Stiff muscles are a counterintuitive superpower of NBA athletes

For most people, the time interval “stiffness” has unfavorable connotations. When you rise up throughout the morning complaining of a “stiff back,” the therapy could embody taking a scorching bathe, doing a little yoga, swallowing aspirin, or visiting a bodily therapist to loosen up. Stiffness is often thought-about as unpleasant and would possibly limit one’s bodily actions.

Surprisingly, though, for elite athletes like expert basketball avid gamers, muscle stiffness simply is not solely one factor that is compulsory, you would possibly say it’s their superpower. As a bodily therapist and researcher who works with National Basketball Association avid gamers, I’m passionate about understanding the necessary factor parts that help to cut back harm hazard and maximize effectivity in elite athletes – and understanding stiffness is a essential half of that.


Physiologists suppose of muscles as being like biomechanical springs. Muscles contract to produce forces that allow you to switch and stretch to allow ample fluctuate of movement. Stiffness is a technique to debate how springy a muscle is. It is a attribute of how a lot it would most likely lengthen in response to an utilized energy. The spring of a muscle permits it not solely to stretch however along with recoil all through muscle contraction. This course of permits for actions along with strolling, working and leaping.

The energy required to deform or stretch a muscle is correlated to a diploma of spring or stiffness and to the extent the muscle is lengthened. Strength is important, nevertheless stiffness can help an athlete generate rather more power.

Basketball is a vertical sport that options as a lot as 46 leaping and landing actions for a particular person participant per sport. That’s 2 to 4 events further leaping than in soccer or volleyball. It’s moreover a multi-directional sport – a median participant modifications route or train every 2 to 3 seconds, requiring mounted acceleration and deceleration of actions.

Lower extremity stiffness is important for optimum basketball effectivity as a outcome of athletes who appropriately use higher stiffness traits can take profit of the elastic energy it creates. A muscle can solely stretch so far as a outcome of its measurement is proscribed by its diploma of stiffness. So, like a spring or a rubber band, when the muscle is stretched, that stiffness helps to create elastic energy that will then be used with a muscle contraction that may help you run or leap on the courtroom.

This helps any person like Russell Westbrook leap throughout the air, stop on a dime, then pace up down courtroom all through a fast break. It takes him merely 3.36 seconds to run from baseline to baseline.


However, there could also be a degree of diminishing returns. Too a lot muscle stiffness can lead to decreased joint motion and a decreased capability to take in shock on the joints. This can place one at higher hazard for stress fractures and even osteoarthritis, the damage and tear and tear of cartilage that will set off joint ache. Evidence implies that an extreme quantity of stiffness may end in harm.

And on the other facet of the spectrum, a participant desires a positive diploma of flexibility and joint mobility to help the appropriate elongation of muscle and tendons that allow for the appropriate fluctuate of motion.

So avid gamers must steadiness these extremes, landing throughout the sweet spot of optimum lower extremity stiffness: not an extreme quantity of, which could end in extreme ranges of energy and loading costs and a higher hazard for bony accidents. And not too little, which is said to an elevated hazard for delicate tissue harm and muscle strains.

My evaluation group is investigating these relationships in an attempt to help elite athletes lower hazard of harm and maximize effectivity. The first step is in understanding what “normal” medical measurements are for elite athletes.

Textbook values have been established for the general inhabitants nevertheless this knowledge is lacking for NBA avid gamers. For occasion, a typical value of ankle flexibility for the frequent explicit particular person is about 50 to 55 ranges. Our evaluation group has found that the on a regular basis NBA participant is further stiff and averages 35 ranges.

When evaluating elite basketball avid gamers to textbook norms it will appear that they are too tight and even dysfunctional. However, to realize success of their sport, this diploma of stiffness is unquestionably their superpower. If trainers start stretching Lebron James’ muscles to match the textbook values of the general inhabitants, he may start leaping like the general inhabitants. That tactic could very successfully be kryptonite to an NBA athlete.


Physical therapists know that the so-called fast twitch muscle fibers – these liable for leaping and sprinting – have a elevated propensity for stiffness. With teaching the extent of stiffness shall be elevated to boost effectivity.

Evidence implies that plyometric and bounding exercise routines that comprise jumps, hops, or bounds, carried out in a stretch shortened cycle do have a optimistic influence throughout the capability for muscle to have further spring. But whole, your private diploma of stiffness versus springiness is a combination of nature and nurture, genetics and training.

Research related to raised understanding the continuum between stiffness and compliance can help bodily therapists and trainers when working with basketball avid gamers. They must know dosage – how a lot to stretch or strengthen. Work is underway that contributes to this endeavor. There are moreover initiatives that objective to understand participant load and the cumulative bodily requires that elite athletes bear when producing fast and extremely efficient actions. Researchers moreover wish to grasp what the easiest methods and utilized sciences are for monitoring these tons of. My colleagues and I theorize that there is an optimum stage of compliance and stiffness that helps maintain our basketball heroes super.

Philip Anloague, Chair and Associate Professor of Physical Therapy, University of Dayton

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