4 Dumbbell Exercises to Improve Your Vertical Jump

When training to improve your vertical leap, knowing how to best use the tools you have available is a vital part of the process. You should not only learn the movements and how to do them from a form standpoint, but you should also know what each movement is trying to get you to accomplish—is it to get your hamstrings and glutes stronger? Are you feeling it there or are you feeling your back do the work?

With any movement, spending the time learning what the desired change you are trying to get out of it will go a long way. That knowledge will help you dial in your positions, adjust the tempo, and get the most out of each rep.

Today we will go over one of the most common tools, a set of dumbbells, and 4 ways you can use them effectively to jump higher.

Single Leg RDL

Single Leg RDL - Project Pure Athlete

As you likely guessed, we start with a single leg as the base of the movement. You can hold a dumbbell in both hands, or a single hand. If using only one hand, I’d recommend the opposite side from the leg that’s doing the work. We will start in a standing posture, shoulders up. From here shift the weight to the working leg and lift the other leg out behind you a little so that it’s not bearing any weight. Slightly bend the knee on the working leg, and pull your shoulders back. The movement will come from the hips, we are aiming to keep the knee where it is and create the movement by reaching our hips out behind us. Visualize the motion you make when having a handful of groceries and needing to close the car door.

While pushing the hips back, I want the torso and non working leg to maintain alignment. It’s helpful to think of it as if you are trying to keep the torso and non working leg in position like they would be during a strict push up or plank. The shoulders stay back and don’t round forward to the ground as you lower. The back leg stays extended straight, you will have the squeeze the glute on that side to make this happen, the trunk (back) stays straight and doesn’t round. To keep that position, you will end up with your eyes and chest pointed (looking) down towards the ground instead of out in front of you, as you reach the bottom of the movement.

From the bottom position, we are reversing the motion back up to standing. To do so we want to drive the hips back forward and finish tall with the glutes squeezed.This movement has a handful of benefits, the one you are likely to feel first is the demand it puts on stability. Don’t worry if you lose balance, simply go lighter than you might think and build up the balance and control of the movement.

Single Arm & Single Leg Row

Single Leg & Single Arm Row - Project Pure Athlete

We call this one a bird dog row. The position we use here is very similar to the bottom position of the single leg RDL we just covered. The support leg is slightly bent at the knee, the hips are pushed back, the other leg is extended out behind us with the glute squeezed, our torso/back is straight from the hips to the top of the head, the shoulders are pulled back and holding tension, core is fighting to maintain control and minimize any movement.

The side you are holding the weight in will be the same side the support leg is on. The other side arm will be creating a support by pressing into a bench (or box, or any other useful tool to create stability). The body will be active all over to maintain stability as you row the weight up towards your ribcage. Top position is fist outside of the ribs, bottom position is arm extended (with shoulder still pulled back). We love this movement because it’s challenging and puts a high demand on full body stability.

Squat to Press Movement

Squat to Press Movement - Project Pure Athlete

For this one, we will start by elevating the heels. This can be so by standing with your heels on anything that is stable and will get them elevated at least 3/4”. We utilize a slant board, but I have also used 5 or 10 lbs weights just as well. With the heels elevated, we start standing up tall (feet shoulder width apart and toes forward) holding a dumbbell in each hand propped up on our shoulders. We want the dumbbells to be rested on our shoulders, so that the shoulders don’t gas out too quickly, but they need to be able to be pressed up overhead. Be aware of how your elbows and wrists are positioned, and make sure you will be able to easily make the transition from press to rest and back again.

Alright, now that the weight is at our shoulders, we are going to descend into the bottom of the squat. For the squat we want both the hips and knees to bend simultaneously. Rather than pushing the hips back like we did in the previous movements, we are aiming to get the knees out over and in front of the toes, allowing the hips to sit down closer to the heels. Only go as far as your current range of motion will allow, but aim to build this up over time to reach full range of motion. At the bottom of the squat we want to transition our thinking, now I want you to think about pushing the ground away from you instead of just standing up.

When you push the ground away let your shoulder lead the way up towards the ceiling. We are going to push the weights up overhead as we reach up towards the top of the squat. This power and energy is coming from the legs and the squat, rather than from just your shoulders. Imagine playing a video game and having to time the release like you do in a free throw meter or a field goal. Picture the power starting from your feet and filling you up with energy as you rise up, once it’s at the sweet spot and the energy hits your shoulders, press the weights overhead. If you feel all arms there, the timing is off. We will bring the weights back down to the shoulders before starting the next rep. This is a great full body workout, but also gets you used to recognizing the power in timing and positions. When doing this well, the weights fly up overhead easily. The body working together as a whole is a powerful tool.

Dumbbell Swing

Dumbbell Swing - Project Pure Athlete

Lastly, this one is another “hinge” movement. The idea and positions will be very similar to the single leg RDL from up above. Difference is we will be standing on both legs and we will be increasing the velocity. We will start standing tall with the feel close together under the hips, toes forward. The shoulders will be engaged and holding tension, don’t let the weight in each hand pull the shoulders too far down. We initiate the movement with a half rep to build momentum. Push the hips back slightly, then forward aggressively (back to standing tall) use that forwards hip momentum to swing the weights forwards so they get out in from of your body slightly.

So now that we have a little kinetic energy built up, let’s get to the movement. We will be hinging back fully now, knees stay where they are with a soft bend, while the hips reach back out behind us. While the hips reach back the torso (chest) is making its way from pointing forwards when we were tall to pointing down at the ground when the hips are fully reached back. When we are standing the arms reach out in front of us, parallel to the ground. As the hips go back the arms stay extended pointing in the same direction as the chest while we are rotating to the bottom hips back position, as we get towards the bottom, the arms accelerate faster and end up pointing behind you in the direction of the hips. This marks the bottom position. Key to a good swing is to keep the hands/weights up high closer to the hip and don’t let them get low down by the knees during the swing.

From that bottom position we are aggressively and with intent to be fast, reversing direction starting with the hips. The hips create the energy to move the arms. The weight should feel easy to move, it’s not an arm movement. As with the last exercise, learn to feel your body transition the energy from lower to upper body. The hips move aggressively back to standing, glutes squeezed. The arms stay extended and move with the torso out in front of the chest, back to a tall standing position. When going into another rep this happens immediately, pull your arms down quickly and push your hips back down towards the bottom position. I love to use this movement with athletes, because it emphasizes aggressive hips. Powerful hips make for powerful athletes.

That’s it for today. Try these out and get comfortable with them. You will undoubtedly get more athletic and coordinated when you do. As always, we at Project Pure Athlete are happy to help you in your athletic journey. When you are ready for more we have outstanding 360 degree training programs ready to get you surpassing your goals.

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