I’ve been told by a reliable source (my husband) that: “We all want ups.” After conversations with multiple fitness experts and a scroll through TikTok—where videos with the hashtag #verticaljump have over 1.9 billion views—I’m convinced he’s onto something.
“Jumping is commonly associated with athletes, but this type of training has benefits that extend to everyone,” says Joe Gambino, DPT, CSCS, founder of Par Four Performance. “Improving your vertical jump height can help you feel more athletic, improve coordination and balance, reduce fall risks as you age, and help improve strength levels.”
Certified strength and conditioning specialist Chris Antoni, who is also a personal trainer and soccer coach in the UK, agrees, adding that showing some love to the muscle groups associated with getting more height in your jumps has functional benefits as well. Developing your lower body strength, for instance, “will also enhance general mobility and balance,” he says. And you’ll notice the payoff when you climb stairs or reach for something high on a shelf.
Jumping higher can also—and here’s the kicker—help you feel younger. “Strength and power levels do begin to drop every decade of our lives after 30, so improving vertical jump can help minimize this loss, helping you feel like your younger self as you get older,” says Gambino.
If increasing your vertical jump height just skyrocketed to the top of your list of 2024 fitness goals, here’s everything you need to know about how to get more air.
What Muscles Do You Need to Train to Jump Higher?
Your lower body does most of the heavy lifting when you jump, says Los Angeles-based Zay Washington, CPT, lead trainer at celebrity-fave personal training gym Dogpound (Tom Holland is an investor, and Hugh Jackman, Taylor Swift, and Justin Bieber are known fans).
Specifically, Gambino says that in order to jump higher, you want to strengthen your glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves (both the gastrocnemius and soleus, the two main muscles that comprise your calves), and tibialis anterior (which runs down the lateral side of your tibia).
“Your calves, your hamstrings, your quadriceps, your glutes—these are the muscles that help propel your body upward when you jump,” says Antoni. “Your calves help with stability and ankle extension. Your hamstrings help extend your hips and flex your knees, and your quads help you have a strong takeoff.”
But jumping is a full-body exercise, and jumping higher will require strengthening not just your lower body but also your core, back, shoulders, and arms—all of which need to be engaged to get you off the ground, says Antoni.
Beyond strength training, “mobility and flexibility are also going to be key factors on how high your vertical can become,” says Washington. So it’s important that you incorporate exercises that improve the range of motion in your hip, knee, and ankle joints into your workout plan.
Last but not least, “vertical jump height is dependent on your power output, which is your ability to produce high amounts of force quickly,” says Gambino. “A combination of both strength and power training can boost your vertical jump.”
What’s the Proper Form for a Vertical Jump?
Let’s back up for a sec: In order to jump higher, you first need to learn how to do a proper jump—period. Because according to Antoni, there’s a lot that can go wrong in a jump, and he’s seen it all.
Antoni breaks down proper vertical jump form:
Start standing with your feet hips-width-distance apart. Bend your knees.
Hinge your hips back; sit down like you’re sitting in a chair.
As you’re hingeing, swing your arms back.
Feel the tension in your thighs and glutes; as you feel that tension, drive your arms up, explode through the hips, and lift off the floor.
Landing, Antoni says, is where he sees a lot of injury-causing mistakes. “What you find is some people will try to land on their toes or their heels,” he says, which can put too much pressure on your knees or cause you to roll an ankle.
To land correctly, Antoni says you want to roll through the foot as you make contact with the ground. “Come down to your toes, drop to your midfoot, and then your heels,” he says. “Then land by bending your knees so you’re not landing on straight legs. Keep your head straight forward.”
Washington recommends you stick and hold your landing—essentially in a squat—in order to ingrain proper form into your body. This sort of isometric, or static, hold will also help build strength in your lower body and core.
How Do You Put Together a Training Plan for Jumping Higher?
First things first: “Figure out where your starting point is,” says Gambino. “If you have never worked on strength before, you should probably start here. Haven't jumped in years, you shouldn't be scrolling through Instagram and selecting the coolest jump variation you could find or performing the ones your favorite athlete is performing right away. Large changes in the demands placed on your body can increase your injury risk. So starting slow and building up as your body tolerates this type of training is the key to success.”
Gambino says that if he were putting together a training program for someone who wanted to learn how to jump higher, he’d approach it in four pieces:
1. Make a plan
You’ll want to do your homework before going to the gym. “Don't make it up when you get there,” Gambino says. “Pull a program from the internet if you have to, but follow a plan and stick to it.” If regularly exercising hasn’t really historically been your thing, it’s a good idea to speak to a certified professional before embarking on a new fitness program. (Many gyms will offer a consultation when you sign up.)
2. Warm up
“This doesn't need to take forever,” says Gambino. “Go for about 10 minutes of movement that gets your heart rate up and engages the muscles that will be worked in your training session.
3. Work on strength and power
You’ll want to train both strength and power within each workout you do. But, Gambino says, the order you do these exercises matters. “Your power movements should be performed early on in your workouts so that your nervous system is fresh,” he says. “Speed and power are the primary goals when trying to jump higher. If you are working on these qualities fatigued and your speed is reduced because of it, the benefits won't be there.”
4. Finish with accessory work
Accessory exercises, also called secondary or auxiliary exercises, are meant to complement your workout’s primary, compound exercises. According to the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA), “The idea is that the right smaller, more focused isolation exercises will build some of the individual muscles, or smaller groups of muscles, used in the compound moves.”
Another pro tip: “When it comes to jump training, I like to focus on unilateral movements, which means working one side of the body at a time,” says Washington. “So that could be single-leg step-ups, single-leg lunges—anything single-leg is really going to [help] increase our vertical jump simple because, when we’re working one leg at a time, we’re able to really build up that strength for our take-off.”
Exercises for Jumping Higher
Now for the meat and potatoes. What specific moves can help you jump higher?
For power training, Antoni recommends plyometrics (exercises that involve explosive movement, usually different types of jumps, skips, and hops) and ballistic exercises (training in which an “external load is projected into a flight phase”—most often throwing or swinging a weighted object).
There are a lot of options for power exercises, says Gambino, but “the key is that these are things that allow you to move fast.”
Some examples of power exercises that can help with jumping higher include:
Medicine ball throws
Zooming in a little, there are two buckets of speed exercises that can help increase your power.
“Speed-strength is an exercise with no weight, done quickly—like fast squats, fast pushups, fast jumping up and down,” says Antoni. “And then you’ve got strength-speed, which is those exercises, but under stress.” Examples of strength-speed exercises include using a light load (or small weight) during squats or jumps.
We’ll get to the lower-body exercises, I promise—but not until we talk about your core. “Where most of our power stability [for jumping] comes is through the trunk,” says Antoni.
When it comes to core work, think beyond the crunch. Antoni recommends plank variations, including side planks, which work the obliques, while Washington says his go-to exercise for a stronger core is the Pallof press.
When building strength in your lower body to help you jump higher, Gambino breaks the movement down into two main parts: the squat and the hinge at the hips.
According to Gambino, key exercises for strengthening your squat pattern include:
To strengthen the muscles used in the jump’s hinge motion, try:
Deadlift variations (both double- and single-leg)
For your auxiliary training, Gambino says you’ll want to “train your quads, hamstrings, and calves in isolation.”
“Any lower body exercise really works here,” says Gambino. “The key for strength-building is that it needs to be heavy—think at least an 8/10 on the difficulty scale. [What this means] is that you can perform the weight, but you stop when there are about three more reps to go before you feel like your technique would start to break.”
Final Considerations for Learning How to Jump Higher
At first blush, jumping straight in the air seems easy—we’ve all been doing it since we were kids, no? But in actuality, vertical jumping is a complex, full-body exercise; and if it’s done incorrectly or mindlessly, you put yourself at risk of injury.
In addition to nailing the form, Washington says it’s important to be cognizant of the amount you’re training. “We just want to be mindful of the amount and the frequency we’re going at,” he says. “You want to make sure that you’re tallying the amount of jumps that you’re giving yourself within a single period.”
While the overtraining threshold will be different for everyone, Washington says a good benchmark is 50 jumps in a single week period.
If you’re looking to increase your vertical jump height for bragging rights, that’s one thing. But, Antoni says, if your air is in service of something specific—a particular sport, for instance, versus better overall movement function—it’s best to work with a professional to tailor a training plan to your individual situation.
Originally Appeared on GQ