Setting a new personal best in the bench press is a respectable accomplishment. Shaving a few seconds off your last 5K is definitely worth celebrating. But have you ever taken stock of your vertical game? One need only revisit the graceful aerial acrobatics of retired NBA star Michael Jordan to fully appreciate what a feat it is to separate oneself thusly from terra firma. But even if you’re not looking to play above the rim, adding some inches to your vertical leap can provide some additional athletic benefits.
“Vertical jump is directly related with lower-body power production, so it is not just important for snatching rebounds but also for any sport or activity that involves strong, powerful legs, such as squatting or sprinting,” says Chris Phillips, CSCS, a California-based performance coach and owner of Compete Performance.
Luckily, Phillips says that improving your jumping ability is fully within your grasp, no matter your skill level, provided of course that you are willing to train accordingly. Follow his five tips to start building mad hops (and the muscular pins to match).
1. GET INTO THE SWING OF IT
No athlete ever has the occasion to simply stand there, arms pinned to his sides, and leap as high as he can. In sports, you instinctively work to generate the most power and speed possible, which is why practicing that way can help. “Proper jumping mechanics includes an aggressive arm swing,” Phillips says. “The arm swing can vastly improve vertical jump. Try jumping with your hands behind your head first, then with a good arm swing to see the drastic increase in momentum and height.”
2. LIFT FOR LEAPS
Phillips has said that you train fast to be fast and train slow to be slow. However, the relationship between strength and power cannot be denied, so he recommends lifting to augment your jump training. “Squats and deadlifts are great exercises to improve vertical jump,” he says. “Keep to lower, power-focused sets of four to eight reps. You also can combine training approaches by following these lifts with box jumps in the same workout.”
3. EXPLODE, EXPLODE, EXPLODE
Someone trying to jump is akin to a hardcore squatter in that they both try to explode out of the bottom portion of the move. One great way to train for that kind of explosion, Phillips says, is to perform a few sets of medicine-ball press throws. “Get into a squat position with the med ball at shoulder height and explode upward, throwing the ball as high as you can at the top,” he says. Just a suggestion … don’t try to catch it. Try three to four sets of eight to 12 careful reps in an open space or against a high wall.
4. REAP THE BENEFITS
Phillips says that jump training strengthens and tones the entire leg musculature, which aids in other lifts. Better, stronger-looking legs can be had by simply adding some jump training to your routine because of the involvement of your growth-prone fast-twitch fibers.
5. GET A LEG UP
Not everyone is a two-leg jumper, but everyone should learn to train on one leg. “Exercises like the single-leg squat jump, with the opposing leg on a bench for balance, contribute well to improving vertical leap,” Phillips says.