Women's basketball continues to get faster and more physical. In the words of Mike Vorkapich, the strength and conditioning coach for the Michigan State basketball teams, basketball has become "a banging sport. It's no longer just a lower-body game. I see a fair number of shoulder injuries. Strengthening the upper body is vital to withstanding the contact." Strengthening the lower body is essential for women jocks as well, since female basketball and soccer players are up to five times as susceptible to dreaded ACL -- anterior cruciate ligament knee injuries -- as their male counterparts. Whether you are a youth league, high school or college basketball player, strength training prior to and during the season can prevent injuries and enable you to dominate the competition.
Prior to the season the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse women's basketball team strength trains three days per week. On Monday, the weight-training routine includes back squats, chinups, inverted rows and hanging leg raises. Wednesday strength workouts include medicine ball throws, bench presses, split squats and glute bridges. On Friday, the routine includes neutral-grip chinups, jump squats and decline situps. The Michigan State men and women weight train either three or four days during the off-season, three days during preseason and two days during the season.
The Michigan State strength-training program is intense. Walking from one set to the next usually serves as the only rest period. During the off-season, players are in the weight room for one hour. During the season, sessions last only 20 to 30 minutes. A wide range of weightlifting exercises are performed, ranging from squats with barbells, to hamstring curls and glute raises using weight machines to dumbbell rows. Core exercises such as V-ups and physioball crunches are done before, during and after weight work.
Michigan State's Vorkapich uses a progressive overload strength-training process, which keeps the number of reps the same while gradually increasing the amount of weight. "Basketball players are not power lifters... We strength train for the sport of basketball, which is why reps stay high." Since multijoint exercises build the most muscle, exercises such as squats and bench presses are emphasized, as are push/pull patterns to work opposite sets of muscles. For example, squats that work the quad muscles are followed by exercises to strengthen the hamstrings.
"The New York Times" reports that women have a number of risk factors for ACL injuries compared to men, including wider hips, less strength in the hamstrings and quads and a tendency to land with straight legs and knock-knees when jumping. The epidemic of ACL tears in women's basketball, which often end a player's career and can lead to osteoarthritis later in life, has compelled coaches and trainers to go to great lengths to reduce such injuries. The powerhouse University of Connecticut women's basketball program gives its players jump-landing tests, individual programs to correct biomechanical faults and techniques to land in ways that absorb the shock, such as bending at the knees and hips and striking the ground toe to heel.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.