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Improving Explosiveness on the Court
by Alan Stein, CCS, CSCS StrongerTeam.com
Explosiveness is an important ingredient in the game of basketball. Whether it's Kevin Garnett going in for a two handed slam, Ben Wallace leaping for a long rebound, or Allen Iverson blasting up the court on a fast break - basketball players and coaches are constantly in search of ways to jump higher and run faster. After all, with all else being equal, the player or team who can run faster and jump higher has a tremendous advantage. Unfortunately there is no one magical way of increasing a player's explosiveness. However, drastic improvements can be made by implementing a structured, progressive, and safe strength training and plyometric program complimented by sensible flexibility training and court conditioning drills.
By improving in each of the following five areas; a basketball player will be able to run faster, jump higher, and become more explosive on the court!
If a player increases the strength in their legs, hips and core, they will automatically improve their ability to produce force which results in an increase in explosiveness. For example, the more force a player can exert against the ground - the higher the potential to jump. It is extremely important for the strength training program to be safe, time efficient, and productive. Regarding safety, one should use perfect exercise technique and form prior to utilizing additional resistance. Every exercise should be performed in a slow, controlled, and deliberate fashion to keep tension on the targeted muscles. To reduce orthopedic stress, players should work within an appropriate repetition range (8-15 reps per set) and avoid maxing out (seeing how much they can lift for one repetition). They should aim to make every strength training workout as time efficient as possible by using a limited number of sets and exercises making the workout brief yet very intense. This can also be accomplished by minimizing rest intervals in between sets to induce an overall conditioning effect. The program should focus on training the entire body equally to ensure muscle balance and have each exercise taken to the point of momentary muscular fatigue (the point at which no further reps can be achieved). Working opposing muscle groups equally will help reduce the risk of on court injuries and training at a high level of intensity will produce maximum results. All of this can be accomplished in two or three well planned full body workouts per week; each lasting about an hour.
As obvious as it sounds, if a player wants to be able to jump higher - they need to practice jumping as high they can! Plyometric exercises (jumping, skipping, bounding, etc.), if incorporated appropriately, provide an outlet for a player to practice jumping with a maximal effort in a controlled and safe environment. A proper plyometric program can help train the body and mind (nervous system) to be more explosive and should augment the strength training program to help the body learn how to use the strength it has been gaining in the weight room. Since the sport of basketball is already very plyometric in nature, these exercises and drills should be chosen carefully in a limited volume and attempts should be made to reduce as much impact and orthopedic stress as possible (soft training surface, proper footwear, etc.). More is not better when it comes to plyometric training! Squat jumps, broad jumps, lateral bounds, and box jumps (on to the box, not off of it) are some common plyometric exercises used to increase a basketball player's explosiveness. It is important to note these exercises should be performed when the legs are fresh - so they should be done before a strength training workout (if both workouts are being performed back to back).
Flexibility can be defined as the range of motion in a joint or group of joints. Improving the flexibility in the hamstrings, ankles, low back, and hips can increase a player's potential to be explosive. This is best accomplished by performing all strength training movements through a full range of motion as well as performing a dynamic warm-up before every workout or practice. The days of sitting on the ground and static stretching are over! In addition to improving flexibility, the dynamic warm-up assists in developing coordination, motor ability, as well as it "wakes up" the nervous system - attributes that also help improve a player's explosiveness. Some common dynamic warm-up exercises include high knees and straight leg marches.
Proper skill training is the most overlooked aspect of trying to improve athletic power. Decreasing the time it takes to perform a specific basketball skill is in essence increasing the speed at which the skill is performed. Increasing the speed at which as a skill is executed will result in an improvement for on the court explosiveness. The most effective and practical way to improve skill proficiency is to perform these skills through countless hours of task specific skill practice. Players need to practice the specific skill EXACTLY like it will be used in competition (game speed). For example, the more efficient a guard becomes at shooting a jump shot; the more explosive the shot will be and from longer ranges. Increased proficiency means it will take him less time and effort to perform the specific skill. Competent coaching, studying videotape, and hours of perfect practice are the best ways to increase skill proficiency.
A player's overall conditioning level is vital in their ability to become explosive. After all, what good is their improved strength and skill proficiency if they cannot be maintained for an entire game? Preventing or delaying the onset fatigue is crucial to performance. A well prepared and well conditioned basketball player should be just as strong and skillful in the fourth quarter as they are in the first quarter. It is important to note that being fit and being in basketball shape is not the same thing. Basketball is a game of repeated high intensity efforts with minimal rest and recovery in between sustained for several minutes on end. A well designed, progressive pre-season court conditioning program should reflect this and will make sure players are in great basketball shape. Another benefit of being in great shape is keeping body fat at an appropriate level. Excess body fat, in regards to the athlete is, is simply dead weight. Too much dead weight will inhibit flexibility, maximum skill proficiency, and overall conditioning. There is a reason why a jockey doesn't weigh very much; to limit the dead weight the horse has to carry! Keeping a player's body fat percentage at an appropriate level is essential in maximizing their ability to be explosive. This is accomplished by eating a calorically appropriate diet and adhering to a year round conditioning program. It is important to note, additional muscle mass is not a hindrance to improving power; it is an asset. Muscles are the body's engine; the bigger the engine the more powerful it is!
In summary, if a player wants to become more explosive on the court and give himself a decided advantage over his opponent; he needs to get stronger through sensible strength training and structured plyometric drills, master the skills of shooting, ball handling, passing, defending and boxing out, and work hard to be in tip top basketball shape. All of this can be accomplished through a well designed and implemented year round strength and conditioning program!
Alan Stein is the former co-owner of Elite Athlete Training Systems, Inc. and is now the president of Stronger Team. He is also the Head Strength & Conditioning coach for the nationally renowned Montrose Christian Mustangs boy’s basketball program. Alan brings a wealth of valuable experience to his training arsenal after years of extensive work with elite high school, college, and NBA players.
His passion, enthusiasm, and innovative training techniques make him one of the nation’s leading experts on productive training for basketball players. Alan is a performance consultant for Nike basketball as well as the head conditioning coach for the annual McDonald’s All American game, the Jordan All American Classic, the NBA Player’s Association’s Top 100 Camp, and Five Star basketball camps. He is a sought after lecturer at basketball camps across the country and is regularly featured in publications such as Winning Hoops, Time Out, Dime, American Basketball Quarterly, Stack, and Men’s Health.
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