Different sports involve different types of movements, including different types of jumps. For example, high jumping has only one type of jump, a full approach running jump off one foot. On the other hand, volleyball involves a lot of two-foot jumps from a standstill or a three-step approach. The differences between the movements of different sports should be considered in planning training for those sports. This article will look specifically at the athletic demands of basketball and some rules for jump training according to those demands.

Basketball, perhaps more than any other sport, demands a vast variety of movements. As part of that, the sport includes numerous different kinds of jumps. Think about it for a minute. Basketball includes jumps on the run, off a drop-step, off a dribble drive, and from a standstill. There are jumps moving in all directions at different speeds, jumps turning and twisting in all different directions, jumps with body contact at all angles, and jumps to avoid body contact. There are jumps to shoot, jumps to dunk, jumps to block, and jumps to rebound. There are jumps off one foot and two feet, from this position and that position. The list goes on and on. There is a limitless variety of jumps that a player may have to perform in basketball. And those are just the jumps. Then there is a whole host of other movements to be proficient in as well. With that in mind, how does one jump train specifically for basketball?

I have three main points to look at.

Key Point #1

Yes, practicing full approach jumps is beneficial. But the truth is you almost never get to set up your approach and jump as high as you can in a game of basketball. If you want to be an effective basketball leaper, you have to play basketball. As obvious as that sounds, the point needs to be made. It is necessary to learn basketball-specific movements and jumps. No one cares that you can run up and dunk after the game or in warmups. If you can’t box out and jump up for a rebound, or if you can’t make a good move and get up to attack the rim, your jumping ability is worthless. There are plenty of track athletes and football players who have exceptional athleticism but still manage to look like average jumpers on the basketball court simply because they have not played the sport enough. So rather than spending the off-season training just to dunk, spend it becoming a better all-around basketball athlete.

Key Point #2

Because basketball includes such a wide variety of jumps, developing all the raw abilities that contribute to athleticism is extremely valuable. You don’t want to be strictly a power jumper, because what are you going to do on a fast break when you need to jump off one foot at a high speed? That’s a situation where you need to have some springiness. You also don’t want to be just a bouncy jumper, because what are you going to do when you grab an offensive rebound and find yourself planted under the rim? That’s a situation where you need raw power. A basketball player will benefit from being proficient along the entire spectrum of athletic ability. That means you want to use the entire spectrum of training methods as well. Don’t just get good at squatting to become strong or just do plyometrics to try to get bouncy. You want to get good at everything. A basketball player does not have the luxury of being able to specialize in one area.

Key Point #3

In live game play, the success of a jump is determined by the height of the jump and the quickness of the jump. Just to be clear, the quickness of a jump is determined during the execution of the jumping motion while the athlete is still on the ground. Two players that jump the same height have identical vertical velocity in the air. One cannot rise up quicker than the other, and there is no such thing as hang time. The difference in quickness occurs on the ground. A quicker jumper uses a shallower counter-movement and generates the upward velocity in less time. All other things equal, that quicker jumper is going to get more rebounds, get more blocked shots, and beat the slower jumper to the rim and dunk on him. This is where the vertical jump fails to be an accurate measure of athleticism. It only measures a distance with no regard for time. That is why the NFL and NBA combines utilize speed and agility tests in addition to the vertical jump test. So in training, don’t just be satisfied with being able to dunk or reaching a certain vertical jump height. Continue to target explosiveness to become a quicker jumper, not just a higher jumper. Even if your peak vertical does not go up, you can still become a better all-around athlete and more effective basketball player. I can personally attest to this fact. When I was 20 I jumped 42 inches for a short period of time. As a 24-year old, I jumped around 38 inches with some fluctuations during the winter basketball season I played. However, I played the best basketball of my life during that season, partially due to the fact that I was moving and jumping quicker than ever. I did not have quite the same bounce as when I was 20, but my explosiveness was significantly more developed, and I was a better athlete because of it.

All these key points highlight the downfall of over-simplified training strategies. Some people say, “All you need to do is squat heavy. Look at John Q Powerlifter. He squats 2.7 times his body weight and has a 35-inch standing vertical.” From Key Point #1 we see that having a 35-inch standing vertical does not guarantee effective jumping within the game of basketball. From #2 we see that relying only on strength for jumping neglects all the jumps that require more bounce and explosiveness. Ask John Q. Powerlifter to jump off one foot. It will not be impressive. From #3 we see that a 35-inch vertical is not actually very useful if it takes too long to execute. This is the case with strength-based athletes. They use deeper counter-movements and have very little bounce, so it takes them a long time to jump. So we can scoff at claims that the powerlifter who jumps onto a 50-inch box is just as athletic as any NBA player. It simply is not true.

Now what about Olympic lifting? The elite lifters in this sport often possess incredible jumping ability. An Olympic lifting program addresses strength and explosiveness, so it is getting closer to a complete training program for running and jumping athletes. However, the same problems with relying solely on powerlifting still apply, just not to the same degree. The variety of movement is still missing. Great athleticism simply cannot be developed in the weight room alone. In training for athletic movements, athletic movements must be included. It’s that simple. Looking at Key Point #2, training for the Olympic lifts does not address springiness. So again, maybe an Olympic lifter has a fantastic standing vertical, but how good is he at running and jumping off one foot? Also, on the topic of explosiveness, the snatch and clean do train explosiveness. However, they may be fast movements compared to heavy squats and deadlifts, but they are still quite slow when compared to sprinting and jumping. Training explosiveness at one speed is not the same as training it at faster speeds. I use hang power snatch to measure explosiveness, but sprinting and jumping are the primary tools for training explosiveness, because the short time frame for producing force. In the case of elite Olympic lifters, they have so much power that they may actually be great running and jumping athletes despite not training specifically for those movements. They boast high vertical jumps as well as fast short sprint times. The key thing to realize is that these are extreme outlier athletes. We’re talking about people who can snatch twice their body weight. The vast majority of people, even really gifted athletes, are never going to come anywhere close to that.

A basketball player does not want to rely on power alone to provide athleticism. Fortunately, high levels of athleticism can still be reached without such extreme power if springiness and explosiveness at high speed is well developed. That’s where plyometrics come in. A training program for basketball is not complete until flexibility, strength, explosiveness, springiness, and coordination are all addressed.