Q: I’m a high school basketball player and I’m obsessed with my vertical jump. I’ve read all of your articles and comments on vertical jumping and I’m very impressed. My question for you is I am wondering why I train so hard but don't see much of an increase. I train 3 days per week and incorporate both weights and plyometrics into my routine and have been doing this for a while now yet I haven't gained anything. I usually do 4 or 5 different plyometric exercises for 15-20 reps per set along with 3 sets of 10 squats and leg curls. I'm not that strong and wondering if maybe I need to focus more on that. Along with my training I also play basketball pretty much every day. Help please!
A: Fortunately the solution to your problem is very simple and you provided the answer in your first statement. You said you are "obsessed" by your vertical jump. To me that automatically means you're overtraining your vertical jump. From what I've seen a good 70-80% of the young people I've seen who are trying to increase their vertical jump are doing way too much volume of the wrong types of training. First, realize that playing basketball in itself is very plyometric in itself. If you couple this constant plyometric stress along with a high volume plyometrics program your legs simply never recover from all the volume. Most will improve by simply cutting out the plyometric work and focusing on increasing strength in the weight room.
I'm going to give you the solution. Take 4 days of complete rest from your routine and games then test your jump again and let me know how much you increase. Note I didn't say "let me know if you increase or not" because I am confident you will! After this when you resume training cut down on the volume of your plyometric drills and concentrate on getting stronger. Cut your basketball down to 2 days per week so you can really focus on improving your jump for a short period of time. It's ok to work on your skills but don't run full court games more than 2 days per week. For training I recommend no more than 2 training sessions per week and no more than 40 total plyometric foot contacts per session and usually even less. Here's an example of a routine for you to use.
Depth Jumps- 6 sets x 3 reps
Find the box height that enables you to jump the highest after ground contact. Start with a low 8-10 inch box, step off, and upon hitting the ground immediately jump up and measure the height you can jump. Make note of the height and increase the height of the box and do this again. Keep increasing the box height until you find the point that enables you the highest jump and stick with that height for the remainder of your sets. So if you can jump 25 inches from an 8 inch box, 28 inches from a 14 inch box, and 25 inches from a 20 inch box you would stick with the 14 inch box. Rest 3-5 minute between sets.
Squat- Perform 5 sets of 3-5 reps making sure you go all the way down past parallel. Keep increasing the weight as long as you can maintain perfect form.
Step-back lunges- 4 sets of 6-8 reps. Use a barbell on your back and from the erect position take a big step back until you're down in the low lunge position. Complete all the reps on your weaker leg before advancing on to the other leg.
Glute-ham raise, reverse hyper, or leg curl- 4 sets x 6-8 reps. If you don't have access to a glute-ham or reverse hyper bench perform regular leg curls.
Squats- 6 sets x 3 reps in 3 seconds- Find a weight that allows you to get your 3 reps in 3 seconds and stick with this weight for all your sets. It might be 40% of your max squat, it might be 55%, it might be 70%. It will vary but your goal is to do your squats as fast as possible but maintain good form.
Wide Grip Deadlift- 4 sets x 3 reps- Take a wide grip on the bar so that at least one of your fingers is out far enough to touch the smooth part of the bar. Focus on "squeezing" the bar off the floor by using your glutes and hamstrings without allowing your back to round forward.
Split Squats- 3 sets x 8-10 reps. This is a lunge variation with your back leg elevated on a bench. Your lead leg should be far away from the bench so that your lead knee stays even with or behind your toes on that leg.
Rest 3 days and repeat day #1 and cycle these workouts back and forth resting 3 days in between each workout. You can set it up on a Monday and Thursday weekly split. Aim to consistently increase the amount of weight you lift. You should find your depth jumps getting higher and your poundages increasing on a weekly basis. Aim to have a little patience with that obsession of yours and you should be dunking in no time at all!
Q: Can you give me a sample weekly split of how you like to structure your weight room workouts?
A: I will be more than happy to but this is very difficult because it depends on so many factors such as the sport, the time of year (inseason vs outseason), the weaknesses of an athlete and what all is going to be incorporated into the workouts. For example, is the plan going to include weight room work only or lots of speed, agility, plyometric work along with weight room work? What's the main goal? Because of factors like these it's hard to give specific recommendations but generally I like to use 4 weight room sessions per week if the main focus is strength and/or size and 3 weight room sessions per week if the main focus is speed. During the season I will cut back to 2 workouts per week. The closer I work with someone the more the program will be individualized and the more I will incorporate advanced training and volume management methods but I'll give you some general guidelines anyway.
Example of a 4 session per week routine where the focus is on size and strength:
Heavy Squat or deadlift movement- 5 sets x 3-5 reps
Squat assistance movement- 4 sets x 6-8 reps
Posterior chain extension movement- 4 sets x 12-15 reps
Core- 4 sets x 12-15 reps
Speed/Power upper body movement or Repetition bench or dumbell bench movement (depending on the athlete)- 6-8 sets of 3 reps or 4-5 sets of 10-12 reps.
Pressing assistance movement- 4 sets of 6-8 reps
Rowing movement- 4 sets of 6-10 reps
Tricep movement- 4 sets of 6-8 reps
Lower Body plyometric movement- 5-8 sets of 2-5 reps
Lower body loaded power movement- 5-8 sets of 2-5 reps
Squat assistance movement- 4 sets of 10-12 reps
Core- 4 sets x 12-15 reps
Upper Body Max Strength Pressing Movement- 4-5 sets of 3-5 reps
Tricep or shoulder movement- 4 sets of 8-12 reps
Rowing or Pulling movement- 4 sets of 8-10 reps
Bicep movement- 4 sets of 8-12 reps
Rotator cuff movement- 4 sets of 15-20 reps
Day 6 and 7
Example of a 3 sessions per week routine where the main focus is speed development along with a lesser focus on strength and size
Starts, Acceleration and Agility- 15-20 sets totalling 300-500 meters all done with full recovery
Heavy Pressing movement- 4-5 sets of 3-5 reps
Lower Body loaded power movement (would be ommitted if the athlete is already as fast as he is strong)- 4-6 sets of 2-5 reps
Row or Pulling movement- 3 sets of 6-8 reps
1-legged squatting variation assistance movement (lunge, split squat, or step-up) - 3-4 sets of 5-10 reps
Posterior chain hip extension movement- 3-4 sets of 6-15 reps
low intensity plyometrics (sometimes)
low intensity recovery/conditioning work- 60 to 100 meter sprints at 60-70% max speed totaling 1500-2500 meters with 30 second rest intervals. ex: 3 sets of 5 100 meter sprints with 30 seconds between reps and 3 minutes between sets.
Acceleration and linear speed development- ex: 2 sets of 4 x 30 meter accelerations followed by 2 sets of 3 x 20 meter flying runs using a 40 meter run-up into the 20 meter fly - all done with full recovery
Whole body power movement-(clean, snatch)- 4-5 sets x 2-4 reps
Rowing movement- 4 sets x 6-8 reps
Tricep movement- 4 sets x 6-8 reps
Bicep movement- 4 sets x 6-12 reps
low intensity recovery/conditioning work totaling 1500-2500 meters at 60-70% max speed
Acceleration and Agility Development- ex: 6-8 sets of 20 yard short shuttle runs/ 6-8 sets of position specific agility runs/ 4-6 sets of 40 meter runs all done with full recovery.
Heavy Squat or Deadlift movement- 4-5 sets x 3-5 reps
Upper Body Power Movement (speed bench, throws, or upper body depth drop)- 5-8 sets of 3-5 reps
Tricep or shoulder movement- 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps
Posterior Hip extension movement- 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps
Days 6 and 7
Q: What do you feel are the main factors that affect ones running speed? Is it all genetic?
That's a good question and unfortunately I feel the large majority of athletes don't make the most of their ability because they either think it is all genetic or don't know how to properly address the factors that do control it. Let me try to simplify it for you.
Running speed is just a combination of the speed at which you move your legs and the amount of force that you apply into the ground with each ground contact. Now if you lie on your back and cycle your legs as fast as possible you and pretty much everyone else will probably be able to cycle them at least 5 strides per second which is the speed that elite 100 meter sprinters cycle their legs in a sprint. So the speed at which you can move your limbs is hardly a limiting factor. So if you can already potentially move your limbs fast enough to be an elite sprinter all that you're left to improve is the amount of force that you apply with each limb movement without detracting from the speed at which your limbs move. This is going to be determined by many factors. Some of them do have genetic limitations but just about all of them we do have some control over.
1. The nervous system- The nerves signal the muscles to fire and the speed and amplitude of the neural impulses are responsible for initiating and relaxing the firing of the muscles. Most fast athletes inherently have a high-strung nervous system that gives them an advantage here. They are able to quickly call upon a greater percentage of their absolute force potential due to their efficient nervous systems. Fortunately, this is also trainable to a large extent. If you train your body to be slow the nervous system will adapt so that it causes your muscles to function slow. If you train your body to be fast the nervous system will better adapt so that it functions fast. Keep in mind some of the fastest athletes in a short 10-20 yard sprint are olympic lifters, throwers, shot-putters, and of course sprinters. These athletes have in common training systems that inherently teach their nervous system to signal large amounts of force very quickly.
2. Relaxation of the antagonists- Being able to quickly apply force and perform a smooth stride cycle in a sprint is just as much about relaxation of tension as it is initiation of tension. With each stride cycle you have agonistic muscle contraction which contracts the muscles in one direction, and antagonistic contractions which are negating the agonistic contraction in the opposite direction. So, if you're sprinting and as your leg cycles up, through, or into the ground and you're applying say 100% of your speed and force in one direction via agonistic contraction and the antagonistic muscles are contracting at 50% in the opposing direction of that contraction you're left with only 50% of your capability. If you learn how to relax the antagonistic muscles the same level of agonistic muscular effort will yield a much greater increase. A large part of speed training is just teaching the body how to relax antagonistic tension.
3. Relative Strength- This is strength per pound of bodyweight. The nervous system is responsible for the "when" referring to muscular contraction but the muscular system is responsible for the "how and what." Athletes who are strong in relation to their bodyweight are almost always fast because they are able to get more out of their nervous system. If your muscles are strong then a given neural impulse that fires those muscles to contract will yield a more forceful contraction. If your muscles are weak it'll be difficult to move your body fast regardless of how efficient your nervous system is. We have a lot of control over relative strength. Try to get as strong as you can and maintain a bodyweight that allows you the greatest strength per pound of bodyweight. To give you an idea how important relative strength is - Ben Johnson, who is the fastest sprinter ever, squatted over 600 lbs. weighing only 173. Body composition is also going to have an effect on running speed. Try to run with a 20 lb sled attached to you and you'll realize just how much excess fat can slow you down!
4. Structure- Nothing we can do about this one. Even though structure is somewhat important (if your legs are only 10 inches long and your ankles are as big around as tree trunks you're probably not going to ever set sprinting records!) there is still not any given structure that has proven perfect for speed. Maurice Greene set records despite having relatively short legs and a long torso. Carl Lewis was the complete opposite.
5. Technique and Flexibility- This is all under our control. Running correctly will enable you to expend less energy and the more efficient you run the faster you will be. Flexibility, especially in the hip flexors and hamstrings will enable you to more easily keep your hips high, get a full extension with each stride, and optimize your stride length.
So now that you got the factors squared away here's a quick formula for success. Take a guy who engages in speed and technical training twice per week, increases his squat by 25%, decreases his bodyfat by 2%, and I'll show you a faster athlete! Take a guy who optimizes these aformentioned factors over the years and the only thing that can stop speed improvement is injury.