Four Simple Tricks to Blowing Up Your Vertical Jump
Remember the heavy kid in middle school? The dude running down the basketball court as fast as possible just to jump as high as they possibly could to try and swipe the bottom of the basketball net. That was me. Over and over and over again. I would sprint full speed, plant my left leg and then try to change direction vertically off one leg, reaching as high as possible but missing the bottom of the net. I’d do it again. And again. And again. Undoubtedly, rolling my ankle or leading to some knee pain because my weak ass legs couldn’t handle 160lb, 6th grade Dane trying to touch the net.
This went on for a few years. That was until my sophomore year of high school. By 10th grade, I weighed 230lbs and could dunk a volleyball. My close friend, Tim Hahn and I even went as far as making a slam dunk video with our volleyball. We would spend hours running back and forth, throwing down alley-oops and bending the front part of the rim. What was the difference? How did I go from a 5’9 160lb kid who couldn’t jump to a 6’1 230lb kid who could slam down a volleyball in just a matter of years? What changed?
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During those three years, I began to really focus on my strength. I learned how weak my back was, I learned how to recruit my posterior chain and how to control my torso. I began to comprehend how to strengthen my weak leg to ensure I could jump off two feet and I learned how to strengthen my strong leg appropriately to continue hammering jumps off one leg. I always felt that one of the fastest ways for me to increase my vertical jump was entirely based around front squats.
I hated the front squats because they were hard. I didn’t like the feeling of a bar on my shoulders, I didn’t like how it felt when I was deep in the hole, I struggled to keep my gut tight and not fall forward. Over time, I started to realize that one of the keys behind WHY front squats were blowing up my jumps. Something precise known as, torso stability.
If we can visualize Fat Dane running down the court, planting and going to jump vertically. If my torso stability was weak, I would dump my chest forward, forcing energy to continue creeping forward and thus leading to less vertical drive. As my front squats and general strength improved, my torso became more rigid and turned into a better proponent of energy usage. I could maintain an upright position as I went into my jumping phase.
Plyometrics...some people might be thinking, “What the hell are plyometrics?” Plyometrics or Plyos as I typically refer to them, are short intervals of jump training. These jumping drills can help dramatically enhance speed-strength. If general strength gains are based around strength-speed, then these are the anti-thesis. Train both ends of the spectrum and your vertical will BLOW UP!
As I went into college, I went from 240lbs to 280lbs. Most freshmen gained the freshman 15, I gained the freshman forty. This was all based around milk consumption, lots of steak and tons of gummy worms. As I got fatter, I started to get seriously strong but a bit slow. As my strength increased, we started to bring hurdle hops into my training. Hurdle hops completely salvaged my freshman year of throwing, they helped me generate more speed and better pop as I reacted off the floor!
I never truly understood this aspect until I got older. Jumping with equal strength development is key to maintaining a healthy back and knees. If the body is overly developed on one side in comparison to the other side, the body will be more prone to injury. I always took this for granted until I started to develop lower back pain and knee pain. I began to understand that my glutes were not developed properly in relation to my quads and hammies and my quads were considerably weaker relative to my hamstrings.
As I aged, I focused a lot on strengthening both sides of my body equally. To this day, it is something I struggle with because we all favor one side over the other. If we can continue to develop each side effect, our body will react faster and jump higher!
At first, speed work for me was a focus for me to stop being less fat. I also loved the competition behind sprinting and the feeling my hamstrings would get post-workout was awesome. I started to lean out a bit and immediately noticed a greater impact on my jumping ability. My body learned to absorb energy even quicker and REUSE that energy efficiently. As time continued, I started to find my comfortable speed approach zone.
Often times, we see vertical jumpers blast through their take off. As I got faster, I was able to start cutting on a dime. Finally, with my newfound speed and strong front squat, I ran up and smashed a 38-inch touch board! I was always relatively quick but I had never been tested before. The running helped my speed on the approach AND my ability to reuse that energy vertically!
Vertical jump tests are one of the mythical aspects behind strength and conditioning. So many people believe they have all of the answers and know what needs to be done. Jumping ability is more than just speed, more than just strength and more than just jumping. It is important to maintain structural health and continue to make gains in all realms of training.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.
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