One of the most decorated high school basketball coaches in the area visited Sparta last week, and he really wanted his girls to have more power, to jump higher like volleyball players. I countered with the desire for volleyball players to be more athletic, to move faster side to side. Unfortunately, the injury rate for these basketball players is drastically higher. In fact, ACL tears are almost 3x more likely in basketball than volleyball.
It would be easy to assume that the higher knee injury rate in basketball is due to the increased amount of running and changing direction. However, recent research found that the difference in landing on 2 legs, rather than the 1 leg involved in running, could be the main cause of increased injuries among basketball players. One of the most commonly accepted causes of knee injuries is when the knees come closer together on jumping or landing, called a valgus position. A 2009 study out of the University of Salford, United Kingdom, found this valgus position to be worse in volleyball players when landing on one leg, but more pronounced in basketball players when landing on 2 legs.
If landing technique, a skill in itself, is one key to injury prevention, then strength is the other major key to preventing the valgus position. It is no coincidence that this higher level of strength in volleyball players also allows them to have much higher vertical jumps. After training both NBA players and Olympic volleyball players, there is no doubt that volleyball players have consistently higher vertical jumps.
Part of the reason for increased strength and power levels in volleyball players is they do not have to worry about the physical skills of agility or the fatigue associated with running up and down the court, instead focusing on jumping technique. Even focusing on landing technique can be inefficient, as the athlete may not be strong enough to land correctly, not to mention that the dozens of practice reps correctly are only a fraction of the number of landings performed in a game setting, where the ball is the only objective. The other major explanation is the culture of the sport; volleyball players have long recognized the correlation between lifting more weight and jumping higher, where basketball players, and other intermittent sports like soccer, stress playing more of their sport to get in shape.
So make sure you’re simultaneously pursuing the skill of landing and getting stronger by weightlifting. However, if you’re competing against our athletes, just focus on the technique of landing, as squatting more weight obviously plays no role in injury prevention.