Everybody wants to dunk.
There are a bunch of people making a lot of money online selling courses that promise astronomical vertical jump improvements (for a price). These programs are generally pretty risky for young athletes, with a range of failures. They fail to account your current playing and training volumes, they don't address any underlying individual biomechanical or postural weaknesses, and they are saturated with high intensity plyometric drills, which is crazy given most junior basketballers are already overloaded for plyo's as it is.
It can be very seductive to think that by doing a bunch more jumping, you will get better at jumping, but the way to create an epic vertical leap is almost never the quantity of jumping you do, it's the quality of your technique and biomechanics.
Our approach to improving jumping always follows the same process:
- Improve your underlying biomechanics with our 10 minute rolling and stretching routine
- Introduce the body to the key movement patterns with sensible strength training
- Learn how to jump (and land!) properly and practice the components
At no point do we recommend high volume plyometrics programs, the increase in ground reaction forces from all the repeat landings will inevitably lead to some form of overuse injury and a period of time on the sidelines.
Learn how to jump
Let's assume you have implemented a rolling and stretching practice, and started doing some basic strength exercises. Now you can do a couple of practice sessions per week, breaking down the jump into the components below. Some athletes find it helpful to do the stages in slow motion, others find it easier to link them together straight away. Make sure your landing technique is perfect before doing maximum effort practice, and only do 10-15 max effort jumps per session. Never do max effort jumps under fatigue or if your technique is suffering!
1. The approach
The approach is about creating linear speed ready to be converted into vertical power. It is crucial that you accelerate into the plant with each step faster than the one before. Avoid stutter steps! While a longer run up gets you more speed, it can be harder to control (for beginners), so start practicing with 2-3 approach steps and build from there.
2. The plant
This is where you convert that linear speed into elastic energy ready to launch you skyward. That means a bit of stiffness is important; if your legs are 'soggy' in the plant you are losing all that momentum and stored energy created in the approach.
The plant is also where you need to use the arms, throwing them down into the bottom of the plant aggressively (up to 25% of your vertical leap comes from the arms alone!)
- Feet should be straight(ish) at the target
- Legs are stacked, with knees above ankles and hips above knees
- You need to get low, your shape should resemble a good hip dominant squat
- You should throw your arms down violently, imagine your legs are springs, and by throwing your arms down you can coil them tighter, storing more elastic energy
3. The take-off
The take-off should be violent, forceful, and rapid. Now that you have stored all that energy in your legs it needs to go somewhere, so use it and quickly! Spending too long on the ground means all the stored elastic energy from the approach and the plant will be lost to the hardwood.
- Push the ground away from you with intent.
- Throw your arms up aggressively - this initiates the upward movement of the torso and created momentum.
- Drive your hips up and forward.
- Focusing on quickness out of the bottom is really important the plant to take off phase should be as rapid as possible
4. The landing
Land like a ninja!
It is rare that anyone hurts themselves on takeoff or mid-air, the real danger starts when you hit the ground. Acute injuries (like rolled ankles, ACL ruptures, Meniscus damage), and chronic problems like tendinopathies, Osgood Schlatter Disease, and lower back pain can be traced back to bad landing technique. We like to say that a good landing should be 'soft, stacked, and glutey'.
- Soft - The landing should start with the mid foot hitting the ground and energy being absorbed smoothly throughout the kinetic chain (ankles>knees>hips).
- Stacked - The knees and ankles should be directly under the hips. A 'valgus' position, with knees pointing at each other puts enormous stress on the structures in the knee, and is all too typical in junior athletes.
- Glutey - In order to best absorb the massive ground reaction forces when landing you should be using the biggest muscle you own, Gluteus Maximus. A glute dominant landing has a similar shape to the take off position. The bonus is that this puts you in a great 'triple threat' position ready for the next play.