Metropolitan Digital

The Conversation

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

For most people, the term “stiffness” has negative connotations. When you wake up in the morning complaining of a “stiff back,” the remedy might include taking a hot shower, doing some yoga, swallowing aspirin, or visiting a physical therapist to loosen up. Stiffness is typically viewed as unpleasant and can limit one’s physical activities.

Surprisingly, though, for elite athletes like professional basketball players, muscle stiffness is not only something that is necessary, you could say it’s their superpower. As a physical therapist and researcher[1] who works with National Basketball Association players, I’m interested in understanding the key factors that help to minimize injury risk and maximize performance in elite athletes – and understanding stiffness is an important part of that.

Stiff muscles are a counterintuitive superpower of NBA athletes A pro player’s jump can seem otherworldly. AP Photo/Nick Wass[2]

Spring in your step

Physiologists think of muscles as being like biomechanical springs. Muscles contract to produce forces that help you move and stretch to allow enough range of movement. Stiffness is a way to talk about how springy a muscle is. It is a characteristic of how much it can lengthen[3] in response to an applied force. The spring of a muscle allows it not only to stretch but also to recoil during muscle contraction. This process allows for movements including walking, running and jumping.

The force required to deform or stretch a muscle is correlated to a degree of spring or stiffness and to the extent the muscle is lengthened[4]. Strength is important, but stiffness can help an athlete generate even more power.

Basketball is a vertical sport[5] that includes up to 46 jumping and landing activities for an individual player per game. That’s 2 to 4 times more jumping than in soccer or volleyball. It’s also a multi-directional sport – an average player changes direction or activity every 2 to 3 seconds, requiring constant acceleration and deceleration of movements.

Stiff muscles are a counterintuitive superpower of NBA athletes Russell Westbrook demonstrates what a muscle with just the right balance of stiffness and flexibility can achieve. AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer[6]

Lower extremity stiffness is important for optimal basketball performance because athletes who appropriately use greater stiffness characteristics can take advantage of the elastic energy it creates. A muscle can only stretch so far because its length is limited by its degree of stiffness. So, like a spring or a rubber band, when the muscle is stretched, that stiffness helps to create elastic energy[7] that can then be used with a muscle contraction to help you run or jump on the court.

This helps someone like Russell Westbrook[8] leap in the air, stop on a dime, then accelerate down court during a fast break. It takes him just 3.36 seconds to run from baseline to baseline[9].

The sweet spot

However, there is a point of diminishing returns. Too much muscle stiffness can lead to reduced joint motion and a decreased ability to absorb shock at the joints. This can place one at greater risk for stress fractures or even osteoarthritis, the wear and tear of cartilage that can cause joint pain. Evidence[10] suggests that too much stiffness may lead to injury.

And on the other side of the spectrum, a player needs a certain degree of flexibility and joint mobility to support the proper elongation of muscle and tendons that allow for the appropriate range of motion.

So players need to balance these extremes, landing in the sweet spot of optimal lower extremity stiffness: not too much, which can lead to high levels of force and loading rates and a greater risk for bony injuries. And not too little, which is associated with an increased risk for soft tissue injury and muscle strains[11].

My research team is investigating these relationships in an attempt to help elite athletes minimize risk of injury and maximize performance. The first step is in understanding what “normal” clinical measurements are for elite athletes.

Stiff muscles are a counterintuitive superpower of NBA athletes Philip Anloague measures the degree of ankle mobility, called dorsiflexion. Philip Anloague, CC BY-ND[12]

Textbook values have been established for the general population but this information is lacking for NBA players. For example, a typical value of ankle flexibility for the average individual is about 50 to 55 degrees. Our research team has found that the typical NBA player is more stiff and averages 35 degrees.

When comparing elite basketball players to textbook norms it might appear that they are too tight and even dysfunctional. However, to be successful in their sport, this degree of stiffness is actually their superpower. If trainers start stretching Lebron James’ muscles to match the textbook values of the general population, he may start jumping like the general population. That tactic could very well be kryptonite to an NBA athlete.

Training to minimize injury and maximize performance

Physical therapists know that the so-called fast twitch[13] muscle fibers – the ones responsible for jumping and sprinting – have a higher propensity[14] for stiffness. With training the level of stiffness can be increased to improve performance.

Stiff muscles are a counterintuitive superpower of NBA athletes A player demonstrates a plyometric jump – a powerful movement that lengthens then quickly shortens a muscle. Philip Anloague, CC BY-ND[15]

Evidence suggests that plyometric and bounding exercises[16] that involve jumps, hops, or bounds, performed in a stretch shortened cycle do have a positive effect in the ability for muscle to have more spring. But overall, your own degree of stiffness versus springiness is a combination of nature and nurture, genetics and training.

Research related to better understanding the continuum between stiffness and compliance can help physical therapists and trainers when working with basketball players. They need to know dosage – how much to stretch or strengthen. Work is underway[17] that contributes to this endeavor. There are also initiatives that aim to understand player load[18] and the cumulative physical demands that elite athletes undergo when generating fast and powerful movements. Researchers also need to understand what the best methods and technologies are for monitoring these loads. My colleagues and I theorize that there is an optimal level of compliance and stiffness that helps keep our basketball heroes super.

References

  1. ^ As a physical therapist and researcher (scholar.google.com)
  2. ^ AP Photo/Nick Wass (www.apimages.com)
  3. ^ how much it can lengthen (doi.org)
  4. ^ lengthened (kundoc.com)
  5. ^ Basketball is a vertical sport (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  6. ^ AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer (www.apimages.com)
  7. ^ elastic energy (royalsocietypublishing.org)
  8. ^ Russell Westbrook (www.espn.com)
  9. ^ just 3.36 seconds to run from baseline to baseline (fadeawayworld.net)
  10. ^ Evidence (www.lbgmedical.com)
  11. ^ soft tissue injury and muscle strains (www.lbgmedical.com)
  12. ^ CC BY-ND (creativecommons.org)
  13. ^ fast twitch (www.mensjournal.com)
  14. ^ propensity (insights.ovid.com)
  15. ^ CC BY-ND (creativecommons.org)
  16. ^ plyometric and bounding exercises (www.mensjournal.com)
  17. ^ Work is underway (scholar.google.com)
  18. ^ understand player load (doi.org)

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

Read more http://theconversation.com/stiff-muscles-are-a-counterintuitive-superpower-of-nba-athletes-116252

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News

Phish’s 2018 Fall Tour to Conclude with Four Performances at MGM Grand Garden Arena

LAS VEGAS (May 15, 2018) – Phish, the American rock band known worldwide for its dedicated fan base, recently announced a 14-date Fall tour which will conclude in Las Vegas with four performances at...

Blane Ferguson - avatar Blane Ferguson

Dave Damiani and The No Vacancy Orchestra are “Bending The Standard”

Tina Sinatra, Dave Damiani & Landau Murphy Jr. celebrate 100 years of Frank Sinatra in Los Angeles There have been stories about independent filmmakers, but how about the independent big band...

Tom Estey - avatar Tom Estey

Billboard Chart-Topping Saxophonist VANDELL ANDREW Returns With New Single

From the vantage point of 30, his age and the name of his infectious, sensually grooving new full length album, Vandell continues to be fueled by the impressive roar of accolades and achievements th...

Metropolitan Digital - avatar Metropolitan Digital

Metropolitan Business News

An Introduction To Coworking For Australian Business Owners

Advancing technology is bringing with it great advantages in communications and networking, and to survive in business you need to keep up. With the rate at which everything changes these days, that...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Oldest Trick in The Book of Selling Cars Within 24 Hours

It takes weeks and sometimes even months to be able to find an appropriate car buyer for car owners in New Zealand. But we have a surprise for residents of Auckland who are trying to sell their car...

News Company - avatar News Company

5 reasons to store your goods

There comes a time in most people’s lives when storing their household goods and furniture in a secure storage facility is necessary. It’s easy to think that you’ll never need to use storage, but it...

Metropolitan Digital - avatar Metropolitan Digital

How much can you afford to spend on car finance?

So, you’ve made the decision to buy a new car using car finance? This is a really exciting time and you’ll be filled with questions about the best car finance for you as well as how much of your inc...

News Company - avatar News Company

Marketing Impact of Having Online Product Reviews

Whether they are searching online for a service or a specific product, in many cases customers tend to look for online product reviews. They often want to make a comparison to other products or simply...

News Company - avatar News Company

NYC-BASED PUBLIC TELECOM GIANT TCC TELEPLEX LAUNCHES

“TOMORROW’S HIGH TECH DIGITAL NETWORK TODAY” WITH ITS REVOLUTIONARY, MULT-MEDIA AND SERVICES DRIVEN IAP “EVERYTHING” KIOSK The TCC Teleplex IAP Kiosks Include a High-Res 360-Degree Webcam, a 22-...

Thomas Estey - avatar Thomas Estey

Holidays

Maya Beach Opens to Tourists

Despite recent reports that Southern Thailand's famous Maya Beach will close for three months this year, in fact no decision to this effect has been made by Thai authorities. Phi Phi Nati...

Maevadi Rosenfeldt - avatar Maevadi Rosenfeldt

SKYN LAUNCHES GUIDE TO THE BEST PLACES TO GET INTIMATE

SKYN®, Australia’s best-selling condom*, today launches its very first SKYN® Places of Intimacy Guide.   Curated in partnership with GQ Magazine and Conde Nast, the Guide features 30 lux...

SKYN - avatar SKYN

Under the Stars with Grand American Adventures

Small group adventure specialist Grand American Adventures offers a comprehensive range of thrilling tours across the Americas, but what really sets their tours apart is the unique accom...

Louise Woodruff - avatar Louise Woodruff