Pre-Season Basketball Conditioning

I work as an offensive skills coach; I teach basketball players from 10-20 years old to shoot and handle the ball better. Lately, however, I feel like a movement specialist, as more of my time is spent teaching players to squat properly, run properly, and move better so they can improve their sport-specific skill. Unfortunately, these young athletes simply lack basic movement skills.

Complicating the matter is the pre-season training of high school basketball players I train. Their pre-season conditioning consists of running; some teams run long distance, some run sprints; either way, teams spend almost all their pre-season conditioning time running in straight lines.

Speed and quickness are important to basketball success. However, basketball is more than a straight-ahead race; basketball is a dynamic sport. Players need an array of movement skills, not just straight-ahead speed. The game is played quickly with numerous stops, starts and changes of direction. Knowing this, an off-season sports conditioning program for high school athletes must incorporate multi-directional movement.

In a perfect world, coaches have an accessible gym and weight room five days a week; the world is not perfect, so adapt the following to your situation.

If training a high school team five days a week, I would break my workouts into two days of weight lifting, one day of sprints and two days of open gym basketball. The open gym is important because players get into the best basketball shape by playing basketball; they need to work on sport-specific skills and playing with little instruction is often an optimal environment for learning and experimenting with new skills.

According to the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, athletes who learn the intricacies of a game on their own perform better than those who are heavily coached. British researchers split 26 junior tennis players into three groups, two of which were told to figure out a skill without instruction. The third group, which was explicitly coached, learned quickly but overthought each move, says study author Mark Williams, PhD of the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences. In coaching a child, “encourage him to solve problems, as opposed to providing all the answers,” says Williams (Men’s Health, November 2005).

As for a weekly schedule, I would lift on Monday and Thursday; play on Wednesday and Friday and Run on Tuesdays.

Each practice is designed to last between ninety minutes and two-hours, depending on numbers, facility and organization. Each workout starts with a Movement Preparation Warm-up; rather than stretch, this dyndamic warm-up prepares athletes for the day’s activities. On weight days, train agility; on running days, incorporate plyo-metrics. These workouts may need adjustments to insure players are not overtraining; younger, less experienced athletes need more teaching, less intensity and reduced volume, while varsity athletes should be prepared for a high workout intensity.

Finally, workouts should not be work. The goal is not to kill the athletes or see how tough they are. The goal is to improve their athleticism and movement skills in order to make them more dangerous on the basketball court. I have watched NBA teams and players workout, and the atmosphere is loose, though the business gets done. Professional trainers understand it’s a long season; the goal, again, is not simply to make players sweat, puke or leave tired; the goal is to make them better.

Daily Warm-up
Light jog/backpedal (down/back: on a court, go one-length of the floor per exercise; outside go 15-20m)
Toe Walk/Heel Walk
Skip/Backward Skip
Pelican Walk/Frankentstein Walk (step forward with right foot and bend, lifting left foot in the air while touching right toe with both hands/stand upright, kick one leg up an touch outstretched arms)
High knees/butt kicks
10 full squats (in place)
Crossover Step (like carioca, but don’t step behind)
Carioca w/high knee (as foot goes in front, drive knee up toward the chest)
Lateral lunge-Drop Lunge (face sideways; step laterally with left foot and lunge, moving weight over the left foot; stand and move the right foot behind the left foot and drop-like a curtsy); go to half court facing in one direction and then turn to face the other way an continue.
10 Sumo Squat (feet slightly wider than shoulder width with toes pointing out)
�¾ Speed jog
Forward Lunge/Knee Hug Walking
45-degree bounds
Stationary Mountain Climbers
Slow lateral shuffle (push, don’t reach)
Full Speed Run/Backpedal

Agility Workout (M/Th)
The goal with the agility workout is to increase the ability to change diections quickly. There are several ways to do this and each session can incorproate different methods. The ice skater should be used in every workout; in this drill, the athlete balances on his right leg; he pushes off and hops laterally to his left, landing on-balance on his left leg. Do three sets of ten as a warm-up for lateral movement, as many athletes do not know how to bend, nor can they catch their balance off the hop. Without this leg strength and movement pattern, quick cuts are difficult.

One workout idea is to use a Z-ball. A Z-ball has seven sides, and when one drops it, it bounces in different directions. So, a player must accelerate quickly towards the ball, but stay balanced and prepared for the hop, which might go straight up or to either side.

Another workout tool is the ladder, which can be used to teach quick foot strikes and proper push-off. Drills like lateral hops, scissors, Icky Shuffle and others are good to use for lateral footwork.

Other drills like the T-Drill and the Spoke Drill are useful for teaching basketball movements. In the T-Drill, the athlete sprints ahead five feet, then backpedals to the beginning; he shuffles five feet to one side and back to the middle; shuffles to the other side and back to the middle.

The Spoke Drill incorporates quick bursts in every direction. Place one cone in the middle and eight cones around the perimeter. Athlete starts by sprinting forward and touching the first cone; he backpedals to the middle cone. Then, he moves at a 45-degree angle for the next cone; then laterally; then back at a 45-degree angle; then back pedals straight back and sprints forward. Each time, the athlete touches the middle cone before progressing to the next cone. This drill incorporates the crossover step, sprints, backpedals and shuffles.

Weight Workout (M/Th)
The weight workout is simple: one core lift (snatch or power clean or a derivative of one or the other); one lower body push (front squat) and pull (Romanian Dead Lift); one upper body push (push press) and pull (high pull). The emphasis is on explosive movements, not traditional body building exercises. Depending on time, do 2-4 sets of 5.

The lifts in parenthesis are not the only possible lifts; however, they are the ones I recommend. Bench press, military press, bent-over row, lat pull-down, back squat and others could easily be substituted. These exercises work the major muscle groups and the explosive exercises work basketball movements: a push press is almost identical to a shot, without the wrist flexion at the end of the shot; a snatch uses the same triple extension of the ankles, knees and hips as a vertical jump or jump shot.

Sprints (T)
After the warm-up, start with some plyo-metric jumps before the sprints. Error on the side of caution; don’t do too much too quickly. For younger athletes, jump roping and an extended warm-up may be sufficient; intermediate athletes might use small hurdle jumps or broad jumps; for older athletes, hurdle jumps, stadium jumps (forward and lateral), box jumps, depth jumps, etc. Keep the repetitions around 100 for the itermediate and older group; so, 3 sets of 3 exercises with 10 repetitions would be 90 total repstitions, and a good starting point.

The sprint workout can vary depending on goals; running on grass may be better than the court simply because too much, too early on the hadwood floor can contribute to overuse injuries like plantar fasciitis or shin splints. When working on anaerobic power/conditioning, use lots of rest in between sprints: 10/1 rest to work. When training aerobic conditioning, run longer sprints with less rest (1/1 or 2/1).

An example of a workout:
Sprint Drills (wall running, resisted running, work on starts, toe-up running, high knees, fast turnover, galloping, etc.)
8 x 25m sprints with 12:1 rest:work ratio
4 x 20m Shuttle Run (put three cones in a straight line, each 5m apart; athlete starts at middle cone, sprints to one side cone, to the other side cone and then back to the middle cone: 5m-10m-5m.
Light jogging as a cool down

Open Gym (W/F)
Before playing, team starts with same warm-up as every day and maybe adds some light static stretching for flexibility. Make sure to stretch after the games as well. Incorporate some core exercises into the warm-up on these days; different variations of abdominal and lower back exercises. Using medicine balls is especially helpful.

While this workout plan nearly eliminates running, it meets the objectives of a basketball pre-season program. Players run three days a week; two days on the court in full court games and one day of sprints. On on-running days, athletes do a thorough warm-up and agility drills, training the quick bursts and changes of directions. Therefore, athletes should be prepared for the demands of a basketball game or practice when the season starts. Furthermore, this workout plan addresses basketball movements; doing squats, snatches, push presses, etc will make the athlete more explosive and increase his range of motion and dynamic flexibility; this will increase quickness and sport-specific skill, as players who naturally bend to an athletic position are better shooters than athletes who must concentrate to bend properly.

Basketball is a running sport; but, more to the point, it is an explosive, multi-directional game of movement, and pre-season conditioning must train different athletic components necessary for basketball success, not just straight-ahead speed or anaerobic and/or aerobic conditioning.

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