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Improve Your Vertical Leap

Get your leap on and improve your vertical with these moves and techniques.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be like Mike: The effortless elevation, the majestic dunks, the iconic leap from the free-throw line to the basket. A nickname has never been so fitting as Air Jordan. Alas, it was not to be, and today I’m 5 feet 9 inches on a good day. As a recreational volleyball player, I strain for every inch when trying (mostly in vain) to get up over the net for the block. My vertical is sadly much too horizontal.

That said, while I may forever look up at the six-footers who patrol the front lines in my league, those of us who want to reach higher can do so — through the magic of exercise. “To improve your vertical leap, you need three things,” says Carla Sanchez, former IFBB Fitness competitor and owner of Performance Ready Fitness Studio in Lone Tree, Colorado. “You want to work on strong glutes, optimal hip extension and increased power.” To accomplish those goals, Sanchez suggests adding the following three components to your regular training regimen:

1) Stretching

“If your hip flexors are tight, your glutes can’t fully activate, which means you’re not getting full hip extension,” Sanchez explains.

Vertical Rx: After warming up, do a hip flexor stretch. Get into a wide lunge with your back knee on the floor and your front foot over your heel, torso erect. Tuck your pelvis under and press your hips forward and hold 30 seconds on both legs.

2) Glute Strength

“Heavy back squats done below parallel have been shown in research to be the best exercise for improving vertical leap,” Sanchez says. “Hip thrusts are also good for strengthening the glutes and maximizing hip extension.”

Vertical Rx: Perform a bodyweight hip thrust once or twice per week, and program back squats first or second in your leg workout when you’re at your strongest.

3) Lower-Body Power

“Olympic lifts, specifically power cleans and hang cleans, are excellent for overall lower-body power and explosiveness,” Sanchez explains. “If you’re not familiar with them, work with a strength coach to learn how to properly execute the lifts and how to design a periodized program for your particular goals.”

Vertical Rx: Add an Olympic lifting day once a week, or insert the lifts individually — clean and jerk, snatch, power clean and hang clean — into various workouts throughout the week.

4 Moves For Better Hops

Here’s the how-to on four exercises trainer Carla Sanchez recommends for improving your vertical leap.

  • Barbell Back Squat: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned out slightly, and hold a bar across your upper back, elbows down. Thrust your hips back and bend your knees slowly, keeping your chest lifted. Descend until your hip crease comes below your knees or lower while maintaining the natural arch in your lower back. Drive forcefully through your heels and extend your legs and hips to return to standing.
  • Bench Hip Thrust: Position your shoulder blades and upper back across a flat bench and extend your arms along the bench at your sides for balance. Your feet should be flat on the floor, knees over your ankles. Drive your heels into the floor and lift your hips to align with your shoulders and knees, squeezing your glutes hard at the top before lowering back down.
  • Power Clean: Stand behind a barbell so your shins are touching the bar, feet hip-width apart. With your back flat, bend at the hips and knees to take an overhand grip on the barbell just outside shoulder width, chest forward. Keep your back straight as you lift the bar upward, extending your knees and hips at the same rate. Continue lifting as you stand, shrugging and coming up onto your toes as the bar reaches chest height, then bend your knees and quickly drop down, flipping your elbows under the bar and catching it in the rack position across your shoulders and upper chest. Reverse the steps to return to the start.
  • Hang Clean: Hold a barbell with an overhand grip at mid-thigh, feet set just outside shoulder width. Your back should be straight and torso inclined forward slightly. Extend your knees and press your hips forward as you pull the bar upward, shrugging as it comes to chest height, then dropping down and flipping your elbows underneath so the bar lands in the rack position across your shoulders and upper chest. Extend your legs, then reverse the steps to return to the start.