Plyometric Training Exercises: How To Jump Higher to Dunk | Not Your Average Fitness Tips

Plyometric Training Exercises: How To Jump Higher to Dunk

Recently I decided to add plyometric training exercises to my workout routine.  A long time ago, I experimented with different types of exercises to increase my vertical.  Plyometrics training not only helped increase my vertical leap but also provided a great strength training routine for my legs.  I’ve found the best plyometric exercises as part of programs that teach you how to jump higher to dunk.

Way back in high school, I was obsessed with my vertical leap.  As it did with pushups, my competitive spirit always came out when we tested how high we could jump in gym class.  I remember that I was 2nd in the school at 34” during my junior year.  The person above me jumped 36” and went on to be a starter for the UConn basketball team.  I decided that I would really focus on plyometric training exercises to increase my vertical.  I tried a program called Air Alert II.  Let’s just say it taught me everything I shouldn’t do.

Air Alert II was one of those big hype programs that guaranteed you would add 10” to your vertical leap.  It all sounds good as a teenager, but essentially it was a waste of $10 for a thin packet of paper.  The program involved 5 different exercises: squat jumps, calf raises, step ups, leap ups, and burnouts.  However, it wasn’t the exercises that made this program so terrible, it was the workout frequency.

Plyometrics Training Frequency

The biggest flaw of Air Alert II (and many other jump higher programs) was that it involved 5 straight days of plyometrics training.  In addition, the volume of training was ungodly with 3-4 sets of 50-100 reps per exercise.  It’s great for building leg endurance but really just leads to over training.  Moreover, how can doing 100 reps of an exercise really help my vertical leap?

Much to Nike’s dismay, it’s not the shoes that allowed MJ to fly…

A vertical leap is an explosion upward.  The best way to gain explosive strength is not high rep training.  Think of performing bench press.  If you want to get really strong, you’d perform multiple sets of 1-3 reps with really heavy weights.  If you applied the principles of the above program, it would be like trying to increase your bench press by doing 100 reps with just the barbell.  Maybe your endurance would improve, but you won’t get meaningfully stronger.  In addition, you would never try to bench press every single day for 5 days straight.

Take it from me, the best way to increase leg strength and vertical leap is to do low rep plyometrics training.  The type of plyometric exercise somewhat dictates how many reps are best.  Some plyometrics exercises work best with only 5 reps, while 10-15 reps for others will help you gain explosive power.  Regardless of the exercise, just remember to put in an intense effort.  If you can jump 2ft in the air, then don’t train by jumping 1ft in the air.

Exercises to Increase Vertical Leap

Everyone has a different definition of plyometrics, but the best definition I’ve found is that plyometrics training includes exercises designed to produce fast, powerful movements.  Plyometrics exercises are great for improving explosive power and speed.  In fact, vertical jump programs generally improve a person’s 40 yard dash time as well.  It’s also a common misconception that calf muscles are the primary driver of a higher vertical leap.  Try jumping without bending your knees and then try a normal jump.  You should notice that you get a lot higher when you bend your knees because you are utilizing the strength of your quads and hamstrings.  Calf strength helps a little, but focus on the big leg muscles to increase explosive jumping power.

Nate Robinson Dunks over Dwight Howard…now that’s an explosive vertical!

Here is the plyometrics routine that I am currently performing.  I structured this based on a variety of different programs.  I do each exercise and rest for 30 seconds before performing the next exercise.  Ideally I would do multiple sets and take longer rest periods for each exercise, just like a strength training routine, but I prefer the circuit fashion to save time.  In putting together the following, I varied the exercises based on the muscles worked and the intensity of each exercise.

  1. One Leg Calf Raises (50 reps each leg): high reps actually work well for calf muscles
  2. Step Ups on 2ft box (10 reps each leg): step on a box and jump as high as you can; I prefer to land with the alternate leg on the box and switch off but you can do one leg at a time.
  3. Leap Ups (5 reps): slightly bend your knees and explode upwards
  4. Depth Jumps from 2ft box (5 reps): jump off the box to about 2ft away and immediately leap up as high as you can
  5. Burn Outs (100 reps): stand as high as you can on your tip toes and bounce a couple inches in the air; kind of like jumping rope without the rope
  6. Standing Broad Jump (5 reps): with your feet flat on the ground, jump as far as you can horizontally
  7. Lateral Jumps (10 reps): hop back and forth over an object (like a cone) ensuring that you bring your knees up high
  8. Squat Jumps (10 reps): do a quarter squat and jump up high
  9. 4-Square (10 reps): imagine standing in a box with 4 squares.  You start in square 1.  Jump right to square 2, then back to square 3, then left to square 4, then forward to square 1.  Reverse the motion going from 1 to 4 to 3 to 2 to 1.  That’s one rep.
  10. Jump Onto 2ft Box (5 reps): jump high and get those knees up
  11. Squat Bounce (50 reps): get in a very low squat position, slightly on your toes.  Bounce a couple inches off the ground.
  12. Drop Jump w/Knees to Chest (5 reps): jump off a 2ft box to about 2ft away.  Absorb the impact for 2-3 seconds and then jump, bringing your knees to your chest.

Since I’m not exclusively trying to increase my vertical leap, I merely incorporate plyometrics as a cardio alternative and for some added leg strength.  However, there are specific plyometric training programs that provide exercises to increase vertical leap.

How to Jump Higher to Dunk

Let’s face it, dunking is one of the most impressive things a person can do, especially for someone under 6’.  There’s something about leaping into the air and throwing a basketball through the rim 10’ above the ground.  While the plyometric exercises I listed above can help increase your vertical, if you really want to learn about dunk training, you need to check out The Jump Manual.

Watch as Brandon dunks!

This is a much more structured program and will really help you increase your vertical leap.  I’m going to try to incorporate this full program later this year when I’m ready to change routines.  I’m still skeptical about a product that guarantees you will increase your vertical, but I think the foundation is there to provide a great workout to strengthen your legs, regardless.

Even if you don’t need to increase your vertical, plyometrics training still provides a great workout!

Even if you have no interest in increasing your vertical leap or explosive power, in my opinion, plyometric training exercises are a great replacement for cardio.  Because you put in an intense effort, you burn off glycogen which helps lead to fat loss.  I personally enjoy plyometrics training much more than the elliptical or exercise bike.  I also like the fact that plyometrics training improves my leg strength without making my legs big and bulky.  So, whether you’d like to learn how to jump higher to dunk or simply want to improve your appearance with a cardio alternative, plyometric training exercises can provide you with a great workout.

19 Responses to “Plyometric Training Exercises: How To Jump Higher to Dunk”

  • Dave,

    I do love me my plyometrics exercises. Training for power is an oft-forgotten aspect of fitness, and you don’t even need much in the way of equipment!

  • haha I’m too short to worry about basketball but I do think jumping plyometrics style is a hardcore workout.
    I’m glad you made some suggestions as I don’t know really what makes an effective routine but I think reading the manual you are recommending is a good way to start.

  • Darrin,
    Definitely agree. I’d recommend the post you did on plyometrics exercises for further reading.

    Not all basketball players have to be tall…but nowadays I definitely use plyometrics training for fitness rather than increasing my vertical.


  • Dave,

    I do burpees every once in a while as part of a body resistance workout. These can get pretty tough if you do enough of them. I’m definitely interested in learning more about different plyometric exercises I can incorporate into my routine because I know how effective they are!


  • Dave,
    If I can get my vertical leap a little higher, do you think I can play alongside Lebron James? I think him, Wade, Bosh, and me can virtually guarantee a championship in Miami! I just hope ESPN doesn’t make me do a one hour Decision show if I decide to join the team. I think I am a virtual lock, I mean what NBA team doesn’t need a 41 year old with no skills but mad jumping ability?


  • Kelly,
    Seems like a pretty plausible scenario. That would definitely make Miami the dream team. I don’t think they have enough cap space for you though…maybe you could join my Celtics, you’re right around the median age…

  • True. I would most likely put them over the cap because I would demand at least $20 a game and some free nachos! I may have to fast more though if I eat all of those nachos!

  • Tom:

    I like your site. Also, nice Nate Robinson footage. I’d love to get some of the hops back that I had 20 years ago.

  • Tom,
    Thanks for the compliment. I see that you were a high school basketball champ…I’ll bet it wouldn’t take too long until you could jump through the sky again.

  • How about a 51 year old woman. I’ve always wanted to dunk. But since I’m kind of past my prime, I did the only sensible thing, lowered the basket. Now I’m unstoppable. But you young guys (and gals) take advantage of this while you can.

  • Very funny Helen!

  • jose:

    very funny helen!

  • mercy:

    Good indeed if such older mothers are on the wish to try the same why not the young with the potential?we should go for this to gains our body fitness as we grow health.

  • Jordan:

    Im 12 years of age, and im doing the steps @ the part that sais excersise to increase vertical leap every night and, its helping alot i can already touch the backboard at my middleschool gym. Thanks, for the tips.

  • Jordan,
    Great to hear the exercises are helping you improve your vertical. Just be careful about overtraining since doing these day after day could actually be more harmful than helpful for your muscles. Be sure to take a couple days off here and there.

  • I’m 5’10″, 185 and i’ve always been able to touch the rim but not dunk.
    I never thought i’d be able to, I thought that was for the 6′ plus crowd. That was until I came across the Jump Manual.
    The Jump Manual is the only program that targets every facet of vertical explosion, strength and quickness.
    Effectively training every aspect of vertical jump is the only way to maximize your vertical jump explosion.
    The Jump Manual is an all in one vertical jump training software.
    It provides you with everything you need to achieve your maximum vertical jump and quickness.
    The Jump Manual is compatible with all computer platforms, Windows, Mac, Linux.

  • Anferney:

    Dave I started Air Alert 3 and am gonna do some weight training like cleans on my rest day. do you think that would be good enough to help me dunk am 24 years old and am 5 10.

  • Anferney,
    I honestly wasn’t a huge fan of the Air Alert programs. At the time, I thought they were great but the volume of jumps is really high. You’ll definitely get better conditioned but it doesn’t build explosiveness as some of the other programs out there. Cleans can help build overall explosiveness but don’t necessarily have the same impact as leap ups, squats jumps, etc. that are directly related to vertical jumping.

  • Creating a plyometric routine for a sport-specific program requires understanding the mechanics of the sport by doing a needs analysis, breaking down skill patterns into their most elementary parts. For example, a volleyball spike depends largely on being able to make a short approach, convert horizontal movement into vertical lift, and perform a swinging motion at the top of the jump. Plyometric training should focus on developing the vertical component of jumping.

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