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Basketball Players: Take care not to overtrain during the off-season

Tom Emma

Over-training is the enemy of all athletes. It hinders performance and more often than not leads to injury. Some common symptoms include a noticeable loss in strength and conditioning, increased muscle and joint soreness, lack of enthusiasm for workouts, and insomnia. Needless to say, competitive athletes should attempt to avoid this condition at all cost.

Basketball players, because of the year round demands and physical nature of their sport, are especially susceptible to becoming over-trained. Most would assume that the greatest danger for over-training would occur during the regular season. After all, this is when players are competing in games, engaging in intense practices, and adhering to rigorous school and travel schedules. What many forget, however, is that during the competitive season players are continually monitored by coaches, trainers, and conditioning specialists for signs of physical breakdown. Practice, travel, strength workouts, and rest intervals are carefully planned to ensure that athletes don't over do it.

On the other hand, during the off-season players are, for the most part, left to their own devices when it comes to basketball and training related activity. Rarely are coaches around to supervise. And when you combine this reality with the fact that most successful basketball players are notorious for their off-season work ethics, regularly spending a half dozen or more hours per day perfecting their games and honing their bodies, it is little wonder that over-training is commonplace during this time.

Okay, now that we know over-training is widespread in the off-season among hoopsters, what can we do about it? Below I have detailed 7 proven strategies that will help players steer clear of over-training during the off-season. All the suggestions are easy to implement, and coaches should make sure that their players are acutely aware of them before they leave their care and commence with off-season workouts.

  1. Combine Training Modalities

    Because of the numerous innovations in improvement techniques, basketball players are now faced with a dizzying array of training options. Plyometrics (an advanced form jump training which links speed to produce power), high intensity weightlifting, and imaginative speed training are all part of the typical basketball player's workout regime these days.

    While the advancement in training protocol is a net positive and has certainly helped produce faster, stronger, and better-conditioned athletes across the board, there has been a downside to progress. It has actually led many basketball players to do too much, thus putting some in a perpetually over-trained state.

    In order to reach their full potential and steer clear of over-training, basketball players must learn how to deal effectively with the wide variety of workout choices currently at their disposal. One way to do this is by combining training modalities. For example, there is no reason why lower body plyometrics, agility, and speed workouts can't be performed in one training session. The three disciplines can all be executed in the same place (a rubberized running track or groomed field are my suggestions), exercise basically the same muscle groups, and activate the bodies nervous system similarly. The same goes for on-court skill and conditioning drills and full or half court scrimmaging. After players finish their competitive run, I recommend they go immediately into the court drills. This won't only save time, but bodies as well.

    One word of caution before I close this section. While conscientious workout combining will help players at all levels avoid over-training. There are some training disciplines that should not be coupled. It is my strong suggestion that heavy leg weight training should not be combined with lower body plyometrics or intense speed work (hill running, stadium step climbing, resistance sprinting, etc.). A minimum of 48 hours should always separate these options. Incorporating these methods in one workout or any closer together than the aforementioned 48 hours is just too taxing for most bodies to handle.

  2. When in Doubt, Rest

    I realize the title of this section does not adhere to the "no pain, no gain", push through at all costs theory that most athletes are reared on. But the fact is if players wish to avoid the performance debilitating state of over-training following the advice of "when in doubt, rest" is the only way to go. The body provides signals, often subtle ones, that players must listen to. If they refuse, over-training and injury will be the inevitable result. These signals will tell the athlete when it is best to take a step back from intense training and when pushing ahead aggressively is the proper medicine. Erring on the side of caution will ensure that players end up on the right side of the fence when it comes to over-training.

  3. Stretch Regularly

    All athletes who participate in movement oriented sports should adhere to a consistent, year-round flexibility program. Basketball players are no exception.

    Stretching thoroughly both before and after workouts is recommended for basketball players. Stretching prior to physical activity readies the body for intense exertion, along with lessening the chances of workout or competition related injuries. Pre-workout stretching should always be preceded by a light warm-up such as 5 to 10 minutes on a stationary bike or a moderate quarter mile jog.

    Post workout stretching is a key to the prevention of over-training. It speeds recovery by enhancing the removal of lactic acid (a substance that contributes to muscle and joint soreness) from the body. Engaging in flexibility work after exercise also allows for a "fuller" stretch, as warm muscles are more pliable.

    Coaches for their part should always teach proper stretching technique to their players at the beginning of the season, and advocate that they keep up with a similar routine throughout the off-season months.

  4. Eat Well

    Well-balanced nutrition is important for all active people. For hard training basketball players it is an absolute necessity. If players are not taking in sufficient and nutritionally sound calories on a regular basis they are putting themselves at risk for over-training. Eating well is just as important as doing the proper amount of exercise when it comes to maintaining top form. Athletes that are trying to lose weight should be especially careful to monitor their bodies for breakdown. Lower calorie consumption while continuing a high intensity workout program makes players extremely vulnerable to over-training. Remember, losing weight should always be a gradual process, one that takes place over a number of weeks and months. In extreme weight loss cases a physician should always be consulted.

  5. Stay in Regular Contact with Coaches and Trainers

    Provided players are not working closely with experienced basketball and conditioning personnel in the off-season (the usual case), I suggest that they check in periodically with coaches and trainers in the off-season to give them an update on their workouts and progress. While certainly not as useful as regular daily contact, as is the case during the competitive season, these intermittent check-ins can be helpful in keeping players on the training straight and narrow.

  6. Encourage Players to Learn about (and Listen to) their Bodies

    All coaches should encourage their players to learn more about how their bodies respond to various types of training stimulus. Every athlete is different in terms of physical tolerance. Some can train hard on a daily basis with no ill effects, while others need frequent rest intervals to be at their best. Once players master their own delicate balance between training and rest, they will be on their way to reaching their full athletic potential without over-training getting in the way.

  7. Develop and Maintain Core Strength

    Ask any NBA player or coach what area of the body is most important for basketball performance and all would quickly reply, the core. The core, or power base as it is sometimes called, consists of the mid-section, hips, lower back, buttocks, and upper legs.

    Developing strength and power in this region is a must for high performance. It also provides the body stability and balance, which enhances a player's ability to tolerate the day-to-day pounding that comes with participating in the game of basketball. Counteracting this wear and tear with additional core strength will go a long way toward preventing body breakdown.

    The best exercises for strengthening the core of the physique are abdominal crunches, back raises on a hyper-extension machine, straight legged dead lifts, squats, lunges, and step-ups. Have your players incorporate these movements into their strength routines on a year-round basis and they won't be disappointed, or over-trained.

So there you have it, seven proven strategies to help your players avoid the debilitating state of over-training. For more information on how to incorporate year-round workout programs for basketball, access Tom's website, www.powerperformance.net

About the Author

Tom Emma
A Duke University basketball player under coach Mike Kryzewski (1979-1983), the author of A Basketball Players Comprehensive Guide to Strength Training (1998) and Peak Performance Training for Basketball (2002), and currently president of Power Performance, Inc., a company that specializes in training athlets in strenght, conditioning, and skill development. Tom has also written articles for Men's Fitness, Winning Hoops, Basketball Sense, and Basketball America.

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