide to add this form of training to your repertoire, the first thing you need to do is learn to land correctly.
Then you should do some simpler plyometrics exercises to improve your condition, strengthen your tendons, and train your coordination. To optimize your training, you should combine plyometry with dumbbell training.