If you are an athlete who competes in a team or individual sport, you most likely rely primarily on leg strength to excel in your given sport. Basketball, football, volleyball, soccer, baseball.... chances are you have played one or more of these sports and found yourself in a situation where a higher jump could have given you the chance to score or avoid getting scored on. Whether you want to devote yourself to working towards the career of a professional athlete or you just want to fare a little better in a pick-up game, increasing your leg strength and your vertical leap can be a relatively easy process.
This is what happens when you work on the exercises and jumps mentioned in this instructable (and if you are a genetic freak) --> --> 66" Jump
Step 1: In the Weight Room
The height of your jump is a direct result of your overall leg strength. However, it should be noted that attending to your core strength is important to every aspect of your athleticism. Conditioning can be more important to your agility than strength training, so make sure you pay plenty of attention to your abdominal muscles as they are the under-appreciated engine of all athletes. Nevertheless, there are some exercises you can do while in the gym that will maximize the increase you see in your vertical leap.
Many gyms have a seated calf raise machine that is built for one purpose only: to give you rockin calves. The idea is simple here - place your feet on the platform and put your knees under the bar. Release the safety and raise your legs using the balls of your feet. The most important thing to realize here is that unlike many exercises you may do in your workout, you don't need to try to build muscle. Jumping is all about explosion, so it is much more advantageous to go for less weight and maximize the repetitions. This is one of my favorite exercises.
In addition to doing exercises like leg curls, presses and other quad/hamstring lifts, squats are a great exercise for building leg and core strength. If you don't know how to do a squat, it is best to get some help from someone at the gym. It can be easy to hurt yourself if you misunderstand the form, so don't take a chance. Start out by trying to lift about 50% of your body weight (bar included). Try to do between 6-8 reps. If the weight is too low, add on a few more lbs.
Step 2: Home Work
The best way to increase your vertical leap is not in the weight room, but rather during the journey that you experience every day. If you keep an eye out for opportunities to boost your jumping skills, you can start seeing a difference immediately.
This is probably a good idea to do even if you could care less about being able to dunk. Stretching daily will help strengthen your muscles, allow your body to gain flexibility, and just plain make you feel better. I have always heard that stretching before a workout (weight or aerobic) is a smart thing to do, but I have also had a few people tell me that stretching prior to exercise diminishes the maximum power that your muscles can generate. I am certainly no doctor, so whatever you decide to do, try doing it in moderation (unless you are drinking beer).
Stay on Your Toes:
It sounds like something ballerina might do, but trust me, it works wonders. Try walking around your house on your tip-toes. This will force your calf muscles to work overtime and is a great endurance exercise for increasing your vertical. When this starts to get tiring, switch it around and attempt to walk on your heels with your toes pointed as high as you can. This walk makes you look stupid, but forces your dorsi-flexor muscles to become rock hard.
Might as Well Jump:
Jumping rope is (surprise) a great exercise. Not only will this get the heart pumping, but the short jumps that you are forced to repeat over and over again help to promote explosiveness.
You can mimic the great exercises that you perform in the gym in the comfort of your own home if you have the right technique. If you have stairs in your house (or substitute any kind of platform), position yourself so that your heels hang off the back of the raised area. Lower yourself as far as you can go, then raise yourself up onto your toes. This can be much more straining for your calves than the machine, so try not to over do it when doing this exercise.
Last but Not Least:
Just as important as any dichotomy in life, work is meaningless without rest to accompany it. Make sure to give your body and legs a rest at least two days a week. As when doing any sort of weight or cardiovascular training, the results occur when your muscles have the chance to repair the small tears in tissue when you work out. So just do it.
Step 3: Practice Makes Perfect
There are several ways to go about jumping. These are all great methods of training your legs to jump properly and with the maximum amount of force. Try them all and you are destined hurdle any obstacle:
For this exercise, you will need some sort of elevated platform (a rock, a bench, a cinder block, etc). Put your right foot on the platform and your left foot on the ground. Now, explode upwards, jumping as high as you can off of your right foot. On the way down, try to switch your footing, landing with your left foot on the platform and your right on the ground. This can be tricky, so be careful not to fall as you land. Repeat as necessary.
You'll need a box or a sturdy platform for this next exercise. Begin atop your platform, and jump off to one side. Try to land and then instantly jump back up again, bending your legs as little as you can while still generating enough force to reach the height of the platform. Land on top, and jump off the other side. Keep repeating this about ten times before taking a short break.
Get in a normal lunge position, and try jumping as high as you can, using your forward foot to drive the leap. The lower you are to the ground, the more muscle strength is required to get yourself airborne. Do this a few times for each foot before throwing in the towel.
Place your feet about shoulder width apart, and squat down. Push off with both feet and use them equally to jump as high as you can. This is a good way of working both quads at the same time rather than doing them separately.
Try taking a few jumps as you would normally. Now try jumping as high as you can while keeping your arms pointed straight down. See the difference? Swinging your arms during a jump can add a significant amount of inertia to your leap, so experiment with different methods of propelling yourself with your arms.
Weights can also be used when jump training. Try doing some of the exercises mentioned above while holding weights or a lead vest. For a cool experiment, grab a pair of dumbells and crouch down. Before you leap up, drop the weights and you will jump super high. Your body adjusts for the added weight as you crouch and this over-compensation allows you to get some serious air.
Just a couple of notes:
Don't use ankle weights (or just about any ankle strength/jump training device). These cause your body to operate in an unusual manner and can tear ligaments, effectively sending you to the DL or even ending your career.
Keep records of your vertical jump with the help of some friends. Having a detailed record of your progress will help you to understand what exercises are best for you when trying to improve your vertical and can also bring your attention to other unknown factors in your jumping.