I recently achieved a powerlifting milestone and long-time personal goal: a 400 lb squat:
Actually, I didn’t get deep enough for that rep. It’d have been disqualified in a powerlifting competition because my hips don’t go lower than my knees. HOWEVER, I’d just gotten 405 for a deep squat easy but Joey The Shitty Cameraman was standing right behind me and my pants were riding up my ass. A significant percentage of the screen is my ass going down and opening, then contracting on the way up. It’s too gay to publish. I decided to go for 415 and had Joey The Shitty Cameraman move to the side. This time he fucked up the camera and took a still shot as I unracked the bar. I had 415 lbs on my back for at least 20 seconds starting that rep. I knew I didn’t get low enough before even seeing the video, but I got 405 clean so I was happy.
The other goal I’d hoped for was a 500 lb deadlift. After squatting, I started working up towards a deadlift PR. To my surprise working up on singles, I missed 445. Missed it twice actually. Just the week prior I pulled 465. Happy to get my squat PR, I threw in the towel.
Instead of continuing the quest for 500, I strategically deload every few months. Powerlifting heavy-ass weight causes deep muscle soreness. Professionals get deep tissue massages regularly. It also takes a toll on your nervous system. It’s hard going in week in week out to lift dangerously heavy weight without a break.
So I’m taking a break, but not from goal-focused exercise. Since recently incorporating bodyweight exercises in my routines, I stayed at a relatively light weight for a PR, 205-210. I noticed while playing basketball that my vertical hadn’t plummeted. For most of my athletic career, I’d found strength to be inversely correlated to my vertical. The more weight I could push/pull, the more difficult it was to get above the rim. And the higher I could jump, the less weight I could move.
Here, on the other hand, I’m the strongest I’ve ever been yet I can get half my hand over the rim easily. The coach of the team I practice with made a comment while watching, “Estás volando, Colin.” You’re flying. One thing I’d always heard if going for a dunk is that you should be able to squat twice your bodyweight. While that 415 rep wasn’t deep enough, I figure it’s close enough.
I’m going for an athletics goal that’s evaded me all my life, to dunk a basketball on a ten-foot rim. Vertical jump is an important measure of overall athleticism. Unless you’re freakishly tall, dunking on a regulation basket will impress anybody – I don’t care who it is.
I’m not “freakishly tall,” but I’m 6’2 – 6’3 (190 cm). That’s about as tall as the shortest NBA players who dunk in games. However, Spud Webb won the 1986 NBA Dunk Contest (video) at only 5’7 (170 cm)! If he can do it, I can do it.
This is where someone says, “But you’re white.” Ever since White Men Can’t Jump was released in junior high, when I was playing basketball every day at school with the black kids, that phrase has gotten under my skin and cut deep (despite it being a great flick). It’s twisting the knife every time I’m on a court and someone says, “You can’t dunk? Really?”
The next coolest thing to do is finger roll layup then tap the backboard. No matter how cool you make that look, you’re still a white guy doing layups. STL native David Lee aside, I can’t argue until I prove that obnoxious fucking saying wrong. It’s my new goal.
Here’s the strategy.
I was first introduced to plyometrics by a white guy (shorter than me) from the UMSL pickup games who could dunk. It was the strangest workout I’d ever done, but I could feel it working. It had exercises I’d never heard of like “Calf Jump Curls.” The pullup sets didn’t aim for quantity or added weight, but speed. The program wasn’t designed for vertical jump however. The guy got it from the Rams trainer for the receivers and cornerbacks, so it emphasized overall explosiveness.
After some weeks on that program, I’ll never forget what I did to a dude on the court. After blocking his shot and sending the ball back the other way, as soon as I landed I busted off in a sprint and beat his teammates to the ball, taking it down court for a layup. If that’s ever happened to you, I imagine it’s pretty demoralizing.
Being a little experienced in plyometrics, I knew these were part of the path to achieving a dunk.
Here’s my plyometrics routine, done twice a week:
Squat jumps 2 x 10
Lateral jumps on box 2 x 10 (1 each side)
Tuck jumps 3 x 10
Single leg lateral hops 2 x 10 (1 each side)
Depth jumps 2 x 10
UPDATE: I cut the number of reps on Squat Mumps, Tuck Jumps, and I only do Depth Jumps sparingly. These ground contacts kill the knees. It’s best to jump up onto something, so I added Box Jumps, which I do on concrete walls in parks.
To see animations of these exercises, see the Sports Fitness Advisor page I got them from. To see the bizarre plyometrics routine designed for football speed players, send me an email to webmaster at expat-chronicles dot com.
You don’t drop strength training from a vertical jump program. However, it’s a different kind of strength that’s emphasized. Some of the plyometric exercises, like High Pulls, were explosive strength exercises. The opposite of explosive strength would be what I call “brute strength,” characterized by slow, grinding reps. Most of what you see in Strongman competitions is brute strength. Most guys who train brute strength favor the bench press and deadlift.
Here’s an example of brute strength in a slow, grinding rep by my friend James pulling 475 at Eagle:
These slow, grinding reps are the meat and potatoes of strength training, but it doesn’t cover all the bases in overall power. Speed and explosiveness are important. Olympic weightlifting, featuring the Snatch and Clean and jerk, incorporate both brute strength and explosiveness.
The explosiveness exercises I’ve chosen to increase my vertical jump are the hang snatch and power clean. The hang snatch is rare, but it’s the closest weightlifting exercise to a jump besides actually jumping. It also focuses on upper body explosiveness.
Chinese powerlifter hang snatching:
I consider the hang snatch more similar to jumping because it doesn’t start from the floor, so it’s harder. You can’t hang snatch as much as you can snatch from the floor because there’s less leg drive. I imagine powerlifters training for the snatch by do hang snatches because their legs are stronger than their upper bodies.
If going for a maximum height jump, you’d go down as if starting from the floor, but not if you have a basketball in your hand.
Power clean involves all the muscles of the posterior chain, but the bar doesn’t end up above your head. Watch this amazing 440 lb power clean:
Here’s my strength training routine for increasing vertical jump, done twice a week alternating workouts.
Hang Snatch 3 x 5
Squat 3 x 5
1-arm Pushups 3 x 5-10
L-Sits 3 x 10-20 seconds
Power Clean 3 x 5
Deadlift 3 x 5
Handstand Pushups 3 x 5-10
Human Levers 3 x 5
UPDATE: Cutting out deadlifts altogether, replacing with another day of squats. I need all the leg power I can get, and no need for brute back strength. Cutting Hang Snatch and Power Clean reps from 5 to 3. 3×5 is a lot on the nervous system, plus it’s difficult to get 3×5 while increasing weight. So I’m going 3×3.
Plyometrics wasn’t the first time I was introduced to explosiveness training. My first time was when my college buddy Craig, a high school track star who competed at the state level for a 2000+ student high school, taught me how to sprint. One of the many things he emphasized was flexibility, especially for tall sprinters and especially the hamstrings. If you can gain an extra inch on each stride, those inches add up even in the shortest sprints.
Unfortunately flexibility was, is, and always will be my Achilles Heel, but only in the all-important hamstrings. I’m flexible everywhere but there and the adductors. Only a few times in my life have I been able to touch my toes comfortably, and now’s not one of those times. But flexibility’s important in explosiveness, so I’m doing a short routine at the end of every workout.
It’s ironic I’ve ignored flexibility training for so long, since my training philosophy focuses more on functionality than appearance. And for overall health, there are few things you could do as easily, economically, and pain-free as stretching every day for 30 minutes. Countless times I’ve had ambitions to do so, it’s just really easy to procrastinate, skip, and forget.
Powerlifters, strongmen, and even bodybuilders should know that stretching after weight training has been shown to increase gains up to 20%.
Fat doesn’t move itself, so it’s just weighing down the body’s springiness. Getting as lean as possible is part of any vertical jump training program. This is fairly obvious as, while they do exist, most fat people can’t dunk.
This is my most challenging aspect of fitness, because 90% of fat loss is diet. As they say, “abs are built in the kitchen.” 10 years ago if I was anticipating a college spring break at the beach or a Missouri float trip, I was very disciplined. At 32, my dietary discipline’s shit. I just don’t care. If I want two pieces of pizza for an appetizer, then a bandeja paisa, and a giant chocolate bar for dessert, then by God I’m going to have it. And I eat like that A LOT. I love to eat. I love to overeat.
I still stay lean and mean through exercise. I can see my abs year-round. But I still have a layer of fat on me. I’ve only had the “ripped” look once in my life – while boxing amateur and weighing only 175.
This picture perfectly sizes up how I feel when it’s time to burn fat. But I have to do it for this goal.
For fat loss I’ll limit starchy carbohydrates. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean I won’t eat any because (A) I live in South America and (B) my aforementioned dietary discipline is shit. But I’ll try.
My fat loss diets mean eating paleo, which I try to do anyway. But paleo with minimum carbs, minimum cheating, fruit every morning, and salad every day.
My salads are good and cheap, and not what most gringos would think of as salad. Most gringo salads are 80-90% lettuce. I sometimes use lettuce, but never more than 20%. I get fresh broccoli, cauliflour, cucumber, red/green peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, and whatever other raw vegetables I can get a hold of. Dice everything up into tiny cubes. Add olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Serve.
Another fat loss trick I use is intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is when you eat / drink nothing but water for 24 hours. This is easier for me to do than refraining from junk food. I’m more likely not to eat at all than to eat only permitted foods. When you fast, your body ramps up its fat-burning hormones before it begins eating away muscle. That’s why you don’t do it more than 24 hours. It’s also important not to eat a shitty meal at the end of the 24 hours. All the strength and conditioning coaches I read recommend intermittent fasting up to twice a week. Not only does it burn fat, it saves money!
Here’s my weekly routine while fasting twice a week:
Monday – Workout A
Tuesday – Plyometrics
Wednesday – Rest
Thursday – Workout B
Friday – Plyometrics
Saturday – Basketball, dunk attempts if I can’t get a game, sprints if I can’t get a court
Sunday – Rest
I hope to dunk by the end of January with this program. I’m very interested in feedback from experienced jumpers. Also, Jump Manual is the internet authority on vertical jump training. Unfortunately the program costs over $60, and I don’t think it’ll make or break my success. Still, if you have Jump Manual holler. Much appreciated.
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