Basketball: 8 Ways To Improve Your Performance

by: Sean Masters CPT, CES, PES; Director of Rehab and Co-Founder

 Michael Jordan vs Isaiah Thomas

Michael Jordan vs Isaiah Thomas

Basketball has always been a great passion of mine. I remember spending countless hours as a child in my driveway pretending I was Michael Jordan playing against the unyielding Isaiah Thomas and the Pistons in the NBA Championship-- being passed with the ball and 3 seconds left, creating a killer crossover and pull-up jumper to win the Title. This scenario probably resonates with all of us when we were kids-- pretending there was only three seconds on the clock, game tied, crowd cheering and you calling for the rock to win the game at the buzzer.

 Space Jam "Monstars"

Space Jam "Monstars"

Whether it is visualizing playing against the NBA’s best or against the Mon-Star’s in Space Jam (great movie BTW), the last thing we were thinking about when we were kids was hurting ourselves playing the sport we love. The reality of potentially spraining your ankle by cutting, jumping or twisting was not going to enter our minds and prevent us from trying the around-the-back layup, push-off fade away, or the famous MJ free-throw line dunk.

However, as our skeletons grow bigger and our muscles and connective structures struggle to keep up—injuries like the prevalent lateral ankle sprain and the less common but potentially more severe knee, hip of even the shoulder injuries become a very real risk of playing.

We all know that we can never make ourselves impervious to injury, but we CAN be proactive and prime our bodies to create a higher degree of resilience and thus, ensuring that we continue to move at our best. Therefore, I have broken down 8 great exercises to seal the foundation of mechanics and help keep you on the court. So lets get to it!

Passive and Active Big Toe Mobility

After a grueling workout in the weight room or on the court doing endless drills - our coach usually had us cool down by doing simple but important stretches. Typically, a calf stretch falls somewhere in the routine to help keep your ankles loose. Calf stretching is important (especially post-workout) but in a sport all about cutting and jumping like basketball, working to preserve or gain mobility in the big toe may seem insignificant, but in reality, is absolutely crucial to your vertical jump and protecting the integrity of the foot/ankle complex.

Let's break down the role of the big toe or the first metatarsophalangeal joint (1st MTP) in jumping.

The foot, ankle and lower leg fall into what is referred to as a second-class lever. This is where the resistance (downward force on the ankle) is located between the axis (toes, mainly the big toe) and the force (the achilles into the calf). Therefore, if the axis of movement is limited, power production will be reduced and you will have a harder time flying above the rim.

So, I recommend trying this drill to maintain, or even get some of your toe mobility back.


Standing Ankle Mobility Drill

When shuffling side to side to defend your opponent, or planting and turning to find that open man—ankle stability is crucial. Likewise, ankle mobility is pivotal when sprinting down the court in a fast break opportunity or jumping higher than everyone else in the paint to grab the rebound. If your ankle is stiff, the machine that is your body will invariably find the mobility somewhere up or down to the kinetic chain - creating compensation, and compensation over a period of time is a recipe for disaster; leading to potential pain in areas like the knees or feet. However, the best defense against these ailments is a resilient offense...and a simple but effective ankle mobility drill may be your secret weapon!


Short Foot and Smooth Criminal

A joint is only as good as the joint below it. Ankle mobility and foot stability go together like "peas and carrots" (thanks Forrest Gump). If you find that you need to improve your ankle mobility, than I recommend pairing your ankle primer with this awesome exercise progression. The opposite is true—if you find your foot is unstable, than in addition on practicing and mastering the Short Foot, and subsequent Smooth Criminal, I recommend working your ankle mobility in a pain free manner.


R.N.T. Single Leg Balance

When jumping, one of the biggest breakdowns that we see with basketball players is that the knees fall inward when landing. Typically, this is a sign of muscular deficiency and joint instability within the hip, knee and foot/ankle complex. If you’re noticing this when doing a Single Leg Squat or Box Jump Downs, then it might be time to feed the weakness and reset the system by connecting the lower back, hip, knee, ankle and foot together. Welcome to the wonderful work of R.N.T. Single Leg Balance!


90/90 Split Squats

I am a big proponent of the notion that performance starts from the ground up. If we can’t stand up efficiently, then what business do we have beginning our exercise in a standing position? The 90/90 Split Squat is a great exercise that connects the core to the hip, creating what is called a stable Lumbopelvic Hip Complex or LPHC. Try this exercise once in front of the mirror and you will see and feel exactly what I am talking about.


Side Planks

We all know that basketball players, like all athletes, need a super-strong core. In this functional exercise era, the general consensus is that the core gets blasted doing Deadlifts and Squats. While this is true to some degree, the core, however, should still be trained in isolation to increase performance, reduce the risk of injury, and keep the body primed to move at it's best. The lateral core is absolutely no exception. Side Planks are a great exercise to build up your endurance in the External Oblique and Quadratus Lumborum (QL).


Lateral and Monster Walks

In a sport rich with lateral movement—lateral stability exercises are a must! Done correctly, it's hard to beat the Lateral and Monster Walks. Working against an external force, they really force the muscles of the lateral subsystem to begin working together in the frontal and sagittal plane. Oh, and this exercise also burns like non-other!



Banded Lateral Bounds

In Basketball, having stability, endurance, strength, and even power in the side to side plane of movement is crucial when you start competing at higher level. It can mean the difference between stopping the offense...or becoming a victim of it. The Banded Lateral Bound exercise is a great way to integrate external resistance to make the body adapt and improve in an environment rich in fatigue and instability.


See you next week!

- Sean

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