Basketball is a sport that demands a unique blend of athleticism—including strength, power, speed, mobility, and agility, among other attributes. To excel on the court, athletes must continually seek ways to enhance their physical capabilities through training and then translate that into the skill of basketball.
Basketball is also a sport that features some of the most unique body types, frames, and movers you’ll ever see. In the NBA, it’s not uncommon in 2023 to see a seven-foot athlete doing the same thing as a six-foot athlete—from how they move to the skills they master, it’s made the game almost position-less at the pro level.
One innovative approach gaining popularity in the realm of sports performance is velocity-based training (VBT). VBT is a method of training that focuses on monitoring the velocity, or speed of movement, during resistance-training exercises. It involves using specialized equipment, like Vitruve, to measure how quickly—or slowly—an athlete moves a load during exercises.
VBT leverages real-time data on movement velocity, power output, and range of motion measurements to tailor training programs and optimize an athlete’s performance by helping coaches manage stress, develop athletic qualities, increase athlete buy-in, and maximize training adaptability.
But outside of those general benefits, there are some very specific benefits that I’ve been able to capitalize on when using VBT with my basketball population. In this article, I’ll outline three of the most outside-the-box ways VBT has positively impacted my basketball players in training and on the court.
1. Utilizing ROM as a Metric
If you’re a seasoned VBT coach, you need no introduction to the standard use of VBT practices or the main metrics it can track, like velocity, power, and force. All of those are excellent metrics and ones that we should continue to master; however, I’ve found that with the basketball population, using range of motion (ROM) as a bonus KPI metric has helped our athletes tremendously.
Most VBT units should have the capability to track ROM in real time. I am a long-time user of Vitruve, so I’ll speak on my experiences with Vitruve linear encoder units and software throughout this article.
When people think of ROM, they tend to immediately consider the two drastically different (and extreme) trains of thought that surround this topic. I’m not here to debate whether “knees over toes” is the best way to train or if you should perform “90-degree eccentric-isometrics” for every lift.Use ROM as a metric: apply the same principles to ROM as you would velocity, power, or force. Prescribe it, monitor it, adjust it, and most of all, use it to help guide your coaching. Click To Tweet
When I say to use ROM as a metric, what I mean is to apply the same principles to ROM as you would velocity, power, or force. Prescribe it, monitor it, adjust it, and most of all, use it to help guide your coaching.
As it relates to basketball, I mentioned that hoops has some very unique body types—and with unique bodies come unique lift executions. Not every squat, deadlift, or bench press variation will look like the textbook technical model. We’re dealing with insane levers, crazy lengths, and bodies that have been conditioned to excel at everything that looks like basketball for years of single-sport development.
“Good” form may look different. And that’s okay.
With the ROM metric, you can quantify this and start to create standards for your athletes based on their limb length and lever angles as it relates to a particular lift and what “good” reps look like for them.
For example, I’ve seen two athletes in a trap bar deadlift have the same ROM despite being 5 inches different in height. One was 6’5, and the other was 6’; however, the 6’ athlete’s arms were so disproportionately long that it caused the bar to have to move less to the lockout of the lift, making it the same ROM as the taller athlete (as opposed to the taller athletes having more concentric ROM).
This is an advantage for the deadlift, but the same blessing is a curse for other lifts—like the bench press. Instead of taking ROM away, those long arms add ROM to the lift in a bench press, which equals more total work. This can impact the volume, the intensity, and our expectations for these athletes in this lift with a disadvantageous setup. This could also alter your exercise selection for the athlete.
Establishing a foundation of ROM metrics is a great way to autoregulate that aspect of training, just as we would with a velocity or power loss in a set. If we know an athlete’s usual ROM in a lift and see them falling short, we can make an intervention effort if needed. This could be as simple as instructing them to finish the rep better or involve a more complicated issue like an inhibited muscle or joint.Another excellent way to use ROM metrics in training is purposeful partial ranges on specific exercises. This is when those baselines of ROM for each athlete in each lift can come in very handy. Click To Tweet
Another excellent way to use ROM metrics in training is purposeful partial ranges on specific exercises. This is when those baselines of ROM for each athlete in each lift can come in very handy. If we have an athlete’s full range of motion documented, it is easier to prescribe the proper partial range of motion.
Video 1. Pin squats with Vitruve.
Some research suggests that it is beneficial to incorporate partial range squats in a comprehensive program as a way to load “sprint-and-jump-specific” joint angles. The quarter- and half-squats are usually done by the eyeball test, but with a ROM metric, we can:
- First, pinpoint an exact range of motion to target.
- Then, walk the athlete through that range with the VBT unit and an empty bar to let them feel where they should be on each rep before going live with higher loads.
For basketball players, obviously, this is crucial because jumping is such an important factor in their sport. If coaches dedicate time and effort to training to maximize jump outputs, this can be a very fruitful rabbit hole to dive down.
A final core use of ROM metrics in VBT is with loaded jumps. Again, in the basketball population, athletes, parents, and coaches are obsessed with vertical jump height. So jump training is a critical element of the process, and loaded jumps are one of my favorite—and most effective—methods to help athletes add inches to their vertical.
Video 2. Trap bar jump with Vitruve.
I love trap bar jumps. We do them in a myriad of ways with different bar speed or power output targets, but we also do them for maximal ROM. In a countermovement jump test, we want maximal height—so why not aim for the same in our loaded jump training?
In this case, ROM can be considered vertical displacement, or jump height. So, whether it’s an empty trap bar or a specific amount of load on the bar, you can also count on ROM to be a valuable driver of intent and effort as basketball players aim to jump out of the gym.
2. Stimulus Stacking
I am a huge proponent of making a hard day a hard day and a light day a light day, especially in the middle of the grueling basketball season. Velocity-based training is a great way to manage this process because you can quantify the stress quality and the overall volume.
If a day is planned to be high-stress, I would rather get all planned work in on that day and let the following day be a low-stress or no-stress day. I refer to this as “stimulus stacking.”If a day is planned to be high-stress, I’d rather get all planned work in on that day and let the following day be a low-stress or no-stress day. I refer to this as ‘stimulus stacking.’ Click To Tweet
Many athletes will opt to skip their lift on game day and do it the next day. Many coaches will also give their team the day off after a game. But if you think about it, lifting on that off day kind of defeats the purpose of having an off day. You now had two high-stress days in a row (maybe more) when it could have been one high-stress day followed by a low-stress day, with true rest and recovery.
In-season, rest and recovery are immensely important. These true off days are hard to come by. They should be valued and honored. If we “stimulus stack,” we can help athletes get the most out of the hard days and the most out of the light days. But if we let the hard days bleed into the light days, then we really don’t have light days.
With VBT, we know that bar speeds will tell us the story on intensity levels. It doesn’t matter what weight is on the bar, what percentage of 1RM is being used, or what the athlete did last week. The bar speed is the bar speed; that is the energy and effort the athlete has to give on that given day.
By using target bar speeds in training, we can help our athletes aim for the desired athletic quality or adaptation we want to get from the lift. So, if an athlete does want to get their strength work in post-game, a heavy rep is still .30 m/s.
Maybe on a fresh day, the athlete can trap bar deadlift 400 pounds at .30 m/s, and after a game, they can only move 335 pounds at .30 m/s. That’s fine. We know why that is. But that’s a high-stress rep giving a good strength stimulus, and that’s what we’re after. We’re not after arbitrary goals like “go up 5 pounds each week” or lift “90% of your one rep max.” It’s about maximizing each training opportunity so they can earn their off days.
For hoopers, this element of stress management has been huge for our program. It’s a bit untraditional, but it’s becoming the norm at the highest levels. Each year in the NBA and WNBA, we see post-game lifts becoming increasingly popular. Colleges have started to implement them as well.Post-game lifts are a bit untraditional but are becoming the norm at the highest levels. This element of stress management has been huge for our programs, says @JustinOchoa317. Click To Tweet
Of course, college and pro ranks have far greater travel and logistical demands than a high school basketball player, but I still think this method is valid and useful for high school athletes as well. In the high school setting, I think it’s probably more challenging to implement due to:
- Limitations of a high school facility schedule and budget.
- Athletes still relying on their parents for travel.
- Time management in a school week.
But it’s still worth considering for high school coaches.
3. Imbalance and Deficiency Trends
Lastly, this is a much more experimental and anecdotal method, but one that I believe is very powerful: using VBT to identify imbalances and deficiencies in your basketball players to potentially reduce the risk of injury.
I live by the 70/20/10 rule:
- For 70% of what we do in training, I am absolutely, positively certain it will work exactly how I plan.
- For 20% of what we do in training, I am fairly sure it will work exactly how I plan.
- For 10% of what we do in training, I’m experimenting but hopeful it will work how I plan.
This section is about that 10%.
Can we use VBT to identify muscle or coordination imbalances? I believe so.
In our unilateral strength or power exercises, VBT feedback can help us find trends or red flags during training that can at least start to get some wheels turning.
We can look for things like significant discrepancies between the left and right sides—a 10% difference or more, anecdotally.
That could mean there’s a strength imbalance that we may need to address. It may also mean there’s a fatigue or overuse factor that we need to address.
The answers would not be directly in the VBT data, but the data could help us ask the right questions to start to probe for more information. Specifically in basketball, where so much repetition is involved in many common moves, VBT can help athletes develop an awareness of how important it is to train for general health and wellness versus always being so focused on the performance side.
With advanced analytics, we can see data and trends in basketball actions that could lead to conversations about overuse or potential injury risk. In conjunction with the VBT data, that could be a beneficial tool for enhancing athlete health and safety on the court and in training.
VBT has been one of our program’s most helpful and impactful additions over the years. Tracking, storing, and managing athlete data with Vitruve has been crucial to our consistent results and track record of basketball performance.
Again, the general benefits of real-time data on velocity, power, and force are great, but it’s these nuanced uses for our basketball players that have helped us shape our program into what it is today.
Since you’re here…
…we have a small favor to ask. More people are reading SimpliFaster than ever, and each week we bring you compelling content from coaches, sport scientists, and physiotherapists who are devoted to building better athletes. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — SF