As far as years go, 1984 was a good one for jumping. That was the year Michael Jordan's iconic Jumpman logo was captured in a photo shoot for Life magazine. The legendary arms and legs extended pose was influenced by a ballet technique known as a grand jette. That image is now worth billions and has gone on to adorn shoes, uniforms and socks worldwide. A couple months after that picture was captured, Tyler Ray, the man I believe to be the world's best jump coach, was born.
Dubbed "Jukebox" on the professional dunk circuit for his "dunk by request" style, Ray made a name for himself with his otherworldly vertical. Forget Kanye's Yeezy boasts, Tyler's 48-inch bunnies actually jumped over the Jumpman (Jordan reportedly posted a 45.5-inch vert while at North Carolina).
Every gravity-defying pulse, push and sinew of Ray's being echoes with the rhythm of the bounce. This pursuit of rarefied air has taken him across the globe on the dunk circuit and continues on as he mentors and coaches athletes all over the world with their vertical goals. With a near 50-inch jump to his name the assumption would be Ray just naturally has the "twitch gift." This is only partly true. He's talented no doubt. But he is as much a student of jumping as he is a practitioner. In fact, when he first really began focusing on increasing his jumping ability, his vertical stood at 37 inches. Eighteen months of studying, experimenting and practicing later, and the number had bumped up to a jaw-dropping 48 inches.
The funny thing about being at the top is many of those who achieve world-class status can't explain how they do it. Gretzky's on-ice grace couldn't transfer to the world of coaching, Isaiah Thomas' hardwood wizardry didn't continue once he donned a suit, and even Jordan himself struggled with explaining how to build a championship team in his current role with the Hornets. They just do; they struggle with the how. Tyler's how is what separates him from his contemporaries. He knows exactly what makes a good jumper and can explain in meticulous detail the blueprint to jumping success.
There are countless jumping programs out there. Some are good, some not, with most middling in between. One of the bigger hang-ups with most jump-based programs is the lack of technical instruction about jumping itself. This is where Ray differs. It all starts with the breakdown of the approach. There are some major differences in how elite jumpers attack their attempts versus folks who are more ground bound.
Ray looks at the last three steps before the jump as the gateway to soaring higher. These steps are referred to as the penultimate, the plant and the block, respectively.
The penultimate step should be a dynamic horizontal push. Here, the athlete should cover as much ground as possible while keeping a tall posture. Think of this step as the speed generator that will manufacture the kinetic energy needed to fly skyward. Stay tall and push through the penultimate, as demonstrated here:
The plant step should follow next. In this step, the athlete is absorbing and transferring the acceleration from the penultimate and bringing it into the block. The stronger the athlete is with handling the force into the plant step posture, the greater potential there is to have a successful block step. You don't want your center of gravity to race in front of your foot. Stay back behind the plant, as demonstrated here:
The final step in this critical three-step sequence is the block or punch step. The block is the break. Here we take the potential vertical from the plant and drive it into the ground. Push down to go up. In this portion, Ray wants to see a more vertical torso with the shoulder stacked over the foot. Too much forward lean and the jump will drift out instead of up. Think of "punching" the ground with that lead foot, as demonstrated here:
Then after that third step hits the ground, you want to have your body "stacked" through the shoulder, hip and ankle, as demonstrated here:
The final piece of the puzzle is remembering to accelerate through the jump, not to the jump. You're simply taking the horizontal acceleration and momentum and re-directing it more vertically:
Here are what several common jumping mistakes look like in action, followed by what a high-level dunker with sound jumping mechanics looks like:
Once the athlete can wrap their mind around the importance of the last three steps prior to the jump, they can use some specific exercises to aid in making those steps more robust. The PUSH-PUNCH Drill is Ray's bread-and-butter jump enhancer.
"I use the PUSH-PUNCH drill that creates the behavior through the final three contacts. The athlete must identify and understand their plant sequence (final two contacts). For some, this is right-left, and others, this is left-right. The first of the two (is) the plant. After they have this identified, they will weight bear the leg that is driving their plant leg forward through the penultimate stride. We are effectively creating the take-off sequence from a stationary position, requiring the athlete to PUSH extremely aggressively. As the athlete contacts the plant, they follow by PUNCHING the block foot."
When cued and practiced correctly, Ray has seen athletes add 4 inches to their vertical within 20 minutes. The rhythm and sequencing of these steps is what separates the good from the great jumpers. And great jumpers aren't just born. Remember, hacking the technical aspect of the bounce helped add 11 inches to Tyler's already impressive hops. He's helped thousands through his cues, and is convinced these steps can help you, too.
"The technique is the key, sometimes you need to slow down at first to speed up. Once you get it, you have no choice but to go UP," Ray says.
You can check out more free jumping content from Coach Ray on Instagram.
Photo Credit: FS-Stock/iStock
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