James Harden's Hidden Superpower & Deceleration Training


Featured: By Trainer Taylor Lewis, owner of Academy of Total Performance.



Deceleration training could be one of the most underused properties in athleticism today. Ben Cohen brought our attention back to this property in the article he wrote “James Harden’s Secret Talent Is Slowing Down” in the Wall Street Journal. The world today is all about go, go, go. How much can you get done in one single day, one hour, one minute. This mentality has shifted the realm of training from learning how to absorb force (deceleration) to focusing on how on how fast someone can cover a set distance (acceleration). But James Harden’s ability to “slow down” pulls us back into why it’s important to work on deceleration training.  To get a better understanding of the importance of deceleration training we must first identify the properties that control it.

Sir Isaac Newton’s Three Laws of Motion

The first law of motion: any object will remain at rest or in motion in a straight line unless forced to change by the application of an external force. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion, and objects at rest tend to stay at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force.

The second law of motion: acceleration of an object produced by a net (total) applied force is directly related to the magnitude of the force, the same direction as the force, and inversely related to the mass of the. The second law simply states: Force = James Harden’s Mass X Acceleration.

The third law of motion: states that for every action (or force), there is an equal and opposite reaction. For example, when James Harden “stops on a dime” on the basketball court, the court floor caves in or is pushed down.

These law sustain the idea that when Harden stops on a dime and changes directions a new imprint to a movement will occur based on his ability to absorb and transfer force. The key here is either way he will transfer force but without adequate strength, mobility, stability, and neuromuscular synchronization and control he will not optimal transfer force. This could lead to reduced optimal multi-directional acceleration.


The laws of Motions are only one key element in transferring force within the system. Harden’s ability to coordinate strength and neuromuscular responses during motion what places him at the elite level in basketball.  From a neuromuscular position this involves eccentric loading of the muscles (lengthening) and concentrically contracting of the muscles (shortening). When optimal efficient eccentric muscle contractions are rapidly followed by concentric contractions in basketball you see multi-directional cuts and acceleratory cuts that leave your jaw on the floor. Something that Harden is known for doing. This happens because when muscles are stretched during an eccentric contraction (loading phases of a jump), they store elastic energy, and this energy, accompanied by a rapid concentric contraction (jumping), produces more power than an independent concentric contraction alone. These combined action are commonly called a stretch-shortening cycle and depend on using passively elastic energy in the muscle and the active role of stretch reflex.

Strength plays a vital role in the stretch shortening cycle. During eccentric training such as eccentric deadlifts or countermovement jumps the muscular-tendon system is stretched and by that absorbs mechanical energy. (James landing from a dunk) This causes the bodies musculature strength around the feet, ankles, knees and hips with stand such a high amount of force so it can transfer it back to the concentric phase of the stretch shortening cycle as well as reduce the stress around the joints.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends the athlete be able to 1 rep max Squat 1.5 x his or her body weight before perform various plyometric exercise because of the high demand jumping, cutting has on the body. This is due to the fact that during a vertical jump, the jumper must overcome body weight, and the resultant force acting on the jumper’s center of mass as well as the overcome body weight and ground reaction force during landing. For example, if an athletes body mass is 100 kilograms, then the GRF (ground reaction force) due to gravity alone is 980 N (100kg x 9.8 m/s 2). If he or she lands on the ground with a VGRF (vertical ground reaction force) of 4 BW (body weight), this would be equivalent to landing forces of approximately 3,900 N (landing force =980 N x 4 BW).  This just gives us an idea how much force is being consumed during the landing phase of jumping and reiterates how vital strength training and deceleration training is for athletes.


James Harden has accelerated his skills in the NBA by creating the ability to absorb force and transfer it in multi-directions extremely effectively. This has put him in the running for league MVP. Not only has it put him in a position to be considered the Most Valuable Player in 2017 but it increases the percentages of him staying in the league for years to come. Longevity is key and you must learn how to decelerate first before you accelerate not only sports but in everyday life.

Taylor Lewis owns and operates Academy Total Performance where he trains athletes and busy professionals.  Taylor also brings his expert fitness prescriptions to the Cystic Fibrosis community.  Taylor works with top strength coaches, organizations, and athletic teams in the country and is an international speaker on exercise and health.  Check him out at www.tlstrength.com

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