The game of basketball is becoming increasingly intertwined with the accompanying “performance” side of things that is generally considered separate. So, regardless of whether you’re purely on the basketball side of development or coaching, it’s valuable to have an understanding for what players should be doing in-season when we talk about training in the weight room. I’ll keep it short and sweet, but the goal by the end of this article is for you to understand the principles of in-season training enough to call out strength coaches who are going against them, give players general advice, and control players’ load as they go about their season.
First, let’s understand what players don’t need in-season. Basketball is a very plyometric-based sport. Almost every movement we undertake is a plyometric movement, in that we use stored energy to hit and leave the ground in under about 0.3 seconds. Jumping. Cutting. Sprinting. All plyometric in nature. So, do we really need to load players up with even more intense plyometrics (very demanding on the central nervous system and joints) outside of their games, practices, and skills workouts? I’d say no.
Players likely also don’t need much supplemental conditioning. Coaches often ramp up the conditioning in-season for whatever reason with suicides and more, but players are likely getting no benefit from this. Practice and games are enough for the majority of hoopers. Now, if a member of the team isn’t getting much playing time and the practices become very light to allow for recovery in between games, those players may require some conditioning outside of the team’s activities to remain ready for their potential opportunities.
Players also do not need a ton of volume (amount of work done). In simple, more volume equals more soreness in most cases. The same holds true with eccentric (lowering) work in the weight room, like slow-on-the-way-down squats. We all know how hard it is to play optimally through soreness, and so for this reason, I try to avoid any big lifts over five reps. Go heavy to get the stimulus and stay strong, without stressing our system too much. We actually don’t need to lift nearly as much weight as you’d think to maintain—or even improve—our strength. And, in regard to the eccentric work, don’t emphasize the slow lowering portion of a movement if you’re trying to avoid soreness.
Finally, I try to limit heavy axial loading, or heavy forces on the spine. This can be overall tough on our backs, and also presents us with a large stressor. For this reason, I’ll go more with single leg variations (which limit the amount of overall stress on the system as well), or trap bar deadlifts.
So, what do players need? We want them to get what they’re not getting on the court, right?
They need to stay strong. And like I’ve said, this doesn’t take as much as you’d think. One to two days per week lifting heavy weight for low reps can do the trick for most athletes, especially if they’re lifting said weight with 100% intent. Don’t overdo it here when guys or girls are hitting the court hard.
They need to target common issues we see arise during the season. A lot of single leg and balance work to limit the effects of ankle injuries. Isometrics to keep our tendons healthy (especially the good ole’ patellar tendon that feels the infamous effects of “jumper’s knee”). Hip mobility in all planes to keep movement quality crisp. Ankle mobility work to limit unnecessary stress up the chain. Take care of these pillars and you’ll be good to go.
In terms of scheduling, these sessions can be short, and don’t need to be as often as the off-season. In my work with my high school team, we found openings two days before a game and tried to get it twice a week. If you have to lift the day before a game here and there, it shouldn’t be much of a problem. Your players should already be adapted enough from the off-season to not be sore following a lift (this also brings up the importance of keeping everything basic—athletes will feel the effects of new exercises).
Also, don’t have players in there for hours. An hour maximum is what I generally suggest in-season, and it isn’t uncommon for me to have the guys in and out in 30 minutes. Warm up, get mobile, move something fast, move something heavy, and then attack common issues. Done.
Most importantly, get a feel for how players feel! If they all feel like absolute crap after practice, let them go sleep. As trainers and coaches, our job is to manage stress. Don’t force it.
The last detail I’ll mention is individualizing sessions. Some players play more than others. It’s the nature of basketball. The players that play more should be doing less (more efficient) in the weight room, and the players that play less can push a bit harder. Use this time to help those players who are younger or aren’t as talented catch up to their teammates! They will generally buy in when you put it this way.
Hopefully this answers any questions you had about in-season performance training. If you have any more questions, feel free to reach out.