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The 6 Pillars of Performance Development for the Greatest Athletes on Earth

by Jeff Higuera CSCS, CPT, HFI,
Director of Sport Specific Training, RDV Sports Plex

It is crazy a man named James Naismith, probably bored one day created a simple game that now is considered to be the habitat of the "greatest athletes on earth." From this perspective, the game level has changed so much in speed, ability, power, and strength that a young (very talented) athlete must go through extreme measures to be able to compete at the highest levels of this game.

Aside from practicing one's fundamental basketball skill, the hoopla of performance training has been the buzz word amongst the athletic domain. There are huge corporate centers, (RDV Sportsplex/Orlando, FL; Athletes Performance/Tempe, Arizona; IMG Academies/ Bradenton, FL) that are dedicated to raising the level of each and every paying athlete that walks through their doors. These programs give the highest level of performance training possible athletes starting as early as 5 years old!

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As the director of sport specific training at the RDV Sportsplex in Orlando, FL (home of the Orlando Magic), I work with young aspiring athletes and some of the greatest athletes in the world. I have worked with these athletes and in my research I believe I have found that there are 6 Pillars to developing your athletic potential.

  1. Functional Strength Training
  2. Explosive Resisted Training
  3. Functional Power and Plyometric Training
  4. Joint Stability, Flexibility, and Training
  5. Movement Skill Training/Metabolic Conditioning
  6. Hard Work, Dedication, and Effort

If you aspire to develop your athletic potential I suggest you find a way to implement these 6 pillars into your training routine. Just like Larry Bird's coach reminded him, "No matter how hard you work, there's always someone else out there working harder." You should remind yourself of this all the time and help that push you to seek guidance to becoming the best athlete you can possibly be.

Here is a breakdown of the 6 Pillars of Performance Development:

PILLAR I. Functional Strength Training

Get off the barbell squat and bench press wagon right now if you truly want to increase your basketball strength. "How much can you bench?," Is still a common question asked by athletes. And the answer to that should be "who cares." Functional strength training centers around developing concentric (shortening of the muscles), eccentric (lengthening of the muscles), and isometric (stabilizing the muscles), using multi-joint, multi-planar exercises, in multi-sensory environments. What is all that? In a nut shell, functional strength trains not only strength, but strength using functional movements. For example: A standard bench press will strengthen the front of the shoulders, the triceps and of course the pecs. A functional dumbbell chest press on a stability ball works not only these muscles, but challenges the body by using stabilization muscles in the abdominal, hip, and low back area to stabilize the body while performing the exercise. End result: greater joints stability, greater strength.

When getting ready to start your Functional Strength Training Program I recommend that you:

  1. Seek guidance: These exercises can be difficult and demanding and must be progressed. Most athletes want to jump into the most difficult progression right away. Don't! You must give yourself time to develop key stability and core strength in the joints and muscles.
  2. Avoid exercises where you are sitting down: Instead of doing seated leg extension and curls, barbell bench press or lat-pulldowns, do dumbbell squats, lunges, push ups, and pull-ups to begin your functional strength development
  3. Focus on joint stabilization and control throughout the whole movement. A controlled muscle is a strong muscle. Don't just start firing off reps, control every movement to obtain optimal functional strength.

PILLAR II. Explosive Resisted Training

These are also classified as Olympic lifts. These exercises include exercises such as the power clean, hang clean, and snatch. These exercises help the athlete develop peak power. If an athlete could perform only one type of exercise, I would have them do explosive resisted training. Basketball displays a chaotic array of powerful movements. Explosive resisted training teaches the neuromuscular system to produce a great amount of force in a very short amount of time. Can you think of an explosive athlete? How about Kobe Bryant or Ben Wallace? Have you ever noticed how quickly Kobe Bryant gets to the rim on his dunks, or have you ever wondered why Ben Wallace at 6'9" tall can out rebound 7 footers consistently? It is because they are so explosive!!! Every athlete needs to develop their explosiveness, and explosive resisted training is the best way to do this.

When getting ready to start your Explosive Resisted Training Program I recommend that you:

  1. Seek Guidance: These exercise demand correct form and technique to truly be perfected. Do not attempt these exercises without learning proper mechanics.
  2. Begin learning technique with zero or little weight. Olympic athletes spend month and months practicing technique with no weight! You must learn technique so you can not only maximize your power but so you don't get hurt.
  3. Use dumbbells not barbells: Dumbbells are more functional for basketball athletes, easier to learn, and are great for developing functional power. I particularly only use dumbbells for basketball players whom I work with for this type of training.
  4. If you can't find anyone to teach you, use functional power training (next section) until you are properly instructed

PILLAR III. Functional Power and Plyometric Training

Jump training, quickness training, explosive training, are all other catch words for these monsters. Both functional power and plyometric training are critical for an athletes speed and power development. Functional power training uses the body weight or very light resistances to help over come the body's "inertia" (get the body moving), from a static or stationary position. An example would be squat jumps or broad jumps. These exercises help the body become more explosive and also help the body to be able to decelerate itself after explosive movements. Plyometrics train the elasticity and "quickness" of the muscles. If you've researched anything about basketball training or jump training I'm sure you were quick to find this interesting training method. In simple terms, plyometrics make the muscles more explosive by challenging the "stretch shortening cycle" of the muscles, utilizing the elastic properties of the muscles, thus increasing the speed of force created in quick movements. Examples of these exercises are: tuck jumps, depth jumps, and barrier jumps. The key to these exercises are quickness. Spend no time on the ground, and "pop" off the ground as if it were on fire! The key to functional power training is to explode as quickly as possible from a stationary position and to decelerate the body upon landing in a balanced position ready to explode again.

When getting ready to start your "Functional Power and Plyometric Training Program"

  1. Seek Guidance: These exercises are very demanding on the body and must be progressed in the correct way. Overdoing these exercises can cause overtraining injuries such as patellar tendonitis (jumper's knee) or other injuries.
  2. Do not use resistance- Your bodyweight is sufficient
  3. Do these exercises on a soft surface like grass, this will help in prevention of overtraining injuries

PILLAR IV. Joint Stability, Flexibility, and Mobility Training

"Touch your toes and count to 10," is unfortunately still the primary method of warm-up and stretching for many athletes. For you "hold the stretch lovers" I just wanted to let you know that static stretching before competitions and training sessions has been proven to s l o w y o u d o w n. Static stretching in recent research explained static stretching might actually "turn off the muscles" and make them less powerful, if done before a training session or competition. So what do we do? The answer is the dynamic warm-up consisting of sub maximal movement exercises followed by dynamic flexibility. Dynamic flexibility takes the body through progressive functional movements that challenge joint stability, mobility, and balance. These exercises are the BEST way to get the body ready for a game, practice or training session. Examples of performance warm-up exercises are: jog, shuffle, carioca, skips, back pedals, butt kicks, and dynamic stretches being forward lunges, lateral lunges, crossover lunges, single leg hamstring stretch, sumo squats.

When getting ready to start your Joint Stability, Flexibility, and Mobility Training Program:

  1. Seek Guidance: These exercises are not completely recognized by all coaches and training principles yet. However the newer books and any performance coach worth their salt will emphasize these exercises in the warm-up
  2. Warm-up before every practice, game, and training session with these if you truly want to get the warm-up you really need
  3. Focus on going through full ranges of motion, maintaining excellent posture, and form during all of these dynamic movements

PILLAR V. Movement Skill Training

Just as every day practicing your jump shot and dribbling skills, if you want to be a great mover, you must focus on perfecting your movement skills. Acceleration, lateral movements, crossovers, backpedals, changing directions, are all skills that can be mastered with the right training and the right progressions. Elite tennis players believe that 70% of the success of their game is based on footwork and spend hours a day developing their movement patters. Basketball players and tennis players share many of the same movement patterns in quick reactions, change of direction, dynamic balance, acceleration, and deceleration. Great basketball players must have great footwork. Perfect footwork means you do not take any extra steps, thus you do not waste any extra energy and you're as they say "one step quicker" than the rest of the pack. You are not actually one step quicker, the other guy is just taking more inefficient steps.

Movement training must be based on the fundamentals of movement and learning how to properly sprint, accelerate, decelerate, move laterally, crossover, backpedal, and react. These can be trained though motor skill training and will best be accomplished by using an experienced coach to guide you in your movement skill development.

Metabolic training is training the metabolic pathways, aerobic and anaerobic

systems, to be efficient. This is what you might call "conditioning." These exercises include jogging, sprinting, or other movement drills to train the aerobic and anaerobic pathways. Basketball is primarily an anaerobic sport and anaerobic fitness should be the chief system trained.

When getting ready to start your Movement /Metabolic Training Program:

  1. Seek Guidance: The help of a good movement training coach can help you develop "sweet feet" as I like to call them.
  2. Focus on fundamentals: You don't just go out and start bombing three pointers of screens when you are tying to develop your shot. The same applies to any motor skill. You must start simple and it must start with the brain learning the skill and linking it to the rest of the body creating a motor program.
  3. Train the aerobic system in the beginning of the off-season (20-40 minutes of continuous exercise 65-85% of max heart rate). As you get closer to the season train using anaerobic intervals (5-30 second intervals with 1:2 or 1:3 work to rest ratio, working at greater than 85% of max HR).

PILLAR 6: Hard Work, Dedication, and Effort

"I've always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come. I don't do things half-heartedly. Because I know if I do, then I can expect half-hearted results." A basketball player by the name of Michael Jordan once said. This is the last but definitely not least of the 6 Pillars of athletic development. In fact, without these, you may as well have never read this article, because it will do you no good.

These are the tried and true 6 Pillars of Performance Development for the basketball athlete. Implementing these into your routine and daily quest for becoming the basketball player you can be will be key to your success. I am happy to be a performance coach to athletes all over the country and am able to give every athlete the possibility of learning and equipping themselves with what it takes. I can train athletes all over the country by signing up for my virtual training program at www.fitnessgenerator.com/jeffhiguera, and also am able to spread my expertise and knowledge of my vertical jump training program in my new book, "Performance Jump Training for Today's Basketball Player." Please look me up if you have any questions in your quest in developing yourself as an athlete and performer.

About Jeff:
Jeff Higuera is a former collegiate athlete at the University of Northern Colorado. He began his career in strength and conditioning at Saddlebrook Resort in Tampa, Florida where he was the Coordinator of Sports Strength for Hopman International Tennis Academy and the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy. He helped to develop top junior tennis and golf athletes, as well as worked with a variety of top 20 WTA, ATP, and NFL first round draft picks. Jeff is currently the Coordinator of Sports Specific Training at the RDV Sportsplex. Jeff works with NFL draft hopefuls, NFL, MLB, ATP, NBA, WNBA athletes as well as speaks at national seminars dealing with sports specific speed. Jeff’s style of training is based on the functionality of training for sport, developing world class athletes through motivation, education, and mentally and physically pushing them to their maximum potential.

Contact Information:

Jeff Higuera CSCS, CPT, HFI
RDV Sportsplex
Director of Sport Specific Training
(407) 916-2518
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