Who Wants to Dunk?

Check out our video on training vertical jump here!

When it comes to basketball, the vertical jump reigns supreme.  Whether you browse NBA Combine numbers, watch the All-Star Weekend Dunk Contest, or watched Zion Williamson dominate the college ranks this year, the best leapers have an uncanny ability to fill seats.  While a specimen like Zion is hard to come by, even the average athlete can improve his or her vertical jump more than one would expect. By moving appropriately and training with some knowledge behind the principles of vertical force production, some of our own athletes have seen vertical jump increases of 6 of more inches of the course of 6 weeks.  

While six inches in six weeks sounds more like an infomercial than a training reality, there are a few basic principles that when applied, can make a significant difference in an athlete’s performance.  The first of these principles is relative strength. If Athlete A can squat 100 pounds at a bodyweight of 100 pounds, he is likely to have a lower vertical jump than Athlete B, who can squat 200 pounds at the same bodyweight.  Not only would that double-bodyweight squat call for stronger legs, but also near-perfect positioning of the hips, knees, and ankles (in a well coached environment). It is also likely that Athlete B has a significantly better neurological ability to connect his abdominal strength to his hip strength, something more commonly referred to as “core” strength.

The beauty of relative strength is that a well-coached athlete who is consistent in his or her training can get far stronger than the average person in an extremely short amount of time.  Within the first four to six weeks of training alone, many athletes see significant changes from simply learning how to position their bodies correctly. While reaching the capacity of Athlete B might take years, Athlete A can happen within weeks to months.

Relative strength is a significant portion of the puzzle, but the best athletes are able to absorb and reproduce force faster than their peers.  When you look at the quickest athletes, or “quick second-jumpers,” you get some insight into a quality known as rate of force development (RFD). Athletes with a high vertical jump that can also produce force quickly are far more likely to be successful when compared to their less athletic counterparts.

At Teamwork Bloomington, we group our athletes into Kangaroos and Gorillas based upon their athletic qualities.  Kangaroos are elastic in that they rely heavily on their tendons to absorb and reproduce force quickly, just like a rubber band.  Gorillas are more muscular, and usually more highly trained. While Teamwork Bloomington is able to use RFD to categorize our athletes, those of you at home might picture the wiry middle school hooper versus the muscularly dense college running back.  Interestingly enough, some of the best basketball players are nearly a perfect mix of the two: elastic enough to move quickly but muscular enough to absorb contact, jump out of the gym, and protect their joints.

The biggest issue in training RFD is getting your athlete to understand the value of intention when jumping, running, or producing force.  As popular strength coach Mike Guadango once stated, “you can’t run a bunch of 4.8’s [40-yard dash] and expect to run a 4.4 [on testing day].”  In other words, if there isn’t effort to make the next jump your highest, you shouldn’t expect your force production to increase. Practice does not make perfect, but perfect practice sure does.

If you’ve followed this article closely, you may have noticed an underlying theme.  While understanding the physiology behind all of these training qualities is interesting, the athlete who is consistent in both movement quality and mindset will reign supreme.  Not many of us are blessed with the body of Zion, but you can control your work ethic. Train with attention to detail and an understanding that progress takes time, and just maybe you’ll have a shot at reaching your full potential.