As we enter the first week of August, we can see the “end of summer” finish line. Whether you are in high school or college, the fall semester will be starting in roughly 4-6 weeks with pre-season team training workouts soon to follow. Hopefully you have been putting in work all summer and are prepared to make a great impression on your coaching staff upon your return to school.
This blog is collection of thoughts and suggestions to make sure you maximize your workouts over the next several weeks. For those of you in high school, most of the premier camps and AAU events should be winding down, which gives you the month of August to focus on your training.
First and foremost, before we talk training, you must acknowledge and address any nagging injuries you may have. You don’t want to ignore something little and allow it turn in to something big. Now is the ideal time to address these issues. As a general rule, if a little rest, ice, and Advil don’t do the trick – please go see a doctor or physical therapist immediately. Whether you suffered a minor ankle sprain in an AAU game two months ago or you tweaked your groin at camp last week, go get a professional opinion on your condition and then follow their advice. Don’t wait until school starts; do it now!
Hopefully, sometime after your season ended or sometime at the beginning of summer, you sat down (preferably with your coach) and evaluated every aspect of your game to get an accurate feel for your strengths and weaknesses. Certainly, a good portion of the evaluation should have been directed at your fundamentals – shooting, ball handling, etc. However, in this blog, we will focus on the qualities of strength, explosiveness, agility, flexibility, reaction, and power (after all, I am a strength & conditioning coach!). It is important that you honestly evaluate each of these components so you can better prioritize your training. Regardless of your strengths and weaknesses, I firmly believe in having a comprehensive training program and recommend you address all areas of performance on a consistent basis (but accurately knowing your strengths and weaknesses can help you prioritize each component of your workout).
With the exception of individual differences, at this time of the year you should be putting most of your focus on increasing full body strength and power. There are numerous strength-training philosophies and the goal of this blog is not to ignite a debate on which is the best. However, there are several fundamental rules most quality strength & conditioning coaches will advocate:
- Work your entire body; address every muscle group from head to toe including the legs, hips, core, and upper body. Have proper muscular balance by addressing areas around each joint: ankle, knee, hip, shoulder, and elbow.
- Work your body through all three planes of motion; choose exercises that go front-to-back, side-to-side, and rotating/twisting. Go through as many angles and alternative ranges of motion as possible. For instance, there are 5 primary angles for an upper body pressing motion: overhead, incline, horizontal, decline, and vertical. The same angles exist for upper body pulling motions. You can also do lunges and step-ups through several different planes and ranges of motion (forward, backward, lateral, cross over, step behind, plus several additional angles).
- Work within an appropriate repetition range; For basketball you should work roughly between 6 and 15 reps. While there are certainly instances when it is appropriate to perform more or fewer reps, 6-15 is a good rule of thumb for most sets.
- Work progressively to add resistance over time and always use proper technique with every exercise.
In addition to those universally accepted fundamentals, I also offer the following recommendations:
- Give special attention to your feet; they are integral to staying injury free and maximizing performance on the court. I currently have my players do one or two (appropriate) exercises barefoot every training session. Basketball shoes are designed to be very supportive; thus, they limit mobility. One of the goals of training is to improve mobility. With that said, basketball shoes are not ideal for strength and conditioning workouts. Do a set of walking lunges with no shoes on and you will see what I mean!
- Make sure you work your core thoroughly, as it is the center of all movement and is actively involved in almost everything you do. I will define your core as everything from your chest to your knees – hips, glutes, low(er) back, abs, obliques and everything in between! The day and age of lying on your back and doing crunches is over! You need to incorporate a variety of methods – throwing (and catching) medicine balls from every conceivable angle and motion, twisting with cables or power bands, static holds, etc.
- At least once a week, work your body unilaterally, meaning “one side at a time.” This is especially important for your lower body; make sure you throw in exercises that must be done one leg a time like lunges and step ups. Again, try to go through a variety of different angles and motions when performing.
- When performing plyometric exercises, pay close attention to your landing technique (not just your jumping technique). Try to land with your weight evenly dispersed over your entire foot, use your entire body to absorb the impact, land “chest-over-knees-over-feet”, and land “quietly” (soft landing; like a cat). Make sure your knees don’t buckle in and don’t land straight legged. Creating solid landing habits is important for injury prevention, especially for females in preventing ACL injuries. While I most certainly recommend incorporating some type of appropriate plyo exercise into your workouts; don’t overdo it. Limit your volume!
In addition to paying close attention to gaining strength, there are several other areas you need to address:
- Flexibility and mobility: I suggest doing more of an active warm-up and dynamic stretch prior to your workout and save static stretching for afterwards. Remember, stretching is not just for the hamstrings (although that is what 90% of folks focus on). Make sure to do appropriate movements to improve flexibility, mobility, and posture in your shoulders, core, IT band, groin, low(er) back, and Achilles.
- Conditioning: At this time of the year, it is not imperative for you to be in great basketball shape; so don’t worry about killing yourself with intense court conditioning workouts (yet). You should be getting some decent conditioning with your skill work, as well as when you are playing pick-up. You can also mix in some cross training (biking, pool, Stairmaster, jump rope, etc.) to keep things fresh and fun! When you do cross train, I recommend doing interval type work as opposed to slow and steady. Go hard for :20-:30 and then go slow for :30-:40 (and repeat for 10-15 reps). While being in top-notch basketball shape is not urgent, you do want to show up on day one with a high level of overall fitness. That will make getting into actual basketball game shape much easier.
- Skill work: I have always said it doesn’t matter how strong or fit or explosive you are; if you can’t shoot, pass, defend, rebound, or handle the ball, you will never be a high level basketball player! While I (obviously) know how important the strength & conditioning portion is, training for basketball players is a means to an end, not an end itself. You must work on your fundamentals, especially shooting and ball handling, most days of the week. Repetition is not a form of punishment; it is the only way to get better! Your skill work sessions should be intense and game like, which will not only make you a better player, but will help you get in basketball shape as well. “Social shooting” won’t get you to the next level. Shooting game shots, from game spots, and game speed will!
- Nutrition: You are what you eat. If you eat like crap, you will look and play like crap! Most basketball players are looking to gain bodyweight, which means you have to take in more calories than you burn. This can be very hard to do without proper planning and discipline. For a player looking to gain weight, you should aim to gain 1 lb. a week for the next 6 weeks and show up on day one with 5-10 additional pounds of muscle. This will be like putting a bigger engine in a car! You will be able to run faster, jump higher, and block out harder!
- Rest and recovery: Do not neglect the role rest and recovery plays in maximizing your performance. If you are going to be on an intense training program this August, you need to make sure you are allowing your body to recover. I suggest doing everything possible to get 8 hours of sleep each night and sneak in a quick 20-30 minute power nap if possible. I also suggest taking one full day off from all intense activity per week. You can shoot some free throws and stretch on that day, but nothing too strenuous. I also recommend taking 3-4 days off right before school starts, to really give your body some extra recovery before your team pre-season workouts begin. Don’t worry, you won’t “lose anything” by taking those days off, I promise. Whenever possible, you should ice ailing areas after every workout (usually knees and low back), as well as use foam rollers and massage.
Please share this blog with any player or coach you know, as my goal is to reach and impact as many players as possible. If you would like some additional FREE information on proper training footwear, a basketball core routine, a killer iso-lateral leg workout, post workout stretches, or some nutritional guidelines, please email me at Alan@StrongerTeam.com. Please specify in your email what you want.
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Train hard. Train smart.