Mastering The Vertical Jump - Lesson 1

How You Can Add 3 inches to Your Best Vertical Jump Within a Week!

Like any other movement pattern the act of jumping does require a certain amount of skill. If you learn and practice the correct technique your leaping ability will often immediately improve. I am amazed by the sheer number of people I see who simply have no idea how to jump correctly - or by those I see who will train hard for hours every day but make no attempt to improve their technique. I usually notice this when an athlete is at the point where he can just about throw down a dunk but can’t quite get it yet. I imagine most of you know what I’m talking about.

These guys will try to dunk again and again and again using the exact approach, the exact number of steps, the exact little shuffle steps, with the exact same result! When someone reaches this point they’re often better off if they take the time and make some simple adjustments in their technique.

In many circumstances, simply perfecting the technique will add a nearly immediate 3 inches to the vertical jump! I have seen it happen countless times. Keep in mind when it comes to practicing there are many people who go out and practice jumping around for hours on end without much if any improvement. It should be noted that too much practice is at least as bad as too little. My general recommendation is that you always stop jumping as soon as, or before, the height of your jumps starts to drop, and try not to jump 100% all out EVERY day. Every other day is plenty.

The first thing you need to do is take the mindset that you’re going to muster up ALL the potential you have in your body. What if you knew that you were only using 90% of your potential? I know that most people are using less then that because I can often work with someone for a couple of days, if not hours, and produce at least a 10% improvement. Strength and power aren’t built that quickly, so I can only attribute these immediate gains to an improvement in technique, which usually comes from an improvement in the movement pattern – optimizing the technical aspects and contribution by all the correct muscles. There are a few simple things you can begin to do immediately to get the most out of your current potential. First, I will give some tips on how to improve your 2-legged (bilateral) takeoff jump.

Bilateral Jump Technique

The following assumes you're using a running takeoff. Basically you want to approach your takeoff point as fast as you can while bending your knees as little as possible while getting off the ground as quickly as possible after your final plant. You want to convert horizontal momentum into vertical force. To do this proficiently requires that you concentrate on 4 phases of your jump.

These 4 phases are:

1. The approach or jump-stop phase
2. The countermovement phase
3. The rising phase (or ascending phase)
4. The takeoff phase

The first phase is the approach phase. This is the phase where you build up speed and run towards your take off point into either a 1,2 plant or a jump stop, which involve you gathering yourself as you attempt to convert your horizontal run-up into a powerful vertical thrust.

A 1, 2 plant is just what it sounds like: One foot plants, then the other foot plants, then you jump. The jump-stop involves a run-up into a mini-hop with both feet planting almost simultaneously. If you simply run towards the basket at a high rate of speed and then try to jump off of both legs you should instinctually perform 1 of these.

Which one is better? Well, people have succeeded with both, but one of the major problems pepole have when jumping is they waste too much of their horizontal momentum so they really don’t gain much of an advantage from their run-up. If executed properly, a jump-stop is inherently better at improving this problem, particularly for females, but either style of appraoch can work.

There are a few mistakes people often make either way: The biggest one is they simply spend too long on the ground trying to gather their momentum that they almost come to a complete standstill. They waste too much time and energy resetting themselves prior to their main jump and bend their knees too much and are back too far on their heels. Watch your favorite dunkers take off out of a jump-stop and I’m sure you’ll notice how effortlessly they make the entire process look.

You should concentrate and practice on gathering momentum from your approach as smoothly as possible rather than being mechanical and having to stop, reset, and then jump. Try to keep your transition as short as possible. You don't want to have to stop and reset yourself much at all when you come out of your plant. Most people also use a take off point that is too close to their target. Try taking off a few feet further back then you normally would.

The next phase of the jump is the countermovement phase. This is the point just prior to take-off where you quickly drop down to pre-stretch the muscles and gather energy. The quicker you drop down and come out of your countermovement (or ¼ squat), the more force you buildup, the less horizontal momentum you waste, and thus the more potential reflexive force your body will put out during the actual jumping phase. If you pay attention to the best leapers you’ll usually notice that they tend to descend very quickly in their countermovements and they don't use a whole lot of knee bend. In fact, the main visual difference that separates those with an elite vertical jump from those with an average vertical jump is the rate of speed at which they descend in their countermovement. The good thing is that you can quickly become better at this with practice.

In general the best way to improve both your approach and countermovement is to make a voluntary effort to speed up your plant and countermovement. That doesn't mean you need to speed up your run-up, but speeding up the rate you come out of the transition inherently makes you use more optimal technique and allows you to conver more of your horintal momentum into vertical force.

One additional tip: You need good traction in your transition and don't want to be slipping all over the place. THE biggest problem I had jumping was getting good traction. I would constantly have to slow down my approach to avoid slipping and it was rare that I found a surface I could optimally jump off of. Make sure you're wearing shoes that provide you with decent traction. One thing that can help is you can spit on the floor and rub your shoes thru it a few times right before you jump, or drag your shoes thru a small puddle of water or a wet towel. As the liquid is drying on the bottom of your shoes you'll temporarily have increased traction.

The next phase you’ll want to address is the rising or ascending phase of your jump. As you begin to rise (ascend), you should straighten your legs in a smooth manner. Don't try too hard. The more you can relax the more reflexive muscle contribution you’ll gain. Don’t try to be too quick here – doing so will probably just tighten you up and actually cause a loss of power. You can add the intensity at the end, but for now just try to stay smooth and relaxed as you rise.

The final phase I’ll discuss is the final takeoff phase. Just prior to leaving the ground you should then concentrate on driving off the balls of your feet and your toes with as much power as you can muster. This is the point where you want to exert some effort. You should literally try to drive holes in the floor through the balls of your feet. If you can learn to do this correctly you can gain up to 3 inches on your jump within a week. It takes a bit of work and concentration so it's essential you master the first 3 phases before you try to do this otherwise you'll screw everything up. What happens prior to this point should be smooth and relaxed with a gradual buildup of force that culminates with an explosive push-off through the balls of your feet.

If you are able to put all 4 phases together it can easily be the difference between coming up 5 inches short on a dunk vs throwing one down.

How To Benefit

The first thing I suggest you do if you can't "internalize" what I'm talking about here, is go pop in a tape of some of your favorite dunkers, put your player on slow motion, and watch their footwork as they approach the basket. I remember when I was 16 I spent hours watching slow motion tape of Dominique Wilkins, Spud Webb, Dr. J, Michael Jordan and the like just trying to pick up anything of value. Fortunately I did!

Once you have it in your mind I recommend you practice the preceeding suggestions for 15 minutes every other day for the next week or so. Limit any other activities and just work on your technique. Focus up, take your time, and give me about 10-15 high quality jumps per session. Work on your footwork until you get it right. After a week stay completely off your feet for 2 days while you visualize these same suggestions. After you've been off your feet for a couple of days, go back and try again. You should be pleasantly surprised!

What's Next?

In the next installment on mastering the vertical jump, we'll cover the importance of the mind to muscle connection and why most people are only able to use 60% of their potential muscular force when they jump. I'll show you how to tap into the dormant 40%. We'll also talk about strength. How strong do you need to be and are you strong enough now for a spectacular vertical jump? You'll soon find out!

Until next time.