Improve your Vertical Jump

Slam dunking a basketball is one of the most exciting and rewarding things a player can do in the game. Everybody wants to be able to dunk, yet for some of us that basketball net is a lot farther up than for others. If you are having difficulty getting up to the rim, then you will be pleased to know that moderns sports science has an entire branch dedicated to the art of jumping high. It is called plyometrics and in this article we are going to look at the main concepts and some exercises to improve your vertical jump.

What is Plyometrics?

Plyometrics is a type of training exercise that aims to improve muscle power – the ability to generate force quickly. It does not necessarily improve the maximum strength of a muscle but it does improve the speed at which that muscle can output its power. When a basketball player jumps in the air his muscles go through two phases:

  1. First of all he prepares by bending his legs. This is where the muscle contracts eccentrically (lengthens). In this phase elastic energy is stored in the muscle.
  2. Immediately after, he straightens his legs to power himself into the air. Now the muscle is contracting concentrically (shortening). In this second phase the elastic energy is released, resulting in the jump.

Plyometrics is designed to shorten the amount of time between those two phases and increase the amount of elastic energy that a muscle, or group of muscles can store, thus making the jump faster and higher and getting you towards the hoop.

Improving your vertical jump with Plyometric exercises

Plyometric exercises done repetitively and correctly can double your vertical jump. Let’s take a look at some of the most useful plyometric exercises for your basketball work-out.

Split Squat Jumps

  1. Start with your legs, one in front of each other, about two feet apart. The ball of the back foot should be on the ground while the front foot is flat.
  2. Keep your neck and head upright and lightly contract your stomach muscles to work your core.
  3. Lower yourself till your front thigh is parallel to the floor and the back knee is almost touching the floor. Explosively jump upwards into the air.
  4. Mid-air, switch your legs so that you land with them in the same position but with the left and right now reversed and jump again immediately.

Repeat the exercise 8 – 10 times.

Tuck Jumps

  1. Start with your legs shoulder width apart, legs straight but knees not locked. Arms hang by your sides in a neutral position.
  2. Lightly bend your legs and spring upwards, driving your hands up at the same time to gain extra momentum and height.
  3. At the very top of your jump quickly tuck your knees to your chest and clasp them by the shins with your hands.
  4. Release your legs and straighten out. Land back on the balls of your feet and immediately take off again.

Repeat the exercise 8 – 10 times. After practising for a while you should be able to release the tuck and attain a full stretch again before landing back on the floor. Both the jump and the tuck have to be done in a very dynamic way.

Ring drill

For this plyometric basketball exercise you will need four rings. They can be real rings or you can draw them on the floor with chalk. You will also need to draw a large number with chalk inside the ring. Place the rings in a square formation as in the diagram and number them 1 – 4 working from left to right on the top row and continuing left to right on the bottom.

  1. Start in the top left ring. Stand with your legs together, knees lightly flexed and keep up on the balls of your feet.
  2. Begin the exercise by jumping from 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 rapidly for duration of 15 seconds at a time, taking rests of around a minute between repetitions.
  3. Repeat this but jumping from 1 to 4 and 2 to 3 only.
  4. Repeat again but jumping only between 1 to 3.
  5. Now have your friend call out new random number pairs every four to six jumps.

At first do no more than two of each exercise. Each exercise must be performed by jumping as quickly as possible. Your speed will improve over the weeks if you always keep on the balls of your feet. Keep your body weight central, focus on your core, relax your arms and keep your back upright.

Lateral Box push

You will need a box around knee height for this plyometric basketball exercise.

  1. Stand to one side of the box with one foot on the ground and the other resting on the box.
  2. Using all the power in the leg that is on the box only, jump vertically up and over the box landing on it with the other leg and the previous box leg now on the ground.
  3. Repeat the movement but from the other side.

Start by doing repetitions of 6 jumps (3 each leg) in sets of 3 with a couple of minutes rest between each repetition.

Tips to remember when doing plyometric exercises for basketball

  • Always do a good warm up first. Muscles stretch when they are warm so follow this with a light stretch concentrating especially on the legs.
  • Practice plyometrics on a firm floor like maple sprung or short grass. Wobbly landings can destabilise ankles and hamper reaction times.
  • Keep up on the balls of your feet unless instructed otherwise. This will speed your reaction times.
  • Pay attention to your core, your abdominal muscles. Lightly contract these as this is the centre of your power and should be involved in virtually every movement of the body.
  • Take a break between sessions. We are building explosive power with plyometrics, not endurance.
  • Give 100% to each and every move, otherwise the training is useless.
  • Beginners should start out with a single plyometric session per week, with plenty of time for recovery.