How do I master the correct jumping technique?
Like any other movement pattern the act of jumping does require a certain amount of skill and if you can learn the right technique and practice it your leaping ability can improve dramatically. I am amazed by the sheer number of people I see who simply have no idea how to jump correctly or by those I see who will train hard for hours every day but make no attempt to improve their technique. I most often notice this when an athlete is at the point where he can just about throw down a dunk but can’t quite get it yet. I imagine most of you know what I’m talking about. These guys will try to dunk again and again and again using the exact approach, the exact number of steps, the exact little shuffle steps, with the exact same result. When someone reaches this point they’re usually better off if they take the time and make some simple adjustments in their technique.
In many circumstances, simply practicing the correct technique will add a nearly immediate 3-6 inches to the vertical jump. I have seen it happen countless times. Keep in mind when it comes to practicing there are many people who go out and practice jumping around for hours on end without much if any improvement. It should be noted that only perfect practice makes perfect!
The first thing you need to do when perfecting your technique is have the mindset that you’re gonna muster up all the potential you have in your body. What if you knew that you were only using 90% of your potential? I know that most people are using less then that because usually I can work with someone for a couple of days, if not hours, and produce at least a 10% improvement. Strength and power aren’t built that quickly, so I can only attribute these immediate gains to an improvement in technique, which usually
comes from an improvement in the movement pattern – optimizing the technical aspects and contribution by all the correct muscles. There are a few simple things you can begin to do immediately to get the most out of your current potential. First, I will give some tips on how to improve your 2-legged takeoff jump and then I’ll address a jump done with a 1-legged takeoff.
Bilateral Jump Technique
The following assumes this is a running takeoff. Basically you want to approach your takeoff point as fast as you can while bending your knees as little as possible while getting off the ground as quickly as possible after your final plant. You want to convert horizontal momentum into vertical force. To do this proficiently requires that you concentrate on and practice 4 phases of your jump.
These 4 phases are:
1. The approach or jump-stop phase
2. The countermovement phase
3. The rising phase
4. The takeoff phase
The first phase is the approach phase. This is the phase where you build up speed and run towards your take off point and involves a jump stop.
If you simply run towards the basket at a high rate of speed and then try to jump off of both legs you’ll instinctually perform a jump stop without even thinking about it because you’ll have to quickly stop and gather yourself to jump. To do this you’ll naturally execute a little “mini-jump” just before you replant to gather energy for your big jump. The problem is, too many people waste all their momentum coming out of their jump stop so they really don’t gain much of an advantage from their run-up. If executed properly, a jump-stop should enable you to convert your horizontal momentum into a powerful upward thrust. There are a few mistakes people often make. The first is that their jump stop simply takes too long – they either jump too high during the jump stop and waste their momentum, or they just kind’ve stumble because they haven’t become proficient at executing this movement correctly or with coordination. The 2nd mistake
people make is that when they come out of their jump stop they waste too much time and energy resetting themselves prior to their main jump – they spend too much time on the ground and bend their knees too much, thus wasting momentum and potential plyometric contribution. Watch your favorite dunkers take off out of a jump-stop and I’m sure you’ll notice how effortlessly they make the entire process look.
You should concentrate and practice on gathering momentum from your approach instead of being mechanical and having to stop, reset, and then jump. Try to approach your target with as much speed as possible while keeping your jump stop low and short. You don't want to have to stop and reset yourself at all when you come out of your jump stop. Most people approach their target too slowly or too quickly. They either take too high of a
jump-stop or take off too close to their target. A properly executed jump stop will add a significant amount to your running 2-legged jump. The solution is nothing more complicated then practice!
The next phase is the countermovement phase. This is the point just prior to take-off where you quickly drop down to pre-stretch the muscles and gather energy. The quicker you drop down and come out of your countermovement or ¼ squat the more force you buildup, the less horizontal momentum you waste, and thus the more potential reflexive force your body will put out during the actual jumping phase. If you pay attention to the best leapers you’ll usually notice that they tend to descend very quickly in their countermovements. In fact, the main visual difference that separates those with an elite vertical jump from those with an average vertical jump is the rate of speed at which they descend in their countermovement. The good thing is that you can quickly become better at this with practice. So, attempt to make both the jump stop and countermovement as quick as possible. Many people waste too much horizontal momentum during their countermovement because they take too long to reset prior to their main jump.
The next phase you’ll want to address is the rising or ascending phase of your jump. As you begin to rise (ascend) you should straighten your legs in a smooth manner. Don't try too hard. The more you can relax the more reflexive muscle contribution you’ll gain. Don’t try to be too quick here – doing so will probably just tighten you up and actually cause a loss of power. You can add the intensity at the end, but for now just try to stay smooth and relaxed as you rise.
The final phase I’ll discuss is the final takeoff phase. Just prior to leaving the ground you should then concentrate on driving off the balls of your feet and your toes with as much power as you can muster. At this point you should literally try to drive holes in the floor through the balls of your feet. If you can learn to do this correctly you can gain up to 3 inches on your jump within a week. It takes a bit of work and concentration so it's essential you master the first 3 phases before you try to do this otherwise you'll screw everything up. What happens prior to this point should be smooth and relaxed with a gradual buildup of force that culminates with an explosive push-off through the balls of your feet.
If you are able to put all 4 phases together to the best of your abilities it can easily be the difference between coming up 5 inches short on a dunk vs throwing one down.
To execute a proper 1-legged jump you should try to stay as smooth as possible. In most circumstances, the quieter you are and the smoother you take-off, the higher you’ll go. In contrast, the louder and rougher your jump sounds the lower you’ll go. To stay quiet you’ll need to approach your target with a certain amount of speed. Many people also make the mistake of extending their plant leg (jump leg) too far in front of their center of gravity in an effort to apply more force when they jump. This lowers the hips and creates a braking effect that actually slows them down and is responsible for the loud “thud” you hear when some people jump. It also stresses the knee and takes away from the reflexive transformation of horizontal momentum into upward force. Recall that the 1-legged takeoff is inherently more reflexive in nature. This means the majority of force should naturally occur without you having to work for it. Try to make sure your plant leg stays under your center of gravity and don’t reach out and “paw” for the ground. Rather, keep
your hips high, don’t bend your plant leg too much, and don’t “try” to push too hard. Just approach and elevate smoothly and let natural instinct take care of the rest. A lot of people tend to do better at this style of jump when they do it without thinking about it.
Get them going in for a layup in a crowd of people or have them run downfield and knock a pass out of the air and they'll do fine. Yet tell them to run and jump as high as possible and they'll screw it up.
Once you have the take-off phase down smooth you can add some effect to it by concentrating on a powerful drive up with the opposite knee and lead arm.
Next time you’re out “practicing” your jump use some of these technical tips and see how much of a difference they make. Remember only perfect practice makes perfect! I recommend you spend 15-20 minutes 1 day per week just practicing your jump. Ideally, always terminate your jumping or dunking sessions prior to the point that you notice a measurable drop-off in performance. In other words, don’t “practice” yourself to the
point of extreme fatigue - try to leave each session feeling as fresh as you were at the beginning.