WHAT ARE PLYOMETRICS?
Plyometrics are exercises that usually involve some form of explosive movement such as a jumping, hopping, or bounding movement for the lower body, as well as some type of swinging, pushing, and throwing for the upper body. Plyometrics are designed to increase power, coordination, balance, and quickness.
HOW DO THEY WORK?
Plyometric exercises use the force of gravity or of a weighted medicine ball to store potential in the muscles, and then immediately release this energy in the opposite direction. The energy stored, in addition to physiological responses and mechanisms in the body (myotatic reflex) during the eccentric (negative, muscle lengthening) phase of a muscle contraction, is used to produce a more powerful concentric (positive, muscle shortening) phase of muscle contraction.
ARE THEY SAFE?
If plyometric exercises are appropriately picked and supervised, than they can be a safe and productive supplemental training tool. However, the game of basketball itself is already very plyometric in nature, so adding a large volume of additional plyometric exercises can be counterproductive and produce overuse injuries including orthopedic trauma to the joints, tendons, ligaments, and bones that occur from too much impact. Unlike many other sports, today’s basketball players play year round with no real offseason. It has been estimated that the average player will perform between 450 and 500 full speed jumps per week. As such, what will an additional 50 jumps from a plyometric program do? While plyometric exercises -commonly referred to as ‘Plyo’s’- can be implemented carefully into a program as a way to help players with their body-awareness and confidence in performing certain movements, it is imperative to pick only the safest exercises and use as soft of a surface as possible to reduce the orthopedic stress placed on the body during such exercises. It is not necessarily the jumping that could potentially cause a problem, but rather the landing. Be very cautious when having players jump offof boxes and/or performing weighted jumps.
HOW DO YOU IMPROVE EXPLOSIVENESS?
Explosiveness is an important ingredient in the game of basketball. Players and coaches are constantly in search of ways to jump higher and run faster. After all, with all else equal, the player or team who can run faster and jump higher has a tremendous advantage over their opponent. Vast improvements can be made to a player’s explosiveness by implementing a structured, progressive, and safe strength training and plyometric program, complimented by dynamic 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 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 increased explosiveness. For example, the more force a player can exert against the ground – the higher the potential to jump. As mentioned in the strength training portion of this manual, it is extremely important for a strength training program to be safe, time efficient, and productive. To reduce orthopedic stress strength training, 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). Players should aim to make every strength training workout as time efficient as possible; this is done by using a limited number of sets and exercises, thus making the workout brief, but yet very intense. This can also be accomplished by minimizing rest intervals in between sets to induce an overall conditioning effect. A strength program should focus on training the entire body equally to ensure muscle balance, as well as having 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, while 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, he or she needs to practice jumping as high they can. Plyometric exercises such as jumping, skipping, bounding, etc. - if incorporated appropriately - provide a means for players to practice jumping with maximal effort in a controlled and safe environment. Additionally, a proper plyometric program can help train the nervous system to perform athletic movements more efficiently. Since the sport of basketball is already very plyometric in nature, these exercises and drills should be chosen carefully and be done in limited volume. Again, attempts should be made to reduce as much impact and orthopedic stress as possible. That is, try and use soft training surfaces, make sure your players are wearing proper footwear, and know that when it comes to plyometric training, more is not necessarily better.
Squat jumps, broad jumps, lateral bounds, and box jumps are some common plyometric exercises used to increase a basketball player’s explosiveness. When performing box jumps, it is highly recommended that players jump onto the boxes only; they should walk down off of the boxes to eliminate as much impact as possible (see pictures on following page). It is important to note that these exercises should be performed when players’ legs are fresh; they should be done before a strength training workout if both workouts are being performed one after the other.
Flexibility is widely defined as the range of motion in a joint or group of joints. Improving flexibility in the hamstrings, ankles, lower back, and hips, can increase a player’s potential to be explosive. Flexibility is best accomplished by performing all strength training movements through a full range of motion, as well as performing dynamic flexibility exercises every workout or practice. The days of sitting on the ground and static stretching are over! In addition to improving flexibility, dynamic flexibility exercises assist in developing coordination and motor ability – both of which are attributes that help improve a player’s explosiveness.
Proper skill training is the most overlooked aspect when 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. Thus, increasing the speed at which a skill is executed will result in improved explosiveness on the court. 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 – or at actual game speed. For example, the more efficient a guard becomes at shooting a jump shot, the more range he or she will have. Increased proficiency means it will take less time and effort to perform the specific skill as well as perform it more consistently. 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 his or her ability to become more explosive. After all, what good is improved strength and skill if it cannot be maintained for an entire game? Preventing or delaying the onset of fatigue is crucial to performance. A well-prepared and well-conditioned basketball player should be just as strong and skillful in the second half of the game as they were in the first half. Again, it is important to note that being fit and being in basketball shape are two different things. Basketball is a game of repeated high intensity efforts that are sustained for several minutes on end, with minimal rest and recovery in between. A well-designed and progressive pre-season court conditioning program should reflect this, and will make sure players are in great basketball shape. Another necessity of being in great shape is keeping body fat at an appropriate level. Excess body fat is simply dead weight. Too much dead weight will inhibit flexibility, reduce skill proficiency, and diminish overall conditioning ability. Keeping players’ body fat percentage at an appropriate level is essential for maximizing their ability to be explosive on the court. In order to maintain body fat levels, players should eat a calorically appropriate diet and adhering to a year-round conditioning program. Please note that additional muscle mass is not a hindrance to improving power, but rather an asset.
In summary, if a player wants to become more explosive on the court, and therefore give themselves an advantage over their opponent, they need to become stronger through productive strength training and structured plyometric drills, while at the same time mastering the skills of shooting, ball handling, passing, defending and boxing out. This contributes to the goal of being in superior basketball shape. Again, all of this can be accomplished through a well-designed strength and conditioning program that can be implemented year-round.