I work with a lot of basketball players and coaches and I still play myself. One of the biggest requests that I receive from players and coaches is how to increase their first step and vertical jump. Both of these relate directly to power. If we examine LeBron James as a case study, we know that he can cover the court in 9 strides while the average NBA player takes 13 strides to cover the court. This is phenomenal considering that the average NBA player is considered to be one of the top athletes in the world. I know that LeBron is a freak of nature, and that no amount of strength training can make an average player into the next LeBron. But what enables him to have a 40+ inch vertical jump and cover the court in so few strides? It is his ability to apply force to the court.
You can do form running techniques and jumping techniques until the cows come home, but no matter how pretty the form looks, if there is not a massive amount of force being applied to the ground, you will not see many improvements. I must say that reading Barry Ross’s book recently and his thoughts on mass specific force (MSF) has only fueled this idea in my head. Below I will detail a few drills and exercises to apply to your team and self if you still happen to be an active player.
- Deadlifts – These are a lot easier to teach than the squat and for taller players they are much easier to maintain form on than the squat. I am not against the squat and I use it quite often in basic and varying forms, but if I were to pick one big compound exercise to use with a basketball player, it would be the dead lift. Studies have shown that max weights in elite lifters are often within 5% of each other on the dead lift and squat, the difference being that the dead lift is putting less compressive force on the spine and working a lot more muscle do to the fact that the weight is being held in the hands. The more force (weight) that one can add to this movement, the more force they will be able to apply to the ground and the faster and higher they can go.
- Jumping – I will have the athletes perform different jumps including an exploding jumping matrix. I will have them perform one long jump immediately after a dead lift or another compound move. I will work on mechanics, but it is not the primary focus in creating a more explosive player.
- Absorption Landings – These are part of the depth jumps and should not be used weeks on end. Basically these are jumping from a certain height (.7-1.2m for medium intensity) and sticking the landing. An athlete has to be able to withstand a force before they are able to overcome it. They are a lot less intense than the full depth jump, but still should not be performed for more than 4 weeks in a row. You would be surprised at how effective these can be and how many players don’t know how to land correctly and absorb force. I tell my youngsters during PE class to land like a ninja, in other words, soft.
- Falling Starts – These are great at ingraining a fast first step and they will be useless if we don’t develop more strength and power in the body first. Basically the player stand behind a line and their feet are together. On the whistle, they fall forward and try to fall until the point at which their body must put one leg forward. Once that foot hits the ground, they take off running. I will not have them go past half court with these, since speed is the focus.
- Tennis Ball Drops – I will have the players partner up. One partner will be on the foul line with a tennis ball. The other player will be starting on the foul line facing the bleachers. On the whistle, they will laterally slide to the baseline at which point their partner will drop the tennis ball. The moving partner will break into a linear speed run and try to get to the ball before it takes a second bounce. Again, worthless if there not an increase in force, but great if we are working on both at the same time.
These are not all the tricks and tools in the toolbox, but they are a great place to start when trying to develop more explosiveness. I know that power exercises such as the Olympic lifts are great as well, but if you have limited time and equipment, the above outline should fit nicely.