The Ultimate Jump Guide: How To Increase Your Vertical Jump By 20 Inches
So you want to increase your vertical jump by 20 inches, huh?
Let me tell you right off the bat, this is a mammoth undertaking in itself.
Your immediate goal should be an increase of 10 inches which is attainable in weeks as opposed to years.
However, it wouldn’t be much of an ultimate guide if it stopped at 10 inches, would it?
The purpose of this jump higher guide is to give you everything you need to know and have you reaching for the skies.
The guide focuses on three main aspects:
- The theory behind a great vertical jump and what kind of training works
- The best exercises to increase your vertical jump
- How to go forward from here and achieve incredible results
The Theory Behind Jumping Higher
“I’m only interested in jumping higher, just show me the workout!” you demand.
Understandable. I'll do my best to keep the theory in this guide to a minimum, but let me explain why theory matters.
Training the vertical jump requires a specific type of training that depends on the person.
If you don’t understand the theory, you won’t be able to take a step back, take a look at your style of training, and determine whether or not it is effective for YOU or not.
Let’s imagine you’re a bodybuilder. You probably have strong leg muscles from squats and deadlifts in the gym. Further strength training is not going to be helpful!
On the other extreme, let’s say you have a very low bodyfat percentage, regularly play basketball but never hit the gym to lift some weights. In this case, you would most likely benefit from strength training.
Of course, most people will fit somewhere in between. There are also other important factors, like understanding your current muscle fiber composition or your level of muscle coordination.
It’s therefore important to be self-aware, so that you can make sure your training is tailored for you.
Professional athletes have the luxury of personal coaches, but since you’re here in the first place, you probably don’t. Am I right?
What Makes A Huge Vertical Jump?
Your most important takeaway from this theory section is the basic recipe for a big vertical.
Many of you have probably heard the colloquial term ‘explosiveness’. The jump is an ‘explosive’ movement. But what exactly is this mysterious term?
Power = Force x Velocity
The more power you produce, the higher you’ll jump.
You have probably come across this equation in Physics class.
It’s a bit abstract and difficult to visualize in terms of an athlete, so I use this layman’s equation that essentially carries the same meaning:
Explosive Power = Strength x Speed
Write this down somewhere, or at the very least make an effort to commit it to memory.
Any vertical jump training exercises you perform should work to either increase your strength, speed or a combination of both.
A Bodybuilder, Powerlifter And Olympic Lifter Walk Into A Bar
Who jumps the highest? Let’s analyse these 3 types of weightlifters one-by-one.
The aim of a bodybuilder is to look big. A bodybuilding competition couldn’t care less what numbers you’re pulling in the gym.
To look big, they lift lighter weights with a high number of repetitions. The total volume of lifting is immense, but the workout itself is a slow and gruelling one.
Unlike the bodybuilder, the powerlifter only cares about lifting as much weight as possible in one attempt.
Therefore, instead of lifting a small weight 8 or 10 times, they train with the heaviest possible weights for a low number of repetitions.
The Olympic Lifter
The Olympic Lifter is comparable to the powerlifter. However, the actual movements they compare in are different.
The powerlifter will be competing on deadlifts, squats and bench press. These are slower lifts where the muscles have full time to engage.
However, the Olympic Lifter will compete on the snatch and clean and jerk. They train to lift heavy weights at great speeds.
And The Winner Is...
The Olympic Lifter (theoretically).
The bodybuilder looks the part, but has less strength and speed than the other two.
The powerlifter can produce the most power over an unrestricted amount of time.
The olympic lifter strikes a balance between strength and speed and is able to generate the most power in a blink of an eye.
Olympic weightlifting movements (the snatch and clean and jerk) have an explosive phase where the muscles aren’t given time to reach their maximum potential - just like the vertical jump!
And as expected, Olympic lifters are some of the best vertical jumpers in the world, often surpassing NBA and NFL athletes despite weighing much more!
Strength and Speed = A Great Vertical Jump
When a person jumps, your muscles are limited to a timeframe of about 0.2 seconds in which they can generate power. After that, you naturally take off and there’s no surface to work against.
Therefore, jump training needs to focus on being able to reach a high % of your maximum power in a short period of time.
This is achieved by training for a combination of strength and speed.
This is the straight-forward part.
Go to the gym and squat or deadlift progressively heavier weights.
This will strengthen the muscle groups recruited during the jump - the glutes, quadriceps and calves (as well as other secondary muscles such as the hamstring and lower back).
You don’t necessarily need to train with weights either. Just doing bodyweight exercises with enough repetitions will also build strength.
Elastic Strength - The 'Other' Strength
You might not have expected it, but there’s actually a second type of strength we need to train.
Elastic strength (also known as plyometric or reactive strength) measures your body’s ability to harness the energy that has been stored up during the eccentric phase (e.g. bending down before a jump) and make use of it during the concentric phase (i.e. straightening out your leg during a jump).
The best analogy can be found in a metal spring. As you compress it, it stores energy, and once you let go it turns that stored up energy into kinetic energy.
Pitching a baseball, diving for a touchdown and jumping to dunk a basketball all require a great deal of plyometric strength. Any ‘springy’ movement will typically have a lot to gain increases to this type of strength.
Did You Know?
Elastic/plyometric/reactive strength wasn’t fully understood until the late 1970s when Soviet scientists uncovered it through research.
Thanks to their discovery, the Soviet Union began to dominate many Olympic events in that era as the rest of the world hadn’t caught up.
You can also see how research in elastic strength transformed the NBA.
Until recently, dunk contests consisted mainly of players taking off with 1 foot. Many players were finding it easier to jump higher that way by making efficient use of momentum.
However, as basketball coaches began to incorporate more and more plyometric training, players were finding they could produce the highest jumps by taking off with 2 feet.
That’s because they began to develop immense elastic strength, and a 2-footed take off gave them more time to store up energy, providing them with an additional boost to their vertical jump.
Now NBA dunk contests are dominated by players jumping off both feet. Just look at Dwight Howard in the 2009 dunk contest and see how much elastic strength he has.
Your ability to get your muscles to generate power in a short amount of time is determined by two factors:
- Muscle fiber composition: A person with a slow-twitch dominant muscle composition is slower than a person that has a fast-twitch dominant muscle composition.
- Central Nervous System (CNS): Your CNS is responsible for firing as many muscle fibers as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Let’s look at each factor in more detail.
Muscle Fiber Composition
There are 3 types of muscle fiber:
Type I (slow twitch), Type IIa (fast twitch), and Type IIb (super fast twitch).
As the name would suggest, the Type IIa and Type IIb fibers are the fastest and thus most important fibers during a jump.
It is known that, with training, it is possible to change between Type IIa and Type IIb fibers.
However, Scientists are split between whether it is possible to shift your muscle fibers from Type I to Type II and vica versa.
What is definitely possible through training, however, is strengthening each type of muscle fiber.
If you have been training to run the marathon all your life, your type II muscle fibers will have a lot of room for development.
HELP! I think I’m slow-twitch dominant!
Relax. Unless you are aiming to compete in the 100m Olympics race, you’re thinking way too much.
Most people are born with around a 50/50 split between type I and type II muscle fibers.
Unless you have been screened, there’s no reason to assume you are significantly slow-twitch dominant.
What’s more likely is that you haven’t developed your type II fibers, and also under-utilize them (more on that below).
Secondly, at the very extremes, you’re looking at something like a 15% skew towards type I or type II.
If you’re completing in the Olympics 100m event, having an extreme fast-twitch muscle bias is mandatory. Every millisecond counts.
However if you’re just looking jump high enough to dunk a basketball, the maximum difference it will make is in the region of 2-5 inches of your maximum potential vert.
It’s advantageous, but not the be-all and end-all.
Central Nervous System
The Central Nervous System is is responsible for sending the message from your brain to your muscles by activating motor neurons.
Let’s go back to the marathon runner example. They are an elite athlete, but their vertical jump is nowhere near that of a sprinter.
This isn’t only because their fast-twitch fibers are undertrained and weak. It’s also because their central nervous system has been programmed not to use them!
Since fast-twitch fibers fatigue and build up lactic acid quickly, marathon runners can’t afford to be calling on theirs.
However, if you want to jump higher, you want your CNS to recruit as many as possible.
If you aren’t already doing fast-twitch fiber intensive training, chances are your CNS will not be utilizing them.
Naturally, your CNS has a tendency to try and avoid utilizing type II fibers.
Chances are, you’re only utilizing about 30% of your type II fibers when you do ‘explosive’ movements like vertical jumps or sprinting unless you’ve specifically trained for explosiveness.
Compare that with sprinters or NFL athletes who are able to employ in excess of 85%.
Unlocking Your CNS
An uninhibited CNS is key to jumping higher.
Let's look at some examples of when the body actually makes full use of as many type II fibers as possible:
- Fight or Flight: when your life is in danger, your CNS will enter a different state where these fast-twitch muscles are easily engaged.
- Fast movements: e.g. sprinting instead of jogging. Your CNS will naturally have to employ more fast-twitch fibers.
- Pushing your limits: e.g. squat one-rep of your max weight instead of doing 10 repetitions at 60% of your max weight.
Obviously triggering a fight or flight response is not something we can regularly do.
But by regularly pushing your limits and carrying out quick movements, over time your CNS will be reprogrammed and naturally fire off a greater proportion of your twitch II fibers.
Professional athletes who fit the explosive category are consistently able to utilitze 80%+ of their fast-twitch fibers because of their training methods.
The Best Exercises To Increase Your Vertical Jump
Any exercise that is done for the purpose of increasing your vertical jump should focus on increasing your strength, speed or both.
Everyone is different - some people lack strength, others lack elastic strength or are unable to efficiently recruit fast-twitch muscles.
Without personally inspecting every one of you its impossible to tailor the perfect workout that suits your development, but these exercises will cover as many aspects as possible and will benefit everyone to some degree.
Don't listen to anyone that says squats don't help increase your vertical jump.
The squat is a staple leg strength exercise and adding a challenging weight makes it the ultimate leg exercise when training for pure strength.
However, the standard barbell squat is only recommended for those where strength is a weak link.
That's why a lot of people argue squats are a waste of time.
If you aren't already squatting, they almost certainly will benefit your vertical jump - up to a certain point.
Jump squats challenge your lower body’s elastic (plyometric) strength.
Unlike the standard squat which only increases general strength, this exercise will boost your strength and speed.
Knee To Chest Tuck Jumps
Knee to chest tuck jumps are exhausting, but a fantastic exercise for your jumping ability.
They involve a large range of motion which improves your body’s flexibility and reduces any future chance of injury through jumping.
You can either perform them in quick succession and take advantage of momentum (as if you are bouncing) or perform them from a dead stop.
The former will place emphasis on your elastic strength, the latter on explosive strength.
This exercise is quite similar to doing alternating lunges, but has an explosive component (jumping) added in.
They are more tiring than any traditional lunge exercise - exactly how it should feel if you are training to jump higher.
Standing Broad Jump
While the broad jump focuses on distance travelled rather than height (and thus why it is an essential NFL combine exercise), it is still an important exercise for the vertical jump.
If you’re training for basketball, it should be obvious that most of the time there is also a distance component needed get to the rim. Very rarely will you be dunking from directly beneath the rim.
A standing broad jump is a great way to build up your speed. You have minimum contact time with the ground before take off, so your muscles are forced to fire quickly.
Slalom jumps will target your sides, strengthening those outer regions of the leg (such as your hip abductor muscles) and add stability and control to your jump.
The goal here is not so much to build jump height, but activate peripheral muscles and prevent them from becoming weak links.
You can perform these at a lower intensity and higher repetition count than the other exercises.
Plyometric power skips are a good explosive exercise to isolate each leg and improve your 1-footed vertical jump.
You must drive your opposite knee up as high as you can and utilize your arms and upper body to output maximum power.
The sprint might not involve any jumping, but the exercise naturally lends itself to developing your speed.
I would argue that they are an essential exercise for developing your vertical jump, because they an easy exercise to push it to the max and shock your CNS, unlike jump exercises where lack of technique can hold you back from maximum intensity.
Try and stick to shorter distances (40 or 60 yards) and really focus on giving it everything you’ve got.
Your calves are responsible for giving your jump that final push as your tiptoes leave the ground.
You want to make sure you have powerful calves for a well-rounded vertical jump, and calf raises are a simple exercise to achieve that.
Calf raises can really burn the following day, even to the point where you won’t be able to train.
Since muscular endurance is not our goal, it’s advisable that you don’t perform too many repetitions.
Rather, perform a smaller number of reps with an emphasis on completing the movement as fast as possible.
In this way, you won’t burn them out and will also be training for speed.
Box jumps do require some equipment, but their effectiveness as a jump training exercise cannot be understated.
Not only do they build strength and speed, they are also the perfect agility, balance, coordination and balance building exercise.
Since a box jump requires you to actually jump onto a platform, your body is forced to complete a challenge. You either complete the jump successfully or fail, meaning there is no room for slack.
The difficulty can also be incrementally increased, by increasing how high the 'box' is.
If equipment is an issue, try to find various objects that can function as a sturdy box.
Depth jumps can be performed off a short platform such as a stair.
They are one of the best plyometric strength exercises out there. They require you to absorb shock as you step down and then harness that energy to produce a higher than normal vertical jump.
Remember: You need to mentally force yourself to do these exercises with speed and force. Apart from box jumps, the difficulty of all these exercises is up to you. If you take things easy, then your central nervous system won’t be ‘shocked’ and you won’t see improvement to your explosiveness, just your muscular endurance.
Training Your Vertical Jump
By now you should understand the theory and know which exercises will develop your vertical leap.
The next question is, 'how should I train?'
Here are some general rules to follow:
Always Warm Up
Warming up, even just for a few minutes, is important to prevent injury.
A good warmup should involve some stretching and a few minutes of jump rope to get the blood flowing to your muscles.
It is recommended you do dynamic stretching as opposed to static stretching. Static stretches can over-elongate your muscles and temporarily lower your jumping ability by reducing natural muscle tension.
Below is a good dynamic stretching routine you can follow.
Intensity Over Quantity
Your goal during training shouldn't be to bust out as many jumps as possible.
Instead, you should aim to do a lower number of reps with as much energy as you can.
A good ballpark figure for the training frequency and number of reps you should be doing is the following:
- Train 3 or 4 times a week
- On each day pick 4 exercises
- Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions (3x10) for any jumping exercise
- 1-2 minute rest interval between sets
- Make sure to vary the exercises over the week to prevent over-training one area
This is a just a general guideline, and you should adjust accordingly based on the exercise, e.g. sprints should only be done ~3 times in total and slalom jumps should have a much higher rep count than suggested above.
Record Your Progress
You need to be measuring two things:
- Your maximum vertical leap (to track overall progress)
- Individual exercise progression (e.g. box jump height, sprint speed, broad jump distance)
Being self-aware and detecting changes is essential if you are serious about increasing your vertical leap.
Make Sure Your Training Is Structured
As early as possible, you must add structure to your workouts, otherwise you’re just making guesses about any improvement you’re making.
Since you should be recording progress, you must also make gradual adjustments to your workouts in order to keep it challenging and prevent a plateau.
Structuring a jump training program is a difficult task, and I'd recommend following a well-established one (more on that later) unless you are confident in your own ability.
Fatigue can impede progress and we need to avoid that.
Some fatigue, especially in the beginning, is normal, but you don't want to push yourself to the point where further training is made impossible.
A good workout structure will ensure you don’t overtrain by placing bounds on your workout and scheduling exercises so that you don’t overtrain a specific parts of your body.
There are actually two ways you can fatigue yourself from training to jump higher.
The first and most obvious type of fatigue is muscle fatigue. This is easy to detect as your muscles will feel sore and weaker.
The other type of fatigue is Central Nervous System fatigue, and this is more problematic since it takes 3-5x as long to recover from than muscular fatigue.
CNS fatigue is best described as a feeling of lethargy despite your muscles feeling fatigue-free.
You know those days where you just feel amped up and ready to jump higher than ever? Well if your CNS is burned out, you’ll feel the very opposite.
Jump Training Programs
In this guide we’ve discussed what makes a good jumper, how you should train, the best exercises and finally how you should be training.
A good jump training program is very detailed and very specific. I simply cannot provide you with a full workout plan within this article because:
- You must be eased-into a workout. You can’t start from 100%.
- Every week of training should be different (in order to prevent overtraining of any individual body part and also prevent any progress plateau)
- Exercises need to be substituted depending on available equipment
As a result, it would be a mammoth piece of work to fully detail a workout plan here.
I could just give you a very simple one, but I know they aren’t particularly effective since that’s how I started and it didn't work well for myself.
Vertical jump training programs are very specialized and specific in nature, so much so that all of the ones worth anything aren't free.
I would recommend you start off by going through the exercises listed in this guide just to get the hang of things and make some progress on your jump.
After that, if you’re committed to seeing big increases on your vertical leap, head over to the training programs page to see our top-rated vertical jump programs.