You might have the strength of an athlete, but strength means nothing on the court if you don’t have a full range of motion—without good mobility, you put a cap on your speed, jumping and shooting. Here are some stretches and exercises that will help increase flexibility in the areas of your body that make the biggest difference out on the court.
Ankles and Achilles tendon
The foot‘s joints are inarguably the most important resource a basketball player has. As with all muscles, the tighter the muscles in this system get, the more injury-prone they are—just look at Kobe. To loosen this part of your body up, a wall stretch of the calf and Achilles tendon works best. Start a few feet away from a wall, with your feet at shoulder width. Lean forward to place both hands on the wall and step forward with one foot, bracing your toes against the wall at a slight upward angle with your heel firmly on the ground. Step into it to create a moderate stretch, holding the position for 10-20 seconds. Repeat the stretch 10 times on each foot.
Hips, legs and upper back
Your hips and upper back determine how well you can swivel at the torso, thus making them key to lateral passes and sidestepping movements. To open them both up simultaneously with a dynamic movement, get into a lunge position with one foot in front of the other, both apart about shoulder width. Keeping your back leg aligned with your body, anchored on your toes, bring your chest down into a deep lunge, but rotate your chest away from your forward leg, allowing your shoulder to pass by the knee. Place your forearm as flat as you can on the ground: you should feel a stretch along your hip, hamstrings and the side of your upper back. Hold the position at moderate intensity for five seconds before releasing, standing up and repeating the exercise with your other leg. Work through this exercise 10 times on each leg.
Shoulders and rotator cuffs
The shoulders are closely related to shooting, releasing and controlling the ball. Without proper mobility, range and dexterity are severely impacted, as is your day-to-day posture. One of the simplest ways to stretch out your shoulders (as well as parts of your chest and rotator cuffs) begins with backing up flat against a wall and stretching your arms to each side, palms out, so that they are touching the wall completely. Next, slowly bend your arms upward at the elbows to a 90 degree angle, ensuring that all parts of your arms maintain wall contact. Finally, slowly raise your hands above your head while keeping completely flat against the wall, then bring them all the way down to finish a repetition. As you loosen your shoulders, you’ll eventually be able to touch your hands above your head without losing wall contact. Complete 10-20 slow repetitions three times.
The importance of foam rolling
Before attempting to stretch and strengthen your muscles with the earlier exercises, it is important to release the soft tissues of your muscles using a foam roller. As its name implies, you can use a foam roller to apply targeted pressure to your muscles to ease their tension, just like a massage.
Concentrate on your legs especially. From a starting position laying on your back, support your body with your hands and place the roller under one of your calves. Place your other leg over it so that the roller supports the rest of your body, and roll the length of your calf over it, back and forth, for roughly 30 seconds. Similarly, position the roller under your hamstrings to release the tension there. Finally, you should also target part of your IT band, which resides along the outside of your leg from your hip to your knee—it feels like a tough cord. This one is painful (trust us, you’ll know it when you feel it), but the consequences of not rolling your muscles can be more painful yet. If you feel like you aren’t getting enough of a release, you can similarly use a tennis ball or massage stick to pinpoint tense tissues.