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Why strength may determine who wins this year's NBA title

Although basketball is a game of jumping, acceleration, deceleration, and quickness, strength is usually the determining factor when athletes of similar athleticism and skill level face each other. As Chicago Bulls team physician Dr. Brian Cole explains when describing former Bulls Hall of Fame strength and conditioning coach Al Vermeil's hierarchy of athletic development, strength is the quality from which all others derive, making it the foundation for athletic performance.


Cole, author of the forthcoming Basketball Anatomy, says that with regard to basketball performance, the quality of strength is important for the development of both the soft tissues of the body (muscle, ligament, and tendon) and the osseous structures of the body (bone). “The improved qualities of these anatomical structures is important for basketball performance because enhanced force output by a muscle or muscle group will result in a higher application of force to the floor,” says Cole, named by his peers as one of the top 19 sports medicine specialists in the United States. This higher application of force will improve a basketball player's ability to accelerate, run, and jump. In addition, stronger soft tissues and stronger bones assist in the ability to decelerate and change direction as well as prevent injury during practice and competition.


Cole points out that enhanced levels of strength also result in improved levels of muscle and joint stiffness—an improvement not to be confused with the loss of motion at the anatomical joints of the body or loss of flexibility. “Certain amounts of muscle and joint stiffness are necessary for maintaining optimal posture during running, jumping, and other basketball activities,” he explains. “For example, when landing from an offensive rebound and immediately jumping to reshoot the ball, you would not want your body to collapse, so to speak. The more the ankles, knees, hips, and torso flex and extend on landing, the more time you spend on the floor, making more time available for the defense to recover before another shot.” In other words, higher levels of muscle and joint stiffness reduce the amount of anatomical joint flexing and bending on landing, resulting in less time spent on the floor, more force applied to the floor, and a higher jump when a player reshoots the ball.


The movements common to the game of basketball require rapid velocities, making power and explosive strength essential for a player who wants to excel during competition. Power and explosive strength involve the ability to turn on the strength (muscular force) available very quickly for the types of exercises Cole recommends, which are performed at higher velocities. These exercises, found in Basketball Anatomy, depend more on the muscles' rate of force development (RFD). The RFD determines the amount of force a muscle can generate in a very brief time. During athletic competition, the time available for this generated force is very short, usually 200 to 300 milliseconds. “Think of a basketball player who beat his opponent on the first step with a drive to the basket, or a player who demonstrates a high vertical jump,” Cole concludes. “Strength training sets the stage and contributes to the initial enhancement of RFD.”


Loaded with 88 exercises and 151 full-color anatomical illustrations that show the muscles in action, Basketball Anatomy details what it takes to increase strength, speed, and agility for better performance in every aspect of the sport. The book is co-written with Robert Panariello, consultant to numerous NBA, NFL, and college teams and strength coaches and a member of the USA Strength and Conditioning Coaches Hall of Fame.