Optimizing basketball performance is a lot like building a skyscraper. Before you start building up, you must lay a good foundation. Then you have to make sure that the building is supported all the way to the top. If you skip any of these steps, the building will crumble before you make it to the top. Here we will discuss laying your foundation as a basketball player, building support on the way up, and how to maintain before we improve performance.
First and foremost, you must consistently work on your flexibility through foam rolling, dynamic and static stretching. Work these into your routine before and after every practice or game for the best results. Some commonly tight areas to pay attention to are your hip flexors, hamstrings and calves. Next you want to work on your mechanics. Many players often squat and land from jumps by driving their knees forward. To increase power and control in these movements, practice lowering onto a chair slowly (four to five seconds). This movement strategy is not only safer, but gives you access to your glutes – which are bigger and stronger muscles – that can help propel you up to the basket as well as improve your ability to control the landing. Finally, you will want to build up your core and hip stability to help when defending and boxing out your opponent. Try holding a plank and make sure you are feeling it in your abs, not your lower back. For your hips, try side stepping with a band around your ankles. Do this in front of a mirror to make sure you have good alignment of the joints in your lower body and your torso isn’t leaning over to one side.
Now that you have built your foundation we can talk about every player’s favorite question: how do I jump higher? Some of it is genetics, but there is training that you can do to reach your fullest potential. First, practice a drop squat. Remember to send your hips back as you quickly drop into a squat and catch yourself at the bottom. Stand up and try again. Once you have mastered this with good form, practice the transition. Perform the same movement, but this time, quickly stand up, coming up onto your toes. The goal here is to shorten the turnaround time at the bottom of the squat. Performing exercises like these will allow you to improve the loading phase and quickness of your jump without ever leaving the ground, limiting any additional forces coming up from the ground when your feet normally hit the floor. Developing a program that focuses on these areas should help keep you on the court and improve your chances of outperforming the competition.
Aaron Karp, MS, ATC, CSCS is a sports performance specialist at the Tisch Sports Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. He received his bachelor’s in kinesiology from UMass Amherst and master’s in athletic training from Texas A&M University, and is both a certified athletic trainer and certified strength and conditioning specialist.