For most people, the term "rigidity" 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 physiotherapist to relax. Stiffness is generally considered unpleasant and can limit physical activities.
However, surprisingly, for elite athletes such as professional basketball players, muscle stiffness is not just something necessary, you could say it is your superpower. As a physiotherapist and researcher working with players of the National Basketball Association, interested in understanding the key factors that help minimize the risk of injury and maximizing performance in elite athletes and understanding stiffness is an important part of that.
Physiologists think that muscles are like biomechanical springs. The muscles contract to produce forces that help you move and stretch to allow enough range of motion. Stiffness is a way of talking about how flexible a muscle is. It is a characteristic of how much can be lengthened in response to an applied force. The spring of a muscle allows you not only to stretch but also back during muscle contraction. This process allows movements such as walking, running and jumping.
The force required to deform or stretch a muscle correlates with a degree of elasticity or stiffness and to the extent that the muscle lengthens. Strength is important, but rigidity can help an athlete generate even more power.
Basketball is a vertical sport that includes up to 46 jumping and landing activities for an individual player per game. That's 2 to 4 times more jumps than in football or volleyball. It is also a multidirectional sport: an average player changes direction or activity every 2 to 3 seconds, which requires constant acceleration and deceleration of movements.
The rigidity of the lower extremities is important for the optimal performance of basketball due to athletes who use more rigid characteristics. A muscle can only stretch so far because its length is limited by its degree of rigidity. Then, like a spring or an elastic band, when the muscle is stretched, that stiffness helps create elastic energy that can then be used with a muscle contraction to help you run or jump on the court.
This helps someone like Russell Westbrook jump in the air, stop on a dime and then speed up on the court during a quick break. It takes only 3.36 seconds to run from the baseline to the baseline.
However, there is a point of diminishing returns. Too much muscle rigidity can reduce joint movement and reduce the ability to absorb the impact on the joints. This can pose an increased risk of stress fractures or even osteoarthritis, the wear and tear of the cartilage that can cause joint pain. The evidence suggests that too much stiffness can lead to injuries.
And on the other side of the spectrum, a player needs a certain degree of flexibility and mobility in the joints to support the proper lengthening of the muscles and tendons that allow for the proper range of motion.
Therefore, players must balance these extremes, landing at the optimum point of optimal rigidity of the lower extremities: not too much, which can lead to high levels of force and load rates and an increased risk of bone injuries . And not too little, which is associated with an increased risk of soft tissue injuries and muscle strains.
My research team is investigating these relationships in an attempt to help elite athletes minimize the risk of injury and maximize performance. The first step is to understand what "normal" clinical measurements are for elite athletes.
The values of the textbooks have been established for the general population, but this information is insufficient for the NBA players. For example, a typical value of the average individual is approximately 50 to 55 degrees. Our research team has found that the typical NBA player is stiffer and has an average of 35 degrees.
When comparing elite basketball players with the standards of textbooks, it may seem that they are too tight and even dysfunctional. However, this degree of rigidity is actually your superpower. If the coaches begin to stretch Lebron James's muscles to match the textbook values of the general population, he can start jumping as the general population. That tactic could very well be kryptonite for an NBA athlete.
Physiotherapists know that the so-called fast-twitch muscle fibers, responsible for jumps and sprinting, have a greater propensity for rigidity. With training you can increase the rigidity level to improve performance.
The evidence suggests that plyometric and boundary exercises involving jumps, jumps or limits, performed in a shortened stretch cycle have a positive effect on the muscle's ability to have more spring. But in general, their own degree of stiffness versus elasticity is a combination of nature and nutrition, genetics and training.
Research related to a better understanding of the continuum between rigidity and compliance can help physiotherapists and coaches when working with basketball players. They need to know the dose: how much to stretch or strengthen. Work is being done that contributes to this endeavor. There are also initiatives that aim to understand the load of the players and the cumulative physical demands that elite athletes are subjected to by generating fast and powerful movements. Researchers must also understand what are the best methods and technologies to monitor these burdens. My colleagues and I say there is an optimal level of compliance and rigidity that helps keep our basketball heroes super.
Philip Anloague is president and associate professor of physical therapy at the University of Dayton. This article has been published by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.