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?
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.
- One Leg Calf Raises (50 reps each leg): high reps actually work well for calf muscles
- 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.
- Leap Ups (5 reps): slightly bend your knees and explode upwards
- Depth Jumps from 2ft box (5 reps): jump off the box to about 2ft away and immediately leap up as high as you can
- 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
- Standing Broad Jump (5 reps): with your feet flat on the ground, jump as far as you can horizontally
- Lateral Jumps (10 reps): hop back and forth over an object (like a cone) ensuring that you bring your knees up high
- Squat Jumps (10 reps): do a quarter squat and jump up high
- 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.
- Jump Onto 2ft Box (5 reps): jump high and get those knees up
- Squat Bounce (50 reps): get in a very low squat position, slightly on your toes. Bounce a couple inches off the ground.
- 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.
- Tips on How to Jump Higher for Basketball: Plyometric Workout Routine
- Jump Manual Review Dunk Training & Exercises to Increase Vertical
- Functional Strength Training Workout Routine: Compound Exercises to Improve Real World Movements
- Circuit Training Exercises and Circuit Weight Training Workout Routines
- Workout Routines for Beginners: Strength Training Exercises