Age Does Not Determine Your Ability to Play a Pick-up Game

Age Does Not Determine Your Ability to Play a Pick-up Game

Basketball.  It’s a way of life for many of us in the Tristate.  And with March Madness wrapping up this week, it has got me in the mood to play!  My love of the game started at a young age playing in our driveway.  It led to playing for my high school and AAU teams growing up.  Now, I get my fix through weekly pick-up games and cheering on the (annually underwhelming) Indiana Hoosiers.  We don’t have time for me to go on the soapbox of the Hoosiers so I’ll spare you that.  I’m 30 years old now and find that I’m much more sore and injury-prone when playing basketball than I used to be.  My assumption is many of you are the same way.  I’m going to explain the training you can do to reduce your risk of injury.  Whether you are a young athlete still competing or an aging pick-up game player like me, you’ll find this information helpful.  

We can break this training into two categories:  flexibility and strength/stability.  

Let’s start with flexibility.  Our joints and muscles are twisted, contorted, and bent all around when we sprint, change directions, shoot, and rebound.  Preparing our body for this mobility is important.  Your thoracic spine is the mid-portion of your back and is oftentimes limited in its ability to rotate and extend backward.  When you turn to pass the ball or jump with your arms outstretched over your head for a rebound, the thoracic spine needs to be able to move.  If not, something else will (our lumbar spine or low back).  I’m not suggesting the lumbar spine shouldn’t move, but if it doesn’t get some help from the thoracic spine, it puts undue stress on the lumbar spine and increases your chances of low back pain or injury.  Here are some exercises to get your thoracic spine moving in the right direction.      

This is called a foam roller and is a great tool for mobilizing many joints and muscles of the body.  In this example, place your mid-back on the foam roller and gently extend your spine over the bolster.  Don’t arch through your low back.  

This exercise is performed in a half-kneeling position as seen in the picture.  Put your hands behind your head and twist over the front leg.  This position locks out the lumbar spine and makes your body rotate through the thoracic spine. 

Hip and ankle flexibility is also very important when playing basketball.  Here is an exercise I like that targets both joints at the same time.  

In this exercise sit up on one knee with the other leg turned out perpendicular.  Rock to the side, driving your knee over your toes, then back to a neutral position.  You can bias this more for your hip by sliding the foot further out to the side and vice versa to bias the ankle.  Keep your core engaged.  

For strength/stability, let’s start at the shoulder.  The upper extremity overall needs a stable scapula (shoulder blade).  If we look at it from a developmental standpoint, we start gaining shoulder stability when we crawl as a child.  This is because it loads our upper extremities in a weight-bearing position.  You will see the importance of this in the exercises I suggest.  

But first, let’s talk about the core because we can combine this with our shoulders in the exercises.  A strong core will help protect the low back from injury.  Functional core strength for basketball does not come from doing exercises like sit-ups or crunches.  Rather, our core functions to prevent extension and to control rotation.  

This is a standard plank and will focus your core activation in preventing extension of the lumbar spine, thus giving you more stability at your low back and decreasing the risk of injury while playing basketball.  As you bear weight through your forearms, you will naturally stabilize through your shoulders as well.  In this exercise, maintain a flat back, keep core engaged, and hold for 10-30 seconds.      

In this plank, add a shoulder tap with the opposite hand.  As soon as you lift your hand off the floor your core has to activate to control the rotation of the spine or you fall over.  Try to maintain a neutral spine and minimize shifting from side to side.  This addresses the rotational component of how the core functions.  Again, your shoulders will have to work here to provide upper extremity stability. 

Single leg stability is another important factor in playing basketball while trying to minimize injury risk.  Single leg stability is a complex term encompassing control from the ankle, knee, hip, pelvis, and spine joints.  However, exercises can be simple to address all components of single-leg stability.  When we play basketball, so much time is spent on one leg and moving in multiple directions; we run, cut, plant and twist, etc.  Oftentimes, however, our training does not reflect this.  We tend to train on two legs moving in one direction: forward.  Side-to-side and rotational movement on one and two legs are important aspects of training so that our body is prepared while we play.  

Side-to-side hopping stresses the body in a variety of joints in a lateral direction.  It also addresses a portion of training many people miss: power.  Try exploding off one leg and stick the landing on the other.  You can also tax the system rotationally with a simple adjustment:  twist your body 90 degrees as you jump.     

One final exercise to leave you with is single-leg stability.  It is simple: stand on one leg! There are several ways to make this more challenging and fun: stand on an unstable surface, such as a foam pad or a pillow, close your eyes, or add dribbling, passing, or shooting a basketball.  This will improve the reaction speed of your ankle, decreasing your risk of an ankle sprain.  

These exercises are designed to help you decrease your risk of injury and help you extend your basketball career.  Should you still get injured one day or would like more guidance on these or other exercises, I would be happy to help you, and maybe even challenge you to a game of horse!  Please feel free to reach out to me at the clinic 618-445-3669 or you can email me directly at 

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