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How to Improve Your Vertical

by Ryan Thomas
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Coach Ryan Thomas
Ryan Thomas

Coach Ryan Thomas trains basketball players, working at Breakthrough Basketball. He is a former college player (Concordia and Central Michigan) with over 13 years of coaching experience, and has trained many youth, high school, college and professional players.




Nothing is more exciting and more game-changing than a high riser. Floating through the air to snatch down a big rebound, soaring to the rim for a gravity defying dunk or exploding up to swat someone's shot into the 5th row, these plays are always at the top of the highlight reel.

It seems as though these types of hops are a natural ability for some. However, if you aren't born with bounce there is still hope! By focusing on a few specific aspects of your athletic development, you can see significant gains in your vertical leap. There is more to improving your jumping ability than just squats and calf raises. We breakdown development into 4 major components to improve a player's vertical. Balance, Flexibility, Technique and Strength are the core components that we focus on in making gains in jumping.

Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan

Balance

Developing great balance is CRITICAL for developing stronger stabilizer muscles, joints and ligaments. Balance training also creates greater musculature and coordination during jumping movements. Basketball is a fluid game of continuous cutting, movement and ever-changing body positioning. The more stability and control a player has in a given position (for example out of a back pedal into a two foot jump or out of a sprint into a one foot jump while being bumped) the quicker and more powerful the ability to jump will be.

There are a few simple tricks that you can incorporate into your warm up or plyometric training that will help train and improve your balance.
  • Barefoot training (line jumps with no shoes)
  • Visual stressors such as closing your eyes while performing movements (blind folded air squats - no weights)
  • Adding multiple variables (balance on one foot while playing catch with a tennis ball)

Flexibility

Many athletes focus primarily on strength training to improve athleticism. This can build short compact muscles. Short compact muscles may be good for moving heavy weights and overall power, but long elastic muscles are good for functional movements such as jumping. Long elastic muscles are created by flexibility and mobility training. Creating long elastic muscles is also good for injury prevention as the ability to stretch and absorb impact is crucial for basketball players. Many athletes, especially basketball players, suffer from injuries like ankle sprains and ACL tears which can be avoided with improved balance and flexibility. This type of training, if started early, will prove to extend playing careers and effectiveness.

Flexibility is the most under-appreciated aspect of an athlete's training but could prove to be the most valuable. Although often underestimated, stretching has been proven to increase range of motion and fast-twitch power exercises.

Technique

Technique is crucial when it comes to shooting and dribbling, but also jumping. The better the technique the better the results. If athletes are trained in the proper takeoff and landing biomechanics, they will be less prone to injury and have greater ability to generate an explosive upward burst. This is crucial for basketball players since game actions call for quick jumps from a variety of positions on the floor of either 1 or 2 feet. If trained to handle these types of movements efficiently and with force, it will create a major advantage.

Ensuring that the athlete maintains the proper biomechanics to absorb force through a larger and more stable muscle group, like the glutes, hip flexors, and deep abdominal muscles, enables athletes to have a reduced likelihood of injuries. This will also allow the athlete to become more explosive by engaging larger more effective muscle groups. With that being said, the stronger these muscle groups are, the more explosive the athlete can be. Athletes that are trained to safely take off and land controlled and balanced are much more confident and explosive on the court.

Strength

Here are 4 simple exercise movement variations that can help improve your jumping ability. These require minimal equipment and are great movements to incorporate into your jump training.

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. Your hands should be placed behind your head with fingers laced. Gently drive your pelvis forward while keeping your torso still and tall. Hold the position for a 10 count, relax for 2 and repeat. The stretch should be felt right where the pelvis meets the femur on the leg that is on the ground.

Jump Squats

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. In a slow and controlled motion, lower yourself into a deep squat. Keep your back straight and knees above your toes (when you look down you should be able to see your toes). Once you squat all the way down, explode straight up into the air off both feet driving your hands above your head. This movement should be done in sets of 25-50. Push yourself beyond the burn.

Depth Jumps

A depth jump is performed by stepping off an elevated surface or plyo box, then exploding up immediately after landing on the ground. Absorb the force of the landing and explode up in the air driving your arms above your head to reach maximum height. Land softly under control in an athletic stance to prevent injury. This teaches reaction time, coordination and will help your lower body muscles activate quickly. It is also important to train the landing technique. Start with a box that's 6 to 8 inches off the ground, perform the jump, take a second to recover, then step back onto the box, set yourself up, and repeat.

Knee-to-Feet Jumps

Start down on both knees and sit back on your heels. Swing your arms to help create momentum as you explosively jump up, driving your hips forward and bringing your legs and feet directly underneath you. Brace your body as you land in a squat position with your arms out in front of you. Lower back to the kneeling position, coming down on one knee at a time and set up to repeat the movement.

Anyone can add inches to their vertical. The secret is knowledge, application and consistency. If you design a plan, put it to work and attack it every day with relentless effort, the sky is the limit!


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