basketball dunk

Every guy who has ever picked up a basketball has dreamed of throwing down a monster dunk, a la King James or Kobe. Unfortunately, just one thing is interfering with this fantasy: gravity. As we learned a long time ago from an apple-polishing scientist named Sir Isaac Newton, gravity pulls on everything, even those basketball stars whose vertical abilities seem to place them in another galaxy. Sure, you may be doing squats, deadlifts, heel raises and lunges with such intensity that you can hardly walk the next day, yet you still appear glued to the floor whenever it’s time to grab a rebound or spike a volleyball. So, besides perhaps some favorable genes, what is it those high-jumpers have that you don’t? Very simply, they do a lot of jumping. Period. Here’s how you can start developing mad rise of your own to take to the playground.

Beginner’s Plyometric Primer

If you’ve never tried jumping or plyometric exercises before, start with this simple routine, aiming to complete three sets of 10 on each exercise.

  1. Jump rope – This is a basic plyo exercise that also builds coordination, not to mention a killer set of calves.
  2. Two-footed jump – These are simply jumping in place, using the force of your landing to propel your next jump. 
  3. Butt kick – Jump up, bringing your feet up to your glutes and back down before landing.
  4. Two-footed box jump – These are the same as two-footed jumps, except you jump up onto a 6—12-inch box and back down.
  5. Two-footed over-and-back – After your box jumps, try jumping completely over the box and back for reps. Start with two sets of five reps of each exercise, resting for 90 seconds in between. Make sure you don’t jump backward off the box; that’s when you can get hurt.


Pump Up Your Jump: Intermediate Workout

Remember, begin with a base level of strength that incorporates squats, deadlifts, leg presses, leg curls, leg extensions and calf raises. Once that’s established, slowly move into the suggested routine. Be sure to warm up before, and stretch after each session. Our choice of plyometric training is based upon those exercises that most readily lend themselves to a basic gym or home setting without benefit of a trainer or coach. This program assumes that improving your vertical jump is your top priority (as opposed to building muscle mass in your legs).

Weight-Training Days

  • Perform twice per week; for example, Monday and Thursday.
  • Do your regular warm-up: 5—10 minutes of cardio to get your core temperature up. As part of your warm-up, perform lunges to get extra blood moving into your legs. Two sets of 10 reps with a light weight should be sufficient.
  • On your second workout of the week, reverse the order, using higher percentages for the power clean and dropping weight on the squat. As you feel stronger, increase weights and decrease reps — except for the power squat. Be careful about increasing weights for the speed squat and step-up.
Exercise Sets Reps Weight
Back Squat 3 10 75% 1RM
Speed Squat (or Jump Squat) 3 10 50-60% 1RM (20-40% 1RM if doing jump squats)
Barbell Deadlift 3 10 75% 1RM
Dumbbell (or Barbell) Step-Up 1 10 each leg 50% 1RM
Rack Squat 3 3-5 75-80% 1RM
Power Clean 3 3 70% 1RM

Jumping Days

  • Twice per week: for example, Tuesday and Friday.
  • Although these exercises sound easy, take special care; if not performed properly, plyometrics can be hazardous to your ankles, knees and other joints.
  • For all exercises, start out with two sets of five reps. Jump five times, rest for 90 seconds and jump five more times. Work up to three sets of 10 reps. Be careful not to exceed 120—150 jumps per session.
  • In all box exercises, be aware of your arm swing. It should move downward as you land and thrust upward as you take off.
  • Most gyms have some kind of box or aerobic step that you can use. If not, fashion your own “barrier,” such as a cone or a weight, and practice jumping over it. When that becomes easy, jump over the barrier, land and spring into the air, hands thrust upward as if going for a rebound. If you get bored jumping forward over your obstacle, try jumping laterally back and forth over it. The same principles apply.

Jump Rope

Practice a quick, soft, light landing for 5—10 minutes, using the force of your landing to propel your takeoff. Flex your hips, knees and ankles to help absorb the shock.

Jumping in Place

Employ the same technique suggested above for jumping rope.

Butt Kick

This is where you jump into the air, bring your heels to your butt and land again. For variety, jump and bring your knees into your chest, grabbing your knees with your hands. Don’t forget to let go before landing! Once these techniques are mastered, move on to more advanced activities.

Two-Footed Box Jump

Jump up onto a 6—12-inch box, step off backward and repeat several times. Move from that to jumping onto one box, stepping off of it forward and jumping onto another. End by exploding straight into the air as if you were going to grab a rebound or spike a volleyball.


Power-Building Exercises


Rack Squat

Stand in front of a power squat rack and bend your knees so you’re at the level where you’d normally drop before your takeoff in a vertical jump (a point well above the bottom position in your typical squat). Place the bar on supporting pins at exactly that level. Slide underneath the bar at that position, with your head up and chest out, and stand up as fast as you can, going right up onto your toes. Because the bar is in a rack and you’re going up only 4—5 inches, you can heavy loads. An average athlete can probably handle 2—3 times his or her bodyweight.

Power Clean

Stand in front of an Olympic bar, feet about shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back slightly arched, squat down and grasp the bar with an overhand grip, heels on the floor, arms fully extended. Begin the pull by straightening your knees, moving your hips forward and raising your shoulders. Lift the bar straight up. As the bar moves above your knees, begin to move more explosively by thrusting your hips and knees forward, and rising onto your toes. Shrug your shoulders and flex your arms, bringing the bar to your front delts. Rotate your elbows and extend your wrists to “catch” the weight, flexing your knees and hips to absorb the weight of the bar. Then, squat down to the floor for another repetition. Try this one with light weights till you get the hang of it.

Wall Sit

Stand with your back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart in front of you, and lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Your knees should be in line with but not extending past your feet. Hold the position for five seconds and ascend. Start by doing two sets of five seconds each, and try holding longer and performing more sets as you advance.


This is done with either an Olympic bar across your shoulders or a dumbbell in each hand. Place one foot on a block 6—12 inches high and step up with the other leg, then step back down. Do 10 reps with one leg and 10 with the other. It’s an outstanding exercise for basketball players who usually don’t take off using both feet.

Speed Squat/Jumping Squat

Use 50%—60% of your one-rep max of your squatting weight. Descend slowly in squat fashion all the way down into the bottom position, your thighs at or just below parallel to the floor. Then explode up as fast as you can, going all the way onto your toes. If performing a jumping squat, lighten the load slightly and catch air at the top of the movement, landing softly on your toes before descending into the next rep. Remember to keep your head up and back straight.