3 Best Exercises for the Vertical Jump

Looking to increase your vertical leap? T.J. Allan of 4QuarterTraining.com has a three-part system to improving your leap--a flexibility component, a strength component and a power component.

Mix these three exercises into your normal training routine and watch your vertical leap take positive gains closer and closer to the rim--which can help all aspects of your game and maybe even get you above the rim to throw down a dunk one day.

Here are the three exercises:


Hip Flexor Stretch

The hip flexors are actually a group of muscles that help pull the knee upward. The problem we have with the hip flexors during the vertical jump is that in the large majority of athletes, the hip flexors are usually extremely tight. Because we've become a society that sits around all day (in school, at work, in front of the computer, watching TV, etc), the hip flexors have a tendency to become contracted and tight, almost pulling us into anterior tilt.

Tight, contracted hip flexors hurt our vertical jump in two ways:

  • A tight, contracted muscle usually inhibits its antagonist, in this case the glute maximus, which is an integral muscle in the vertical jump. A jumper with a weaker, inhibited glute maximus doesn't jump very high. Also, a weak glute makes the hamstring work harder, which results in more hamstring strains.
  • A tight, contracted hip flexor puts the brakes on our vertical jump by preventing full hip extension. If you look at an anatomical picture of the hip flexor, you can see where the muscles attach on the femur and the lumbo-pelvic complex. Just imagine a tight, contracted hip flexor. You can actually see how it'd bring the torso slightly forward and prevent the hip from fully extending. A lack of hip extension = poor vertical jump.

We do two simple flexor stretches throughout our workout. The first one I learned from strength coach Dan John, the hip flexor pulse stretch. Get into a lunge position with the back knee on the floor directly under the hip. The front knee and hip should be 90 degrees. Place the athlete's hands on his glutes and gently have him push his pelvis forward while keeping his torso still. Hold the position and repeat. He should feel a great stretch right where the pelvis meets the femur on the front of his down leg. Perform 10 two-second repetitions on each leg.

The second stretch is a little more complicated. Have the athlete kneel at 45 degrees in front of the box that's 8-12 inches. Have him put his inside leg on top of the box pointing directly forward while keeping the rest of his body at 45 degrees. Again, have the athlete gently move his pelvis forward while keeping his torso still. If necessary the athlete can place his hands on the up knee for balance. If the athlete can't feel a great stretch in that position, have him raise his hands over his head and lean them towards the up knee. He should feel a great stretch in the front of the thigh of the knee that's on the ground. Hold that stretch for 15-20 seconds. Perform three 15-20 second holds on each leg.

Trap Bar Deadlift (The Strength Component)

A vertical jump program isn't complete without a strength exercise, the foundation for a great vertical jump. Unless you're an elastic jumper like some NBA superstars (if you can't dunk by the time you're a high school sophomore, you're probably not), then you need strength to jump high.

According to Newton's Third Law, "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction." In basketball terms, that means the more force we put into the ground, the higher we jump into the air. The trap bar deadlift gives us that force.

I personally like the trap bar deadlift, compared to the squat, for three reasons:

  • It is consistent with regards to range of motion (ROM). Athletes have a tendency to decrease their ROM on the squat when they get tired. The large majority of athletes do not even squat to proper depth, almost completely negating the posterior chain's involvement in the lift, which happens to be the key jumping muscles.
  • Done properly, it recruits the posterior chain more than the squat. The hamstrings and glutes really get a great workout.
  • It's easier to learn with less technical difficulty and requires less mobility. Athletes tend to pick up this exercise extremely quickly, especially females.

Once the athlete becomes proficient at the trap bar deadlift, we'll have them deadlift off a 4-inch box to really increase the range of motion and hammer the posterior chain. Once they become really good, we'll also add some trap bar deadlift jumps to focus on the speed side of the speed-strength continuum.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Snatches (The Power Component)

When most people think of power, they think of powerlifters, those guys benching 500 pounds and squatting 900 pounds. However, that's actually incorrect. Olympic lifters are actually a lot more powerful than powerlifters. The definition of power is work divided by change in time. So essentially how fast can we move a weight from point A to point B.

In basketball, power is everything because time is everything. It's not necessarily how high you can jump, but who can jump the highest the fastest. Sometimes it's not even the first jump that counts either; the rebound goes to the guy who can explode up the quickest on the second or third jump.

Increasing strength doesn't always translate into increasing power. There are plenty of guys walking around the gym who are strong and slow. Once those athletes create that strength pool, you have to teach them how to use it quickly.

There are no better exercises to train for power than the Olympic lifts. The single-arm dumbbell snatch correlates highly with the vertical jump. It also just happens to be the easiest one to teach, as the Olympic lifts tends to be extremely technical. Make sure the athlete just isn't reverse curling the weight up. The arm acts as a rope. Wrap the knuckles under the dumbbell and point the elbow to the outside. The weight moves because of the powerful triple extension of the ankle, knee, and hip and violent shrug of the upper back. The athlete should actually come off of the ground. Take your time adding weight, as speed is really the focus. You can't do an Olympic lift slow.

Perform those three exercises twice weekly, and you'll see your vertical jump explode.

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