Want To Bulletproof Your Knees For Basketball? Try This...
If you want to prolong your career for as long as possible it is very important to learn how to strengthen your knees for basketball.
Building not only absolute strength, but also stability, power and mobility around the knee joint can greatly reduce the chance of injuring your knee while playing basketball.
Of course there are many potential ways to injure your knees while playing basketball. Some are unavoidable.
In the following article I am going to show you exactly how to train to strengthen your knees so they can withstand the harsh demands of basketball.
Hopefully the exercises and techniques you will learn today will help keep your knees healthy so you can enjoy a pain free basketball career for many decades to come.
What Are The Most Common Knee Injuries For Basketball Players?
By Mysid [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Often basketball players will complain of knee pain when jumping or landing. Others may complain of knee pain after basketball training or games.
If you are experiencing any of these painful symptoms it is likely that you have one or more of the following 4 most common knee injuries that basketball players sustain.
1. Knee Sprains and Strains
Damage to the tendons (strain) and ligaments (sprain) that connect and support the knee joint.
2. Meniscal Tears
Damage to the rubbery protective layers that line the inside of the knee joint.
3. ACL, MCL and LCL Ruptures
A complete tear of one of the supporting ligaments of the knee.
4. Patella Tendonitis
Inflammation and damage to the tendon that attaches your knee cap to your shin bone and quadriceps tendon.
Some of these common knee injuries experienced on the court can be easily rehabilitated with light rest and recovery exercises.
However, there are more brutal knee injuries such a the dreaded ACL tear that has destroyed the careers of many prominent basketball players.
6 Steps To Strengthening You Knees For Basketball + Exercises
You don't have to learn to live with weak and painful knees.
You can do something about it!
Of course you can wear basketball knee guards and pads to help artificially strengthen the knee joint and provide short term comfort.
But to truly build bulletproof knees you are going to have to dedicate yourself to an exercise regime that aims to rebuild the integrity of the knee joint.
Lets take a look at some of the best exercises and concepts that you can use to strengthen your knees for the demands of basketball:
Step 1. Take The Load Off Your Knees By Strengthening The Muscles Of The Feet
Knee pain is often a result of poor lower limb function and strength. As basketball players we often spend most of our time in super comfy and padded basketball shoes. This can lead to weaknesses in the muscles of the foot and shortened calf muscles that are prone to tears. The foot muscles are important shock absorbers. If the foot muscles are not working properly these forces with be transmitted to your knees.
One of the best ways to strengthen your feet is to wear "barefoot" zero drop minimalist shoes during the day and when strength training in the gym. Over time your feet will adapt and provide greater support to your knees.
Step 2. Take The Load Off Your Knees By Strengthening The Tibialis Anterior Muscle
It is vital that all of the muscles surrounding joints closest to the knee are strong and activating at the correct time. Muscle weaknesses and imbalances will cause excessive loading on the knee joints. The tibialis anterior is often overlooked when it comes to strength training. Strengthening this muscle can really take a huge load off the knees when jumping, cutting and sprinting while playing basketball.
Step 3. Take The Load Off Your Knees By Strengthening The Calves, Quads, Glutes and Hamstrings
Here are my favorite exercises to build strength and stability in the muscles that protect the knee.
- Nordic Curl to strengthen hamstrings
- Reverse Nordic to strengthen quadriceps
- Standing Calf Raise to strengthen gastrocnemius
- Seated Calf Raise to strengthen soleus
Here is a great video from Ben Patrick the "Knees Over Toes Guy" explaining how to use simple progressive exercises to strengthen the knee joint.
Step 4. Be Aware Of Training Volume and Don't Progress Too Quickly
Drastically increasing the amount of basketball, or general exercise you are doing is a sure fire way to increase knee problems. If you from sitting on the couch to training 5 days a week you are sure to get knee issues. Never progress at a rate of more than 5% of volume per week. Here is a great video from basketball trainer Paul Fabritz who explains this concept in greater detail.
Step 5. Build Stability and Correct Motor Patterns Around The Knee Joint
Research has shown that stability exercises can lead to improved neuromuscular function and balance while preventing knee injuries in athletes.
Stabilization training for basketball should target the muscles that act on the knee joint plus also challenge core, hip and ankle stability.
Stability training is a great way to identify any muscle weaknesses and imbalances.
Stabilization exercises should be performed at a low intensity/ low relative load with focus on correct form and muscle activation throughout a safe range of motion. Over time, the athlete should aim to increase range of motion before adding load or volume to the exercises.
Be sure to challenge the stabilizing muscles of the knee used in flexion, extension and rotation of the knee joint.
Uni-lateral exercises are a great way to build muscle stabilization around the knee joint required to help prevent injuries in basketball.
Here is a great video from Overtime Athletes explain 3 exercises basketball players can use to strengthen and stabilise their knees.
Step 6. Build Strength & Power Around The Knee Joint
Studies have determined that a combination of stability, strength and power training can reduce incidence of knee injury in athletes.
In fact, a 2005 study by the "Journal Of Knee Surgery" discovered that plyometric power can improve knee strength and decrease the risk of a knee injury while while playing sports like basketball.
Plyometric power exercises load the knee join in a controlled manner. The knee joint and surrounding muscles and tendons then adapt to these exercises.
After following a an effective plyometric exercise program the muscles and tendons become much more reactive, meaning that they activate to their full potential at a faster rate. This activation of the supporting structures of the knees provides reinforcement while you are cutting, jumping and slashing while playing basketball.
Warning: Plyometric exercise can be dangerous when performed in an uncontrolled manner. We suggest hiring a qualified personal trainer who has experience prescribing periodised plyometric exercises or following a trusted online program.
If you are looking for a trusted plyometric training program to follow I suggest checking out Vert Shock.
Why Do NBA Players Ice Their Knees?
We often get asked "why do NBA players ice their knees". Basically, NBA athletes ice their knees to help reduce the amount of blood flow to the knee joint and therefor reduce inflammation.
Inflammation may lead to further damage around the joint and also contribute to the knee pain often experienced after playing basketball.
Icing the knees after playing basketball can act as a pain killer and provide relief to aching joints, muscles and tendons surrounding the knee cap.
Personally, I have struggled with "jumpers knee" (patella tendonitis). I have found that icing my knees after basketball provides great relief from knee pain in the area.
You may also see NBA players using HEAT therapy. It is best to apply heat before a game to warm up the muscles and ice after a game for the reasons I previously mentioned.
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Final Thoughts On Optimizing Knee Health For Basketball Players
I hope that you have found this information helpful in educating you on the options and techniques you have available to strengthen your knees for basketball. If you are suffering from knee pain, take comfort in knowing that something can be done about it. Use these training tips and build yourself a set of bulletproof knees. If you are currently experiencing sever knee pain during or after basketball be sure to visit a physiotherapist for medical diagnosis and treatment.