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Analysis of the Free-Throw Shot

When deciding about a movement to study, I thought about many, and very few

interested me. Then I decided to choose something that was very important to me.

Shooting the basketball, and more specifically the technique in performing a

free throw. I thought by looking more closely at the details of a movement I

have been doing since a small child. I thought possibly I could learn something

that would give me an advantage in my shot.

The application of this particular movement is for shooting a free-throw,

which is a stand still uncontested shot. There are a few rules that go with

shooting a free-throw, such as you have to be behind the fifteen foot line,

called the free-throw line, and you can’t cross that until after the ball makes

contact with the rim.

When performing this skill you should also be aware of the other factors

that could influence your accuracy in performing the free-throw. The rim is

fifteen feet from the free-throw line on center. Also you should be aware of

the fact you can fit three basketballs through the rim at the same time if

placed together. Also the rim is ten feet high from the floor, meaning you have

to make sure win shooting the ball, that the angle is higher than ten feet at

its peak so then on its decent to the basket it will have a chance to go in. If

you don’t get it higher than ten feet it has no chance to go in.

When you start talking all these angle’s and trajectories, you can begin to

understand why some people are accurate and some are not. Shooting free-throws

is not a thing of chance or luck. It is something that takes repetition. To be

a good free-throw shooter you need to have a repetitive action, not something

that changes every time. Since the conditions are predictable it is very easy

to become a good repetitive free-throw shooter.

If you would be unsure about the correct movements, it would be beneficial

to study the movements of someone who is one of the best at what you were

studying. The best of our time would be Mark Price of the NBA. He has a career

free-throw average over ninety percent, which by free-throw standards is very

good. To give you an idea of how well that is, you need to examine the averages.

If a person was to shoot over seventy percent for the year, they would be

considered a decent free-throw shooter. Someone over eighty percent is

considered good. So if you are able to shoot ninety percent over a career

spanning more than ten years, you are considered one of the best ever.

Everyone has there own personal technique or procedure leading up to the

actual shot. Probably the most common routines would be to stay off the free-

throw lime until referee is ready for you, and then step up to the line and

receive the ball. Once you step to the line and receive the ball you want to

get in a comfortable position with your feet shoulder width apart, and your

dominant side foot slightly in front of your other. Balance is key to shooting

because you want to end your shot on the balls of your feet, and if you are not

balanced you will fall forward and the shot will not count. Then you want to

take a deep breath and relax. Some people will bounce ball one time or five the

ten, it is all personalized. Then you want to focus on rim, bend at the knees

and deliver the ball. This would be the sequence that is most commonly followed.

By following the same sequence every time you begin to develop a rhythm and

that is what you want. You need to find what is comfortable and stick with it.

Along with this sequence of events leading to the shot, you want to be

aware of proper shooting technique. Proper shooting technique would be to rest

the ball on the fingertips of your hand. You do not want the ball resting in

your palm. Control of the shot comes from the fingers. You want to use your

non dominant hand as support on the side to the ball. This hand has nothing to

do with the shot, it is there only for support of the ball. Then you would want

to bring the ball up to the forehead creating a window between your arms. This

is where you want to focus on the rim and extend at the elbow, and extending at

the wrist.

Now to talk about what all this really means and how you get the ball from

your hand to the rim. When we do it, we consider it to be very simple, but it

is actually a very complex movement, involving many different muscles. Many

muscles are involved, some more than others. I will first talk about the ones

used the least.

The shoulder girdle involves muscles that are key to the movement, but are

mostly used in stabilization of the shoulder. The Trapezius and the Rhomboid

muscles are stabilizers of the shoulder along with the rotator cuff muscles

including the Supraspinatis, Infraspinatis, Teres Minor, and Subscapularis which

provide dynamic stability of the shoulder. All these muscles are key, but are

not involved much in the actual movement.

The Serratus Anterior is commonly used in movements drawing the scapula

forward with slight upward rotation, and would be used in shooting the

basketball and works in conjunction with Pectoralis Minor. Now we will get into

some of the muscles actually doing the work when shooting the free-throw.

The Deltoid, which is one of the most important muscles involved in any

shoulder movement is responsible for the movement of the Humerus. Any movement

of the Humerus will involve the Deltoid. The Coracobrachialis assist in flexion

of the shoulder. Other muscles involved in the cocking phase of the shot are

the Biceps Brachii, Brachialis, and Brachioradialis which are all strong

flexor’s of the elbow.

The Pronator Teres would be used to place hand in pronated position so you

could balance ball when you are attempting the shot. While the ball is resting

in the hand, the wrist will be extended by the Extensor Carpi Ulnaris, Extensor

Carpi Radialis Brevis, Extensor Carpi Radialis Longus. The two radialis muscles

are important in any activity requiring wrist extension or stabilization of the

wrist against resistance, particularly when the forearm is pronated. A few

other muscles involved in weak wrist extension are the Extensor Digitorum,

Extensor Indicis, Extensor Digiti Minimi, Extensor Pollicis Longus and Brevis.

Now for the part of the shot, that is the most crucial ingredient of all, the


The Triceps Brachii which are used in hand balancing and any pushing

movement involving the upper extremity. Triceps Brachii and the Anconeus are

the two elbow extensors. The chief function of the Anconeus is to pull the

synovial membrane out of the way of the olecranon process during extension of

the elbow.

Now to move a little further down the arm, we get into the wrist flexors.

The Flexor Carpi Radialis and Ulnaris along with the Palmaris Longus are the

most powerful. The Flexor Digitorum Superficialis insert into each of the four

fingers, and along with the Flexor Digitorum Profundus are the only muscles

involved in all four finger flexion. Along with these the Flexor pollicis

Longus provides some assistance in wrist flexion.

Flexion of the elbow and the wrist is where you generate the force to get

the ball to the rim, so I would consider the flexors most important, although

all play a significant role. To become very proficient and increase your

accuracy I would recommend strengthening the flexors, or the muscles involved in

the release. To strengthen these muscles you would increase your chances of

accuracy while fatigued, when free-throws are crucial in winning or loosing.

To strengthen the Triceps Brachii and Anconeus, you would do push ups or

dips. For the Flexor Carpi Radialis and Ulnaris along with the Palmaris Longus,

I would recommend wrist curls in the supinated position. Then the last group I

could say to squeeze a tennis ball or any other gripping exercise for the Flexor

Digitorum Superficialis, Flexor Digitorum Profundus, and the Flexor Pollicis


Through all of this I have discovered how complex movements really are, and

that as an athlete I need to be aware of the things I can do to increase my

performance, and through this I was able to narrow down what muscles to

concentrate on to improve my performance.


Dayton, William. Sports Fitness and Training. Pantheon Books: New York, 1987.

McArdle, William D. Exercise Physiology. Lea & Febiger: Philadelphia, 1981.

Wirhed, Rolf. Athletic Ability, The Anatomy of Winning. Harmony Books: New

York, 1984.

Analysis of the Free-Throw Shot

by Shane Stocks

Kinesiology Paul Bruning April 07, 1997


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