Physically preparing athletes for the season ahead
Most people want to be given a plan, but I think it would help more in the long run to give coaches the principles to build their own performance programs moving forward.
Here are three keys to getting players ready for the season:
- Build a plan that addresses the demands of your program
- Consistency beats intensity; do the work
- Track your progress
Most players love the vertical jump and lane agility test. Whatever you choose, keep it simple and maintain records. If I had to pick a couple different tests, I’d suggest some form of a vertical jump, a broad jump and some sort of energy system assessment like three consecutive 150-yard shuttles. Typically, we mark out 75 feet on the basketball court and have players sprint down and back three times, give them a one-minute break between each rep and repeat. This is not about the test. It’s about how you can help players improve.
Here are the three most fundamental principles in building a sound training program:
1. Overload. This means a muscle or system in the body needs to be stressed beyond what it is used to in order to illicit a specific response.
2. Progression. Reasonable improvement in reasonable time. To improve performance capabilities, you have to continue to stress the body in a strategic and systematic way.
3. Form and function. We all know that safety is the most important thing in training on and off the court. Therefore, every rep should be performed with detail and discipline.
I ask every player whether they can squat, lunge, reach and rotate. I don’t care if they can do these things things with an external load, but I do care that they can do them without pain and with quality movement patterns. If you can visually see that they have trouble doing any of these movements, why would anybody want to add weight to them?
From warmup to your energy system development, I’d suggest having a consistent thread that ties all of your work together for a given day, week or phase of training. For example, one day may be geared toward linear acceleration or first-step explosion, in which case you’d try to build this theme throughout.
Every coach wants stronger, explosive, well-conditioned players who never get hurt. What if your style requires strong players who can grind out a low-scoring game? What if you run-and-gun? What if you press the whole game? My thought is your training and practice should simulate and prepare players for that type of game.
Here’s a look at how you can manipulate variables to illicit a specific response:
- Muscular endurance. Light-to-moderate loads with high volume, specifically 60 to 70 percent of a max effort performed to failure with little recovery.
- Muscle hypertrophy. Moderate loads with moderate-to-high volume, specifically around 70 to 80 percent of a max effort performed in a range of eight to 12 with almost full recovery of one to three minutes.
- Muscle strength. Heavy Loads with low volume, specifically 80 to 90 percent of max effort with near maximal recovery of three and five minutes.
- Muscle power. Heavy lows with really low volume, specifically 90 to 100 percent with full recoveries upwards of five minutes.
Time and tempo, or velocity-based training, makes a big difference. Early in our training phases, we want players controlling the movement. For example, we may prescribe a “three-one-X tempo” which means three seconds on the eccentric portion of a movement, followed by a one-second pause and a quick return to start. This is a great way to teach movements, not to mention build quality muscle.
Anatomy of a training session
There are many ways to build your workouts, but I was influenced by EXOS and many other people and organizations to form my own structure. After the warmup, which I consider an integral part of my session, I prescribe one explosive movement that can be as basic as a max effort squat jump or medicine ball throw to an Olympic lift.
In a nutshell, it flows like this:
- Power block one. Explosive movement: central nervous system stimulus.
- Primary/secondary block. This includes up to four strength movements that can focus on the legs or upper body.
- Rotational block. I call this my 3-D power block, and it typically includes chops, lifts and medicine ball throws.
- Auxiliary block. This is for extra work with specific players or other things that must be addressed. I use this to give them a little of what they want.
- Energy system development. I try to use 10- to 60-second intervals and vary our recovery times. The closer we get to the season, the more it mimics what we do on the court. I sometimes mix different aspects into the workout, because a player never uses just their right leg, core, or another specific part of their anatomy. The body is a fully-integrated system.
Keep it simple. Build three to four workouts and do those for three to four weeks before making minor changes. For example, you might start with an explosive pull variation like a hang shrug, then turn it into a high pull three to four weeks later. Suddenly, the players are destroying hang cleans and becoming more explosive. You have almost 12 weeks of progression there. Perhaps you start with six reps and drop one every week until you get to three, then advance the movement.
Also, find a way for players to track their progress. I’m a firm believer in that if you’re not willing to keep track, you don’t deserve the results. If this is the case, it’s just not that important to them. As coaches, you better believe we keep track of in-game stats.
You’ll get out what you put in, so find a way to learn, share and grow.