Basketball coaches are in a constant search to find the best methods of improving athletic performance for their players. After all, with all else equal, a bigger–faster–stronger–more conditioned player will dominate on the court.
While there is constant debate on the ideal way to improve sport specific speed, power and strength, I believe an overlooked area of training preparation and performance is of a comprehensive warm-up and the role it plays in maximizing each and every workout, practice, and game.
This leads to the question: what is the best way to physically and mentally prepare a basketball player for competition? For years and years it has been accepted as the norm to do a light warm-up followed by some static stretching. In fact, you can almost go anywhere in the world, from high school to professional, and see most practices begin with "taking a couple laps around the gym" and doing some light stretching. This type of warm-up has been around for so long, and is ingrained in almost every coach's head, as to imply it is the only way to get ready to play.
Is this approach beneficial? Does it adequately prepare each player for the workout ahead? Is there a better way? I believe there is. I whole heartedly believe in the concept of an active or dynamic warm-up as a superior way to prepare for physical activity. And this concept is certainly not new. It has been used by track and field coaches for decades. A comprehensive dynamic warm-up doesn’t take any more time than the more traditional method of stretching and is much more effective. Since your warm-up sets the tone for your workouts, practices, and games, don’t you want to implement something that is productive?
- Static Stretching: A stretch taken to the point of slight tension and held for 15-20 seconds
- Cardiovascular Warm-Up: Any activity involving large muscular groups, is rhythmic in nature and causes an increase in the body's core temperature.
- Dynamic Warm-Up: A series of ballistic movements performed in a safe and controlled fashion.
The theory of a general cardiovascular warm-up, for 5-10 minutes (or until a light sweat has been broken) is one I agree with. I believe a general warm-up of this nature raises the body’s core temperature enough to make the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and overall joint structures more elastic and safely begins the preparation process for the workout ahead.
This portion of the warm-up can be accomplished in several ways. Ideally you can have your players run through drills that involve jogging, back pedaling, and defensive sliding to make sure they address the same muscle groups used when playing. They can also jump rope or perform different footwork patterns in a speed ladder. I truly appreciate the jump rope as form of warm-up because it also warms up the upper body, it doesn’t take much space, and there are several different footwork drills and patterns you can use to stay psychologically stimulated.
Another benefit of this initial warm-up is to prepare the mind for the workout ahead. It is a time for each player to focus, concentrate and to mentally prepare and a time to leave all outside distractions (stressors such as school work, relationship problems, etc.) at the door. As a coach, it is vital to make sure your team’s initial cardiovascular warm-up is serious and free from goofing around.
A Useful Alternative
Once the body and mind is warmed up it is time to move to the next phase of preparation and begin the dynamic warm-up. There are several benefits to performing a dynamic warm-up over a more traditional "sit and stretch" routine.
One, by continuing to keep your players moving you ensure their muscles stay warm throughout the process. I have found you will lose the 2-3 degree increase in core temperature by sitting and stretching for 10-15 minutes. The dynamic warm-up, when performed appropriately conservative, prepares the muscles and joints in a more specific manner than static stretching. Given the workout, practice, or game is going to consist of dynamic movements, it is important to prepare the body in a similar manner.
Do not get me wrong; I am by no means advocating anything dangerous or inappropriately ballistic. I simply believe performing a safe and conservative dynamic warm-up you will better prepare the mind and body for the workout that is to follow.
Another major benefit of the dynamic warm-up is its ability to help coordination, motor ability, as well as to rev up the nervous system. These traits are extremely valuable with younger players who are still learning their bodies.
Lastly, and possibly most importantly, I truly believe the dynamic warm-up sufficiently prepares the mind for the workout ahead (not just the body). Mental preparation for any sport is vital. In my vast experience working with entire teams and groups, the dynamic warm-up causes players to focus and concentrate at the task at hand, where as many sit and stretch routines are a day dream session.