March Madness is America's sport's fan focus right now. Watching the game is quite awesome. These are big dudes and gals running up and down the court, jumping, cutting, shoving, and having hand-eye coordination to dribble, pass, and shoot.
Watching basketball, but never having played it, presents an interesting opportunity as a coach to try to step in to the players' shoes, as observed above, there is a lot that goes in to the game and that doesn't even include actual plays of the game.
But how would I train a basketball team if given the opportunity? Say, a high school age basketball team fresh off their season and have never had a dedicated strength program before.
First, I'll lay out some broad goals for training. Second, I'll get a bit more granular on the goals and lay out some specifics of what we'll do. Finally, I'll lay out a very broad 12 week training program.
A few notes before talking about programming goals:
FIRST - THE TEAM'S OVERALL GOAL IS TO WIN A FRICKIN CHAMPIONSHIP.
SECOND - ANY STRENGTH PROGRAM SHOULD BE TO GET THE ATHLETE BETTER, NOT TO BREAK OR INJURE THEM.
With that in mind...
Goal Number 1 - Develop the athletes' ability to move through their full range of motion in different angles in space.
Having the athletes have full command of their range of motion enables them to move more effectively. In a physical game like basketball, being able to move well makes all the difference.
Goal Number 2 - Develop strength through the full range of motion.
Not only should athletes have command of their body, but being STRONG through those ranges of motion will help them enforce their will on their opponents. If you're mobile, but weak, you likely won't be able to develop the leverage necessary to beat a pick or a box out or jump high enough for a rebound.
Goal Number 3 - Work on developing coordination and proprioception for these athletes' growing bodies.
Knowing how to move your body efficiently, how to land safely and efficiently, and moving better than your opponents gives both a short-term tactical advantage and long-term stamina advantage.
Goal Number 4 - Put size on the athletes.
Strength is important, but so is mass of an athlete. If our athlete has 15 pounds of muscle on an opponent, they're that much harder to move and our athlete has that much more explosive power for jumping and running.
For Goal Number 1 -- Develop Full Range of Motion
It is likely these kids are athletic and can move their bodies well. They're playing this sport and are good, after all. But have they ever intentionally moved through their full range of motion in their ankles, knees, and hips? How about understanding how their spine, ribs, and diaphragm effect their sprinting and jumping? How about their shoulder mobility to get rebounds or block shots?
For developing the full range of motion in the ankle, knee, and hip, I really like the split squat. The split squat has several advantages in creating mobility over the regular squat.
First, your center of gravity is different as you descend into your split squat. The body's center of mass is over the hips but is still supported by the back leg. With that extra support, you can put your bodyweight in to the hip, knee, and ankle that is forward.
Second, getting the body through those full ranges at a slow, methodical pace will carry over to the explosive lifts that will require having a good range of motion.
Look at this bipedaled range of motion below. This is some impressive range of motion that makes the ankle, knee, and hip MUCH stronger and stable.
Training Goal Number 2 - Strength Through Range of Motion
Once we've developed the range of motion, we'd put that into practice in our lifts. Full range of motion squats. Full range of motion bench press and overhead press. Full range of motion pull ups. Full range of motion rows. This means methodically slow squats, pause bench press, partner assisted pull ups to help reinforce the full range of motion drills.
The full range of motion develops stronger tendons and stronger, bigger muscles. Not only that, but it helps the body become more subconsciously aware of how it moves in space. To me, this is hugely important because I see so many basketball players land in awkward positions with their feet. If they don't have proper strength and mobility through their ankles, knees and hips, they could get hurt.
To help make these lifts more fun, after lifts like squats, we could have "dunk contests" to reinforce the need to be explosive, not just to be strong. After bench press or pull ups, we could do some passing drills with medicine balls to help connect the explosive power needed in the game.
Which brings me to ...
Training Goal Number 3 -- Developing coordination and proprioception
Developing coordination and proprioception is extremely important in basketball. There are lots of movements going on for the feet and arms.. and then on top of that you've got to dribble. It's a skill you need to work on.
I would have lots of drills that involve total body movement -- not just high knees, but high knees with overhead basketball carry. Not just Karaoka, but karaoka while dribbling. Not just shuttle sprints, but shuttle sprints where you change direction based on sounds rather than a mark on the floor.
Using different stimuli keeps the brain on edge about how to move. This gets the brain more engaged and will help increase the neurological connection between the brain and the muscles.
We would crawl on all fours, we'd do drills of rotating while jumping, we'd do drills to help build recoil type strength -- for those times when you need to jump five times in a row to get a rebound. If we're lucky enough, we'd go to a foam pit and learn how to back flips, front flips, and crazy twists in the air (and yes, if possible while holding a basketball).
Getting these kids comfortable in moving in odd ways outside of actual game time will only allow them to tap that potential when in a game. The brain can only have the body do what the brain knows the body can do, so we've got to get it comfortable in all sorts of different planes of motion through space. Basketball players land in all sorts of weird ways, they've got to learn how to move their body through space to land and absorb force without hurting themselves. This is a big key.
Training Goal Number 4 -- Putting on Size
OK, so enough of the sciencey nerdy stuff, let's get to the real meat and potatoes. All that other stuff is cool, but being a fricking hoss while being a freak athlete is even more awesome.
Size is important just for the mental aspect of the game. If our opposing team walks out on to the court and they see our guys are all ripped and noticeably bigger than they are, don't you think that will get into their psyche at all? They'd think twice about getting in front of lane drive, setting up the pick, or diving for that ball. That slight hesitation is all that's needed in a game of milliseconds.
Not only does putting on size intimidate the other team, but it also makes our team feel like badasses too. They'll brag to their friends about how big their arms are getting, they'll want to come back to lift more, and they'll feel like absolute units on the court. Confidence goes a long way.
How would I put on size? Classic hypertrophy work of compound movements. 6 sets of 12 to 18 reps on lat pull downs coupled with heavy dumbbell shrugs -- that'd create absolute boulders for shoulders. 6 sets of 12 to 18 reps of dumbbell bench press coupled with barbell curls. 6 sets of 18 goblet squats coupled with a crap ton of dips.
12 WEEK TRAINING CYCLE
Week 1 to 3
This first phase would focus on HOW to move properly while explaining the WHY we are doing these things. I find that the more I can connect seemingly difficult and mundane training to the bigger picture of WHY, the athletes buy in a whole lot more.
There would be a TON of slow methodical body weight movements, teaching full range of motion, teaching importance of breathing, absorbing force, and how the body works in general.
We'd also do a good amount of callisthenic drills (without the basketball at first) to help develop coordination.
There would be some "lifting" though. We'd do a ton of push ups, body weight rows, and fun stuff like arm curls and tricep extension to make em feel like they're getting a solid workout and actually make it fun and they want to keep coming back.
Week 4 to 7
This phase will reinforce the mobility by putting it into action with lifts and will continue to progress the calethstenics. Our workouts would also shift in patterns so we have the explosve work AFTER we have our lifts.
The lifts I'd focus on are the front squat, romanian deadlift, shoulder press, and pull up. These lifts will carry over to the olympic lifts we'll have in the next phase (we'd work on very light weight form technique and progressions for the clean and and split jerk).
I'd advance the hypertrophy body weight exercises to weighted exercises. Push ups would be dumbbell bench. Body weight rows would be lat pull downs. We'd add in some heavy weighted carries. We'd do grip work, biceps and triceps, and totally get them popeye arms going!
Week 8 to 12
After we've spent the last 8 weeks setting the foundation, we would then add strength (more weight on the lifts), speed and explosiveness (olympic lifts) to the lifts and continue to increase the complexity of the plyometrics.
We'd legs twice a week and we'd hit upper body twice a week (four sessions per week). Our warm ups would be the same, though, going through full range of motion drills. We'd add contrasting movements to the dynamic lifts, so after squats we'd have a dunk contest. After benching, we'd have a medball throwing contest. After cleans, we'd play tag, but the players can only move laterally.
The hypertrophy work would continue. Benches would get heavier, but still hitting a lot of reps. The carries would get heavier, but it'd feel lighter to them. The lat pull downs would shift to actual pull ups and the kids will be hitting full range body weight pull ups with ease.
In total, this program would make them more aware of their ranges of motion, develop strength through their range of motion, increase their coordination and proprioception, and put on big time size (all while keeping them healthy, better conditioned, and less prone to injury during their season).
With these goals accomplished, hopefully this will give the team a competitive advantage on the basketball court for their coming season!