Although few people would turn down having the dunking skills of superstar basketball player LeBron James, having a good vertical jump goes beyond just helping your basketball game.
Sports like soccer, volleyball, tennis, football, and weightlifting all require good vertical jump ability, and learning how to jump higher can help improve performance in general.
But how do you improve your vertical jump? What are the best exercises to jump higher?
In this article, we will look at how to jump higher and the best exercises to add to your workouts to increase your vertical jump.
We will cover:
- What Muscles Are Used for Jumping?
- How to Test Your Vertical Jump
- How to Jump Higher
- 10 Exercises To Increase Vertical Jump Height
Let’s get started!
What Muscles Are Used for Jumping?
Jumping looks simple enough, but it’s actually an intricate, choreographed movement involving the simultaneous and explosive extension of your hips, knees, and ankles.
For this reason, jumping is a triple extension activity, no matter whether you’re jumping up to hit a tennis serve, pressing a heavy barbell to perform an Olympic clean, or doing a plyometric box jump as part of a HIIT workout.
The coordinated extension of your ankles, knees, and hips takes your body from the lowered position where your joints are flexed into the explosive upward movement that launches your body off the ground.
So, how does your body jump? What muscles are involved in jumping?
The muscles involved in jumping are those that extend the ankles, knees, and hips, as well as those that stabilize your spine and core.
The calves are composed of two muscles: the larger and stronger gastrocnemius and the thinner soleus.
These muscles work together to plantarflex (extend) the ankle, which is the motion you make when pressing the gas pedal in a car.
Consisting of four muscles—the vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, vastus medialis, and rectus femoris—the quads run down the front of the thigh and are the muscles responsible for knee extension.
This muscle group also flexes the hip when you land your jump.
The hamstrings are the group of three muscles (biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus) that run down the backside of the thigh.
The hamstrings work with the glutes to enable hip extension. They are also responsible for knee flexion, which you need to absorb the impact of landing your jump.
The three gluteal muscles, the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus, are the muscles in your butt that are chiefly responsible for hip extension.
The glutes also stabilize the hips and spine when you jump.
We tend to think of jumping as only a lower-body activity, but it also requires activation of the core muscles to stabilize the spine and transmit the pulse of energy from your arms to your legs.
Abdominal muscles such as transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, and internal and external obliques, along with back muscles such as the multifidus muscles and erector spinae help provide for trunk stability when jumping.
How To Test Your Vertical Jump
Your vertical jump ability is a good reflection of your lower-body power and explosiveness.
In order to accurately measure your progress as you improve your vertical jump, you need to have a proper baseline measurement.
Although we have all been jumping in one way or another since we were toddlers, actually performing a proper vertical jump takes a fair amount of skill and practice.
Here is how to do a vertical jump test:
Stand with your core and legs engaged, your chest up, and your feet directly under your hips.
Resist the urge to widen your stance because this actually reduces the power you’ll be able to generate and drive into the ground for push-off.
Keeping your feet anchored into the ground, consciously pull your knees outward so that you feel tension in your hips.
This engages the hips so that they’re primed and ready to fire rather than fully relaxed.
Basically, you’re getting your neuromuscular system geared up, so that muscle recruitment for your jump is faster.
Remember, the faster you can generate force, the more power you have for your jump, and the more power you generate, the higher you will jump.
Keeping your spine upright and core engaged, quickly bend your hips and knees into a partial squat, sitting your hips back and thrusting your arms behind you to create momentum.
Explode upward, jumping as high as possible while driving your arms forward and overhead.
Reach up as high as possible with only one arm, as this unilateral vertical reach increases the maximum height you obtain compared to reaching with both arms.
After you start coming back down, straighten back out and land softly with your knees bending to absorb the load, ensuring they stay straight forward rather than caving in. Allow your arms to swing backward as a counterbalance.
When you do an official vertical jump test, you’ll use a tool called a jump tester, which has thin plastic sticks in one-inch increments along the upper portion of a tall pole.
At home or at the gym, you can use a pencil or erasable marker and jump up along a wall. Mark the wall, being careful not to extend the writing implement higher than the tips of your fingers.
To actually measure your vertical jump height, measure the distance between your standing vertical reach (stand up and reach up as high as you can, recording the height of the tip of your fingers) and the height you reach with your fingers when you jump.
For example, if your vertical reach is 95 inches and you mark 125 inches up on the wall with your pencil, your vertical jump is 30 inches.
Note that you can do a few warm-up jumps, but for an official vertical jump test, you can’t take any steps or run up before the jump. You just jump in place with your two feet together.
How to Jump Higher
Like all fitness skills, you can train yourself to jump higher by consistently performing workouts to increase your vertical jump.
Vertical jump training primarily involves strengthening the muscles involved in jumping—the glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, and core muscles—and working on your explosive power and speed.
The good news is that the training you do to improve your vertical jump is transferable to other fitness endeavors.
For example, many of the same exercises to boost your jump height will also help you to run faster, lift more weight, and accelerate faster on the sports field or court.
Jumping higher isn’t just a matter of having stronger legs, so although performing strength training exercises that build the strength and size of the muscles is important, muscular strength is only part of the ideal recipe for how to jump higher.
The real key to increasing your vertical jump is increasing your power.
Power is the product of strength times speed (Power = Strength x Speed).
In other words, power is how quickly you can generate force.
The more rapidly you can get your muscles to fire and make a forceful and strong contraction, the more powerful your muscles are.
You can think of your muscular power as your explosive speed when you jump.
To improve your vertical jump, you want to boost your explosiveness so that you can drive force more rapidly into the ground at toe-off.
This power is then transferred from the ground back into your legs to help you leave the ground and achieve a better height with your jump.
In accordance with the laws of physics, the force and power you push into the ground will be pushed back at you in an equal magnitude but opposite direction.
Thus, the more power you drive into the ground with respect to your body weight, the higher your vertical jump will be.
10 Exercises To Increase Vertical Jump Height
Any exercise that strengthens the lower body or builds explosive power and speed has the potential to improve your vertical jump.
With that said, some exercises are more efficient and effective than others because they translate more closely to the muscular demands and movement patterns required during the triple extension maneuver in the vertical jump.
Here are some of the best exercises to jump higher:
#1: Back Squats
This strength exercise is a staple for a reason: it’s highly effective at working all the major muscles in the lower body that you need for explosive speed for jumping higher and running faster.
Perform 3-8 per set, focusing on driving your heels into the ground when you press back up.
This exercise is one of the most effective ways to activate the posterior chain muscles like your glutes and hamstrings.
Make sure you’re initiating the movement with these muscles rather than your back.
You can widen your grip and stand on a low bench to further activate the glutes and hamstrings.
#3: Bulgarian Split Squats
Even though vertical jumping is a bilateral activity, this unilateral exercise is a fantastic way to strengthen the muscles you need for jumping, and by isolating one leg at a time, you can work on strengthening the weaker leg.
This will ultimately help you jump higher because if you can generate an equal amount of power and force from both legs, you can drive into the ground with both feet together, which will give you way more strength than if one leg is doing most of the work.
When you perform this move, descend slowly to work on your eccentric strength, and then explode upward to the starting position as fast and powerfully as possible.
#4: Good Mornings
As with squats, really dig your heels into the ground to drive back up to the starting position.
This will help you harness the power you need to jump higher.
Perform 5-8 reps per set.
#5: Glute Ham Raise or Nordic Hamstring Curls
These exercises are great at really isolating the hamstrings, which are critical for the hip extension component of the triple extension in jumping.
Perform 5-10 repetitions per set.
#6: Box Squats
Rather than being strictly a strength-based exercise, this is an explosive strength exercise.
Therefore, you only want to use about 50% of your 1RM for the back squat.
The focus really needs to be on the explosive speed for each rep, not the load you’re using.
To perform the move, use a wider stance and sit your hips back onto a box that’s slightly lower than having your thighs parallel to the ground.
Again lower yourself slowly, and then explode yourself up by driving with your hips and hamstrings.
For added difficulty, use chains or resistance bands on the ends of the barbells.
Perform 3-6 reps per set.
#7: Jump Squats With a Pause
This explosive strength move is made more difficult by the isometric hold.
Start with no weight, and then gradually progress to using a load of no more than 25% of your 1RM squat load.
Pause for 3 seconds in the lowered position before firing upward as high and fast as you can.
#8: Cleans and Snatches
These Olympic lifts are all about developing instantaneous power.
Proper form is key, so if you’re new to these movement patterns, work with a coach or trainer for form pointers.
Once you have your technique down, use a high weight to build strength and power.
Perform 2-4 reps per set.
#9: On-Box Jumps
Jumping up onto plyometric boxes and then powering up into a completely upright position is an excellent exercise to jump higher.
It builds explosive power and strength in your lower body.
Perform 3-8 reps per set, allowing yourself to recover as necessary.
#10: Medicine Ball Broad Jumps
You can start this exercise with no weight, but working up to using a 10-pound medicine ball is a great way to add a strength component.
Even though this move is all about your horizontal jump distance, it translates well to jumping higher as well.
When you are ready to incorporate the medicine ball, start with the ball overhead with your arms straight up in the air and your feet shoulder-width apart.
Drive the ball down towards the floor as you flex your hips and knees to prepare for the jump.
This is the eccentric phase where you are storing elastic energy.
Explode off the balls of your feet, throwing your arms in front of you and releasing the ball.
Jump out as far as possible, focusing on horizontal distance. Keep your trajectory at 45 degrees or less.
Land softly with your knees bending to absorb the load of your body.
When you are structuring workouts to increase vertical jump height, it’s also important to practice vertical jump technique, so be sure to incorporate some vertical jumps a few times per week as well.
Most of the time, athletes are pleasantly surprised at the gains they can make with vertical jump training.
These exercises will not only help you jump higher but also run faster, squat heavier, and feel stronger.