Introduction & Analysis of Shooting a Free-throw



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Introduction & Analysis of Shooting a Free-throw

A free throw is an elementary skill for experienced basketball players. It is a routine shot practiced to the point of innate muscle memory. Yet it is not a guaranteed point. Any basketball fan can account for numerous games where the outcome was determined by “the line.” In fact all we have to do is look at this year’s NCAA Men’s basketball championship as one headline writes “Missed Free Throws Doom Kentucky in Championship Game Loss to UConn.” The article claimed that “their (Kentucky’s) inability to make one of the simplest shots in basketball was a big reason why they lost 60-54.” Yet every baller can’t expect to be perfect at the line. Even the very best free throw shooting teams in the NBA only hit about 78% of their foul shots. Another article claims that in about 5% of games the losing team would have won had they hit merely 78% of their free throws. That’s basically saying a team could pick up two more wins a season. Obviously, free throws are important and must be practiced regularly as they can have a profound effect on the outcome of a game. That is why I chose to do the skill of free throw shooting in this muscle analysis. I want to be able to identify and understand what muscles go into making this important and often game-determining shot.



  1. Preliminary Movement

  1. Description

In basketball, free throws or foul shots are unopposed attempts to score from a designated area on the court called the free throw line. They are generally awarded after a foul on the shooter from the opposing team and each made free throw is worth one point. To begin the free throw attempt, the referee bounces the ball to the shooter, allowing for 10 seconds in which the shot must be taken. Following a right-handed shooters personal dribbling routine, the athlete will follow these basic movements.

Their body-feet, hips, and shoulders- will be facing the basket with their feet about shoulder width apart in a balanced position. Most right handed players place their right foot in the center of the foul line. The left foot then is placed beside the right or slightly behind. Their body weight will be evenly distributed between the balls of the feet. The knees, hips and torso display slight flexion with the ankles in dorsiflexion

At this time the ball will be in the right hand. The elbows are flexed, with the right elbow at 90 degrees, wrists slightly extended and fingers abducted.

The neck, depending on the player’s point of focus in preparation of the shot, will probably be in Cervical Flexion.



  1. Mechanical & Muscular Analysis

  1. Ankle Dorsiflexion:

  • Peroneus, Extensor digitorum longus, Extensor halluces longus, Tibialis anterior

  1. Knee Flexion

  • Biceps femoris, Popliteus, Simimembranosus, Semitendinosus, Sartorius, Gastrocnemius, Gracilis (weak flexion)

  1. Hip Flexion

  • Illiacus, Psoas major and minor (also known as Iliopsoas), Rectus femoris, Sartorius, Pectineus, tensor fasciae latae

  1. Lumbar flexion

  • Rectus abdominis, external oblique abdominal, internal oblique abdominal

  1. Elbow flexion

  • Biceps brachii, Brachialis, Brachioradialis, Flexor carpi radialis (weak flexion), Palmaris longus (weak flexion), Flexor carpi ulnaris (weak flexion), flexor digitorum superficialis, Pronator teres*

  1. Wrist extension

  • Extensor carpi ulnaris, Extensor carpi radialis brevis, Extensor carpi radialis longus, Extensor digitorum, extensor pollicis longus, extensor indicis*, extensor digiti minimi*, abductor pollicis longus*

  1. Shoulder flexion

  • Deltoid (anterior fibers), Pectoralis Major

  1. Cervical flexion

  • Stenocleidomastoid, Rectus capitis anterior*, Longus capitis*, Longus colli*

  1. Act

  1. Description

Shooting a free throw involves flexion and extension of the knees, and extension of the arms and wrists as the ball is propelled towards the basket.

Prior to the act, the knees, hips begin in a flexed position, with the ankle in dorsiflexion. This flexed position is then followed by extension of the knees and hips, plantar flexion of the ankles, and extension of the toes. The shooter’s legs straighten and the body is raised onto the toes.

During the shot, elevation of both shoulders takes place, including upward rotation of the right shoulder. The arms are extended at the elbow (especially the right arm), wrists are flexed, and the digits slightly flexed.

The head is raised towards the target, placing the neck in cervical extension.



  1. Mechanical & Muscle Analysis

  1. Knee Extension

  1. Hip Extension

  • Biceps femoris, semimembranosus, semitendinosus, Gluteus maximus, Adductor magnus

  1. Ankle Plantar Flexion

  • Gastrocnemius, Soleus, Tibialis posterior, flexor digitorum longus, Flexor hallucis longus, Peroneus longus, Peroneus brevis

  1. Pedal Digit Extension

  1. Shoulder Elevation

  • Trapezius (upper & middle), Rhomboid, Levator scapula

  1. Should Upward Rotation

  • Serratus anterior, Trapezius (middle fibers & lower fibers)

  1. Elbow Extension

  • Triceps brachii, Anconeus, Extensor carpi ulnaris (weak), extensor digitorum (weak), extensor digiti minimi*

  1. Wrist Flexion

  • Flexor carpi radialis, Palmaris longus, Flexor carpi ulnaris, Flexor digitorum profundus, Flexor digitorum superficialis, Flexor pollicis longus

  1. Digit Flexion

  1. Cervical Extension

  • Trapezius (upper fibers), Splenius (cervicis, capitis) rectus capitis posterior*, Obliquus capitis superior*, semispinalis capitis*



  1. Follow-Through

  1. Description

The follow-through of shooting a free-throw results in the body returning to an erect, standing position. The toes move from extension to a more neutral position and the ankles from plantar flexion to a flat neutral position. The knees and hips return from extension to slight flexion, the natural athletic stance.

The digits remain in slight flexion, with the extended wrist moving back to a neutral position. The extended elbow is lowered and flexed slightly in the natural position. The shoulders experience depression as they are lowered with the right shoulder experiencing downward rotation.



The head should be facing the target in slight cervical extension until the ball hits the rim at which time it will return to a neutral position.



  1. Mechanical & Muscle Analysis

  1. Pedal digit flexion

  1. Ankle Dorsiflexion (return)

  • Peroneus tertius, Extensor digitorum longus, Extensor halluces longus, Tibialis anterior

  1. Knee flexion

  • Biceps femoris, Popliteus, Simimembranosus, Semitendinosus, Sartorius, Gracilis, and Gastrocnemius

  1. Hip flexion

  • Illiacus, Psoas major and minor (also known as Iliopsoas), Rectus femoris, Sartorius, Pectineus, tensor fasciae latae

  1. Digit flexion

  • Flexor digitorum superficialis, flexor digitorum profundus, flexor pollicis longus

  1. Wrist extension (return)

  • Extensor carpi ulnaris, Extensor carpi radialis brevis, Extensor carpi radialis longus, Extensor digitorum, extensor pollicis longus, extensor indicis*, extensor digiti minimi*, abductor pollicis longus*

  1. Elbow flexion

  • Biceps brachii, Brachialis, Brachioradialis, Flexor carpi radialis (weak flexion), Palmaris longus (weak flexion), Flexor carpi ulnaris (weak flexion), flexor digitorum superficialis, Pronator teres*

  1. Shoulder Depression

  • Pectoralis minor, Trapezius lower fibers, subclavius

  1. Shoulder Downward Rotation

  • Pectoralis minor, Rhomboids

  1. Shoulder Extension

  • Deltoid (posterior fibers) Pectoralis major lower fibers, subscapularis, Latissimus dorsi, Teres major, Infraspinatus, Teres minor, Triceps Brachii (long head)

  1. Cervical Flexion

  • Stenocleidomastoid, Rectus capitis anterior*, Longus capitis*, Longus colli*

Note: muscles with * indicate not drawn due to weak contribution or not listed in book

Video Clip: http://animoto.com/play/GwYtWOQCNj7BzecQ25Vk8g

Muscle Key:

  • Origin: yellow

  • Insertion: blue

  • Belly: red

  • Tendon: green

Bibliography/References:

  • Used in Muscle Analysis & Coloring:

Floyd, R.T. Manual of Structural Kinesiology, New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009.

  • Used in Introduction:

  • http://espn.go.com/nba/statistics/team/_/stat/offense-per-game/sort/freeThrowPct

  • http://www.82games.com/random20.htm

  • http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/07/missed-free-throws-kentucky-uconn_n_5108497.html


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