First, let’s talk about measuring vertical jump. The easiest way is to stand by a wall to measure your reach, or how high you can touch with your arms fully extended and your feet on the ground. Then squat down and jump up as high as you can, arms extended. The difference between your reach and the highest point you touched when you jumped is your standing vertical jump height. And yes, working on it has several fitness benefits other than touching rim. (You can also run and jump to measure your running vertical.)
“Your vertical jump is a pretty good expression of your lower body power,” says Alan Stein, a Maryland-based strength and conditioning coach who has trained NBA players, including the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant (standing vertical: 26 inches; running: 33.5 inches). Even if your sport doesn’t require much jumping, working on your vertical improves your lower body power by default. “It can help you run faster, kick harder, push off of the pitcher’s mound faster—anything that involves lower body will improve,” Stein says.
Genetics plays a large role in how much height you can add through training, but the training itself will help you in ways you can’t measure in inches. “Some people might go through a 12-week program, and might only gain one or two inches, and that’s pretty decent progress,” Stein says. “But somebody else might gain five or six—there’s just no way to tell.”
Three exercises to improve your vertical jump
Jumping high requires two things: strength, and explosive power. Stein recommends starting off with box jumps for explosiveness, and two basic strength exercises: squats and lunges. Your training schedule should progress like this:
First 8-10 weeks
Start by doing one to two sets of 12 to 15 repetitions of each exercise twice a week using only your bodyweight. Focus on proper technique to avoid injury.
Once you’ve built a base, you can add a third day of training. You can also add weight to your strength exercises in the form of dumbbells, a medicine ball, or kettlebells. When you start adding weight, lower the number of reps. For example, add enough weight during weeks 8-10 so that you can only do 8-12 reps per set, then progressively add more weight until you can only do 4-6 reps. Doing fewer reps with more weight will help you build power.
If you get bored, check out Stein’s YouTube channel for more exercise ideas, including the medicine ball slam:
Give yourself 12 weeks of training, then retest to check your improvement. Want to compare yourself to the best? This year, the University of Memphis’ DJ Stephens recorded a running vertical of 46 inches, the highest ever recorded in the NBA. And don’t count yourself out of dunking. NBA legend Muggsy Bogues is only five-foot-three and he could dunk. His running vertical, according to Sports Illustrated? Forty-four inches.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Improving your vertical requires work on lower body strength and explosiveness, both of which can improve performance in any sport requiring the use of your lower body—not just basketball.