Strength and conditioning can be one of the key factors to your team’s success each year. If your players aren’t prepared physically, you don’t stand much of a chance against the competition.
A basketball player’s feet are extremely important. There are approximately 26 bones and 20 muscles in the feet. That fact alone should shed some light on their significance.
Every movement a player makes on the court is initiated through their feet. Every shot, every rebound, and every pass. Everything starts with the feet. That said, can you guess what the most common injury is for basketball players at every level?
Strong and mobile ankles and feet will lessen the occurrence of injury, decrease the time lost if an injury does occur, and will improve performance on the court. There are important things you can do to make sure your feet and ankles are as strong as they need to be for game day.
The truth about shoes and ankle braces
Basketball shoes are designed to be rigid (with stiff soles) and provide as much stability as possible. To further increase stability, many players also wear ankle braces or get their ankles taped. Here lies the problem: By creating so much stability, they drastically limit mobility. Severely limiting mobility will weaken the muscles of the ankles and feet.
What happens to a person’s forearm muscle when their arm has been immobilized in a cast from a broken wrist? It atrophies (weakens). So do the muscles of the feet when they are confined to rigid shoes and ankle braces for long periods of time.
I am not opposed to wearing basketball shoes when you are playing. The stability and support is a necessity. But you don’t need to wear them when you are training. What about ankle braces and tape? With the exception of a player who suffered a previous ankle injury, or someone taking a direct recommendation from a qualified medical professional, ankle braces and tape are absolutely unnecessary when playing and when training.
Ankle braces weaken ankles and limit mobility (not to mention natural movement). Given how important the feet and ankles are, why would you do something that makes them weaker and less mobile?
Still not convinced? When you get a chance, flip on ESPN Classic and watch any NBA game from the 1970’s. In addition to shorts that look like boxer briefs, every single player wore low top Adidas sneakers. No braces. No tape. And guess what? No injuries!
Strengthen your feet and ankles
Every time you run or jump, you do what is called triple extension—that’s extension at the ankles, knees, and hips. If any one of those joints is not working properly (weak or tight), it limits the function of the other two. Weak, tight ankles limit a player’s ability to run and jump to their potential. Having weak, tight ankles will also cause the body to compensate in a variety of ways during movement. This can lead to knee and back issues.
So how do you strengthen your ankles and feet?
By setting them free and taking off your shoes! When you work out in your bare feet (or with socks) you can feel all of the intrinsic muscles of your toes, feet, and ankles. How much is the right amount of barefoot training? For most players, 5-15 minutes per workout is a good rule of thumb.
What should they do in their bare feet?
Many of the same things they do with shoes on! Squats, lunges, dynamic flexibility movements, and low level hops are all great to do shoeless. Pick a few exercises each workout and rotate them. Begin with the most basic exercises and have the player progress as they become acclimated and their feet become stronger. Make sure you perform barefoot exercises on an appropriate surface (be cautious of impact, slipping, etc.). Check out the video for examples of great foot and ankle strengthening exercises.
One of your goals this pre-season needs to be to improve foot and ankle strength, mobility, and proprioception (the body’s perception of movement and special awareness). If you do that you will lay the foundation for a championship season!
About Alan Stein:
Alan Stein is the owner of www.StrongerTeam.com and the Head Strength & Conditioning coach for the nationally renowned, Nike Elite DeMatha Catholic High School boy’s basketball program. Alan brings a wealth of valuable experience to his training arsenal after years of extensive work with elite high school, college, and NBA players.