It is impressive to watch just about any NBA star or Olympic volleyball player explode from the ground into the air. The vertical jump. Being able to exert maximal force in minimal time to propel your body from the ground into the air to make that shot or block is a factor of athletic success. And while height may have its advantages, anyone can improve their vertical jump or overall explosiveness to give them a better advantage on the court, field, or in the ring.
Improving your vertical jump requires working on strength training and plyometrics to improve reaction, speed, and power. It requires training fast-twitch muscle fibers and improving tendons’ tensile strength to reduce injury risks and improve explosive reaction.
Let’s examine ways to improve both lower-body strength and plyometrics.
While some genetic factors such as height or athletic ability can aid one’s ability to leap up into the air, strength is a major underlying factor. Muscles in the lower body must be strong to not only propel your body weight up against the forces of gravity, but the muscles, tendons, and bones must also be primed to handle such forces without risk of tendonitis, tears, or breaks. Below are five lower body strength exercises aimed at priming the muscles for take-off:
Stand a couple of feet away from a bench, and place the top of your foot on the bench. The other foot is out in front. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your chest up. Descend until your back knee nearly touches the floor. Using the heel of your lead foot (on the floor), push yourself back up into a standing position. That’s one rep. Aim for three sets of 8-12 reps per leg on your lower body training days.
While standing on one leg, raise up on your toes as you lift your heel off the ground. Aim for three sets of 8-12 reps per leg on your lower body training days.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet close to your glutes. Extend one leg out so that your knees are lined up. Push up through your heel and lift your hips until you have a straight line from your shoulder to your knee. Make sure to keep your knees side by side. Squeeze your glutes at the top! Aim for three sets of 8-12 reps per leg on your lower body training days.
Wall Sit With Alternating Leg Extensions
Start in a sitting position with hips and knees bent to 90 degrees and your back and head pressed against the wall. Slowly extend one leg at a time and shift your weight onto the other leg while maintaining hip and knee position at 90 degrees on the stance leg. Slowly return leg to starting position. Switch to the other side. Aim for 3 sets of 8-12 reps per leg on your lower body training days.
Lay on leg press machine and place one foot on plate. Hold the other leg in the air or to your chest. Slowly press your leg on the plate straight and slowly return, repeat. Once the set is complete perform on the other leg. Aim for 3 sets of 8-12 reps per leg on your lower body training days.
As toddlers and children play helps our bodies prepare for plyometrics. We learn to jog, run, jump, leap, and fall. As we age our bodies and the restrictions of modern society, can alter the mechanics. We may think we know how to jump and land, but often there are small – or major – flaws in how we jump, leading to injury. Plyometric training not only works on training the fast-twitch muscle fibers but also works to fine-tune our mechanics so we can jump with better efficiency and less wear and tear on our joints. Below are five plyometric training exercises to improve jumping mechanics:
Start down in a squatting position. Push your hips down and back, chest up, core tight, weight in your heels. Use your arms to get momentum and jump as high as you can. When coming down to a landing positing make sure you land nice and soft with your knees bent back in that squatting position. Perform 2 sets of 10 reps on your lower body training days.
Lateral Skater Jumps
Slightly bending at the knee, propel yourself up off your toes to jump laterally onto the opposite foot. Immediately explode off of that foot to land on the next side. Do not allow your knees to fall inward and allow your arms to mimic the same motion used when running. Perform 2 sets of 10 reps per leg on your lower body training days.
Single-Leg Triple Hop
Stand on one leg and then hop forward and land on the foot of the same leg. Hop three times forward and on the last landing stick the and hold it for a second or two. Perform the triple hop five times on each leg on your lower body training days.
Squat down and then use both legs to jump up into the air. While in the air bend both your knees and hips into a tucked position as shown. Land back on the ground softly with both feet and then repeat. Perform 2 sets of 10 reps per leg on your lower body training days.
Stand with feet about shoulder-width apart on the ground. Swing your arms back to gain momentum and then jump as far forward as you can tolerate landing on both feet. Land softly and ensure your weight is evenly distributed. Perform ten reps on your lower body training days.
Soft Tissue Work
Another tip to improve your vertical jump? Roll it out. Strength training, plyometrics, and athletic endeavors can take their toll on our muscles. Soft tissue massage is an effective way to ease tension and “knots” in your muscles, restricting movement and making your muscles shorter and tighter. While most young athletes may not be able to afford massage therapists, they can invest in a foam roller. Utilize the foam roller on the quads, hamstrings, glutes, IT band, and calves to work out the soreness and improve muscular function.
Any athlete can improve their vertical jump if they take the time to increase strength properly, focus on plyometric training with good form, and properly take care of their muscles with soft tissue work and maintenance. Not only will this improve your vertical jump, but it will also keep you in the sport for a longer and healthier career.