Strength & Plyometrics

Weight Training & Injury Prevention

One fact as sure as the swish after a perfect shot is that accompanying every great basketball season, will inevitably come a few injuries along the way. Most every athlete has felt it, you make a hard lateral cut, or any number of different moves, and there it is. Sometimes accompanied with a “pop”, the athlete goes down with a sprained ankle.

Healing can come in 2 to 6 weeks, depending on the severity and quality of treatment, but the fact of the matter is that ankle sprains are painful, can be nagging, and are the most common injury among youth basketball players nationwide.

Sure, injuries and sprains are part of the game. If you land on the side of someone’s foot after coming down for a rebound, there is not much you can do about that. But nearly 80% of basketball injuries are non-contact injuries. So the question is raised, how do you prevent them? As the old saying goes, “control what you have control over.”

Just as in restoring a classic, mean muscle car, an upgraded suspension, improved transmission, sticky tires and wider wheels will do little to quiet the revs of the competition. You can shoot until your arms fall off, dribble until fingertips bleed, and buy the latest pair of LeBron’s, but your ability means nothing without availability. Bottom line, you need the horsepower, the low end power, the top end speed, and the frame-twisting torque. What you need is muscle.

One might think that lifting weights only increases muscle mass, but strength coaches say it goes beyond just that.

“It’s not just about making their muscles more robust, but their actual structure – muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, all of it,” L.A. Laker’s strength and conditioning coach Tim DiFrancesco says.

“What no one is talking about is why these guys need to be stronger and muscle acts as the biggest shock absorber that we have,” says Shaun Brown, a former strength coach with the Raptors and Celtics who has also worked at nine colleges. “The less muscle you have, the more trauma that goes to your joints.”

As the game of basketball is changing and evolving on the hardwood, there’s also an evolution happening in the weight room and the way players train off the court.

Close to two decades ago, they say, the focus was more on traditional weight training – dumbbells and free weights and such. Today, with more of an emphasis being placed on movement, core, stability and mobility, there’s been a rise in the use of resistance bands and PhysioBalls.

But many human performance experts question if the shift toward “functional training” has been a bit too drastic, and wonder if it has also contributed to injuries.

“Sometimes, industries can overreact and sometimes get past the tried and true methods that work,” DiFrancesco said, “and I think we’re seeing a whiplash effect from that.”

Along with the shift in resistance training from fact-based to fad-fueled, has emerged an athlete more drawn to body weight only exercises and more en-vogue methods. Tim DiFrancesco said, “It’s easier to get a guy to say, ‘Try this band exercise’ than say, ‘We’re going to squat heavy today,’ but a really, really responsible and on-the-ball coach is going to say, ‘No, I know you like those candy exercises and they’re fun, but we need to load these structures up because that is the only way they’re going to adapt and get stronger.’”

He also said research shows that traditional weight lifting benefits strength, tendon size and stiffness, and bone density. Dr. Rob Newton, Foundation Professor of Exercise and Sports Science at Edith Cowan University in Perth, Western Australia, said traditional weight training also improves hormonal conditions needed for high performance. “To draw one example, testosterone is a highly anabolic hormone which facilitates muscle and connective tissue growth,” he wrote.

“Testosterone is also highly promoting of tissue repair and maintenance including muscle, tendon, ligament and even bone.”

He continues, “extensive research demonstrates that the greatest surges in testosterone are produced as a result of heavy resistance training incorporating large muscle groups, such as squats and deadlifts. Athletes who do not undertake this type of exercise every week are compromising their body’s ability to improve, resist injury and recover.”

So, are all injuries preventable? No. But can every athlete get under a barbell in a squat rack and show that their sport means more to him or her than the comfort of skipping leg day does? Absolutely. Now, back to building our muscle car. Once you have the competition crushing, tire smoking power plant in place you must be able to effectively transfer the horsepower to the rear wheels. Many athletes make the mistake of amassing significant strength in the offseason but fail to incorporate a specific strength to functional power conversion strategy.

A large part of explosive power is nervous system programming, without it, it can take far longer for the brain to convert newfound strength gains from the weight room to quicker feet, increased vertical jump, lateral quickness, and overall speed. One of the best scientifically proven ways to do this is through plyometric training. Plyometrics, also known as “jump training” or “plyos”, are exercises in which muscles exert maximum force in short intervals of time, with the goal of increasing functional power, speed, and strength. Plyometrics not only elicit more explosive multi-directional movements, but also foster the improvement of the dynamic stability of the center of mass.

The best athletes seem to always be in a position to make a play and usually execute key skills faster than their opponent. Most gifted athletes are not just “born” with such ability; they have developed a repertoire of efficient movement skills that have become second nature. Plyometrics are designed to develop power; specifically the speed component of power in the lower extremities. Muscle contraction force is generated and improved when the recruitment of a sufficient number of muscle fibers meet the load demand placed on them. No other training method does this more effectively than plyometrics.

While injury prevention may begin with weight training and plyometrics, it doesn’t end there. There are endless resources and proven methods to aid an athlete in reaching their full potential and preventing injury. For most, it’s simply a matter of committing wholeheartedly to the right program and relentlessly preparing for the road ahead. • HSSI