By Jeff King
As a strength and conditioning coach, I work with many young basketball players and one common question that parents and coaches frequently ask me is what can be done to improve their son’s, daughter’s or athlete’s vertical jump? Every time this question is raised, two thoughts come to my mind. First: I want to show the coaches or parent some basic drills to help establish a foundation for their child or athlete. Second: I contemplate the pragmatism of the expectations for the child or athlete. Many adults want their child or athlete to have an unrealistic, “out of this world” 40 inch vertical jump. So before addressing the issue of ways to improve a vertical jump, I will first take the time to address all who feel their child or athlete can attain this “out of this world” jump.
There are many uncontrollable factors that contribute to a person’s ability to being explosive vertically. Genetic factors such as muscle fiber type, muscle attachment, and lever arm length, all play a role and contribute to explosive power. Lets face it parents, no matter how hard your child works or how much you want them to jump high, if they do not have the right muscle fiber type, optimum muscle attachment, and lever arm length, they are not going to attain eye-popping vertical jump numbers. The sooner coaches and parents grasp this concept, the more realistic their expectations for their child or athlete will be. If you did a poll on the most vertically explosive NBA players and asked them when they were first able to dunk, you would find many of the players were able to sometime during their junior high years. Is there any type of special training these athletes participated in order for them to be able to dunk at such an early age? Other than playing basketball, you would find the answer to be “NO.” They most likely had minimal if no type of strength training at this point of their lives. These athletes simply struck gold and have the right combination or physiological and neural factors. I like to call these athletes “genetically blessed.”
However, every athlete may not be graced with a natural 40 inch vertical jump and there are ways to improve and become more vertically explosive. In terms of young high school athletes, I always say to them, “the best way to improve your vertical jump is to establish a strong foundation.” A basic exercise to achieve this improvement is by practicing and being efficient at a two-footed box jump. In performing a box jump, an athlete’s main focus should be to jump with a control countermovement with both arms and legs, and land with proper mechanics (an athletic stance with a soft landing). Repeating this drill along with a general strength training program allows for an athlete to become neuromuscular efficient, thus recruit more muscle fibers (recruiting more muscle fibers increases the ability to generate power). Once the athlete is proficient at this particular plyometric exercise, he/she can then progress to more challenging plyometrics such as single leg jumps, depth jumping and bounding. For young athletes, progressing basic strength and jumping mechanics as well becoming more neuromuscular efficient allows them to maximize their jumping potential while minimizing the risk of injury. All coaches should incorporate these basic fundamental principles when dealing with young athletes in regards to improving vertical explosiveness.
Jeff King is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and personal trainer at Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, CA. Jeff has worked with many young athletes ranging from ages 8-18 and has experience working with athletes from a variety of sports. Jeff’s main goal in working with young athletes is to teach them the basic principles of strength and conditioning which will allow them to develop a multitude of skills while minimizing their risk of injury.