Deceleration, the ability to absorb force and control the body eccentrically, is often overlooked when training athletes at the expense of force production: be it in the form of advanced plyometrics that emphasize jumping higher or getting off the ground quick, heavy max effort lifting in the weightroom, maximal speed development or with overhead athletes how hard they can throw or hit. However, a large majority of middle and high school athletes lack the ability to decelerate effectively as do a surprising number of collegiate and even professional athletes. That does not mean they can’t be or aren’t explosive, especially if they are genetically gifted. But without proper deceleration they are either putting more stress on their body, thus increasing their risk of injury or are leaving performance on the table.
The link below is an very accomplished high school basketball player we just started training. He came to us with no serious injury (i.e. needing surgery or extended time off from sport) background, but a pretty strong history of nagging injuries that have resulted in loss of playing time or playing at less than 100%. He also has good performance numbers, but not great given his position on the court and the fact he wants to play in college
As you can see, he displays a lack of knee stability at landing and as he loads to jump he also gets some valgus motion through his knee. Both of these are deceleration issues, not force production issues. The issues causing his less than optimal deceleration ability are for another time, but in most cases lack of deceleration may be attributed to lack of mobility, lack of stability, lack of general strength, lack of eccentric strength or lack of proprioception.
Basketball is a game that involves a lot of high speed foot plants, change of direction and explosive jumping and landing off one leg. This is a simple, single leg, low hurdle jump within a controlled environment. If an athlete can’t control this exercise effectively how are they going to decelerate and handle the forces experienced during a basketball game?
If we took this athlete and assumed his injury history and lack of real explosiveness was due to lack of strength and lack of high intensity plyometric training, we would be making a big mistake. I like to borrow the analogy used by Tony Gentilcore quite often: “It would be like shooting a cannon out of a canoe.” Obviously that would not go well.
Sure in the short term we would get results by focusing on his max strength and placing him into a high intensity jumping program, but in reality we would be building a large amount of force production onto musculoskeletal system ill prepared for it. Worst case, the athlete creates more force than his joints/muscles can tolerate and he suffers a severe injury.
Sometimes it’s best to take a step back when training athletes and focus on the basics because they may be just what they need to make the jump in performance we are looking for.