Daft Punk got it wrong.
“Harder, better, faster, stronger”? What about “higher”? For serious basketball players, that height is all that matters.
Dunking a basketball like the greats is the dream
of children everywhere. Let’s be honest,
it’s still a dream for most of us as adults.
But as we get older, we reckon with our physical limitations and temper those dreams.
Not so fast. You may not be able to train your way to dunking status, but you can still improve on your natural abilities.
And who knows, maybe those improvements will lead to dunking as long as
you don’t use that as your absolute benchmark for success!
No matter what, you can improve your game by learning to jump higher, and we can show you how to jump higher. Follow along as we introduce you to a few fundamental exercises and tips that can boost you on your jumping journey.
First Things First: Measure Your Vertical Jump
You will never know if you’re jumping higher after you implement your plan if you don’t know how high you could jump in the first place. Thus, the first step in this process is measuring your jump.
Measuring your jump will give you a concrete marker of progress, and this can keep your head up when you get discouraged and are tempted to give up halfway through.
Keep your numbers handy to see how far you’ve come. Heck, you can even brag to your friends and post on social media. Any strategy that keeps you jumping forward works for us!
Here are the things (and people) you’ll need to help you measure your jump.
- A friend to observe and mark your reach
- A ladder for your friend to use when making their marks
- A permanent marker, chalk, or some other marking instrument that will leave a lasting enough mark to measure
Once you have gathered your resources, here are the steps to measuring your vertical jump.
1. Find a wall that is tall enough that you cannot touch the top of it when you jump. If you’d rather use a pole, you can do that too.
2. Stand right up against the wall (or pole) and reach your arm as high above your head as you can. We call this your standing reach. Your friend should mark the top of your standing reach with your marker or chalk.
3. From the standing position–you don’t get a running start–jump as high as you can and touch the uppermost point of the wall you can reach. Have your friend climb your ladder next to you so they can observe and mark where your fingers reached.
Let them worry about measuring. You just jump as high as you can.
4. Jump a couple more times, with your friend marking your jumping reach each time, just so you get an accurate picture. After all, who doesn’t love a good best-of-three?
5. Measure the distance between your standing reach mark and your highest jumping reach mark, or your average mark if you must be self-deprecating.
6. Congratulations! You now know your vertical jump.
Which Muscles Must a Man (or Woman) Work to Dunk?
Now that you have a starting point, it’s time to get down to business. And if jumping higher is your business, that makes your muscles your employees. So which of these employees do you have to train to make a profit, i.e. jump as high as you possibly can.
Okay, we’ll admit we tortured that metaphor a bit, but you don’t have to torture your muscles to build the strength you need to increase your vertical jump. It’s more important to train smart than to train hard 24/7. And if you know the muscles you need to work, you can train efficiently and effectively.
Here are the most important body parts involved in helping us jump higher.
Hamstrings and Glutes
These key leg and butt muscles work together to extend your hips. Hip extension is essential to a high vertical jump.
Some of the best exercises to strengthen your glutes and hamstrings are Romanian deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts, and squats. But we’ll talk about specific exercises a little later.
When doing exercises for your hamstrings and glutes, the most effective way to work is to do heavier sets of five to eight reps at a time.
Low Back and Core
You can’t get away from the importance of the core. Every trainer you see talks about it. Training your core seemed like a fad, but it hasn’t gone away.
That’s because it’s no fad. Your core, including your low back, is the source of your stability. You need stability when you jump if you’re not going to topple over like a bowling pin.
With more stability, you will also be able to move more weight in your jumps. And you can move that weight–we’re talking about your body–higher.
If you have a strong core, you’ll keep your hips and torso more upright. That means you’ll get more power off the ground when you jump.
Slow, controlled reps are the key to building strength in your core. You should aim for 10 to 15 per set. Speed is rarely the most important factor in strength-building, and you’ll see us talk about slowing things down later on.
Of course, you will work out both your legs when aiming to increase your vertical jump. But the truth is, many of our jumps come off just one foot. Increasing unilateral strength will give you power in these moments and keep you from constantly having to think, “Use both feet.”
Developing greater single-leg strength improves your coordination and balance, both of which contribute to more height in your jumps.
When working out your legs, you can split the difference between hammies/glutes and core/low back in terms of weights and reps. Moderate weights at eight to 12 reps per set should do.
Yes, we know knees aren’t muscles. But the reason we include them is they connect the muscles in your thighs with your calves, and these muscles need to work in concert to provide you the maximum power and hip extension.
Even though they didn’t make our list this time, if you perfect exercises like knee jumps, you’ll go a long way toward improving your leaps. And you can do them in sets of four. No sweat, right?
How to Jump Higher With a Basketball in Your Hands: 10 Essentials
Enough with the preparation and anatomy lessons. Let’s get down to the real work.
Not all of these essentials are exercises. Some of them are just pointers to remember while you work out.
Nonetheless, they’re all key components of a workout that will lead you to your maximum height on the court.
Let’s get started.
1. Work on Your Deadlift
As with all of these exercises, make sure to use proper form. Since deadlift requires a barbell, that warning applies doubly.
Your deadlifts should look like you bending at the hips and knees before grabbing the barbell with an overhand grip. All the while, make sure your hands and just more than shoulder-width apart. Then push yourself up to standing while thrusting your hips forward.
2. Practice Your Jump Squat
We tried to avoid making each item on this list a different kind of jump to try. You’ll see below we’ve done a pretty good job of that.
But there is a certain amount of jumping you just can’t avoid. After all, that’s why you’re here.
For your jump squats, use dumbbells to make them more challenging. Hold the weights in your hands at your sides with your palms facing each other. Lower down to a squat, and then jump as high as you can with the extra weight.
Don’t forget to land softly by bending your knees. That goes for all of the jump exercises.
3. Box Jumps, Box Jumps, Box Jumps
You were waiting for this one, weren’t you? Well, you were right.
If you don’t have a dedicated box for your box jumps, don’t fret. A bench will do, as will any flat surface with enough height that doesn’t pose any danger. What we’re saying is we’d avoid using stairs, no matter how convenient they may be.
The nice thing about box jumps is you can use the momentum you generate with your arms. Just don’t get too used to that aid. We’ll tell you why later.
4. Use a Weighted Medicine Ball
You can use a weight medicine ball with any of the jumps or similar exercises you find on this list. These balls are great because they replicate the feeling of jumping with a ball in your hands while still adding the extra weight you’d find in dumbbells.
When it comes to jumps, don’t go beyond one to two kilograms in the weight of your ball. Anything more will throw off the jumping skill you are trying to develop.
5. Modify Your Back Squats
You need squats to maximize the loading and knee-bending parts of your jump. When using a barbell for your squats, you can improve these movements even more by practicing isometric squats.
In an isometric back squat, you hold your position in the bend at the bottom of the squat for longer than in a normal back squat. But please don’t follow our instructions after reading alone. Consult an expert or a trainer before modifying your lifts.
6. Just Jump Some Rope
This one is simple but effective. There are programs for improving vertical jumps without the use of weights at all. In those programs, a jump rope is the only piece of equipment required.
Just remember, you’re not jumping rope for the aerobic benefit alone, so don’t be afraid to take some big leaps in your rope workouts.
7. Raise Those Toes
Toe raises will do a number on your calves, especially if you’re doing them correctly. That means slow and steady. Use the stairs with your toes at the end of them to make things especially challenging.
8. Travel to the Four Corners
4-Corners is an exercise where you picture four dots on the floor in a square, each about 15 to 20 inches apart. To perform the exercise, you hop around the square clockwise, landing on each dot in the square along the way. Thus, completes one “rep.”
Modifications of 4-Corners include doing it with a single leg and going counterclockwise.
9. Slow Motion for Me
We’ve hinted at the importance of speed, or rather the lack of it, throughout this guide. Here’s where we drill it home.
When it comes to slow exercises, slow-motion squats are some of the best. Essentially, you’re just taking longer at every part of the process, while holding for two seconds in the squat itself.
Just remember, slow equals powerful when it comes to jump-improving work.
10. Don’t Forget to Practice With a Ball
This may sound obvious, but it’s easy to get tunnel vision when you’re in workout mode. Don’t forget the reason you’re doing all this. Ideally, you want to handle the ball at some point.
Jumping with a ball is a different motor skill, especially when you’re jumping with two legs. One of the reasons for this is you don’t get the arm swing that comes with a box jump when you’re holding a ball in your hands.
If you’re planning to focus on alley-oops only, then and only then can you skip this tip.
Higher and Higher
No matter your current level of physical ability, it is possible to learn how to jump higher. All you have to do is be consistent and smart in your training. Just jumping and jumping as fast as possible in every workout is not the way forward.
At this point, you’ve got enough knowledge to begin. Check your form and get feedback along the way, and you’re golden, even if you never play for Golden State.