I went through this progression, too. I went from touching the middle of the net at 12 years old, to dunking a basketball at 14 years old, to doing serious acrobatic 360-degree dunks at 17 years old. In college, my personal record for the vertical leap was 40 inches. At my peak, I was able to touch the top of the square on a regulation backboard, about 11.5 feet from the ground. Even now, in my thirties, I can dunk a basketball while standing underneath the basket—no run up required. I owe it all to the power of the vertical jump.
I scoured the Internet looking for guidance. There are dozens of sites promising a path to dunking, most of them coded at the dawn of the Web. It was daunting finding one that seemed legit. I ended up paying $67 for the Jump Manual, an online program offered by Jacob Heller, a trainer with a 42-inch vertical who counts NBA players among his clients, according to his website. Next, I ordered a pair of Strength Shoes. You’ll remember these if you’re a basketball player of a certain age—the ridiculous-looking training kicks popular in the ’90s, with a platform under the toe that places your bodyweight on the balls of your feet.
In the ABA, Charlie Hentz broke two backboards in the same game on November 6, 1970 resulting in the game being called. In the NCAA, Jerome Lane shattered a backboard while playing for Pitt in a 1988 regular-season game against Providence, and Darvin Ham did the same while playing for Texas Tech in a tournament game against North Carolina in 1996.
For improving vertical jumping ability, the back squat and jump squat have been used for many years with great success. Depending on the exact force-velocity profile of the athlete, either back squats or jump squats should be effective for improving vertical jump height. Even so, exercises that shift the load towards the center of mass of the body, such as hex bar deadlifts and weighted vest jumps could be superior.
Plyometrics is the best known of the jumping development exercise programs. Plyometrics training emphasizes speed and explosive movement, and a plyometrics program will typically consist of a series of bounding, hopping, and jumping drills. The object of a plyometrics program is to perform the exercises at maximum intensity. For this reason, plyometrics training must be approached with caution, and the athlete must progress slowly from one level to the next to reduce the risk of injury. Proper rest intervals must also be incorporated in to plyometrics training, as the exercises are intended to place significant stress on the target muscle groups.
Vertical jumps are used to both train and test for power output in athletes. Plyometrics are particularly effective in training for power output, and include vertical jumps of different types in their protocol. In one recent study, training with plyometrics (which included continuous vertical jumps) was shown to improve jump height and boost vertical jump performance to similar degrees in combination with very different resistance training protocols, indicating that the plyometric jumping contributed to the increased jump height more than resistance training. Research into plyometric jumps found vertical jumps to be among the highest in terms of muscle recruitment (as measured by electromyography), power output, and ground reaction force produced. Fatigue has been researched in athletes for its effect on vertical jump performance, and found to decrease it in basketball players, tennis players, cyclists, rugby players, and healthy adults of both genders.