7 strategies to avoid offseason overtraining

by Thomas Emma, contributing writer

Overtraining is the enemy of all athletes. It hinders performance and leads to injury. Symptoms include
a noticeable loss in strength and conditioning, increased muscle and joint soreness, lack of enthusiasm for workouts, and insomnia.

Basketball players, because of the year-round demands and physical nature of the sport, are especially susceptible to the performance-debilitating state of overtraining. While workouts and rest schedules can be planned and monitored during the season, players are often “on their own” in the offseason. Because all successful players possess a great work ethic, overtraining is a common offseason problem.

Coaches must make it a point to discuss overtraining problems before players commence their offseason workouts. Here are seven proven strategies that your players can follow to avoid overtraining and reach their full potential.

1. Combine training modalities.

Players now face a dizzying array of training options, including advanced protocols such as plyometrics, high-intensity lifting and imaginative speed training, to name a few. Players must learn how to deal effectively with the wide variety of workout choices at their disposal.

One way to do this is by combining training modalities. For example, there is no reason why lower-body plyometrics, agility and speed workouts can’t be performed in one training session. These three disciplines can all be executed in the same place (a rubberized running track or groomed field is best), exercise basically the same muscle groups and activate the body’s nervous system in a similar way. The same goes for on-court skill and conditioning drills and full- or half-court scrimmaging. After finishing their competitive runs, players should go immediately into the court drills. This saves time and the body.

Likewise, some training disciplines should not be coupled, as 48 hours rest is needed. For example, make sure your players avoid combining heavy leg weight training with lower-body plyometrics or intense speed work.

2. When in doubt, rest.

While in contrast to the “no pain, no gain” mentality, it’s important that players listen to their body’s signals. These signals (often subtle) tell the athlete when to take a step back from intense training and also when pushing ahead aggressively is the proper medicine. Erring on the side of caution is the safe bet.

3. Stretch regularly.

Thorough pre- and post-workout stretching is a must for basketball players. Stretching prior to physical activity prepares the body for intense exertion and lessens the chances of injury. A light warm up (five to 10 minutes on a stationary bike or a moderate quarter-mile jog) should occur before pre-workout stretching.

Post-workout stretching is a key to the prevention of overtraining. It speeds recovery by enhancing the removal of lactic acid (a substance that contributes to muscle and joint soreness) from the body. Engaging in flexibility work after exercise also allows for a fuller stretch, as warm muscles are more pliable.

Coaches must teach proper stretching technique at the beginning of the season, and advocate that a similar routine is maintained throughout the offseason.

4. Eat well.

Players who fail to take in sufficient and nutritionally sound calories on a regular basis also put themselves at risk for overtraining. When it comes to maintaining top form, eating well is just as important as a sound exercise regimen. Make sure that athletes who are trying to lose weight are carefully monitored. When lower calorie consumption is coupled with high-intensity workouts, players are extremely vulnerable to overtraining.

5. Make regular contact.

If players are not working closely with experienced basketball and conditioning personnel in the offseason, they should check in periodically with coaches and trainers to provide an update on their workouts and progress. These intermittent check-ins can keep players on the right course.

6. Encourage players to know their bodies.

Players need to learn how their bodies respond to various types of training stimuli. Each athlete is different in terms of physical tolerance and rest needs. Once players master their own delicate balance between training and rest, they are on their way to reaching their full athletic potential.

7. Develop, maintain core strength.

Experts agree that the area of the body that’s most critical for basketball performance is the core. The core (also called the power base) consists of the mid-section, hips, lower back, buttocks and upper legs.

Developing strength and power in this region is critical for high performance. Just as important, the core provides stability and balance, which enhances a player’s ability to tolerate the day-to-day pounding of basketball. Counteracting this wear-and-tear with additional core strength goes a long way toward preventing body breakdown.

The best exercises for strengthening the core of the physique are abdominal crunches, back raises on a hyperextension machine, straight-legged dead lifts, squats, lunges and step-ups. If your players incorporate these movements into their strength routines on a year-round basis, they won’t be overtrained — or disappointed.

Thomas Emma is the author of “Peak Performance Training for Basketball.”