LeBron James' Vertical Leap

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A Place Above the Rim

By John Dorsey

As a vertically challenged person, there's a place that I dream of, a place that I long to inhabit every time I lace up my sneakers and step onto the hardwood. It's a place called "above the rim." Sure, the ability to powerfully drive to the basket or thread the needle for a perfect pass would be nice, but we all know that true roundball glory (cue the roar of the crowd, the camera flashbulbs, the slo-mo video) comes high in the air where vertical leap is king.

The current reigning monarch of the air is LeBron James. With his vertical leap reportedly measuring in at somewhere north of 40 inches (the NBA average is in the high 20s), King James is able to launch his 6-foot-8-inch, 250-pound frame with seeming ease. But how does he do it? And more importantly, what can I (and you) do to be more like him?

"Vertical leap is a complete concert of a lot of motor abilities," says Craig Friedman, performance innovation team director at Athletes' Performance, a company specializing in the enhancement of athletic performance. "Strength and power are obviously huge aspects of it, but what people don't always see is that you have to have mobility and you have to have stability to get into those power positions. With LeBron, it's definitely an interplay between mobility, stability and flexibility."

In basic terms, a jump is merely the result of driving force into the ground, force that is created by the elastic energy stored in contracted muscles. "As LeBron goes down in a squat getting ready to jump," says Friedman, "all of his muscles are put on a stretch like a rubber band, storing energy." How high he jumps depends on how much of that energy he can force into the ground and how efficiently he does it.

"In order to put that force into the ground you have to have a stable foundation," says Friedman. "We usually think about leg strength and hip strength, but all of that has to be generated from your core and torso. If you have instability there, it results in energy leaking out of your system. That's energy that doesn't get transferred into the ground."

So, if you're looking to improve your vertical leap by merely doing set after set of leg presses or squats, thinking pure leg strength is all you need to jump higher, you're missing some key aspects of vertical training.

Instead, Friedman recommends taking a multilayered approach to your workout, focusing on four areas: dynamic flexibility, plyometric training, strength training and regeneration. He has designed this simple yet challenging program specifically for the recreational baller. Although you probably won't be reaching LeBron-like heights by following Friedman's program, you'll definitely find yourself closer to that place called "above the rim."

Training for vertical leap »