With foot and ankle complex training becoming more and more popularized each year, you've heard it before: the foot is instrumental to athletic performance because it is literally the first interaction with the ground on most sporting movements. And as you well know, shoes can and will not only kill our chances of developing a properly-functioning foot, but make it difficult to mitigate this issue with training. So we need very targeted methods in our training arsenal. There are seemingly endless ways to train this foot-ankle machinery as simple as warming up and/or training barefoot, to barefoot proprioception, to towel foot curls, and none of them are wrong, but one way that's been gaining some traction in the performance world is the "floating heel."
How does the ankle/foot complex interact with the ground?
Take a look at essentially any explosive movement in basketball. Do you see the heel interacting with the ground? Deceleration, yes. Of course.. But acceleration? More slight changes of direction? The block foot in a bilateral jump? Max speed sprints? That heel, hopefully, won't touch the ground. If it were to touch the ground, the stored energy in the achilles tendon and connective tissue will be immediately lost, and that movement is going to become quite less explosive and much more taxing.
What is a "floating heel?"
Benefits of floating heel exercises:
I find the benefits of floating heel exercises to be three-fold. I'll keep them pretty brief!
The floating heel, like every other concept employed by S&C professionals, isn't the magic wand on an athlete. It's a tool. If you use it, you'll probably get some benefits. If you don't, there are other ways to get these same benefits too! In terms of how to use them, I don't have much experience using them with athletes because they have somewhat recently come to the forefront and I am experimenting on myself first, but I'd begin with the isometrics, include them here and there with your accessory hypertrophy work, and eventually progress to loading them or using the drop catch option. Just my thoughts. Feel free to let me know in the comments where else you see opportunities for this concept to be used, if you've ever used them, or even call me out on bullshit! Any conversation is welcome. Stay safe everyone.
Hill workouts are one of the best workouts you can do for basketball. Obviously you don't play basketball running up a hill, but the incline emphasizes biomechanics and properties of athleticism that are key for athleticism. Like I said regarding the field workout, basketball is a game of almost strictly acceleration. Rarely do you reach your top speed in any direction. The hill's incline creates a deficit that your body must compensate for, and continue to be in an acceleration position. If you notice in most of these clips, we maintain a forward lean and our knees are pumping, and not cycling, just as if we were accelerating, even 15-20 yards into our sprint. This isn't because we are consciously doing this--it's something the hill enforces naturally. These bursts are short because the hill creates such an intense challenge for the body, and we want to maintain explosiveness throughout the workout--something that fatigue could hinder. Check out the workout below and watch the videos to clear up any questions you have!
I'll say it over and over... speed in basketball is overrated. Will there be times that you'll be going at 90-100% of your top-end speed? Yes. But compared to the times that you'll be accelerating to a 70-90% of your speed? It's almost nothing. So we focus primarily on that in our training--those quick bursts that will give you your real advantages. Check out a great workout for those quick bursts below:
Y'all asked for it on IG, so here it is!
Sand workouts are one of the best workouts you can do for basketball. They're not always available because of weather and sand accessibility, but if you got the resources, you're crazy to not be doing them at least once a month. They're easy on your joints, meaning less knee pain and overall less impact up the kinetic chain, but at the same time very effective in how much they resist and challenge your body. They require ankle mobility and calf/achilles strength, robust lower body muscles, and obviously a strong mindset providing that you go hard! So, below is the downloadable version of the workout you can see us doing on Instagram, with demonstrations in the videos below. Enjoy it, and go challenge yourself! 💪
If you came here from our video about "What Makes Basketball Players the Best Athletes on the Planet," you're probably wondering why in the world we picked Kawhi Leonard and Frank Jackson to study. (And if you're a regular visitor who hasn't seen the video, you're probably confused now, too, so check out the video here).
Anyways, we have a reasoning. Let's get to Kawhi first.
First, Leonard is the definition of an all-around player--a "swiss army knife." He scores, rebounds, facilitates, plays on- and off-ball, and obviously, defends. So, choosing a player who does everything on the floor allowed us to get a taste of each aspect's movement patterns. For example, a player like J.J. Redick who primarily plays off-ball will have significantly different movement patterns over the course of a game than a player like James Harden, who plays on-ball for the majority of the game. Kawhi is a perfect blend of both. Plus, he plays in a very movement-based system, so that we could gather as many examples as possible in four quarters.
Also, Kawhi, is a very solid player, biomechanically. He is not especially prone to injuries due to poor mechanics, but he also has room for improvement. We figured picking someone on either end of the spectrum may skew our results.
Frank Jackson, on the other hand, is probably the more baffling pick for many. And, again, we have justification. First, he played in a Duke system that demands high-effort at all times. This is more applicable to high-school and other younger players who play in a more effort-based and traditional style system, rather than an iso-based one like in the NBA. Not to mention, in this game he was facing off against two dynamic guards, Joel Berry and Nate Britt, which maximized his intensity and allowed us to get the best feel for his true movement patterns.
Also, although a fantastic athlete at the college level, he is not on Kawhi's level in terms of all-around athletic properties. So, it was good to get a sense of a non-NBA athlete in addition to Leonard.
Finally, you may have noticed that Jackson consistently plays at a very low joint angle, as seen below:
Considering this, it was helpful to see that much of the data between Jackson and Kawhi was matched up relatively well in terms of joint angles, demonstrating that the joint angle figures are relatively consistent (we have further studies in the works on this!).
Anyways, there you have it. It may have seemed random at first, but hopefully it's a little more clear now. Remember to follow us on social media, subscribe to our YouTube, and keep checking our blog and website for new content!
Make sure to fill this out as you complete your tests seen on the video!:
If you haven't seen the video, check it out below!
Fourteen minutes into his NBA career, the Los Angeles Lakers' invaluable seventh overall pick, in the form of forward Julius Randle, sat grimacing on the baseline at the Staples Center. Although rather calm, the number of coaches, players, and athletic trainers surrounding Randle swiftly increased, until the nineteen-year-old was eerily carted off, with twenty-year veteran Kobe Bryant feeding valuable, but at the time difficult, insight to the somber rookie.
Following the 2014 NBA Draft, this scene became something of a formality. By the end of the season, eight of the top eleven picks had sustained serious injuries with four--Randle, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, and Aaron Gordon--forfeiting at least 35 games to significant injuries.
While this "injury bug" is undoubtedly partially due to chance, injuries in the NBA have become more prominent in recent years, as we detailed in part one of this series. In fact, in the past five postseasons, 217 games were lost to injury, 105 more than the previous five (ESPN). While this indisputably places an almost unfair advantage on the teams with health and even removes some of the intrigue of the playoffs, a more serious problem exists: a new, but genuine inability to keep young players on the court early in their careers, and a difficulty preventing overuse and cumulative injuries. To what can we attribute this new phenomenon? Is it fixable?
The vast majority of NBA players discover their innate talent at a very young age. Likely originating as early as elementary school, these players are special, and in effect, most of them decide to specialize in basketball at least throughout their high school years, theoretically becoming the best they can in order to maximize the already slim (on a national scale) chance to advance to and succeed on the next level. Yet, what most adults do not realize at this stage in childhood is that this may ultimately facilitate negative byproducts. According to a study by Robert M. Malina, "overuse injuries are a consequence of repeated trauma in a tendon, muscle, or bone associated with chronic repetition of specific sport activities." In other words, the movement in a specific sport, even one as complex as basketball, when repeated, place stress on certain areas, and strengthen others, creating significant imbalances. As a result, playing only one sport can appreciably raise the risk of injury, both as a young player, and later in a career, when specialization may be even more profound.
And, although the entire AAU hatred is probably overblown, it likely compounds this effect. Spring and summer basketball is centered around the obsession of playing as many games as possible for maximum exposure. As a result, no preparation is encouraged, and teams frequently hop out of a van following a three-hour road trip, and play two games 15 minutes later with a three-minute warmup period. Yes, it is unrealistic for all teams to perform a full dynamic warmup before each game, eat right, and sleep a sufficient amount throughout the course of the summer circuit, but this wear and tear, especially in the absence of preparation, does add up, especially when many players begin this lifestyle in elementary and middle school. While it is rare for the imbalances, overuse injuries, and more to manifest themselves in younger players in the form of serious injuries, the effects later in life are unarguably present.
In the locker room of the San Antonio Spurs, an organization known for their players' durability, a sign hangs that reads:
"Look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before."
This perfectly depicts the nature of this new era in basketball. The hammer--the early wear and tear of four to five games a weekend without proper preparation--continues to batter the bodies of these athletes, who are setting up their bodies for injury later in their careers.
Take Kobe Bryant, an unapologetic critic of the structure of youth basketball. "Looking back," he says, "when I grew up, I played soccer until I was about 14. And so when I came back from the States from Italy, that's when AAU was really starting to take off, and I literally played basketball all day, every day, every tournament, everywhere, which does nothing but wear the cartilage out--which explains why I didn't have much cartilage left in 2003."
Again, young players should not be discouraged from playing tons of basketball: it's what they do if they love the game. But, early-career NBA injuries are beginning to display the faults, at least physically, in the structure of organized youth basketball.
The Next Level
Similar to high school, the schedules of big-time college teams are becoming longer, condensed, and packed with travel. Just take a look at Duke's 1992 National Championship-winning team: before their conference schedule, the team played three away or neutral games, and six total in 36 days. Conversely, Duke's 2014 National Championship team traveled to five away/neutral games, and fourteen total contests in 58 days. That's an extra two trips, eight games, and 22 days of season for players who are still getting adjusted to an increased workload at the next level.
And, a sudden spike in activity is arguably the most common cause of many overuse injuries, such as tendinitis, as well as more serious acute injuries. So, after a six-month break from games, it is tough for these young players' bodies to quickly acclimate to the faster, more demanding style of play. And, again, while this may not be expressed in their college careers, the stonecutter is hammering away...
The Training Problem
For many high school players, there really is no clear-cut off-season. When they're not with their high school teams, they are--the majority of the time--playing in tournaments or showcases.
And the most foolproof, definitive method of lowering the risk of injury is a proper strength program. Yet, because in-season is meant for maintenance work, and because there is no off-season for most players at that age, when can they correct movement patterns, fix imbalances, and strengthen their bodies to prevent injury? Plus, many young athletes do not have access to either a proper program, or the resources to get it done.
And while strength training at the college level is fantastic at most schools, many professionals have noted a shift away from traditional heavy lifting, especially at the NBA level. Yes, great new methods of strength training and injury prevention are emerging, but heavy deadlifts, squats, and other compound movements are vital for any program that desires to limit injury. And, in the NBA, these are becoming more and more rare; most likely because the athletes simply do not like doing them, and have more power to control their workouts! (ESPN)
At the end of the day, there is no definitive reason for this spike in the injuries of young players. For all we know, it could be due to chance. Yet, it seems as though there exists a number of factors that are hammering away at many of these players' bodies... Let us know what you think about the issue in the comments or on Twitter, and we will continue to update with ways we believe this epidemic can be limited!
Thanks to Baxter Holmes and Tom Haberstroh of ESPN for valuable statistics and information:
In response to our breakdown regarding why Derrick Rose suffered his horrid series of injuries, many have asked why Russell Westbrook has not felt many of the same effects. He is just as athletic as Rose, if not more, and is one of the more "out of control" players in the league. So how has he limited his injuries?
Ultimately, we do not know their habits, and some of it even comes to bad luck on Rose's part, and good fortune on Westbrook's. Yet, in examining their performances each night, what it seems to boil down to is the landing techniques of each.
As we mentioned in the breakdown, Rose consistently landed with a straight leg, not flexing his knee to allow the hip musculature to absorb the force. Because Rose was such an athletic player, coming down hard on a straight leg happened much too frequently, and ultimately, it added up.
Westbrook, on the other hand, although not perfect, lands correctly considerably more often than Rose. Most times, he will sink back into his hips, facilitating a much "softer" landing, as shown below:
Another major part of these soft landings is landing on the midfoot. Multiple studies have detailed how landing on the heel sends a substantial amount of force up the kinetic chain, placing more stress on the knee joint in particular. Check out how Westbrook lands on the ball of his foot below:
Of course, not every landing will be perfect. In fact, a large number of landings for athletes the level of Rose and Westbrook will be in awkward positions. So, most players who have developed techniques to escape these awkward positions (that could potentially cause injury or place unneeded stress on the body), have remained much more healthy.
Watch as Westbrook, in the first two clips, falls purposely. In these situations, he feels that he is in a vulnerable position, and rather than attempting to balance himself, he simply falls. On the third and final clip, he rapidly shuffles his feet, allocating the force into multiple steps rather than one hard landing. Rose, on the other hand, did not develop these techniques, and consequently placed unneeded stress on his joints during many landings.
Horizontal, Not Vertical
Another potential cause of Rose's injuries was his tendency to attempt an athletic, high-flying finish much too often, rather than using timing, his body, or a horizontal bound to finish. While finishing over taller defenders is definitely a part of Westbrook's game, Russ uses forward jumps to stretch past the defenders much more than Rose. This means a lower-impact landing, as well as a more controllable landing position, since his body position is not distorted with contact, 40 inches in the air. Pay attention to how easy his landings are:
At the end of the day, it's impossible to truly say what has kept anyone healthy, and what has injured other players. Yet, with so many jumps (and more importantly, landings) night in and night out for such athletic players, having proper landing technique is a huge step up on players that do not, health-wise. And, as we know, health equals being on the court, and being on the court is the ultimate determinant of how a career unravels.
Let us hear your thoughts below or on social media!
April 28th, 2012
As Derrick Rose collapses, clenching his left leg, the city of Chicago is quickly left in despair. Whether they realize it or not, on average, NBA Finals losers have suffered 2.5 more injuries to central players than their victorious opponents. Only the Bulls of 1996 (Tony Kukoc) and the 2012 Heat (Chris Bosh) have won with key players injured. And they had Michael Jordan and LeBron James, respectively. Health literally wins championships in the NBA.
At this point, Rose is just one of many who have experienced season-ending injuries during this abbreviated, but condensed, lockout season: Stephen Curry, Iman Shumpert, Baron Davis, Dwight Howard, Ricky Rubio, Chauncey Billups--the list goes on.
Playing two games in the same amount of days is a part of the NBA. Teams have been doing it for decades, so what's the big deal? Well, firstly, statistics have exhibited that teams play significantly worse on the latter half of two straight games. In fact, teams playing under that circumstance win just 46.55% of their games. Conversely, teams with at least one day off between games win 51.06%. Maybe this is partially due to the fact that, according to nyloncalculus.com, players literally take significantly worse shots with no days rest in between games. This makes sense, and many players can see it in their own play: for example Damian Lillard, who noted that with more rest, he would "be able to play at a higher level... [he] would have more energy and bounce to his step. Sometimes you can be worn down" (ESPN).
And it is no doubt that players are getting worn down. More significant than worse on-court performance (which must be accepted as part of the game), statistics show that players experience an unbelievable 3.5 times more injuries in the second game of a back-to-back. 3.5 times. Hence, older players, or those with an extreme workload, have begun to take rests, with 74% coming on that second game of a back to back. Yet, resting has become an extremely controversial topic around the league.
And with this number growing rapidly, fans and NBA personnel alike are becoming increasingly annoyed: "it's their job," "they're soft." And, to some extent, this is true. NBA players are professionals, so it is their responsibility to compete and entertain the fans night in and night out. But, recovery is part of the job as well; it is vital to assisting these players in playing each night in the long run. A couple nights off in one season in no way amounts to a career-obstructing injury later in a career.
As LeBron James stated, "at the end of the day, the prize is the players. We have to continue to promote the game, and if guys are injured because there are so many games, we can't promote it at a high level." If players are consistently risking their bodies, and chipping away towards an injury with an unbelievably high workload, will that truly be best for anyone--the players, the league, the teams--in the long run? In a billion dollar business, staying on the court is essential. Take a quick look at players whose careers have been ruined or heavily thwarted by injuries: Rose, Tracy McGrady, Penny Hardaway--all of whom performed, when healthy, at a hall-of-fame level. Of course, there were tons of factors that contributed to these unfortunate situations, and lack of rest very well may not have been one of them. However, these are examples of players who completed their job phenomenally for the time being, yet whose longevity was ultimately not emphasized or maintained. Just imagine the difference in the landscape of the league had even one of these players' careers not been hindered by injuries.
James, on the other hand, although heavily criticized for his relatively frequent in-season "rest" or "coasting," is also known for what appear to be magical late-season transformations each year. With possibly the highest workload in major athletic history (6,953 more minutes than anyone else by his age 31 season), there is absolutely no way James could remain so healthy without sufficient--and intelligent--rest and recovery. And, said to have spent over $1.5 million on his physical health and performance each year, it is important to realize that these players are not sitting on their couch watching TV. They are actively recovering--not to mention sitting out games in which injury chance spikes up--in order to ensure their best long-term health.
And we should never lose sight of the profession's highest mountaintop: the NBA Finals. In December of 2015, fans criticized and taunted LeBron when sitting out a regular season game vs. his former team, the Miami Heat. But were they doing the same when his averages increased by 4.4 points, 1.5 assists, and 3.9 more rebounds in the Finals, leading his team in each category and towards a championship ring? No way. And this, like all other LeBron James magical postseason "improvements," was undoubtedly a byproduct of proper rest and recovery.
And that second piece is truly what should become a focus in today's NBA. Yes, the scheduling should be altered to accomodate rest: less back-to-backs (which the NBA has done this year), or even cutting the schedule down to the high sixties or low seventies in game count. But at the end of the day, it's up to judging each player's workload. This can be done partially by trusting the word of each player. Only if a player is truly feeling overworked will he actually accept a rest day. Like Doug McDermott noted, "it's hard to tell [one of us] to take a day off." And they shouldn't be forced, and rarely should be encouraged, to take a day off. To players like Allen Iverson, this practice is unfathomable (no pun intended). And that is perfectly understandable: these are guys who love to compete each night, and forcing a rest upon them could be taking away from the very values that make them great.
But, especially in the more and more technology-based NBA, biometric and other workload-reading technology must become prominent. These products, like the WHOOP wearable technology that got Matthew Dellavedova in some trouble in early 2016 for sporting it in-game (and utilized by former teammate LeBron James), read each player's workload and fatigue, as well as the effects of the two. When do you truly need a rest? On what days do you perform best, and why? Currently, these are outlawed in games. However, with the new CBA deal, they are set to become legal. And it should be taken a step further: they should become relied on by teams and players.
In sum, a holistic approach is required to aid this problem. Whether it's less games, more technology, or less minutes played by superstars over the course of the season, something needs to be done. Because rest is vital: it is just a matter of whether that rest will upset fans who travel thousands of miles to a game, or be properly accomodated by the league.
Voice your opinions below or on social media, and stay tuned for Part 2: Why are NBA Injuries INCREASING?