Let’s be honest, the slam dunk is hands down the most entertaining play in sport. No other sporting movement combines such power and grace. Many kids are first attracted to the game of basketball thanks to the exciting high flying nature of the game. From a young age, many basketball players begin to fantasize about the day when they too will be able to elevate above the competition and throw down a massive dunk like their favorite NBA stars.
In order to dunk a basketball, an athlete must be either very tall or have an impressive vertical leap. The slam dunk is an elusive feat that the average person simply cannot obtain. Many people want to learn how to dunk a basketball, but few put in the work required to obtain their goal. Sure, some people are born with an incredible vertical leaping ability. More often than not, others have worked extremely hard to boost their vert to pro level.
The field of vertical jump enhancement can quickly become overwhelming for coaches and junior athletes who want to improve their vertical jumping ability. There is both an art and a science to vertical jump improvement methodology that can quickly become convoluted with technical jargon and physics equations.
I am here today to give you a simple breakdown of the basic principles of jump training for junior athletes. Hopefully you find them valuable and can easily apply them to either your own or your teams training regimes.
So at what age can a child begin to embark on their journey to a higher vertical jump?
Well, basically as coaches we can start to build the foundations of an explosive athlete from a very young age. Remember, we must always focus on fun and play for very young athletes. That is not to say that we can’t make jump training fun. With the right approach to coaching it can be very fun indeed.
I find that 12+ year old kids respond best to a structured jump training regime. At the end of the day, jump training is just another form of healthy exercise for young kids.
We must remember that exercise has many benefits for these young athletes beyond on court performance.
In fact, a recent study from the University of Miami School of Medicine found that “Students with a high level of exercise had better relationships with their parents, were less depressed, used drugs less frequently, and had higher grade point averages than did students with a low level of exercise.”
I will explain exactly how we begin to increase an athletes vertical jump height shortly. But before I do, it is worth noting that having an above average vertical leap can also benefit an athletes game well beyond the ability to slam dunk.
Being a more explosive athlete can:
- Help you grab more rebounds
- Help you block more shots
- Help you score more points
In order to maximize jump height, athletes must undertake jump specific training.
Effective jump training incorporates components of
- Strength development (via resistance training)
- Power development (via power training)
- Explosiveness development (via plyometric training)
Strength training is the gateway to a very impressive vertical jump. By loading the muscles with more and more resistance over time the body adapts creating much more potential for power and explosiveness to be derived from plyometric and power exercises.
However, HEAVY strength training is NOT recommended for athletes under 14 years old as their joints and bones may be more easily damaged through intense resistance training. Nonetheless, athletes under 14 years old can begin to incorporate a range of safe and effective jump specific exercises that will prepare their body for the more intense vertical jump training to come in their late teens.
In junior athletes, jump training should focus on developing stability and correcting muscles imbalances and weaknesses rather than pure brute strength and power. Get this right at a young age and your athlete will thank you once they hit puberty and can start throwing around some serious weight.
The Makeup Of An Effective Junior Athlete Jump Program
An effective jump training program must correctly program jump training variables such as specificity and progressive overload while incorporating adequate rest intervals to avoid over-training. Jump training variables should be prescribed on a continuum which initially develops stability and then strength. As I mentioned earlier the program will further evolve to develop of reactiveness and explosive power.
Many of the leading vertical jump programs such as Vert Shock and The Jump Manual implement this proven exercise continuum very effectively and get excellent results (approx. 6-15 inch vert gains/3 months in adult subjects).
The “secret” to these programs is the application of concurrent resistance and plyometric training. You don’t need to pay for a program to get great results though. Let me show you how.
Simple and Effective Resistance & Plyometric Exercises to Build Explosive Power in Junior Athletes
By simply following a few proven exercises young athletes can begin to build a base of jump specific stability, strength and motor patterning. It is this physical foundation that will not only make them a more explosive player over the following months but greatly assist them in the transition of complex jump training in the future.
Sure there are many great vertical jump exercises out there, but here are my 5 favorite simple vertical jump exercises that can be easily incorporated into the training sessions of young athletes without the need to undertake overwhelming gym sessions that can lead to both mental and physical burnout. Remember at this young age we are purely focused on building a stable base from which further post puberty results can be derived.
With consistent effort, these exercises will also be likely to lead to an improvement of at least a few inches of improved jump height over the next few months.
1) Split Squat /Bodyweight Lunge – 10-15 reps x 3 sets (1 min rest between sets)
The bodyweight lunge one of the best exercises for identifying and correcting weaknesses in hip stability and strength. Hip stability is often a major weakness in many junior athletes. The good news is that simple exercises such as this can greatly correct limitations in this region quite fast.
It is vital to use correct form whenever undertaking this exercise. Focus on quality and not quantity when working with younger athletes. If an athlete consistently participates in this exercise they will develop bi-lateral leg strength and stability that can carry over to a higher vertical jump height. This exercise can greatly improve single leg vertical jump.
The bodyweight lunge also stretches the hip flexor muscles (on the back leg) which improve range of motion and hip extension. Studies have shown that larger ROM on hip extension can to lead to an improved jump height.
2) Jump Rope/Skipping- 3 x 1min (add 10 seconds every workout max 3 x 2min )
Jump rope is a great exercise that can help junior athletes improve ankle strength and stability plus also build the reactive properties of their immature tendons and ligaments. Keep the session short and sweet. Focus on slowly progressing the athlete over time. I like to think of skipping as a warm up exercise for the more explosive work to come.
3) Bodyweight Squat – 10-15 reps x 3 (1 min rest between sets)
The bodyweight squat is one of the best jump specific exercises for developing bilateral lower limb strength and power. Regular squatting can also develop the synergistic muscle coordination that can carry over to the two-foot power jump.
This is particularly important for post players who use the drop step move. As the athlete gets older more load can be added via a barbell. The older athlete will increase load and decrease reps with longer rest intervals, but for young athletes body weight is sufficient.
4) Box Jumps – 5 jumps x 3 sets ( 10-20 secs rest between jumps, 1 min rest between sets)
Box jumps can be performed with a relatively low risk of injury to junior athletes when done correctly and in a controlled manner. Focus on performing low repetitions and long rest breaks to optimize power. The athlete should not be huffing and puffing when undertaking box jumps. This is not a cardio or endurance workout. Focus on producing a MAX EFFORT on every jump.
5) Medicine Ball Toss For Height
The medicine ball toss exercise is a very effective and fun exercise to help junior athletes develop power and explosiveness. Keep the reps low and focus on form and explosive max efforts. We love this exercise as it mimics basketball specific jump movements.
As I mentioned before, the are numerous other factors and variables that can contribute to an athletes vertical jump height.
As athletes get older (15+) they can begin to tackle more abstract concepts such as:
- Body composition,
- Strength and power potentiation
- Stretch shortening cycle optimizations
Incorporate Jump Training into Your Sessions Today!
When dealing with young children it is vital to keep any performance enhancement training fun and uncomplicated. Just by simply adding these 5 exercises to your athlete’s routine 2 x per week will quickly help build a strong foundation for further, more advanced strength and conditioning training. The beauty of training young kids is that they adapt super fast. Stick to this simple routine and your junior athletes will be more explosive in weeks.
Once your athlete has established a strong foundation of strength and stability, ideally around the age of 15, he or she should move on to investigating some of the more of the complex concepts involved with learning how to jump higher.
It is at this mid-teen age that athletes can combine their primed hormonal environment with more intense training. It is this combination that will lead to significant vertical jump improvements which will hopefully allow them to throw down their first dunk.