Are you trying to fly high, throw it down and impress scouts? If so, are you following the latest and greatest guides to improving your vertical leap? There' s a good chance that mindlessly following popular exercises to improve your dunk is doing more harm than good.
Jumping high enough to dunk is all about applying force into the ground as quickly as possible. The go-to exercises for training to improve your vert are known as plyometrics.
The modern idea of plyometrics, in both philosophy and exercise selection, is different from the original concept, which was brought to America by Yuri Verkhoshansky. Verkhoshansky's exercise principles are commonly referred to as "shock training."
Since shock training was introduced, hundreds of programs have attempted to mimic Verkhoshansky's exercises. Some of these programs prescribed hundreds of jumps and other explosive exercises performed daily. It's often forgotten that these exercise were performed under close supervision with careful monitoring for fatigue. In his book Special Strength Training, Verkhoshansky advises athletes to start with as few as six to eight reps of a shock-training exercise.
Jumping into these methods from the get-go is not the way to go. Instead, I recommend performing the exercises below to improve your dunk.
The first half of the jumping equation is producing force. In a sports training context, force is essentially synonymous with strength. More strength equals more force.
The best movement for producing force for the vertical jump is a properly executed Squat. Squats teach the body how to drive force vertically, trumping leg extensions and other isolation exercises.
Until you can squat one and a half times your bodyweight, using fancy methods like shock training or high-level plyometrics to increase your force output will lack effectiveness.
The second half of the vertical jump equation is learning how to apply force quickly. Applying force to the ground requires a solid connection between the body and the ground. This starts with ankles and calf muscles that can stay strong and stiff, because if the ankles can't hold strong, effective force transfer diminishes.
To develop ankle strength and stability, point your toes to the sky and perform Ankle Bounces with a slight knee bend. When you are airborne, bring the tops of your feet to the sky. On the descent, recoil your forefeet forcefully into the ground.
Instead of diving into Drop Jumps, Depth Jumps and other shock training methods, the best starting point is simply to practice dunking. Use the net and backboard to gauge your progress over time.
Below is a sample routine that synthesizes the above concepts. It is best suited for the off-season, when your legs have had a chance to recover. The first day is strength development and bilateral (two-legged) jumping. The second day is strength retention and unilateral (single-leg) jumping.
Bilateral Ankle Bounds - 2x30
Two-Legged Dunk Attempts
Stop when maximum jump height starts to diminish. If you aren't close to dunking, simply practice your vertical jump from a running start. Use the net to gauge overall jump height.
Back Squat - Work up to a 6 RM
Initially, strive to increase weight on the bar. On the first day, warm up with one medium-to-difficult set of six reps. Say, for instance, you tap out at 135 pounds. The next week, perform the same warm-up and try lifting 140 for six reps. The next week, go for 145 pounds, and so on.
Day Two (Three or Four days later)
Single-Leg Ankle Bounds - 3x10
Single-Leg Dunk Attempts
Stop when maximum jump height starts to diminish. If you aren't close to dunking, simply practice your vertical jump from a running start. Use the net to gauge overall jump height. Alternate legs for each repetition.
Repeat the same workout performed earlier in the week, only with sets of two reps. This is a light day that stimulates recovery and improves form. Using the example above, the first day would be at two reps of 135 pounds. The second day, two reps at 140 pounds and so on.
When looking for exercises to improve your dunking ability, remember not to go too fast, too soon. A lot of popular methods are mutations of high-level training programs. When in doubt, start simple. That will pave the way for tremendous gains in the future—plus, it flat-out works.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons