May 18, 2016Follow Through
The University of Maryland men’s basketball team fulfills its offseason performance goals by utilizing a sport-specific speed, strength, and power program.
This article first appeared in the May/June 2016 issue of Training & Conditioning.
The University of Maryland men’s basketball program has a championship culture that stems from our history of success and the vision of Head Coach Mark Turgeon. The Basketball Performance Department’s role in that vision is perhaps best exemplified in our offseason training.
At the beginning of the offseason, my staff and I sit down with Coach Turgeon and his assistants to gather a clear understanding of what our team needs. Their insight provides us with team and individual goals to work toward. A self-proclaimed player development coach, Coach Turgeon knows how important offseason strength and conditioning is to on-the-court results, and he grants us the time, resources, and support we need to be successful.
Based on the coaching staff’s guidance, we establish clear and concise goals to restore our athletes’ foundational strength and movement. We aim to be both logical and specific in everything we do-logical in that we emphasize the fundamental principles of function and specific in that we are sensitive to the needs of each athlete and the demands of the sport.
As we progress through the offseason, each stage builds off the previous one. Starting with an extensive evaluation in the spring, workouts are composed of movement prep, basketball speed work, and strength and power training. Together, this program ensures our team gets the most out of the offseason.
The hard work and dedication to training by our players can be seen on the court. The squad set a school record for wins during the 2014-15 campaign, came one win shy of matching it in 2015-16, and earned two consecutive NCAA Tournament berths, including a Sweet 16 run this past year.
SET OF PRINCIPLES
The game of basketball is framed by a number of truths that dictate the physiological and biomechanical demands players are exposed to. These tenets also serve as the foundation for our offseason philosophy and programming.
Perhaps the most important truth about basketball relates to its functional density. The required movement patterns of the game are variable and extend into all three planes of motion: sagittal, frontal, and transverse. With the confined dimensions of the court and stop-and-go nature of the sport, having a large and dense movement capacity is extremely advantageous, so this is our primary focus during the offseason.
Another emphasis is ensuring the highest level of transfer to the court with our programming. At its core, our training stays as fundamentally relevant to basketball as possible. This increases buy-in from players and enhances the coach/athlete relationship.
The evaluation process marks the beginning of the offseason for us. It provides a crucial opportunity to identify the individual deficiencies that may have developed during the season. It also allows us to establish the performance qualities that each athlete must enhance to become a more complete and effective basketball player.
Movement capacity, body composition, and performance metrics receive equal shares of our consideration during the evaluation. We tackle all three using protocols from the Functional Movement Screen, Postural Restoration Institute, and Gray Institute. Players’ foot structure, gait mechanics, and anthropometrics are analyzed, as well.
By not depending exclusively on one test, we let the athletes’ bodies guide us and tweak their movements to tease out deficiencies, asymmetries, and limitations that could negatively impact performance. Our evaluations are always relevant to the sport itself-we never test solely for testing’s sake-and the movement screens we select can all be traced back to the physiological attributes of basketball.
After the movement evaluations, we dial in further on body composition and physical performance. We utilize the Bod Pod to track body fat and lean muscle changes.
Our method of choice for performance testing is the NBA BAM Test, which measures three-quarter court sprint, lane agility, reaction shuttle, and both countermovement and approach vertical jumps. We compare our athletes’ scores to their NBA counterparts, establishing tangible goals they can work toward throughout the offseason.
Finally, we constantly monitor athletes’ true or estimated one-rep maxes on our core exercises: Olympic lifts, front squat, back squat, and trap bar dead lift. This helps set a foundation for our strength programming.
READY TO MOVE
Once the evaluations have given us a clear vision of where players are and where we want them to go, we can commence offseason training. In order to get our athletes physically ready to work each day, we start with extensive movement preparation.
First up is soft-tissue work, which involves techniques such as fascial stretch therapy, foam rolling, and the use of various fascial manipulation tools. While these strategies are very local and isolated, we use them to improve the quality of subsequent dynamic motion.
From there, we transition to stationary dynamic work in an upright position. Using the support of a wall or True Stretch, we locally target ankle, hip, and thoracic mobility through integrated total body motions. Some of the exercises the players complete are 3-D wall ankle mobility, 3-D hip drivers and leg swings, and 3-D thoracic reaches.
After we have gained mobility, we shift to a translating dynamic warm-up composed of movements that challenge athletes’ range of motion with instability momentum. Examples include posterior lunge 3-D reaches, quad pulls, and knee tucks.
We finish with our locomotion prep, employing a variety of higher-velocity, cyclical movement patterns such as 3-D walks, runs, skips, shuffles, and carioca. These actions prime the athletes for the next phase of the day.
FULL SPEED AHEAD
Following movement prep, we progress to basketball speed work. The goal of this segment is to train, condition, and enhance the dynamic movement patterns of basketball in a way that transfers to the court. Our daily emphasis is categorized based on the three types of motion: linear, lateral, and multidirectional.
The specific actions we work on are chosen based on the demands of the sport and the fundamentals emphasized in Coach Turgeon’s system. For instance, he instructs players to use a crossover step when guarding the ball, which we incorporate into lateral training.
We work on basketball speed three times a week during the offseason-Mondays are for lateral training, Wednesdays are for linear, and multidirectional exercises are on Fridays. Each movement category is broken down further into three progressive phases: acquisition, enhancement, and application. We typically spend two to three weeks in each phase per plane of motion, advancing based on athlete proficiency.
• Acquisition: In this first phase, our coaching emphasis is ensuring body positions and actions are cued and perfected. Learning is chunked, meaning we teach similar skills at the same time instead of grouping skills randomly. For example, in our progression of lateral movements, the acquisition phase focuses on base defensive stance holds, push-step fundamentals, and crossover step fundamentals.
• Enhancement: Individual actions are integrated and more complex in this phase, and the skills developed during acquisition are now challenged through load, velocity, duration, and various tools. While movements are more difficult during this phase, our teaching remains chunked, and proper technique is emphasized. Similar skills are still grouped together, and coaching cues are specific to body position and action. For lateral movements, the enhancement stage includes wide ladder progressions, Keiser-loaded push-steps and crossover steps, and base defensive stance perturbations.
• Application: In this final phase, the movement patterns that were acquired and enhanced earlier are now applied to basketball-specific situations. Our cues become less technical, as well. So rather than simply coaching body position and action, we create basketball-specific scenarios that force athletes to execute the skills we are highlighting. In addition, we no longer chunk skills, instead combining markedly different skills in a variable and random system, much like they manifest in a game. We conclude our lateral movement training in this phase by implementing defensive drills and ball screen defensive concepts.
With movement prep and basketball speed complete, we transition to the core of our offseason training-strength and power. The transition from acquisition to enhancement to application carries over here. Movements are first taught in a simplified, unloaded manner. Once they are perfected, we challenge athletes with load, tempo/speed, and volume. As the season draws near, we highlight basketball-specific positions and actions.
We break our strength and power training into progressive phases. Starting in the spring, we go through a higher-volume phase, aiming to enhance players’ general strength, lean body mass, and technical proficiency for all lifts.
At the conclusion of our spring work near the end of April, we incorporate the triphasic tempo principles created by Cal Dietz, MS, CSCS, Head Olympic Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Minnesota. At its core, the triphasic method trains the body’s ability to load and explode, and it fits well within our overall philosophy.
We spend three weeks in an eccentric phase, two weeks in an isometric phase, and three weeks in a concentric phase. The athletes lift three times a week during our triphasic block, and loads are always above 75 percent. Intensity and volume vary daily, but Mondays are generally moderate volume, moderate intensity; Wednesdays are high intensity, low volume; and Fridays are low intensity, high volume.
After our triphasic block, the guys return home for a short time. We like to build in this natural deload period at the end of the offseason because it allows the players to recover both physically and mentally before preseason training.
We know that basketball players must skillfully and efficiently load and explode in three planes of motion, so we aim to incorporate all the fundamental global movement patterns in each of our strength workouts, such as squatting, hinging, lunging, pushing, pulling, carrying, vertical and horizontal core work, jumping, hopping, and leaping. These movements are trained bilaterally, unilaterally, and three-dimensionally.
It’s also important for us to provide adequate overload to stimulate significant adaptations in strength, power, and structure. Therefore, when relying on load as our primary variable, we prefer using traditional barbell exercises, including the Olympic lifts, front squat, back squat, and trap bar dead lift. Because of the sagittal plane vertical collapse nature of these lifts, we can safely create overload without placing the athletes in a compromised biomechanical position. Plus, these movements are ideal for generating enough stress to elicit the adaptations we are looking for in rate of force development.
However, we know basketball is not only played in the sagittal plane. So while the aforementioned exercises make up our core lifts, we employ auxiliary techniques to challenge movements in the other two planes of motion. Typically, we program them around our primary barbell lifts in isolation or as contrast exercises.
One of our most popular auxiliary strategies is using a matrix, which consists of exercises performed sequentially in all three planes. For instance, a lunge matrix could be a set of lunges anterior/posterior, same side and opposite side laterally, and same side and opposite side rotationally.
Progressing with this idea, we also integrate purposeful reaches and drivers using tools like medicine balls or ViPRs. These allow for greater freedom of movement than a barbell but still challenge the concept of load and explode.
Core training is completed by utilizing the whole body in a ground-based, upright fashion. Our go-to tools for this are the Keiser Functional Trainer, ViPR, and med ball.
Combining our core and auxiliary lifts, we perform each workout in structured exercise blocks. The first block is a power complex where we pair an Olympic lift or kettlebell swing with something that integrates three-dimensional vectors, such as a med ball rotational wall throw. Typically, the second block is centered on a squatting variation, such as the back squat or trap bar dead lift. The third block is focused on an upper-body lift, usually the bench press or strict press, and the fourth block incorporates the remaining fundamental movement patterns.
We call our department “Basketball Performance” instead of “strength and conditioning” because we recognize that enhancing performance is not limited to the weightroom. Therefore, we place just as much emphasis on recovery and nutrition as lifting and conditioning during the offseason.
For starters, our Coordinator of Sports Science, Daniel Black, MS, CSCS, collects data from wellness surveys, player and coach rate of perceived exertion, Omegawave, and Zephyr heart rate and accelerometers to understand the cumulative physiological and psychological loads placed on our athletes during offseason training. This creates a more comprehensive and adaptable training environment and helps us determine what recovery methods are best for each athlete. Popular modalities include cold plunges, contrast therapy, flush ride, NormaTec compression boots, progressive relaxation, and hot tub mobility work.
To focus on nutrition, we categorize athletes according to their need to lose body fat, gain lean body mass, or maintain their current composition. Then, we work with each individual to build a unique dietary plan to successfully meet his needs. We first ensure that his calorie intake is appropriate for the goal at hand. From there, we adjust his macronutrient balance and timing based on his energy demands, body type, and response to the diet.
A helpful tool to educate our athletes on performance-driven fueling is Precision Nutrition, an online community centered on research and evidence-based nutritional practices. In addition, we teach players about nutrient timing and offer easy access to ideal snacks, meals, controlled supplementation, and hydration.
At the end of the offseason, we take a step back to evaluate the results of our training. If all has gone according to plan, we have achieved Coach Turgeon’s goals and prepared the team for the rigors of the upcoming season. Besides influencing immediate performance, we also hope to have made a lasting impact in players’ lives and fostered a life-long commitment to excellence.
For more on triphasic training, check out Cal Dietz’s article, Balance of Power.