Quality preparation can be the difference between good teams and great teams or great teams and building a legacy.
“The key is not the ‘will to win’... everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important”
- Bobby Knight.
“When opportunity comes, it’s too late to prepare”
– John Wooden.
Basketball coaches know how to be prepared for practice and games with plans and scouting reports. However, are those things alone enough to give players the best opportunity for success? I believe the basketball community can make great gains in improving their in- season training systems. Most coaches make sure their players are in a version of a preseason weight-lifting program. For example, we want our players to “get bigger” or to acquire lateral quickness. When official practice begins, continuation of the strength training either ceases, goes down in quality, or is very inconsistent. This article will pull back the curtains on the facts of in-season training and give you the tools to develop your own comprehensive system to give your team the best opportunity to succeed. There are three sections: Why having an in-season training system is a necessity, How to implement such a system, and What that system includes.
As coaches we have an unique responsibility to affect the lives of young women and men. Let us fully invest in those that have been entrusted to us.
Injuries are the worst part of sports and some are out of our control. However, with a quality in-season system, we can get ahead of movement inefficiencies and give our players a great chance to be healthy. Christina Specos is the Associate Director of Athletic Performance at Purdue University; and she has a great model that describes how most injuries occur during a season.
Fatigue ———> Breakdown of Kinematics ———> Improper Loading/Movement ———>Injury (Specos, 2014)
Fatigue is not just physical but mental and emotional as well. When fatigue is not properly managed, our body starts to breakdown and look for shortcuts to accomplish tasks. Quickly recall the last time a player reached on defense instead of moving their feet, and you understand that the body resorts to the path of least resistance. This fatigue leads to a breakdown of how the body moves in space. Human kinematics is a science that studies the body’s angles, joints, and segments to determine the most efficient way that a person moves. (2) When a basketball player does not maintain quality or efficient angles, improper loading of muscles occurs. (Issurin) When the body has to make compensations in a dynamic environment like a game or practice, the risk of injury goes up. An in-season training system can help reduce this possibility. (Specos)
To understand the importance of strength for our athletes, we must first understand that strength is the foundation for the explosive qualities that we need in basketball. Strength in the most basic sense is the ability to apply force.(Verkhoshansky) We must be able to apply this force in all three planes of motion. Strength is not only the ability to finish at the rim through contact but also to decelerate the body to land safely on the court. Strength gives the body the ability to put force into the ground to move laterally on defense but also to hold a post position on offense. Strength is also connected to injury reduction. In connection with the first point, strength will prove to prevent our body from improper loading and movement. For example, research has shown that poor trunk control/stability (weak core strength) can cause greater anterior forces on the knees upon vertical jump landing. Thus causing a greater possibility for knee pain or ACL tears. (Kulas) Efficient muscles and tissues are better at preventing injuries.
A basketball season provides different challenges than any other sport. At the high school and college level, there are school designated breaks, homework, and the season can last up to six months when the postseason play is included. These demands take a physical and mental toll over a long season. In the NBA, it can go up to nine months with the postseason included. The intense physical demands of practices and games combined with the length of the season can make being consistent in the weight room difficult. However, if the goal is to succeed in the conference tournament, or in the post-season, a progressive, in-season training system is a must.
Before I get into the nuts and bolts of in-season training, I want to express my sincere intention that I am not here to tell you how to run your program, I am not a basketball coach. I’m a performance coach that has been around the game since I was six years old. I have also worked with a Division I program and two Division III programs while I was in college. I am here to bridge the gap between human performance and the game of basketball because this is my passion. With that said, here is my advice for giving your team the best opportunity for success.
Quality over quantity:
We want “quality shots at quality spots” during games, so we should strive for quality time in the weight room. Every exercise and every rep are vital to your team’s success. Get in the weight room and get out.
Delegate leadership roles to upperclassmen. They have responsibility for the conduct and intensity in the weight room.
Communicate with players and staff on how they are feeling. Adjust practices and weight room times accordingly to the information gathered. Monitoring rest and regeneration can make or break your season.
Be willing to research and learn more than just about basketball, leading, and coaching. Learning how the brain functions, how social interactions determine confidence, the impact of mental training, or the importance of hip mobility for a defensive stance can take your program to the next level.
Make time for your own workouts, self-care, and family.
I put this last because I believe this is one of the most important points of emphasis. As
coaches, we ask our players to take care of themselves on the weekends, eat right, and workout. However, we tend to eat and drink whatever we want at times. I’m not against moderation in those things, but I am against coaches being hypocrites. Let us be great examples of what we preach.
The final step is to actually figure out what we are going to do during the times that we dedicate to in-season training. I believe there are two equally important parts: Regeneration and Basketball-specific strength training.
At APEC, regeneration days are not “rest days”. (I will describe regeneration soon.) Rest days are set apart days for complete abstinence from working out or practice. Nutrition, hydration, sleep, chores around the house, homework, and time with family are the focus on rest days. I would challenge you to not even think about basketball on these days; life is more important than wins and losses. There needs to be one of these rest days a week to give the body time to be prepared for the next week.
Preseason practices can be grueling because coaches feel the need to immediately get the players into basketball shape. I recommend a progressive or “building block” approach to practice intensity. Gradually increasing the intensity over the course of the preseason will prevent unnecessary soft tissue injuries and better prepare the athletes as the games begin. The risk of injury goes up when practices are long, inefficient (standing for a long time and then expected to sprint), or are frequent without proper attention to physical care. This is where Regeneration steps in to give assistance.
Regeneration includes but is not limited too: Foam rolling, locomotion, animal type movements, skill work, yoga, aerobic activity (running on concrete is highly discouraged), light pool workout, a massage by a licensed therapist, cryotherapy, pneumatic air devices, or a combination of some of these. These sessions should not last longer than 30-45 minutes (except for cryotherapy, that lasts for 3 minutes at the most). A great example of a regeneration day would be a team foam rolling session for 20 minutes, 10 minutes of locomotion, and then complete an efficient one hour practice of moderate to high intensity. Those initial 30 minutes will do multiple things for your team:
Increase tissue quality. When the tissues of your muscles are foam rolled, blood (the healing
agent of the body) is increased in that area. This allows for faster recovery, less soreness,
and feeling rejuvenated for the next practice.
Give the players a mental deep breath to re-focus.
Reduced possibility of injury because tissues are ready to create and receive force.
It is important to do a regeneration session at least once a week throughout the entire season and twice a week during the post season. This can go up to twice or even three times a week during the regular season, depending on how the team is feeling or volume of games/practices.
Pro Tip: Kansas Men’s Basketball Strength Coach, Andrea Hudy gives every player a bag full of items that are necessary for recovery: Nutrition sheets, pvc pipe and a baseball for myofascial release, eye covers, neck pillow etc. These can be easily carried to away games and used before and after practices/games. (Hudy)
Nutrition: The emphasis here needs to be that simple, healthy habits are encouraged consistently. Pick 2-3 phrases and always repeat them, ask your players to describe what they mean, and ask how they are doing on them. For example, “eat often” and “eat clean” are simple phrases that can help your players simplify nutrition and make it manageable. Addressing how athletes think of food is important as well. In our culture food can be seen as a reward or a “comfort”. However, we should preach that “Food is Fuel”.
Most student athletes acquire macronutrients they need such as carbohydrates and proteins. However, there is one important macronutrient that is easily left out, fats. Healthy fats are found in avocados, salmon, almonds, natural peanut butter, pecans, cashews, olives. These are “unsaturated fats” that have been proven to decrease inflammation in sore joints. Another (poly)unsaturated fat that helps to decrease inflammation is omega-3. Since the body cannot synthesize these fatty acids on its own, omega-3s need to be eaten through salmon or taken as a supplement. (University of Michigan)
Also, I understand that budgets are slim but let us do our best on road trips to make healthy choices. Look, I know Golden Corral is easy but we can do better. Subway, Chipotle, or Schlotzskys are better alternatives. Fruits and vegetables are better choices than chips or fries as a side. Setting the example on road trips will help establish good habits for your players during the season and also for their life.
Hydration: WATER. Drinking water cannot be over-coached, just like taking care of the basketball. Always remind players to drink their body weight in ounces every day, and on practice days it should add an additional half of their weight in ounces. Make sure they do not drink carbonated drinks at restaurants on road trips. Drinking the right amount water speeds up the recovery process, eases sore joints, and reduces the chance of sickness during the winter.
Mindset: We all know that an athlete’s mindset plays a large role in their performance. An increasing amount of studies have been produced to support and give strategies to help us gain a mental advantage. To get a full, in-depth look into how our mindset affects our performance, I highly encourage you to read Bobby Stroupe’s article “7 Ways to ENHANCE Mindset”. (9)
Maintaining basketball-strength allows players to hold on to the power and agility qualities that were gained in the summer and in preseason strength programs.
Warmup: Basketball players do not run in a straight line the entire game; therefore, their warmup needs to reflect the sport. The body needs to be warm, sweating, and moving in all three planes of motion: using dynamic stretching, hip activation (lunges etc), locomotion (jogging/skipping/etc) and finish with explosive movements (sprint). Those explosive movements will recruit more muscles and excite/turn on the fast twitch muscles.
Volume: During the preseason, a training session should be at least once a week for 45 minutes. Quality work over the amount of work is the most important aspect.
During the season and postseason, have a strength training session to 1-2 times a week. Lifting the morning of game day is a great opportunity for the whole team to train. This assures that the body is awake and encourages a healthy, big breakfast afterwards. For players that play less than 15 minutes a game, a post game training session or high intensity conditioning session are viable options. (Brungardt) This post game session can be right after the game if it is an afternoon game or the next morning if it is a night game. These high intensity workouts insure that the players that do not play much will be prepared to play whenever called upon.
Intensity: The intensity needs to be high and quality even higher. (Burngardt) The intensity should rival a rebounding drill in practice. No time exists for mediocrity in the weightroom.
Exercise Selection: Choose quality exercises. For example, a quality exercise would be a single leg RDL in which the player is strengthening the hamstring in a way that is functional to basketball. This exercise is functional because the athlete is standing and the body is going through a range of motion that happens during the sport. In comparison, a poor quality exercise would be a sitting hamstring curl or using a glute-ham machine. A player neither sits or is kneeling in basketball while using the hamstring so do not waste your time.
Plyometrics: The basketball athlete is receiving plenty of plyometrics during practices and games. Therefore, there is no need to train these qualities during an in-season training session. However, the players that are receiving less than 15 minutes of playing time may do a small volume of plyometrics to retain the elasticity component.
Essential Strength Qualities: Dynamic core stability, mobility, stability, flexibility, lower body strength, and upper body strength are essential areas to cover during these training sessions.
Frequency: Training Residuals tell us how long a certain trained quality will stay with us. As seen below, there are different qualities listed, the number beside the quality shows approximately how long we can retain that trained effect.
Aerobic endurance: 30 days
Maximum strength: 30 days
Anaerobic glycolytic endurance: 18 days
Maximum speed: 5 days
(Note: This is assuming a consistent offseason and preseason training regimen has been executed.)
The general applications are as follows:
Make sure all players go through an aerobic workout on regeneration days 1-2 times a
Maximum strength qualities can go away within a month. Therefore, by Christmas break the
strength gained in the offseason will be impossible to gain back. Ideally, maximum strength
needs to addressed once a week.
The anaerobic glycolytic energy system will be covered during practice drills, scrimmages,
and conditioning and games. However, when practice intensity starts to decrease as the season goes on, make sure bench players (under 15 minutes of playing time) receive quality conditioning so they are prepared for the unexpected.
Maximum speed should be addressed once a week. Implementing two 100% 15 yard sprints in the warmup would be a great way to keep to avoid losing the maximum speed adaption.
When your team is down 4 with two minutes left, will they be prepared to overcome? Will their bodies be prepared to overcome? Will a team be prepared to make a playoff push after
winning three close games in a row? Will their bodies be prepared to make that push? A complete, efficient, and detailed in-season system can make the difference in your season. How will you prepare for the unexpected?
William Graham BA, CSCS, SCS
Kye Heck BS, CSCS, CAFS, CFSC
These coaches have over 35+ years of experience in basketball. They have learned from coaches at University of Texas at Austin, Lousiana State University, Letourneau University and Lousiana College. Their knowledge and love for the sport of basketball transcends just Strength and Conditioning.
Burngardt, M. (2008). The conditioning program of the San Antonio Spurs. Fiba Assist Magazine, 32, 40-43. Retrieved from: http://www.basketballwa.asn.au/fileadmin/ user_upload/_temp_/spursconditioning.pdf
“Healing Foods Pyramid: Healthy Fats.” Integrative Medicine at the University of Michigan.
Retrieved from: http://www.med.umich.edu/umim/food-pyramid/fats.html
Hudy, A. “Power Positions: Championship Prescriptions for Ultimate Sports Performance”
Kansas City. 2014. pg 90.
Huyghe, T. (2015). Top Ten Misconceptions on Combining Strength Training with Basketball. http://tomhuge.com/2015/08/24/top-10-misconceptions-on-combining-strength- training-with-basketball/
Issurin Ph. D., Vladimir. “Block Periodization in Sport Training: Scientific Concept and Implementation”. Presented at The UKSCA Annual Conference. April 6, 2010. Retrieved from: http://undergroundathletics.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Vladimir-Issurin- Block-Periodisation.pdf
Kulas, Anthony S., Tibor Hortobágyi, and Paul DeVita. “The Interaction of Trunk-Load and Trunk-Position Adaptations on Knee Anterior Shear and Hamstrings Muscle Forces During Landing.” Journal of Athletic Training 45.1 (2010): 5–15. PMC. Web. 29 Oct. 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2808754/
Specos, C. (2014). Basketball Strength and Conditioning. NCAA Sport Science Institute. Retrieved from: http://www.ncaa.org/health-and-safety/sport-science-institute/ basketball-strength-and-conditioning
Stroupe, B. (2014). Seven Ways to ENHANCE Mindset. http://www.apecgo.com/#!7- ways-to-ENHANCE-mindset/cwnu/55871efc0cf2a5839d91e5c7
10. Verkhoshansky, Y. Siff, M. “Supertraining”. Rome. 2009. pg. 17.