Jan 12, 2018
In-Season Program, Part 2
John Shackleton

To read Part I of this article, click here.

With our mission laid out, we’ve covered how we establish our culture and how we make decisions regarding the team’s in-season training. We put these decisions in action starting with Phase 1, which is a four-week preseason block that begins the first week of October.

With the implementation of Polar Team Pro player tracking technology over the last few years, we discovered that our team traditionally registered its highest training loads during the month of October due to the frequency of practices and demands of strength and conditioning work. Having this data enables us to now plan workouts strategically to avoid such high loads.

We have found that the players respond best to training twice per week during Phase 1. On these strength and conditioning days, the athletes work out in the morning and then practice six to eight hours later in the afternoon. Scheduling our training sessions separate from practice provides transient performance benefits as a result of the nervous system being primed. This ultimately leads to more resilient and highly conditioned athletes once the competitive slate begins.

Weightroom sessions during Phase 1 are limited to 45 minutes. Each one starts with a 15-minute dynamic flexibility and activation warm-up that targets the posterior chain musculature; mobility and stability of the ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders; and static and dynamic core stabilization.

The strength portion of our training sessions lasts 30 minutes and is performed in a circuit to keep the work rate and intensity high. Tempo is a focal point in our lifting because we want to constantly increase players’ work capacity ceilings to reflect the intense, physical, and fast-paced way we play.

For this reason, many of our Phase 1 movements follow a rep tempo prescription. This means that exercises on athletes’ workout sheets are often accompanied by a series of four numbers or letters. For example, a sequence we commonly use is 3:2:X:1. The first number (3) is the time in seconds it should take to complete the eccentric muscle contraction of a lift. The second number (2) is the amount of time to pause in the stretched or lengthened position. Next, the third number or letter (X means no time, explode as quick as possible) describes how long it should take to complete the concentric muscle contraction. Finally, the last number (1) is the amount of time to pause in the contracted or shortened position. So one rep using the 3:2:X:1 prescription should take six seconds.

When it comes to exercise selection during Phase 1, we perform two blocks of three exercises each on both days. Block 1 always incorporates the complex training method, which involves executing an exercise under a heavy load and then performing a similar movement under a lighter load as explosively as possible. We utilize the complex training method to target high threshold motor units and their corresponding fast-twitch muscle fibers in order to enhance explosive power in our athletes.

Although a three- to five-minute rest is recommended following the first set in complex training to fully exploit the benefits of post-activation potentiation, our players perform the second movement immediately afterward. We do this because basketball players must become accustomed to performing in a fatigued state. After all, they can’t take breaks in between plays during games to recover their explosiveness.

Our complex training in Block 1 for Day 1 includes our max effort bilateral lower-body movements. These consist of the barbell box squat, safety bar box squat, pit shark belt squat, and trap bar dead lift. In Block 1 for Day 2, we do our max effort upper-body horizontal or vertical pushing movements, such as the bench press, incline bench press, or strict press. The athletes’ current state of physical development dictates what specific exercises are used. The explosive exercises paired with the max effort movements are performed using bodyweight (box jump variations), with band resistance (Vertimax), or with medicine balls (vertical and horizontal throw variations).

Regarding loads for the max effort movements, our upperclassmen typically stay in the 75 to 85 percent range of their one-repetition maximum. Our younger players perform sets of five reps and ramp up the weight in each set until they begin to strain.

Following the complex training sets, the third Block 1 exercise is a vertical pull on Day 1 and a horizontal pull on Day 2. We often perform pull-ups on Day 1 after the athletes’ backs have been compressed under heavy loads because this exercise is one of the best for overall upper-body strength development and posterior shoulder health. Horizontal pulls are incorporated on Day 2 to target balanced muscular strength of the posterior chain. Basketball players need to have strong upper backs because force is transferred from the ground up through their back to their hands during play. If there is a weak link in this force-transfer chain, performance will suffer.

Block 2 on both days consists of exercises from the following categories: vertical push, horizontal push, horizontal pull, posterior chain, posterior shoulder, and unilateral lower body. We spread these movements out to keep the program balanced. For example, if we do a vertical push on Day 1, we will do a horizontal push on Day 2. However, we hit each movement at least once a week to ensure our athletes are attaining balanced total-body muscular strength. Repetitions are typically in the strength-endurance range of six to 12 to accumulate the time under tension necessary for hypertrophy adaptations.

Besides our two mandatory lifting days in Phase 1, some of our athletes perform a voluntary third day of training. Typically, these players want to improve their conditioning, body composition, mobility/flexibility, or strength. The third workout is designed specifically for each individual athlete, and it usually entails some form of low-impact aerobic conditioning, hot yoga, active isolated stretching, or strength training.

Next, we’ll look at Phases 2 and 3 of the program.

John Shackleton, MS, SCCC, has been the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the men's and women's basketball teams at Villanova University since 2012.

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