Coach: Avoiding NBA Preseason Injuries
At the risk of speaking too soon, and in the spirit of a deal on the horizon, there may be some value in looking at what players can do over the next few weeks to prepare themselves to avoid injuries when training camp finally does start. As we are seeing in the NFL right now, players who move to training camp without comprehensive formal preparation run an increased risk of lower body injuries (hamstrings, ankles, knees, groins, etc.). What kind of things can an NBA player do now to make sure he is not a preseason statistic if and when everything gets started?
The single most important factor in avoiding injury is to prepare the body accordingly prior to each and every physical activity. Usually, this involves warming the muscles up before creating any real tension. For most players, this is accomplished through gradually more intensive movements over a ten minute period. The goal is to increase overall heart rate and bloodflow to the active muscle centers. Jogging or biking that increases in intensity is a good start, but players should do more than just break a sweat and create heavier breathing – it should genuinely feel like the workout has already begun by the time the warm-up is over.
After this ten minute period, players would do well to stretch. This does not necessarily mean static stretching, but rather dynamic flexibility (active stretching). Dynamic flexibility combines traditional stretching with common athletic movements. Instead of sitting on the floor and reaching for one’s toes (a classic static stretch), it may mean taking a few light jogging steps, bending over with one leg kicking back as the hand goes forward to touch the foot still on the ground. The idea here is to keep the heart rate active throughout the stretch, preventing the muscles from cooling too much prior to the actual workout. Foam rolling may be an additional option for some players depending on their various aches and pains and their time allotted to preparation. Elements of static stretching can be included provided the player is mixing them into the dynamic flexibility model.
While specific patterns and contents of workouts are better suited for another article (for more on what might be included in workouts leading up to training camp, check out my previous article on the subject), it is critical that players do more than play five-on-five as they prepare for training camp. The reality is that game play is not as taxing on the body as good drillwork and practice, and players who only prepare for training camp by playing in games that do not truly simulate the rigor of professional contests are woefully unprepared and more likely to find themselves injured once they start working with their teams.
Think of it this way: when you play in a pick-up game, you are often playing in short bursts of 10-15 minutes in a contest. There are no penalties for missing an assignment or not hustling to a spot. You may go three or four possessions without ever touching the basketball or being actively involved in a play on either end. Contrast that to drillwork or practice, where you are involved in nearly every possession (multiple basketballs, baskets, and stations), and each segment of the workout is documented. Players are held responsible for the times they aren’t really pushing each other (and themselves). In the end, practice should be harder than games – and so the work players do now to prepare for training camp should be even more grueling.
In fact, many players in our gym find the work that we do with them before they depart for training camp is more physically taxing than what they encounter with their teams. This is the kind of strenuous but controlled preparation that really makes sure they have the best chance at avoiding injuries once the real deal starts.
At the end of the specified workout, players should very nearly repeat the dynamic flexibility routine from the beginning as a form of cool down. Again, the purposes of stretching post-workout is to keep the muscles loose after the fact, prevent cramping and pulls whenever possible, and give them a chance to relax before going straight into stationary position for an extended period.
After their cool down active stretch, players young and old should take advantage of everything a good trainer has to offer them. From comprehensive foam rolling to ice baths, trainers can provide players with a veritable fountain of youth if they choose to take advantage of it. Far too many players, especially the young and “invincible,” finish their workout, walk out of the gym, and go to a meal or to their next activity without any real thought to taking care of their bodies. Athletes need to understand their bodies are not really built for the physical pounding they receive – and if they don’t take care of them appropriately, they will break down quicker than they should.
A session of foam rolling and significant time spent in an ice bath will go a long way to helping muscles recover for the next day’s workout. This is a new skill worth teaching a young professional. There are many “elder statesmen” in our gym who wish they could go back and teach their younger selves how to take care of their body. The real goal is to prepare each day for the following one. This will tack on an additional 30-40 minutes before and after each workout. However, this is a small amount of time to commit to preparedness when it really can mean the difference between being injury free or facing constant, nagging injuries because the preparation wasn’t there.
Have questions for Coach Macri? Be sure and drop by HOOPSWORLD on Mondays at 2PM Eastern for the Coach’s weekly basketball chat! You can also follow Coach Macri on Twitter @CoachMacri.
Each week, HOOPSWORLD NBA analyst and coach Anthony Macri will open his notebook and offer an assortment of observations on games, players, and teams from throughout the league. Coach Macri serves as a player development consultant for the Pro Training Center and Coach David Thorpe, working with a variety of NBA players on their skills and game understanding. The Coach’s Notebook appears on HOOPSWORLD every Thursday.