Q. Ripped Dude, I'm looking to increase my power and explosiveness, and I hear the vertical leap is key. What's the best way to train to improve my power and leaping ability with this explosive movement?
When I was growing up, basketball was big in my neighborhood. Everyone wanted to be able to dunk on a regulation 10-foot high basket and, thus, everyone focused on improving their vertical jump. The progression usually went a little something like this: touch the rim, grab the rim, hang on the rim, dunk with a volleyball and, finally, dunk with a basketball!
I went through this progression, too. I went from touching the middle of the net at 12 years old, to dunking a basketball at 14 years old, to doing serious acrobatic 360-degree dunks at 17 years old. In college, my personal record for the vertical leap was 40 inches. At my peak, I was able to touch the top of the square on a regulation backboard, about 11.5 feet from the ground. Even now, in my thirties, I can dunk a basketball while standing underneath the basket—no run up required. I owe it all to the power of the vertical jump.
Aside from squats, the exercises below are considered some of the best bodyweight plyometrics you can do to help improve the fast-twitch muscle fibers that enable you to jump higher and run faster. When it comes to vertical jump, plyometrics are a key. A review in the "British Journal of Sports Medicine" looked at 26 research studies that tested the effects of plyometrics on vertical jumps and found that plyometrics increased vertical jump by 8 percent. Another study reported that plyometrics helped professional athletes increase their vertical leap by 23 percent, improve their agility by 8 percent, their balance by 5 percent, and their time by 0.30 seconds on the 20-meter sprint.
The exercises below will also help improve lower body explosiveness, power, and strength, which will enable you to improve your vertical leap. As a bonus, you'll get in great anaerobic and aerobic shape.
Get ready to reach high and train hard!
1. Jump Rope
As simple as it sounds, jumping rope really helped me build explosive power. Consider it a functional cardio exercise and aim for 30 minutes, 4-5 days per week.
2. Calf Raises
Let's face it, scrawny legs won't get you anywhere. Whether you're looking to dunk, high-jump, or just leave the ground with an extra bit of oomph, calf raises are essential. Build lower-leg bulk with 1,000 calf raises per day.
I came across this technique when reading a "Sports Illustrated" article on Shaquille O'Neal. While playing at Louisiana State University, Shaq did 1,000 calf raises before bed, and his vertical leap increased by 12 inches. Why not harness some of this vertical prowess for yourself?
While it might sound like an overwhelming number of calf raises, when broken into a more manageable scheme like 10 sets of 100 reps, it's totally doable. Best of all, there's no need to add weight and no equipment is involved. This is a great, do-anywhere exercise.
3. Jump Over An Obstacle
This is one of my go-to weekend exercises for harnessing explosive power. Jumping over an object, like a playground bench or box, will provide you with a physical marker to surpass. Go all out with this move and channel your inner pogo stick—the higher, the better. Aim for 10 jumps in 10 minutes; attempt a new jump every minute on the minute.
4. Lightweight, High-Rep Squats
Bodyweight squats are a great way to practice your vertical jump because your squat stance mimics the lowest crouch position of your vertical jump. Incorporate these into your routine twice every week, increasing the number or sets and reps as you improve. After you become comfortable with regular squats, consider adding jump squats to your routine.
Sometimes you just have to jump, jump, jump. For this exercise, I generally go to a wall and leap as high as I can 10 times. This once-per-week exercise is about practicing the vertical leap to get a feeling for the movement itself.
Similar to building explosive power by jumping over a stationary object, hurdles allow you to practice your leap. Space eight flights of hurdles two feet from each other and aim to jump over each like a pogo stick—basically, as high as you can. Repeat this for 10 repetitions: one flight of eight hurdles equals one repetition. Do this twice per week.
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- Markovic, Goran. Does Plyometric Training Improve Vertical Jump Height? British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2007. 41(6), 349-360
- Asadi, A. , Arazi, H. Effects of High-Intensity Plyometric Training on Dynamic Balance, Ability, Vertical Jump and Sprint Performance in Young Male Basketball Players. Journal of Sport and Health Research. 2012. 4(1), 35-44