Every basketballer is, on some level, interested in jumping higher. The problem is that it’s incredibly difficult to make meaningful progress on your vertical while in-season. Your entire bandwidth is conditioning and going to games and practices. Most student-athletes will be lucky if they can find time to get in the weight room once or twice per week.
This is why the off-season is the perfect opportunity to get some serious reps under your belt, so by the time the next season rolls around, you’re faster, stronger, and jumping waaaay higher.
Today I’m going to tell you a few of the crucial things high school or college-level hoopers should be thinking about if they want to make meaningful progress on their vertical jump this off-season.
Specialize in a Single Sport as Early as Possible
Having played both basketball and volleyball in high school at the state and national representative levels, I really struggled with managing all the various commitments to different teams in each sport. I never really found myself with a proper off-season, which hindered my ability to make the sort of progress I wanted in the gym.
My recommendation is to choose a single sport and not over-commit yourself to too many teams, tournaments, or camps, such that you actually get a full 8–14 week off-season.
If you’ve found yourself with 3–4 sporting commitments per week, even during the off-season, you’re really going to be overdoing it from a total training volume perspective when you add a 4–6 day per week vertical jump program into the mix.
The off-season is a golden opportunity to focus on your physical development as an athlete and should be treated as such.
Begin with a Proper Deload
The first step to a successful off-season is to give yourself the better part of a week to let your body heal. This is particularly important if you’ve just gone through a grueling post-season.
The key to a successful deload is to be disciplined.
While a wide range of approaches to deloading can be effective, sitting around playing 2K all day and vegging out on the couch isn’t one of them! Let’s keep it simple with some principles that I’ve personally had success with.The first step to a successful off-season is to give yourself the better part of a week to let your body heal. This is particularly important if you’ve just gone through a grueling post-season. Click To Tweet
Keys to a Successful Deload
What we’re effectively trying to do here is let our body repair the worn-down muscles and connective tissues while still sending a signal to the brain that says we’re continuing to use our muscles…. So heal them but don’t atrophy them.
- Reduce volume by 50%–70%: You’ll still want to do some training, but it will be a tiny fraction of what you’re used to. If when you previously walked into the gym, you’d do 5×5 back squats, just do two sets. It should feel like the worst workout you’ve ever had, stopping your working sets right before you start to feel something!
- Maintain fairly high intensity in the weight room (~90%): This means you should still be lifting about as heavy as you were prior to the deload but easing off just a little bit. Lifting relatively heavy will ensure you hang onto all your strength and muscle throughout the deload. Shoot for about 90% of the weight you were using the week prior to your deload, but don’t push it if you’re too banged up.
- Eliminate or modify jump volume: If you were doing lots of jumping or plyometrics toward the end of the season, you have the option of entirely removing plyometric training during the deload or simply switching out exercises for lower-intensity alternatives. For example, instead of doing 10 depth jumps per session, you might do 4–5 box jumps instead.
Video 1. Box jumps are ideal for deloads, as they’re a fantastic way to continue jumping while eliminating those brutal landing forces, which will help your joints recover.
You can also continue doing extensive plyometrics like pogo jumps and single-leg line hops but reduce the overall volume to about half.
- Lots of movement: Movement promotes blood flow. Blood carries nutrients to our muscles, which enables the healing process to take place. Instead of relaxing on the couch all day, make sure you get outside and do at least 1.5–2 hours of low-intensity steady-state activity.
This can be as simple as a very light jog or walk, some yoga, or even just going to shoot some hoops for a couple of hours.
If you have access to a swimming pool, hydrotherapy of any sort is a great way to get some movement in the “lowest impact” environment on Earth! The water effectively bubble-wraps your body so your joints can focus on healing. Simple movements like butt kicks, high knees, leg swings, and flutter kicks all work great. You could also just swim a few laps as long as that’s relatively easy for you.
- Include mobility work/static stretching: Fifteen to 20 minutes of some very basic mobility work will help prevent you from getting tight during the deload week. I also recommend spending 2–3 minutes stretching out your calves, hips, quads, and glutes/lower back. Spend a little longer on areas that you feel are particularly tight.
- Maintain your diet: You need to be super conscious of your diet during the deload week to not gain unwanted body fat. If you feel as though you’re burning significantly fewer calories than you were at the end of the season, you might actually want to reduce your overall caloric intake slightly. You still need to eat mostly whole, unprocessed foods and get in plenty of protein.
- Sleep: When it comes to recovery, the real magic happens during sleep. Since this whole week is about recovery, you should ensure you’re consistently getting as close to eight hours of sleep as possible.
How long you should deload for will be determined by how much fatigue you have accumulated during the season. I recommend five days for most athletes, give or take.The amount of fatigue you’ve accumulated during the season will determine how long you should deload for. I recommend five days for most athletes, give or take. Click To Tweet
If you’ve had a brutal post-season and your body feels like it’s been hit by a truck, take a full seven days to deload. If you didn’t get much action toward the end of the season and feel mostly fine, a four-day deload should be plenty.
Create an Off-Season Game Plan
If you really want to shock everyone when you return to the court next season as a completely upgraded athlete, you’ll need to be strategic about your approach to the off-season.
I’m about to cover the four most important things to consider if you’re interested in maximizing your vertical jump progress this off-season. Use these recommendations to formulate your own off-season game plan.
1. Prioritize Durability and Longevity
Basketball is one of the highest-impact sports, which means it’s incredibly taxing on your body, particularly your joints—this is why most NBA players will retire before their 30th birthday. One of my biggest regrets as an athlete was not taking better care of my body as a senior in high school. I lifted and jumped at least six days a week.
Tendonitis, meniscus tears, and painfully slow progress on my vertical jump. My recommendation is to treat your body the same way Lebron treats his. Sure, you probably can’t afford to spend over $1 million per year on your body, but you need to approach it with the same mindset.
Optimize for longevity.
Strive to be like Kadour Ziani, who is still freaky athletic in his late 40s, and not like me, embarrassingly immobile in my late 20s.I strongly recommend you start by familiarizing yourself with the ‘knees over toes’ methodology by learning how to bulletproof your ankles and knees. Click To Tweet
I strongly recommend you start by familiarizing yourself with the knees over toes methodology by learning how to bulletproof your ankles and knees by integrating exercises like the Patrick step or Poliquin step-up. Whenever you run, change direction, or land, you’re in this exact position.
Historically, we’ve been taught to avoid training in this “knees over toes” position, and I was once told, “Your knees should never travel past your toes” when squatting. But then strength and performance coaches like Charles Poliquin, Carl Petersen, and more recently, Ben Patrick began having huge success having their athletes challenge this idea by exposing the body to this challenging position.
Almost 34% of collegiate-level basketballers have some sort of patella tendonitis. Vertical jump coach Nathanael Morton recommends that athletes with jumper’s knee (or any amount of knee pain) begin their training protocol focusing on knee durability and not proceeding to heavy lifts like squats and plyometrics like depth jumps until their knees are pain-free.
An example of a knee durability and rehab protocol workout might look like the following.
Video 2. If you have access to a sled you can pull, use that. If you have access to a treadmill, you can use that (power it off) and walk backward. Even just walking backward (ideally up a hill) will be effective.
These movements make fantastic warm-ups and do an exceptional job of driving blood flow into the knee. Perform the movement for 1–2 minutes until you notice a quad pump. I recommend 3–4 sets.
Video 3. Bend so that your working leg’s knee extends past your toes. Reach out as far as you can with your off leg and gently touch your heel to the ground.
Perform 2–4 sets of 15–30 reps.
Slant Board Eccentric Squats
Video 4. With your heels elevated, focus on a slow and controlled descent.
Perform three sets of 10 reps.
ATG Split Squat
Video 5. Starting with one foot out in front of you, lunge down in a controlled manner so that your front knee extends past your toes.
Perform 2–3 sets of 5–6 reps.
Morton recommends repeating similar workouts 4–6 times per week until you can get through the workout without pain. In addition to the above, I’d recommend doing tibialis raises to increase your ability to safely absorb landing forces using your muscles instead of your joints.
Never work through pain…and for the love of God, do your mobility and flexibility work!
The off-season is, above all else, an opportunity for you to mend your body.Never work through pain…and for the love of God, do your mobility and flexibility work! The off-season is, above all else, an opportunity for you to mend your body. Click To Tweet
After you’ve taken care of any tendonitis, niggling injuries, and poor mobility, you’ve earned the right to enter the weight room to start taking strides toward becoming bigger, faster, and stronger.
2. Take a Structured Approach for Best Results
Understand—at least on a surface level—what a strategic approach to increasing your vertical jump looks like. Depending on which program you choose to follow, you might hear phrases like:
“Accumulation → Transmutation → Realization”
“Foundation → Integration → Translation”
Put simply, you should break your off-season into 3–4 smaller periods, each with a particular training focus.
Initially, you’ll start with some sort of fairly light accumulation period where the goal is to build work capacity and get your body used to a structured training environment. During this phase, you’ll do pretty basic lifts at moderate weights, as well as mostly extensive plyometrics and only a couple more challenging movements.
The idea here is to ease into things and get our bodies used to lifting and jumping a lot.
Example exercises will include things like:
- Pogo jumps
- Ankle jumps
- Full-range back squats
Many programs will also focus largely on strength development during the first phase, as opposed to power/ballistic movements and plyometrics.
After 3–4 weeks of “building the base,” you’ll look to start ramping things up with more advanced movements where we’re really trying to drive adaptation using that foundation we established in the initial phase. Expect some more difficult higher-intensity (aka heavier) lifts, more intensive plyometrics, more power and ballistic movements, and some complex/conjugate training.
Example exercises will include:
- Heavy back squats
- Power cleans and med ball tosses
- Depth jumps
- Back squats followed by depth jumps
- Trap bar jumps
We aim to peak in explosiveness for the final 3–4 weeks of the off-season and then prepare our newfound athleticism for the court.
We do this by backing off slightly on the lifting/strength volume and upping the power and plyometrics. We reduce the weight used in our power movements and look to move the weight as fast as possible. The closer we get to the end of the program, the more focused we become on jumping.
We do another small deload in the last week of the program to flush out any accumulated systemic fatigue, and the result will hopefully be your highest jumping performance yet!
Choosing the Right Program
Unless you’re a sports science major, you likely won’t understand the complexities of the effective programming and periodization that go into a well-constructed vertical jump program.
For most athletes, I believe it’s smarter to outsource your vertical jump program to an expert who has created a system designed for maximum progress over the duration you have available.I believe it’s smarter for most athletes to outsource their vertical jump program to an expert who has created a system designed for maximum progress over the duration available. Click To Tweet
Sixty dollars is a fairly small cost for complete guidance over 14 weeks—that works out to $0.60 per day to help you optimize your training and create the most impressive transformation possible.
There’s a vast range of different vertical jump programs on the market, and I’ve personally purchased each of them to determine which products make the most sense for which athletes.
Here are a few things to consider…
Vertical jump programs typically range in duration from eight weeks to 16 weeks, with a couple of exceptions going for longer. You must identify exactly how long your off-season will be before beginning your pre-season commitments.
Some athletes might only have eight weeks available, whereas others might have a full 14 weeks. Before investing in a jump program, find out how long it goes, so you can get something that’s a good fit for you.
Access to Equipment
I can appreciate that not every athlete will have the luxury of a fully kitted-out gym. Some of you will have access to only very basic equipment, and some of you will have no equipment whatsoever…
Certain jump programs require certain types of equipment, whereas others require no equipment at all. Figure out what equipment you imagine you’ll have access to, then pair that up with an appropriate program.
Certain programs are very challenging, whereas others are super simple and geared more toward beginners. Ask yourself how much experience you have in the weight room and with plyometrics.
If this is your first attempt at meaningfully increasing your vertical jump, start with a program geared more toward beginners and younger athletes.
I recommend Overtime Athletes’ Elite Vertical Academy because it checks all of the boxes:
- Includes a “beginner” version for younger and less experienced athletes.
- Includes a “bodyweight” version for athletes who don’t have access to equipment.
- The main program still has a lot of advanced movements in it, so it’s great for more advanced athletes too.
- Its 12-week duration is ideal for most off-seasons.
- Significantly more affordable than other options.
I’ve written a full article comparing each of the different vertical jump programs you’re welcome to check out for more information.
3. Don’t Neglect Skills Work and Upper Body Training
As a younger athlete, I was so obsessed with being able to dunk that I had no interest in skills work. As a result, I ended up with a horrific handle and an inability to finish around the rim—despite being able to jump reasonably well.
Make sure you’re still dedicating at least 1–2 sessions per week to skills. I’d recommend allocating some time to ball handling and shooting—focusing on shots you’re likely to take in a game.
It’s also very easy to fall into the trap of only training legs and completely skipping upper body day when you’re focused on increasing your vertical jump.
Luckily, most decent vertical jump programs these days realize the importance of a powerful upper body and bake a healthy amount of upper body training into the program. But if you’re creating your own vertical jump program, remember to include each of the three following movements:
- Chin-ups—Often referred to as the “upper body squat,” this compound movement hits most of your upper body and is a super-efficient way to build general upper body strength.
- Bench press/shoulder press—Or push-ups/military press if you don’t have access to a bench. Being a strong presser has a massive carryover to how well you’ll be able to pass the ball.
- Med ball tosses—With the many different variations of med ball tosses, you can build upper body power that will directly impact your arm swing when jumping, but it will also make you a far better passer.
I believe doing the above three exercises just 1–3 times per week is all you need to maintain and develop upper body strength and power while you’re focusing primarily on developing your vertical jump.
You should also keep playing some basketball each week (~1 session), just to help with basic conditioning and keeping your eye in.
If you’re playing pickup basketball 2–3 times per week, you’ll likely not get the most out of your vertical jump program, which will have you training 4–6 days per week already.
4. Double Down on Diet and Sleep
I cannot stress how important this is—if you’re treating yourself like a professional athlete, getting eight hours of sleep per night is table stakes.
Eating a clean diet with adequate amounts of protein is a given. Just being on break is not an excuse to get sloppy with your diet. Your shopping list should include foods like the following:
- Red meat
We also know that vitamin D levels correlate with the size and number of fast-twitch muscle fibers—those you use when jumping. So ensure you get plenty of sun every day and aren’t cooped up inside playing video games all day!
Your fast-twitch muscle fibers also prefer carbohydrates as a source of energy, so I recommend fueling up with rice, pasta, and oats instead of taking a low-carb/keto approach.It doesn’t matter how hard you train or how diligently you follow your jump program; you will never make meaningful progress if you’re not taking your diet and sleep seriously. Click To Tweet
Remember, it doesn’t matter how hard you train or how diligently you follow your jump program; you will never make meaningful progress if you’re not taking your diet and sleep seriously.
Every so often, you’ll notice a guy show up to pre-season training looking like a completely different athlete…they’re taller, stronger, faster, and wait, what’s that? He just threw it down on a fast break!?
Damn, that guy really leveled up during the off-season!
You can be that guy.
Create a game plan, follow a structured program, and take your nutrition and recovery super seriously. Treat your off-season as an opportunity to level up, not an excuse to relax and slack off.
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1. Patrick, Ben. Knee Ability Zero, Onyx Publications, 2021.
2. Beyond the Rim 1, Nathanael Morton.
3. Hutchinson MK, Houck J, Cuddeford T, Dorociak R, and Brumitt J. “Prevalence of Patellar Tendinopathy and Patellar Tendon Abnormality in Male Collegiate Basketball Players: A Cross-Sectional Study.” Journal of Athletic Training. 2019 Sep;54(9):953–958.
4. Cannell JJ, Hollis BW, Sorenson MB, Taft TN, and Anderson JJB. “Athletic performance and vitamin D.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2009 May;41(5):1102–1110.