The pre-draft studs at the NBA Combine remind us each year that everyone's training bucket list includes "jump higher" and "run faster." Logging grueling training hours in search of adding inches to your vertical or shaving seconds off your sprint times with nothing to show is frustrating and unnecessary. Let's cover 4 ways to cut the frustration and get the jump gains and sprint speed you are looking for:
1. check your symmetry
You would never expect a car to perform well in a race if the wheels were all inflated to different levels and one was flat. Expecting your body to set athletic personal records with musculoskeletal asymmetries is equally unreasonable. By being more aware of how your body moves through fundamental movement patterns you will be able to recognize performance stealing asymmetries.
One option here is to seek a skilled movement-based clinician to perform a comprehensive evaluation or assessment on you. If this is not in the cards for you there is an easy solution: become more skilled at assessing your own body movement. The mirrors at the gym can help you with more than taking a great workout selfie. They will help you to spot movement asymmetries that you never knew you had.
Perform your best squat, single leg squat and lunge while you look to see if you shift off to one side, one knee caves in or if your balance is far different on one side versus the other. It's important to recognize that you are looking for significant one-sided differences here. There is no need to get carried away with tiny, trivial asymmetries - no human body is perfectly symmetrical.
A major shift in your squat, one knee that drastically caves in on your single leg squat or a loss of balance on one of your lunges will ultimately sabotage your ability to jump higher or run faster. As you become more skilled in recognizing movement asymmetries you will be able to recognize if they are coming from a lack of flexibility or a lack of strength. When you identify an area of poor flexibility or weakness you can correct it, start moving more efficiently, jumping higher and running faster.
2. Single leg success
You will need super single leg strength, stability and power to get NBA Combine worthy sprint speed and vertical jump gains. Sure you need two-footed power to compete in the game of basketball and the no-step two-footed vertical jump test is the classic way to assess vertical jump height. Just remember that awe-inspiring jump height and lightning fast sprint speed requires impressive performance from each leg individually.
This means that your training needs to include a healthy dose of single leg strength and stability work. Here are a few of my favorite exercises to enhance your single leg performance:
- Rear Foot Elevated Lunge
- Bowler Squat with Single Arm Row
- Single Leg Squat (Up 2/Down 1)
- TRX Vertical Row to Single Leg Press
3. the tried & true
High flyers and speed demons have greater ability to drive vertical (jumping) and/or horizontal (sprinting) force into the ground from their hips. This is what will propel you higher up or forward with more speed. Improving your ability to drive more force into the ground through your hips comes from pushing and pulling weight with the tried and true: squats, dead lifts and hip thrusts.
Everyone wants to get creative, mix it up or make exercises more challenging than they need to be when they should be mastering the classic hip strength and power developing lifts. Since you are reading this I know that you are a grizzled veteran of the weight room and reminding you to stick to the fundamentals is unnecessary. Unfortunately, I see too many people ignoring the weight room basics. People forget that lifting weights responsibly and effectively is a skill and skills take repetition to groove or perfect.
Take the pressure off of yourself to make exercises or training more exciting and get great at squat, dead lift and hip thrust variations - they are timeless because they produce results. Here are several exercises that should be the brass tacks of your training for leaping and sprinting gains:
- Dumbbell Goblet Squat
- Dumbbell Hip Thrust
- Hex Bar Dead Lift
4. Complex training
Combining plyometric exercises with your heavy strength work is a great way to get more out of your jump and sprint training. I just finished highlighting the importance of sticking to the basics and now I'm talking about "complex training." I know it seems to be conflicting, but let me explain. Complex training is sometimes referred to as contrast training or Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP).
By pairing a heavy strength exercise with a similar plyometric movement you train your neuromuscular system to excel during explosive activities like jumping and sprinting. In other words you train to more efficiently convert strength into power in both the short and long-term. This is huge for gaining a few inches on your vertical or cutting time off of your sprints, but complex training has other benefits as well.
Joining heavy strength work with plyometrics during the appropriate training phases tends to be more sport specific from both a movement requirement and work capacity perspective. Beyond that it adds excitement to your training without sacrificing your training goals. Check out some great complex training pairs:
- Dumbbell Goblet Squat : Box Jump
- Dumbbell Hip Thrust : Bounding
- Cable Dead Lift Pull-Through : Broad Jump
Focus your training around these 4 strategies to help you finally check "jump higher" and "run faster" off of your training bucket list.
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Tim DiFrancesco, PT, DPT, ATC, CSCS spent 6 seasons as the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and is the founder of TD Athletes Edge. He is nationally renowned for his evidence-based and scientific approach to fitness, training, nutrition, and recovery for athletes and fitness enthusiasts.
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