As a high performance specialist for basketballers, the question I get asked more than any other is: 'can we do more for my vertical jump?' or 'what can I do to dunk?' This is usually followed by 'Can we start doing [insert dangerous internet fad here]... I saw it on YouTube and it looks great!'
My answer comes in two parts, and is always a bit underwhelming, especially to impatient teenagers.
Firstly, we are already doing everything possible to make you better athletically. If what you saw on the internet was going to SAFELY make you a better athlete, we would be doing it. The reason it’s not in our program, is because it is either dangerous or ineffective, or both. This pretty much covers most of the things you see on YouTube.
Second, focus more on the boring parts of your training. The fundamentals are almost always more important than you think. The things we do for preparation and recovery are not just warm up and cool down, they also have a direct bearing on your vertical leap. For example, we stretch our hip flexors religiously, because tight hip flexors reduce our ability to explosively extend the hip, thereby reducing our vertical leap.
Kids typically then ask 'so what can I do to speed things up?' my answer to this is always the same... follow the process.
The process is actually pretty easy and a touch boring, but the payoff is huge. Here it is:
- Restore mobility and flexibility to the body.
- Activate the core and the glutes.
- Get great at the fundamentals of strength: squats, pushups, lunges, calf raises etc.
- Perfect landing technique. Always teach landing before flying.
- Practice the techniques of sprinting, jumping and agility.
- Continue developing your strength and power in the gym.
This post will look at the 'low hanging fruit' in that list - 1. Restore mobility and flexibility to the body. This process comprises of foam rolling for self myofascial release, mobility drills for tight joints and flexibility work for the muscles. Today is all about static stretching.
Static stretching: The broccoli of sport
Ughh, static stretching, it’s so boring, and it hurts. To say it’s unpopular would be an understatement.
To me though it’s one of the most exciting things in the world: A totally safe and easy way to fix a glaring deficiency.
Static stretching is like an open layup. Even better it’s an open layup that many of my competitors argue doesn't work. Explaining the controversy, and how wrong most people are on this issue is a whole article in itself (which I will write soon)—but trust me, targeted static stretching is magic for most junior athletes.
Pictured below (jumping over 7 Reebok steps plus agility cones) is Jordan Faulkner, who at age 14 improved his vertical leap by 10cm in just 5 weeks. He did this purely with static stretching and squatting a broomstick. Jordan is now an elbow to the rim dunker with a 120 kg squat. How awesome is that? His problem at 14 (like most kids his age) was that he was so tight and weak from his growth spurt that he was like a race car with the handbrake on.
Stretch... a lot.
Jordan diligently did his homework and laid a great foundation for his athletic development. His excellent flexibility meant that he recovered well from sessions. It also meant that he moved really well on court and was always fluid and efficient. One of the critical gifts his flexibility gave him was the ability to execute a perfect squat. Getting good at the squat early is of huge benefit down the track.
Consistently doing the stretches below is the easiest, most high value thing you can do for your vertical leap, durability, recovery, and court speed. You are crazy if you don’t (gently) start doing these movements today. The key thing is that each position should be held for a gentle 25-30 second stretch, before and after both training and games. If you are feeling joint pain or any sharp pain in the muscles, then stop immediately and see a health practitioner. Also make sure you have a comfy cushion under your knee. These stretches should never hurt the knees.
Stretch 1 - Crouching adductor
Fully extend the back leg while keeping the front foot well forward.
Then gently rest the back knee on the mat while resting the chest on the thigh.
Stretch 2 - Kneeling hip flexor
Sit tall in a kneeling stance using a foam roller or chair to steady yourself.
Rotate (tilt) the pelvis under the body until the lumbar spine is flat.
Draw the belly button in.
Move the hips forward into the stretch.
Stretch 3 - Lying glute
Place the back leg out straight.
Put the front leg out the front with the knee at a 90 degree angle.
Tilt your torso forward bringing your chest towards the ground until you feel the stretch.
Doing these 3 stretches in addition to your current favourites is a great start. When it comes to stretching, the key is consistency not intensity. In other words, do it often and gently. Often means before and after every session.