Flexibility training is perhaps one of the most undervalued components of conditioning and athletic
performance. However research shows us that it can have significant benefit for all athletes in
performance enhancement and injury prevention.
From a slam-dunk to a three quarter court pass – flexibility of the bodies muscles and joints play an
integral part of all basketball movements. In general terms, flexibility has been defined as the range of
motion about a joint and its surrounding tissue during a passive movement. Passive in this context
simply means no active muscle recruitment is required to hold the stretch. Instead gravity or a partner
provides the force of the stretch.
For our purposes Flexibility Training will encompass both static and dynamic stretching as well as the
larger speed/strength continuum that most of our players require.
Benefits of Flexibility Training
By increasing any joint range of motion, performance can be enhanced and the risk of injury reduced.
Generally, in terms of torque the soft tissue can “give” more with a larger moment arm to increase the
available force available in any given athletic situation. Thus, a limb can move farther before injury
happens. Tight neck muscles for example, may restrict how far you can turn your head. If during a
tackle, your head is forced beyond this range of motion it places strain on the neck muscles/tendon and
soft tissue that stabilizes the bone. Ironically, static stretching just prior to an event may actually be
detrimental to athletic performance and offer no protection from injury. The emphasis is on “may”
however, as a close examination of the scientific literature shows that effects are often minimal and by no
Muscle tightness, which has been associated with an increased risk of tears, can be reduced before
training or competing with dynamic stretching. For this reason, many coaches now favor dynamic
stretching over static stretching during warm-up.
Competitive basketball can have quite an unbalancing effect on the body. During shooting activities
where a player may take up to 10,000 shots in a given year the dominant hand is used much more than
the non-dominant. Thus one side of the body is placed under different types and levels of stress when
compared to the other. A flexibility training program can help to correct these disparities preventing
chronic over-use injuries.
Of course a more flexible athlete is a more mobile athlete. It allows movement around the court with
greater ease and dexterity. Some other benefits may include an increase in body awareness and a
promotion of relaxation in the muscle groups that are being stretched – both of which have positive
implications for skill acquisition and performance.
Basketball Specific Movement Needs
Basketball involves the use of muscles throughout the body. Running, pivoting and jumping employ a full
range of muscles in the feet, legs and trunk, and upper extremities with particular concentration in the
quadriceps and hamstring muscles. The vertical jump in basketball is critical and involves a range of
Abdominals: These muscles are flexible, supporting the back through a range of motion. In particular, the abdominal muscles on the sides, which assist in turning and twisting, known as the obliques, work the hardest, especially in the execution of the jump shot.
Calf muscles: Located at the back of the lower leg, these muscles are used intensively to achieve vertical height when jumping.
Hamstrings: These powerful muscles run along the back of the thigh, from the lower pelvis to theback of the shin bone. Hamstrings function to extend the hip joint and flex the knee joint.
Quadriceps: Located in the knee, the large thigh muscles known as quadriceps muscles are connected to the patella (kneecap) by the quadriceps tendon, while a separate tendon - the infrapatellar tendon - connects the patella to the top of the tibia (shin bone). The Quadriceps’ are a focus of training for basketball players, especially for in order to improve jumping capacity.
Gluteus Muscles: Known as the glutes, these muscles are responsible for a large portion of the upward thrust necessary in the vertical jump. The gluteus maximus originates along the crests of the pelvic bone crests and attaches to the rear of the femur. Its primary function is hip extension (as the thigh moves to the rear).
As a strong vertical jump gives the athlete considerable advantage in scoring/defense, all five of these
muscle groups should be equally targeted in basketball training.
During the free throw in basketball, numerous upper body muscles are employed, including rotator cuff
muscles, deltiods, coracobrachialis, latissimus dorsi, pectoralis major, biceps brachii, brachialis,
brachioradialis, triceps brachii, anconeus, pronator teres, and pronator quadratus. A multitude of
muscles in the hands and fingers come into play, including the flexor carpi radialis, palmaris longus,
flexor carpi ulnaris, extensor carpi ulnaris, extensor carpi radialis brevis, extensor carpi radialis longus,
flexor digitorium superficialis, flexor digitorum profoundus, flexor pollicus longus, extensor digitorum,
extensor indicis, extensor digiti minimi, extensor pollicus longus, extensor pollicus brevis, and the
abductor pollicus longus.