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Basketball strength and conditioning

ByChristina Specos, ATC, CSCS, SCCC, PES, Associate director of sports performance, Purdue University

Yearly programming and training for the long-term athletic development of basketball players requires careful planning and consideration. It’s safe to say that the common goals and desires of every coach is to reduce and prevent injury as much as possible within their control, improve performance on the court and build physically and mentally strong players that have great team chemistry, confidence, leadership skills and genuine care and love for each other.

When analyzing a typical collegiate basketball annual plan, a sports performance coach can expect to work (in person) with his or her athletes about (give or take) 70 to 80 percent of the weeks during a calendar year. This provides a tremendous opportunity to have consistency and continuity in training, beginning with building a quality base, meaningful gains in strength, power and conditioning and an opportunity to maintain as much as possible within the competitive season. Off-season summer training beginning in June and preseason training in August and September provides about 14 total weeks of continuous preparatory training time prior to the commencement of official practices. The work done during this time is crucial, as it will lay the foundation for physical preparation for the upcoming season. Any time available after the previous season but before off-season training (April and May) is a great time to re-introduce training goals and general base building in preparation for when the team returns in the summer.

Review of Demands

There are many performance demands placed on basketball players. First, they must be incredibly well conditioned in order to withstand fatigue. This places great importance on energy system programming in order for players to be able to make the transition from preseason training to official practices. Over the course of a typical game, basketball players are required to:

  • Demonstrate repeatable high-intensity sprints with rapid recovery
  • Be agile and powerful enough to change direction sharply
  • Transition between acceleration, deceleration, defensive sliding, pivoting, and back pedaling with ease
  • Jump and land: high, quickly and repeatedly
  • Mentally withstand high-pressure situations and exhibit poise and control

With so much to consider and so many options and paths to get there, where does one start?

Injury Prevention

The ultimate goal of specific yearly planning, assessment training and recovery is to control and undulate stressors and recovery throughout the year to prevent overload and breakdown. An appropriately balanced training program will improve a player’s resistance to fatigue. In the diagram below, fatigue over time while loading a poorly functioning structural system during the repetitive performance of the required sport movement skills can lead to injury if not properly managed.

At the start of the first training block of the new year, it is beneficial to screen, identify and devise a plan to address any injury risk concerns for each player (e.g. by utilizing the functional movement screen, pre-participation exam or any other wellness and performance assessments adopted as important to the coaches). This will provide a solid picture of previous history, current functional abilities and enable a performance coach to understand each player’s training readiness and determine the appropriate starting point.

Offseason and Preseason

The early offseason and preseason preparatory period is where developing overall strength, power, posture, core stability and bracing, and dynamic flexibility is of the utmost priority. Early on, strength training volume is higher (starting at a lower to moderate intensity) to train for a hypertrophy effect and then gradually shifts to a lower overall (repetition) volume and higher intensity as the weeks progress and strength gains take priority. A conditioning base is established early on, while movement skills are refined (e.g. acceleration, deceleration, cutting, depth jump landing skills, etc.) In the final weeks, training shifts to focus on increased conditioning volume while appropriately adjusting the strength training volume in order to control overall work stress. As conditioning intensity reaches its peak, it is also programmed to be as basketball specific as possible with respect to reproducing quality movements and meet energy system demands. Players should always be able to be in “position to transition.”

In-Season

As the season begins, the frequency of strength training sessions is reduced and the program focus is now to maintain strength, power and speed. Training volume stays low while intensity stays high. A common misconception is that strength training loses importance once the season hits. While the priority is to focus on team play and the craft of basketball, players must still be appropriately loaded in weight room strength training sessions in order to avoid weakness.

A dedication to consistent recovery methods on behalf of the players is critical in order to manage fatigue from practices, games and the overall stressors of being a student-athlete. The risk for injury is greatly increased if strength training is neglected, coupled with inadequately managed fatigue and stressors. High-minute players will continue to taper their strength sessions deep into season while low-minute, injured and redshirt players will have a program that provides the opportunity to continue to gain strength and power.

Recovery

As mentioned, proper recovery is crucial to the ability to perform at a high level deep into the season and hopefully during a tournament run. Recovery methods are many – from something as simple and inexpensive as self-massage with a tennis ball to hot/cold whirlpool contrast sessions and massage therapy. Below is a review of different recovery methods to consider:

Tissue length and quality: Restore and maintain it with self myofasical release (rollers, “peanuts,” massage, stretching).

Blood flow and venous return: Increase it with light active recovery (e.g. light bike/swim), hydrotherapy (e.g. contrast bath), massage, leg elevation, compression garments

Nutrition and hydration: Proper nutrition and hydration will prevent burning the candle at both ends, as proper post-training nutrition of adequate carbohydrate and protein levels will ensure one will have a replenished energy level for the next day as well as promote muscle building and repair. Inadequate hydration levels adversely affect performance as well [See Nutrition for Basketball Student-Athletes fact sheet].

Rest, sleep and naps: Dr. Cheri Mah of Stanford University has studied the impact of extra hours of sleep on athletic performance and suggests that sleep is a significant factor in achieving peak athletic performance. (Refer to: Mah CD; Mah KE; Kezirian EJ; Dement WC. The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. SLEEP 2011;34(7):943-950.)

Mental resources: Relaxation and stress reduction in the form of meditation, visualization, quiet time and professional consultation (if available and needed) is important for student-athletes who need help managing all of the demands of being a collegiate athlete. Replenishing mental resources and learning how to focus during times of high pressure and stress is beneficial during a long, grueling season.

About Christina Specos, ATC, CSCS, SCCC, PES

Christina holds a bachelor in Athletic Training, masters in Exercise Science and Health Promotion and a certificate in Massage Therapy. In her fourth year as the Associate Director of Sports Performance for Purdue University, she is the head sports performance coach directly responsible for yearlong programming and implementation of all strength and conditioning activities for the women’s basketball, volleyball and tennis programs and oversees women’s soccer. Responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Mackey Arena facility she also coordinates the Health and Kinesiology department’s undergraduate clinical student and internship curriculum and practical experience. Prior to Purdue, Christina spent three years full-time in the private sector at Lightning Fast Training Systems in Pennsylvania and eight years at the prestigious Lawrenceville School outside of Princeton, NJ. She also has worked with Lightning Fast’s NFL Combine Prep program and a private massage therapy practice with the Philadelphia Eagles. Christina can be reached at @ChristinaSpecos on twitter and via email at cspecos@purdue.edu.