First Step Quickness for Basketball

Updated: Jul 13, 2020

By Logan Ryan


Intro


Ahh the quick first step. It’s a highly sought-after athletic ability in the basketball world that’s valued at a premium for good reason. Among other reasons, a quick first step allows you to gain advantages over your primary defender, which will lead to open shots for yourself or teammates if help defense steps up.

So how do we train ourselves to develop a quick first step? I'm going to focus on three things you can work on today to improve your first step quickness. By the end of the article you should have an understanding of (1) acceleration mechanics, (2) Achilles tendon stiffness, and (3) the plyo step, as well as specific ways you can implement them into your training program.


Quick Step Defined


Let’s begin by defining first step quickness from a basketball perspective. Generally, when people speak about a player having a quick first step, they’re referring to a player with the ball who is good at accelerating past their defender, whether that’s from the triple threat position or live dribble. To be most precise, a player who has first step quickness is able to accelerate horizontally across the court from point A to point B faster than their opponent. Keeping this in mind, let’s look in-depth at acceleration.


Acceleration Mechanics

In athletics terms, acceleration is an increase in speed or velocity. Acceleration is an incredibly common action that occurs in every game. In fact, a 2018 study by Vazquez-Guerrero et. al. found that an individual player accelerates roughly 30 times per minute during a game! So how do we improve our abilities to perform such a common action? When it comes to acceleration, there are two factors we must focus on: force production and force direction.

Force production in regards to acceleration is simple to understand with an understanding of Newton’s First and Third Laws of Motion. Newton’s First Law states that an object at a constant speed will stay at that speed (inertia) unless acted upon by another force, and Newton’s Third Law states that for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. Applying this to first step quickness, what these laws of physics mean is that the more force you produce into the ground through your feet then the more ground reaction forces you’ll get back to propel you in your desired direction. Since acceleration requires huge force production with longer ground contact time than top speed (Rooney, n.d.), the best way to produce more force is to simply get stronger relative to your body weight through all areas of the force-velocity --- so hit the weight room.

Force direction is the direction we are applying the force we produce (duh). Since we’re trying to move horizontally when it comes to first step quickness, we need to direct our force horizontally. In order to do this we have to put our focus on our shin angle and torso angle. For brevity’s sake, we want to have a positive shin angle with a forward torso lean that matches our shin angle. In doing so, this directs our force in a more horizontal plane rather than vertical plane, which is desirable for our goal of first step quickness. See the diagram above for a picture of a positive shin angle and forward torso lean which is best for acceleration, versus a negative shin angle which is best for deceleration. Included below is a video of in-game examples of acceleration mechanics.

Achilles Tendon Stiffness

We’ve already established that force production and force direction influence the rate of acceleration, but those two factors are dependent on force being efficiently transferred in both directions between the kinetic chain and the ground. Therefore we must pay special attention to the Achilles tendon.

Tendons enable movement by transmitting muscle-generated forces to the skeleton” (Bayliss et. al., 2016). If we are to effectively transfer force from the muscles surrounding primarily the hip and knee during acceleration, then we need to increase the stiffness of the Achilles tendon. This is because tendons and aponeuroses are low-energy dissipators that return approximately 93% of stored energy during recoil (McNeill Alexander, 2002), so the more rigid we make the tendon the more kinetic energy it will transfer both up and down the kinetic chain. A stiff tendon will act like a tight rubber band that snaps more forcefully than a limp rubber band.

You can increase the rigidness of the Achilles tendon in several ways, including triphasic training and plyometric training, specifically extensive plyos. An example of a superset that combines these two elements includes: (1) kickstand soleus raise to strengthen the soleus muscle and build Achilles tendon elasticity (Fabritz, 00:12-00:22); and (2) performing bounds to train the achilles tendon to rapidly release energy in a horizontal plane (Haley, 2016). See the video below for a demonstration of the superset.




Plyo Step

Controversy alert. The plyo step is also commonly known as a negative step or a false step. Many coaches stand in stark opposition to using the plyo step because they reason it doesn’t make sense to take a step in the opposite direction of your intended direction. Although the logic makes sense, their argument fails to account for Newton’s First and Third Laws of motion, which I detailed earlier. We can produce more force to increase our velocity going forward (first law) by putting force into the ground behind us, which will then give us a greater ground reaction force than if we had begun by taking a step forward with no ground reaction forces (third law). Of course there are circumstances where it makes more sense to not use the plyo step, but it’s an effective tool to have in your box. Here’s a sample compilation video of players using the plyo step.




Conclusion

A quick first step is a valuable athletic ability to have as a basketball player. Although there are so many directions to focus one’s training in order to improve first step quickness, three specific things you can add into your training program include (1) refining your acceleration mechanics, (2) training to make your achilles tendon more rigid, and (3) using the plyo step to generate more force on the first step.


Feel free to add your comments or questions below. Make sure to like and follow the content I share on Instagram and YouTube. If you’re interested in training with me send me a message on my contact page.



Thanks for reading.


Agape,

Logan

Owner, Lead Trainer of Premier Basketball & Fitness Training





References

Alexander, R. M. (2002). Tendon elasticity and muscle function. Comparative Biochemistry

and Physiology Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology, 133(4), 1001-1011.

doi:10.1016/s1095-6433(02)00143-5


Bayliss, A. J., Weatherholt, A. M., Crandall, T. T., Farmer, D. L., McConnell, J. C., Crossley, K. M., & Warden, S. J. (2016). Achilles tendon material properties are greater in the jump leg of jumping athletes.Journal of musculoskeletal & neuronal interactions,16(2), 105–112.


Buchholz, L., & Zweifel, M. (n.d.). 10 Tips to Improve Acceleration and Sprinting Speed.

Retrieved July 13, 2020, from https://www.building-better-

athlete.com/uploads/5/1/9/0/51905813/10_tips_to_improve_acceleration_and_sprinting_speed(1).pdf


Fabritz, P. J. (Director). (2020). Achilles Tendon Exercises to Improve Vertical Jump and Speed [Video file]. Retrieved July 13, 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzXIxEJAcwY&t=218s


Haley, A. (2016, June 27). This Simple Plyometric Exercise Will Make You Faster. Retrieved July 13, 2020, from https://www.stack.com/a/this-simple-plyometric-exercise-will-make-you-faster


Hall, N. (2015). Newton's Laws of Motion. Retrieved July 13, 2020, from https://www.grc.nasa.gov/www/k-12/airplane/newton.html


Kennedy, K., & Dietz, C. (2020, April 20). Speed Development for Non-Track Athletes. Retrieved July 13, 2020, from https://simplifaster.com/articles/speed-development-for-non-track-athletes/


Monte, A., & Zamparo, P. (2019). Correlations between muscle-tendon parameters and acceleration ability in 20 m sprints. Plos One, 14(3). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0213347


Parisi, B. (n.d.). Maximizing Your Athletes' Acceleration. Retrieved July 13, 2020, from https://www.performbetter.com/maximizing-your-athletes-acceleration


Patel, B. (n.d.). Greased Lightening. Retrieved July 13, 2020, from http://cdn2.hubspot.net/hub/52884/file-1912682530-pdf/docs/greased-lightening---bp.pdf


Rooney, M. (n.d.). Acceleration - Deceleration. Retrieved July 13, 2020, from file:///C:/Users/logan/Downloads/acell_decel.pdf


Select, K. (2017, June 01). Acceleration vs. Maximum Speed. Retrieved July 13, 2020, from https://www.nsca.com/education/articles/kinetic-select/acceleration-vs.-maximum-speed/


Vázquez-Guerrero J, Suarez-Arrones L, Casamichana Gómez D, Rodas G.Comparing external total load, acceleration and deceleration outputs in elite basketball players across positions during match play.Kinesiol Int J Fundam Appl Kinesiol. 2018;50: 0.



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