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WELLNESS TEAM: Five points for designing effective basketball warm-ups


By Tony Duckwall*

Before every practice or game, you see basketball players warming up. Even though everyone seems to be doing some kind of warm-up, the what, why and how may not be fully understood.

Beneficial warm-ups will raise body temperature, stretch and prepare the muscles and nervous system for movement, and aid in the prevention of injury. To this end, a proper warm-up system should contain the following elements in this order:  thermogenics, core activation, dynamic stretches, plyometrics and movement prep.

1) Thermogenics

The term ‘thermogenic’ literally means to create heat.

This portion of the warm-up raises core temperature and makes the athletes’ muscles more pliable, better prepared for sports movement and less likely to become injured.

Activities such as jump rope and jumping jacks engage both the hip and shoulder joints.

2) Core Activation

Basketball movement starts with the production of ground force and transference of that force through the athlete’s core. It is important to get the core active and the nervous system engaged to allow for maximum force transfer and core bracing (the tightening of core muscles so that force can be produced and absorbed). A braced core is important for creating effective and safe lines of force during acceleration, deceleration, cutting, jumping and landing.

The best exercises for core activation are variations of planks and bridges.

3) Dynamic Stretches

Cold muscles are in a shortened phase, are more likely to become injured and cannot fire with maximum force. In a pre-game setting, static stretching may produce muscles that are over stretched, lose firing power and might be at greater risk of injury due to temporarily unstable joints. Dynamic stretches are the “Goldilocks” of stretches — leaving the athlete not too loose, not too tight, just right for activity. These are repeated moving stretches with a step in between, covering an average distance of ten yards per drill. These produce muscles of the right length and consistency to fire with maximum power and safety.

Walking high knee hugs (for hips and glutes) will properly stretch muscles. Set core tight and tall. With both hands, pull the right shin, bringing the knee to the chest. Hold for a two-count, step forward and repeat with the other leg. Continue for ten yards.

4) Plyometrics

Plyometrics are neurologically active, high intensity and short duration exercises that involve total body coordination and control. These drills increase heart rate and blood flow. They also develop leg stiffness (a tighter leg muscle when relaxed) and maximize the stability of lower body joints between muscular contractions. This protects the knee and ankle.

Performed for bursts of 10 to 15 seconds each with minimum rest time between, court plyometrics are any quick foot drill such as ladder drills, line hops or jumping drills.

5) Movement Prep

Practicing and preparing for court movement is an important part of the warm-up process. One of the best methods for reducing ACL injury is instruction on proper patterns of movement and the correction of risky habits. Practicing starts, stops, lateral movement and jumping technique with increased intensity finishes off the warm-up process while getting the nervous system online for explosive movements.  This also creates an opportunity for practicing perfect movement technique.

Movement prep drills cover about ten yards with increasing intensities from 1/2 speed to full speed.

A final note:  Warming up should not be a mindless activity done as ritual or just to kill time. To be most effective, warm-ups should follow the five points above, be led by a coach and taught with a precision of execution for each drill. When performed this way, they will produce results and safety, while setting a tone of excellence for the game or practice.

*About the author:  Tony Duckwall is the Athletic Performance Director for KIVA Volleyball, and the owner of EDGE Sports Performance. Reach him at edgesportsperformance@live.com or online at edge-trained.com or ovvc.com.

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