For basketball players, one of the kings of measuring physical ability is the vertical jump. There are more than a few ways of improving your vertical, from specific stretches to minor adjustments of technique. Before performing a vertical jump, make sure that you warm your body up. The warm-ups and other helpful stretches and exercises (detailed here) will almost instantly improve the height of your jumps. When jumping, accelerate the eccentric (lowering) portion of your jump, which, in turn, will add explosiveness to your jump. If practiced consistently you can, over time, reach your full potential.
The most commonly used type of stretch before a workout is static stretching, which is taking a muscle to the point we feel tension and holding it for at least 30 seconds. Static stretching, by itself, is adequate if your only goal is to increase range of motion or correct a muscle imbalance. However, if your goal is to gain increased power and performance, you have to stretch differently. Pre-workout or pregame, focus on mainly the active or dynamic stretches unless otherwise noted, whereas after a workout or game, static stretches should be more heavily focused on.
Basketball requires running, constantly changing directions, jumping, and various other activities that can take a toll on your joints and tendons. To prepare for the strain of playing basketball there are several key stretches that should be used to maintain or increase flexibility and function while lowering the odds of an injury. Flexibility training consists of three phases, including corrective, active and functional. For basketball players, the best strategy is to primarily use stretches in the functional phase.
Start at the top by stretching out your back, shoulders, and arms. It goes without saying that stretching your legs will improve your jumping ability (i.e. vertical jump), but many athletes are not aware of the fact that your upper body plays a big role in the height of your vertical jump. For the first stretch, with your back flat on the floor and your legs making an upside-down “v” (think traditional sit-up position), interlock your fingers, and grab your leg slightly beneath the knee, pulling it toward the opposite shoulder. It is crucial that you keep your other leg straight, so just go as far as you can without sacrificing form and hold the stretch for 30 seconds, at least once on each side. Next, it is time to stretch your shoulders. Stand up straight and place one arm straight across your body, using the opposite hand to pull your elbow further across your body. Hold for about 30 seconds and repeat this process on the other side. One more stretch will finish loosening up your arms and shoulders. Stick your arms straight out to the side and rotate at the shoulders, making a small, circular motion. Continue gradually enlarging the size of the circles until your arms are swinging all the way around. Repeat this with your arms going the opposite way.
The hamstrings (back of the upper leg) and groin area not only play a huge role in our performance level, they are also particularly susceptible to injury, so it is crucial to stretch these areas well before practice or a game. For your hamstrings, begin by sitting on the ground with your legs in a v-shape and reach to one side, attempting to touch your toes. When you have reached the point of tension, hold the position for at least 30 seconds. This static stretch can be used either before or after activity.
Now, for your groin stretch, I suggest using the active standing adductor stretch. Start by standing with a somewhat straddled posture with your feet further than shoulder-width apart. Reach one leg back until the toe of that foot is in line with the heel of the other foot, with both feet pointing directly ahead. For a good post-workout stretch, sit on the floor, make a circular shape with your legs with your feet together. Try to rest your elbows on the inside of your legs, lean forward, and when you feel tension, hold for about 30 seconds. Repeat this process two or three times.
The next area to focus on stretching is your quadriceps (front of the upper leg), which tend to be neglected in favor of the hamstrings. While stretching your hamstrings is extremely important, it is no substitute for stretching your quads. Start by standing upright before reaching back and pulling up on your foot until your heel touches your backside. Hold this for 30 seconds, performing once or twice per side. This static stretch should primarily be used before a workout.
Finally, near the bottom of the legs, you need to stretch your calves, which are vital when trying to maximize your vertical jump. Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, push up on your toes as far as possible without losing your balance or until you feel some strain, hold the position for ten to fifteen seconds, let your heal come down to the floor. After a two-second pause, repeat this motion until you reach ten quality repetitions.
Some overlooked benefits of stretching include fixing muscle imbalances, relieving stress on your joints, and improve the overall function of your body. Muscle imbalances are generally caused by consistently doing the same motions over and over again, which is common in most sports, so it is critical to correct these imbalances through proper stretching methods. Relieving joint stress is particularly important for players of impact sports (i.e. basketball, football) whose joints take a consistent pounding.
Most athletes know that they should stretch before any workout or performance, yet stretching is often neglected in favor of other aspects of the workout itself. It’s important to remember that stretching is not only just as important as the other parts of a training regimen, they will enhance the level that you can take your training to. Whether preventing or reducing injuries, or if you want to increase your performance capabilities, make stretching a part of your routine.