The Evolution of Jumping

Apr 27th, 2013

Category: Motivation

The Evolution of Jumping

Why is it that over time we see improvements in athletes jumping ability? In the 1950’s dunking was for centers and wing players who were perceived to have “insane hops”. Fast-forward to 2012, just about everyone in the NBA can dunk. And not to downplay the great dunkers of the late 80’s, but in 2012 we have 16 year old kids doing the same dunks that these NBA superstars were pulling off. To get an idea of the jumping ability of today’s high school players check out this mixtape of Shaquille Johnson’s senior year…


At 1:38 he actually had his nose at rim level.. Crazy bounce!

So why is it that we continue to see improvements in players jumping ability? In my opinion, it is a combination of several factors 1) An increasing population increases the chance for a “genetically perfect jumper” 2) Advancements in training/starting at a younger age 3) The Phenomenon of Expectations.

<span style=”text-decoration:underline;”>Increase in Population Increases Chance For “Genetically Perfect Jumper”</span>

It is no secret that some people are just genetically gifted jumpers. There are several genetic factors that influence ones jumping abilities such as: fast twitch/slow twitch muscle fiber ratio, femur length, insertion site of muscles/tendons, center of gravity, myotatic reflex efficiency, hip mobility, etc. For sake of conversation let’s say there are twenty-five genetic factors that influence jumping ability. As the human population continues to increase, the chances of possessing all twenty-five factors increases. So maybe we have seen these “genetically perfect jumpers” in the past in guys like Earl Manigault, Julius Erving, and Spud Webb, but the chances of being a “genetically perfect jumper” back then were very small. Now, with the human population being over 7 billion, it is much more common to see players who possess all twenty-five genetic factors.

A great example of a “genetically perfect jumper” is Vince Carter. Vince has had an amazing vertical his whole career, and is arguably one of the best dunkers of all time. What’s interesting is that in Alan Stein’s 2009 interview with Carter he said that he never really lifted weights in high school (to read the interview <a href=””>click here</a>). Vince Carter didn’t start lifting weights until college, yet his bounce looked like this in high school..

I would say he is the definition of a “genetically perfect jumper” because his bounce isn’t attributed to his training, rather, he chose the right parents!

<span style=”text-decoration:underline;”>Advancements in Training/Starting at a Younger Age</span>

There is no question that training methodologies are constantly evolving. As research in the Strength and Conditioning field progresses, so do our athletes. Go ask your dad what exercises he did to get stronger for basketball in the 70’s and he’ll say: “at that time lifting weight was for football players, we thought it would mess up our shots!” We now know that getting stronger can actually improve your shooting ability. Ok, now go ask him how he would train to increase his vertical jump. Chances are good he will say; “well we just jumped over and over and over again, high rep sets, we jumped till’ we puked”. We now know that high rep sets are not ideal for explosiveness, and too many ground contacts per week will not only decrease your vertical but it will leave you injured.

As long as your dad isn’t watching an important football game, ask him one more question. Why didn’t you allow me to start training until I was in high school? “Well, we used to think that your body had to go through puberty before you could start lifting weights because it would stunt your growth”. Thanks to several studies we now know that this is a myth, and even at age 12 you can lift weights without experiencing micro-fractures in the epiphyseal plates.

I think that many of today’s athletes have an advantage over the previous generations because of the fact that we now know it is safe to start lifting weights at a young age. I actually started lifting weights, including Olympic lifts and other plyometric exercises, at about 12 years old. By the end of high school I had a 30 inch vertical, which is nothing spectacular but pretty decent. Considering I’m not a genetic freak, a 30 inch vert was a good achievement for me. I think I achieved this level because I started working on my vertical at such a young age. However, it wasn’t until I got to college and began using new-age training techniques that my bounce went through the roof. I started learning and implementing new things like unilateral exercises, self myofascial release and other techniques for enhanced recovery, experimenting with different periodization schemes, etc. Because of these advancements in training I took my vertical from 30” to 40” in two years.

Here’s a video of me with my brand new 40” vert..


I consider myself a testimony to the Advancements in Training/Starting at A Younger Age theory because I achieved a 40” vertical without being genetically gifted.

<span style=”text-decoration:underline;”>The Phenomenon Of Expectations </span>

Prior to 1954 it was thought to be impossible to run a mile in under 4 minutes. In 1954 Roger Bannister became the first person to run a sub 4-minute mile. Just two months later, multiple runners were achieving the sub 4-minute mile. This shows that it wasn’t a physiological barrier that was holding these runners back; rather, it was a psychological barrier. When Bannister broke the record, in a sense it was like he was giving permission for other runners to break the 4-minute barrier.

The Phenomenon of Expectations could be a major contributor to the evolution of jumping. For example, before Orlando Woolridge’s in-between the legs dunk in the 1984 dunk contest the NBA had never seen an in-between the legs dunk. This gave permission to guys like J.R. Rider and Kobe to come up with their own variation of the in-between the legs dunk.

There’s no doubt that it makes it easier to achieve something astounding if someone else has already done it. Today’s generation is at an advantage because of the luxury of watching guys like Jordan, Kobe, and Lebron. These superstars set a level of athleticism that today’s generation can aim for, and try to surpass. After all, I don’t think the TFB guys would be able to bounce like they do without having watched the great jumpers before them.

These are the three most logical hypotheses that I could come up with. If you have your own hypothesis please drop me a comment! I would also like to hear your opinions on which of my three hypotheses you think is the biggest contributor to the evolution of jumping. As for now, I’m off to work on my Vert!

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