In a pre-draft workout for the Brooklyn Nets this past summer, D.J. Stephens, a University of Memphis graduate, recorded the highest standing and running vertical leaps ever recorded by the NBA. Stephens’ standing vertical was recorded at 40 inches, and his running vertical was an astonishing 46 inches—almost 4 feet! Here’s footage of Stephens kissing the rim, which is a pretty useless in-game skill, but awesomely entertaining nonetheless. And just in case you thought that having crazy hops was an NBA-only skill, check out Houston Texans’ linebacker, J.J. Watt. In this video, Watt, seemingly intent on dispelling every stereotype about 300 pound white guys, shows off his 59.5 inch standing vertical. Pretty insane.
Of course, few of us mere mortals are ever going to be able to leap over objects that are 5 feet tall, from a standing position, or kiss the rim of a basketball hoop—it’s just not going to happen. But if you want to add inches to your vertical leap, and thus by definition, increase your athleticism; there are ways to achieve that goal. You won’t be wowing anyone at the combine, but you may wow your buddies at the Y.
Here are five ways to jump higher.
Increase your flexibility
In order to jump higher it’s essential that you develop explosive speed and strength, but you’ll be hindered from utilizing that strength if your muscles and tendons are stiff and tight. It’s important that you stretch your hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes and quads, before and after your jump training, as these are the key parts of your body that are going to be engaged when you jump.
Jumping rope is not only a great cardio workout, but it also aids in increasing your vertical. Jumping rope increases the strength in your ankles and calves, and helps with muscle coordination—essential for being able to jump high. Jump rope for about 20 minutes a session, three times a week, and make sure that you’re jumping, and not skipping. Both feet should be close together and jumping at the same time. Increase your speed when you’re comfortable and feel like your balance is okay.
Strengthen your calves, hamstrings and abdominals
Stretching and jumping rope will help with your speed and coordination, but in order to increase your vertical you’ll need to work on strengthening some key muscles: namely your calves, hamstrings and abs. Work on calf and hamstring raises in the gym, as both these muscles are vital in creating explosive power and speed. At the same time make sure that you strengthen your abs. Strong abs will help with balance and control, which is vitally important when you jump; particularly at the end of your jump when you’ll need to stabilize yourself. And don’t just do stomach crunches, but try more challenging abdominal work such as hanging leg raises and planking on a stability ball.
I haven’t met someone who says that they enjoy squatting—and if I ever do, I’m going to assume that they’re lying. Nothing in the gym is harder that a set of squats—for want of a better word, they suck. Unfortunately, if you want to increase that vertical leap you’re going to have to incorporate squats as part of your exercise routine. Squats are great at increasing the strength of your quads and glutes, which are the muscles that you use to generate a lot of your explosive power. Don’t go too heavy on the squats as you want to be able to carry out your reps at a reasonable speed and explode on the way up. But make sure that you do deep squats—as low as you can safely go. According to Mens Health, deep squats “lead to greater muscle tissue volume and more explosive strength” and thus, a greater leaping ability.
Practice your jumping
It sounds a tad banal, but even if you’re flexible, fast, and strong, you won’t increase your vertical unless you actually practice jumping every week. You can have all the explosive power in the world, but it’s important to work on your form in order to maximize your vertical. A lot of gyms now have Plyo boxes (if yours doesn’t, they can be bought at most decent sports stores) which are great equipment to practice your jumps on. Before you jump make sure to push your hips and backside back, as well as your arms. As you jump, drive your arms up, and your hips forward. Keep your eyes and head forward and land on the platform in a half squat position, before finishing the jump by straightening