Every advanced move has a prerequisite. You must work your way up to get the maximum benefit. A rim-rocking vertical jump is no different.
If you’ve never participated in a jump program—or if you’re unhappy with the results of one you’ve tried—read this article. You’ll not only save yourself months of frustration from lackluster results, but you’ll also almost immediately add inches to your vertical.
WATCH: How to Take the Vertical Jump Test
Improve Mobility in the Right Joints
Jumping involves one of the most powerful movements in all of sports—the triple extension. In one coordinated movement, your ankles, knees and hips explosively extend, propelling you high into the air. If any of those joints are “locked” up, you’ll lose height on your vertical jump.
Before every workout, we work on ankle and hip mobility with the following drills. Also, if you have particularly tight hips—a common problem among athletes—try these nine hip mobility exercises.
Wall Ankle Mobilizations
Face a wall and stand 4-6 inches from it. With your arms extended in front, keep your right foot 6 inches from the wall and move your left foot 6-8 inches behind your right. Keeping your right heel down during the entire repetition, push your right knee toward the outside of your right big toe and touch the wall. Hold for a second and release. This is not a calf stretch. You should feel a little tightness in the actual joint of the ankle. Perform 8-10 repetitions and then switch to your left leg.
Kettlebell or Dumbbell Goblet Squats
This is my go-to mobility drill for someone who has tight hips. Grab the horns of a kettlebell and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and pointing forward. Drop into a deep squat. At the very bottom of the squat, the outside of your elbows should touch the inside of your knees. With your chest up, focus on pressing out with your elbows. Hold at the bottom for 10 seconds and drive up through your heels. Repeat for 10 repetitions.
Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
Student-athletes, especially males, tend to have tight hip flexors from sitting in class all day. A tight hip flexor automatically puts the brakes on full triple extension and take inches off your vertical. Get in a half-kneeling position. Keeping your core tight (no flaring of the ribs), squeeze the glute of the down knee and raise the arm on the side of the down knee above your head and toward the knee that’s up. You should feel an excellent stretch at the top of the front of the hip of the down knee. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 5 times. Switch legs and repeat.
Improve Core Stability
Energy leaks, especially through the core, impair your vertical. When you perform triple extension, the force created from the ground transfers through your legs and then through your core and into the air. If your core isn’t strong enough to transmit the force, power will leak, and you won’t jump as high as you could.
Think of it like this: What could you jump higher off of, a basketball court or Jell-O? Hopefully you answered a basketball court. Why? Because it has more stability.
We hit the core three different ways:
- Anti-extension exercises: Planks and Plank Variations.
- Anti-flexion exercises: Side Planks and One-Arm Farmer’s Walks.
- Anti-rotation exercises: Pallof Presses, Chops and Lifts.
If you exercise three times per week, you’ll hit one pattern per workout with 3-4 sets of 8-10 repetitions.
WATCH: Train the Core While Standing Up
You can definitely improve your vertical with just jumping drills, but if you combine them with strength exercises, you can increase it exponentially. Initially, I focus only on proper jumping and landing technique with my athletes, while improving their lower-body strength with exercises in the gym.
Why? If an athlete lacks eccentric and isometric strength, when he jumps he will look like Gumby. His knees will buckle in, all of his weight will be on his toes, his upper back will round, and his vertical jump will look like it is in slow motion. He will be leaking energy everywhere.
With proper eccentric and isometric strength levels, an athlete can “throw” himself into the ground to create a plyometric-like rebound effect that will propel him up like a rubber band.
Although there is an entire arsenal of exercises from which to choose, we almost always use these two:
Find a box that’s at least 12 inches high. Stand on top of the box and walk off of it. Land with both feet as quietly as possible. Make sure you land on your entire foot and not just on your toes. You should be balanced when you hit the ground. Your landing position should be identical to your initial starting position during a vertical jump—flat lower back and chest up, with ankles, knees and hips flexed. Hold the landing for 3 seconds and repeat for 8-10 repetitions. Perform 3 sets. Increase the height as your landing improves. One key that’s often overlooked is the immediate stiffness upon landing. Stick the landing and don’t allow yourself to lower once your feet hit the ground.
Single-Leg Elevated Split Squats with Kettlebell
Find a bench that’s 12 inches high and perform a Single-Leg Split Squat with your rear foot elevated on the bench. Hold a single kettlbell in the racked position near the shoulder of the leg on the bench. This will force your glute to work even harder to keep your knee from buckling. Remember to keep your torso upright, and move from the hip. The knee of your front leg should not go past your big toe in the bottom position. Drive through your front heel on the way up. Perform 8-12 repetitions on each leg for 3 sets.
If you can create a great foundation using the three tips above, you will squeeze every inch out of your jump program and reap the rewards of a high-flying vertical.
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