Basketball In-Season Strength Training – Part 1
by Petros Syrakopoulos
In team sports, the competitive season is the most demanding part of the year. Players are required to be in optimal shape, both physically and mentally, to consistently perform at their very best.
While the pre-season and off-season offer the opportunity for recuperation and for well-programmed athletic and skill development (athletes who are serious about their career goals make the most of that time), during the competitive season athletes are required to perform at, and sometimes above, their limits week after week, month after month.
This need to perform at peak RPMs for prolonged periods of time, combined with the stressful daily practices of their main sport, poses specific challenges and demands for strength and conditioning training.
Strength Training Goals
There are two general goals of strength & conditioning training in team sports: to reduce the risk of injury and to enhance performance.
The risk of injury is reduced by improving muscle strength, joint stabilization and muscle activation. For example, glute activation will decrease the risk of lumbar spine, knee and ankle injury, stronger hamstrings can prevent an ACL injury, and strengthening muscles decreases the risk of tears and protects joints during contact and falls.
Performance is enhanced by increasing endurance, explosiveness, power production, max strength and rate of force development in the main motor patterns of the sport.
During the competitive season, most of the athlete’s time and effort is focused on sports training and competition. The need to perform at elite levels for long periods of time, combined with stressful daily practices for athletes creates stress on their bodies.
This wear and tear can potentially cause the athlete to diminish all they worked for before the season began, the gains of the pre and off-season.
Since the athlete’s body can only recover from so much, it often is not possible to do adequate amounts of strength training to produce performance increases during the competitive season.
This is especially true for well-trained athletes who require a large strength stimulus to produce further adaptations.
However, rookies and athletes who have neglected proper strength training in the past may slowly increase their strength levels during the competitive season.
The goal of in-season strength training for well-trained athletes: to maintain the performance gains they’ve made in the off-season.
Different Stressors, Same Demands
Training during the competitive season is a balancing act between the athlete doing too much and too little. Too much work will result in overtraining, decreased performance and possible injury.
Too little work will result in undertraining, which will also lead to decreased performance and, perhaps counter-intuitively, increased risk of injury.
But it is not only a matter of too much or too little; it is also a matter of the specific stresses and training stimuli provided. Explosive movements (sprinting, jumping, changing direction, decelerating) exert significant stress on the joints, tendons and bones.
Is it really wise to have athletes perform substantial extra amounts of explosive movements in their strength & conditioning sessions when they are already performing large amounts on a daily basis in basketball practices and games?
The longevity of an athlete in competitive sports is dependent on their ability to maximize performance through specific training while simultaneously protecting against injury.
Daily basketball training and frequent games exert great loads on the athlete’s body: Bones, joints, tendons and muscles all receive substantial amounts of stress and strain, and the athlete’s nervous system is often forced to operate at its limits.
The good news here is that this stress also provides specific training stimuli: the large amounts of explosive movements and high-intensity intermittent activity during basketball practice and competition provide substantial training stimuli towards explosiveness and endurance adaptations.
But while basketball practice and competition offer some support to the athlete’s explosiveness and endurance throughout the season, it cannot provide an adequate strength stimulus to maintain the athlete’s strength and hypertrophy.
If that stimulus is not provided by other means, there will be a substantial detraining effect over the course of the season and the athlete’s strength will drop. Even more importantly, decreased strength means decreased power and increased risk of injury.
Since decreased strength levels have significant detrimental effects on both performance and risk of injury, this is something that should be avoided at all costs.
Training and competition are often sufficient to support the athlete’s explosiveness and endurance throughout the season, but it does not provide an adequate strength stimulus to maintain the athlete’s strength levels and muscle hypertrophy.
Subsequently, if that stimulus is not provided by other means, there will be a substantial detraining effect over the course of the season that causes the athletes power, strength and hypertrophy to decline. Decreased strength levels have significant detrimental effects on both performance and risk of injury.
The key is to avoid detraining and injury by providing a healthy and ambitious balance for the athlete’s routine; it must include in-season strength and conditioning training.
This is a key point to understand: without adequate in-season strength training, the athlete’s power, strength and hypertrophy will decline.
Strength Training during the Competitive Season
One thing should be now becoming increasing clear: Out of the main strength & conditioning training modalities (endurance, explosiveness and max strength), max strength should be the priority in-season.
Considering the amounts and types of stresses and training stimuli provided by basketball work, large amounts of additional explosiveness or endurance work are not essential and could potentially be detrimental. Athletes should primarily focus on max strength maintenance (however, additional explosiveness work could be beneficial for athletes who get limited practice and game time).
So how much max strength work should athletes do for strength maintenance throughout the competitive season? Studies and anecdotal practice show that, for well-trained athletes, a minimum of one maximal strength training session per week is necessary for maintenance.
Our coaches believe it is imperative to program at least one heavy strength session in our athletes’ in-season weeks. If competitive circumstances can allow it, a second session would be ideal:
A second strength session makes strength training more effective, provides the opportunity to incorporate valuable assistance exercises like unilateral and stability exercises and corrective work, and can be used to neurally prime players and program peaks for the important games of the season.
• S&C training aims to increase performance (explosiveness, strength and endurance) and decrease risk of injury.
• During the competitive season, large amounts of stress are exerted on the athlete’s musculoskeletal and nervous systems whereas recovery ability is finite.
• These large amounts of stress also provide explosiveness and endurance stimuli, but do not provide a strength stimulus.
• If athletes fail to do additional work to maintain their pre-season strength levels, their explosiveness, as well as their strength, will suffer.
• Max strength maintenance during the competitive season requires a minimum of one heavy strength session per week.
• Two strength sessions are preferable when possible, are more effective at maintaining strength and allow some leeway for basic programming, peaking and unilateral/stability/corrective work.
• Athletes who do not get much training and game time (and athletes with a particularly high work capacity) might be able to handle, and benefit from, additional strength & power work.
Stay tuned for PART 2 of this article, by CSKA Moscow’s strength and conditioning coach Kostas Chatzichristos, discussing practical aspects of program design for in-season strength training for basketball.
Petros Syrakopoulos is a member of the Performance 22 coaching team since 2012 and is currently the strength and conditioning coach of Greek major league team Arcadikos BC. He graduated from the School of Physical Education and Sport Science of the University of Athens in 2013 with the highest grade in the school’s 30-year history.