T Nation

Vertical Jump Help


I weigh about 180lbs, 16 y/o, and my max squat is around 360lbs today. I deadlifted 390lbs raw yesterday.

However, I can not dunk. I can touch the rim with both hands at least. I also play lots of basketball, but I still can’t dunk. It’s really frustrating, because I’ve been trying to dunk for almost 4 years now. The whole reason I started weightlifting was to increase my vertical jump for basketball.

I heard vertical jump is power, which is strength x speed of strength. I don’t understand how to increase my speed.

I just started the Russian Squat Routine earlier this week to drive my strength up even further.


First off - How tall are you?

I got my first dunk at 14, but It helped I was over 6’. However, at that point, I don’t know that I had done any routine squatting. While strength certainly helps, I would add jumps to your regimen. From 16-17 I took my vertical jump from 23" to 34", by training with and being trained by world class performers. They had me do Long Jumps, resisted/assisted jumps, single leg jumps and jump rope. While my goal was to be a better athlete, a by product was my vertical jump improved drastically.

Intro to Dunking

Lifting weights is generally slow. Add plyometrics to your training. Start simple.

Jump squats–try to land quietly by dropping your hips on the landing and absorbing the force.

Cone hops–forward/back & side to side
Single leg hops in place

Tuck jumps

Standing long jump aka broad jump

Start with 80-100 jumps per week. Split up however you like. Work up to 120-140 contacts per week. Look up more advanced stuff as you go if you want but simple stuff works. Move from double leg to single leg. DON’T DO BOX JUMPS. Those show hip mobility more than explosiveness.

One last thing. Superset jump squats with heavy squats. Do your squat set and immediately do 5 jump squats. As you improve do the jumps consecutively. Absorb your landing and go right into your next jump. Maximal effort lifting will activate the most muscle fibers and jumping immediately afterwards will allow you to use them all explosively. I’m 6’5", 32 years old, and can still dunk 2 handed starting flat footed. This is my go-to stuff when I let my vertical slip. I know I’m tall but I’m old!


If you are trying to increase vertical jump height, I would definitely add a lot of sets of 1/4 squats and 1/4 squat jumps.

Another good exercise is to start with medicine working up to kettle bells. Hold the ball in front of chest, go down into a squat, then as you rise, start to raise the ball, ending as high as you can get on your toes with the ball fulling extended over your head like you are reaching for a two handed dunk. I wouldn’t say go slow, but try to make it smooth as possible and feeling the entire movement.
In between sets.
Stand in perfect posture. Slowly start to tense every muscle in your body, while staying in perfect posture. While tensed inhale as much air as possible, while every muscle is tensed, and you are in perfect posture. Hold for a 5 count, release. Then back to prior exercise.


That’s amazing. Do you have the routine they used?

I’m 6’1"


2 hand flat footed is still cold and I’m merely 4 inches shorter than you. Not a huge difference considering the height required to dunk anyway.

I never liked box jumps, but my coach used to make us do them so much thinking it’d help us. I still have scars from missed jumps.

I tried a program once called Vert Shock. But, I didn’t get ANY gains from it. I Thu k it may have been bc i did Smolov and basketball conditioning on top of it.


Thanks. I’ve heard a lot about partial squats; I only did them for the couple of weeks I was doing the french contrast.


Honestly, it was over 10 years ago, I have a tough time recalling exactly.

Look up ‘Matt James Nike’. I grew up in Beaverton, Oregon a few miles from Nike headquarters. I trained at one of their facilities under James. He has plenty of videos. The key, I think, is to do lots of explosive work, ie. sprints and jumps along with your weight training.


For what it’s worth I was a 6’2" freshman when I first dunked. You’re way stronger than I was.

Try partial squats as suggested mbdix. Add plyos like I suggested and don’t get overzealous. 80 contacts a week for about a month. Then 100. Then 120. No need to go above 140 contacts. The reason I call them contacts is that sometimes I train landing only. Step off a box and try to land as quietly as possible and finish in your jump position.

I train some plyos for max height with a slower transition phase (jump squats) and others I try to land and jump as quick as possible (tuck jumps).

This girl looks brutal but she’s actually using the right arm action. Tough to find proper form online.

Tuck jumps. Use same arm action as jump squats. Again tough to find decent form at the speed I like online.


I swear I just posted this but it’s not showing up on my phone. CT’s blog has a 4 part series on jump training. Just watched all 4 as a refresher for my knowledge. Great stuff. Everything I believe with some even better training cues.

Scroll through the blog and start with video #1.


Sorry, @Chris_Colucci. I though the link was OK b/c it’s CT’s and he already posts here. Won’t happen again!


No worries, but yeah, the link policy still applies to contributors who post here (Thib, Wendler, etc.).


I don’t see the videos. Are they at his blog on the forums?


They’re on his own site. Can’t list the link here but you should find it if you Google ThibArmy.


Wow. Thanks for that. I never actually knew how to land and all along the reason I wasn’t getting gains it seems is bc of my poor mechanics. I never even knew about TENSION!
Once I engrain the mechanics, how many sets and reps should I use to program all of this? That is the difficulty for me.


I go by total contacts. 80-100 per week should be plenty. For the stuff that he showed in the videos you could do sets of 5-10. Just pay attention to your fatigue and rest as needed. Plyos aren’t a conditioning exercise.

I like to do sets of 5 of the squat jumps as demonstrated. I do them as quick as possible with the form described in his video. Remember to master the skill first. Sounds like you need to go slower so use the pause between jumps.


It’s understandable that you’re frustrated, but you’ve been training to dunk since you were 12? It’ll pay off, be proud.

The only thing we can tell from these videos is:

  • You look light/lean
  • You are definitely strong relative to your bodyweight
  • Your squat form is good
  • Your squat is fairly fast, which is good, but it could be faster. For example, you’ll want to keep slowly & safely increasing your squat strength so that your 315 x 1 moves much faster, and then eventually your 2xBW squat singles complete in approximately <= 2s. So you have some good speed, but it could be better - the easiest way to do that is to get stronger. For athletic performance training, a high relative bodyweight squat matters more when it can be completed fast & not “grinded out”. Athletes can have “grind out maxes” and “fast maxes”, just like they can have “competition maxes” and “training maxes”. Ideally you want to be moving around 2xBW singles like a toy. Towards the “elite level”, you would be moving 2.5xBW around like a toy.
  • Be careful always training with people who goof off - such as those potentially in the first video. It’s infectious and can actually hinder your training. I’ve seen this many times in basketball weight rooms / basketball team training. There’s an enormous difference (usually) between football & basketball weight rooms. If i’m way off, sorry; but just something to look out for.

So as far as your most important strength exercise goes (squat), it seems like you are on the right track. I personally disagree that you need quarter squats and such right now, I imagine their are other explanations for your vert not being higher. Quarter squats are usually prescribed to advanced athletes who have “already matured”. It’s not usually prescribed to younger athletes. If you do experiment with quarter squats, make sure you definitely “kill your ego” a bit. It’s very easy to add some serious load to partial ROM movements - and thus riskier (to the spine/knees etc).

Other things to make sure you don’t neglect in the weightroom is calves (high rep 3-5x20, forefoot elevated, assistance), and upper body exercises for explosive arm swing (general upper body strength - weighted dips/pullups, and more specific exercises like plate swings & heavy med ball throws/tosses for shoulder power). The biggest thing we’re missing though, is video of your jumps. You could be freakishly strong in the weight room, but your runup, plant, and arm swing might be too ‘slow’. Do you jump single leg or double leg? I’m personally not big on training technique, but these would all be helpful to see/know.

When you say can’t dunk, is that simply off of a dribble? Would a lob count? I imagine you want to land an off-the-dribble dunk.

When do you attempt your dunks? Before, after, or during basketball? In sessions all by themselves? All of the above?

Ideally you’d like to be attempting to jump maximally 2-3x/week, IMHO. If you do this already, but don’t have an actual dedicated jump sessions (focusing entirely on maximal effort jumps and dunk attempts), i’d make sure to get one of those in per week. In a maximal effort jump session you will want to: warm up very good (dynamic warmup or basketball dribbling/layups), make sure you CNS is firing by doing several short sprints (baseline to 3-pt line or half court line, full recovery between each) & optionally timing them with a stopwatch so that you know you are fired up and ready to go, starting off with short approach (standing vert up to 2 step runup) max effort jumps, 3-step runup jumps, and optionally 4 step run-up jumps. Finally, once you’ve performed 2-3 max effort jumps at each level, you end the session with dunk (dribble or lob) attempts until ‘considerable fatigue’. Sometimes you will find yourself fatigued & think the session is over, but really you might just need a bit longer recovery and to regroup mentally. You might find that you might have some really good jumps left in you. “Considerable fatigue” would basically be your legs feeling like they are about to give out, or several consecutive bad jumps. Usually you are “toast” when you attempt a jump and you feel your legs buckle etc. Hard to recover from that.

As for reactive exercises, I like the exercise someone else posted; multi response tuck jumps. Those are a good exercise. A slightly more difficult and perhaps more effective exercise, to be used in combination or in the next step in a progression, are multi response stiff legged pogo hops. I’ve found these to be extremely effective in getting more explosiveness out of the last range of motion of a jump; the triple extension phase. Stiff legged pogos really stress the calves/achilles, quads (vmo especially) and glutes. Those are usually done in the 5 x 10-20 range. If you decide to try this exercise out, do not go max effort for several sessions. You want to learn how to ‘lock’ your ankles/knees as you land and time your arm swing so it’s an extremely spring-like movement. This makes much more sense when they are practiced submaximally for several weeks, before increasing intensity. I would stay away from more advanced plyometric exercises like depth jumps for now, unless they are from low boxes (~12-18"). There’s a great bit of ‘technique and timing’ involved in these reactive exercises, always start light & relaxed. The first cue should always be ‘get off the ground as fast as possible’. Eventually (as you become familiar with the exercise over several sessions), you want to focus on two simultaneous cues: get off the ground as fast as possible AND get as high as possible. Both of these cues together have been found to be more effective than focusing on one without the other.

Finally, if you are a single leg jumper (which I kind of doubt), you would also want to eventually learn how to altrnate leg bound, single leg bound, and perform heavy stepups/lunges with a barbell or dumbells. Learning to bound on your own is do-able but difficult, it’s best to perhaps seek out your high school track & field coach for help with these exercises (and utilize a proper progression).

Finally finally, a good warmup (several rounds of ~1 minute) or “reactive work finisher” (post lifting session, ~10 minutes) is jump rope. It’s good for an overall cardiovascular effect but also as a nice way to learn to better relax and reflexively spring. It’s also good for arm speed.

In a nutshell, my advice is to keep improving squat safely & slowly, improve relative bodyweight squat speed, improve upper body strength (even if it’s “just” dips and pullups), incorporate explosive shoulder power exercise, don’t neglect calves, perform some reactive exercises after a warmup and before lifting (MR tuck jumps, MR pogos), incorporate jump/dunk only sessions - make sure your cns is fired up by utilizing sprints as a warmup (optionally timing them to make sure you are ready to go), don’t get greedy (incorporate more advanced lifting techniques & plyo exercises later on down the road: after appropriate progressions & buildup duration).

I’ve typed alot so i’ll leave it there for now, that’s my 2 cents.



Whats up adarqui. I’ve actually visited your site before and posted on there, and you’ve helped me on reddit before.

This post is phenomenal, thank you, and yes, I have been training to get my legs stronger and dunk since I was 12. I used to run suicides in my backyard with a lifeline power jumper, and run up and down the stairs in my apartment with 25lbs dumbbells lol. I didn’t know what to do, I just had a dream.

Now that I know some of the science behind it from hours and hours on the internet, I have been driving my squat up since I was like, 14.

My thing is that I don’t have structure to my jump programming in conjunction with squatting and I don’t understand how I should program exactly, like what exercises and when. JMaier31 talks about CT’s video links and I looked at them, and now I know how to land properly. But what about the stuff dchris was talking about? Where do band resisted jumps and stuff like broad jumps and jumprope hold a place? It gets confusing.

I also want to know how to program depth jumps, like sets/ reps

Also what frustrates me even more is that I didn’t make the team this year bc I can’t jump high enough; jumping higher was the very thing I wanted the most. And on top of that, all my friends who can dunk and do windmills and stuff, I asked them how to jump higher, and they don’t even know! That’s how I know they barely worked for what they have. While I have been lifting these heavy ass weights to try to achieve the same thing, they’ve been doing nothing close.

I’m a double leg jumper. Is Overhead press good for strength, then combined with overhead medicine ball throws?


Based on all of the advice you all have given, I will try to construct a program and ask for you all’s advice on it.


One thing to remember: GENETICS. Fast twitch muscle fibers are explosive and good for jumps and short sprints but they fatigue fast. Slow twitch fibers are better for endurance events but aren’t very explosive. You don’t get to choose what you have and you can’t change them. You can cause subtle changes but can’t make a type I fiber turn into a type IIb.

Sounds like your friends were born with type II (fast twitch) fibers.