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Optimal Off-Season Training

by Danny McLarty, CSCS New Direction Personal Fitness and Sports Performance

In basketball, the off-season is the time for players to take their game to the next level. If a player puts in more time to improve his jump shot, and his killer-crossover, then this player will dominate on the court when the season rolls around. I know what goes through your mind when the final buzzer sounds in the last game of the year; "I can't wait to get back on the court and start working on my game! I'm going to play more games, and put in more time on court than anybody that I play against next season." Like many of you, I've been there. And I applaud your dedication, I really do. But what if there is a better way? What if there is more to reaching your potential than just playing the game? I'm here to tell that there is more, much more. And I'm here to show you the way. If you are someone that is willing to do whatever it takes to dominate the competition, then this article is for you.

Lets take a look at a few of the most important areas that need to be addressed in the off-season...

Strength training - This is an area that many, many basketball players just don't take seriously enough. And for those that do, definitely get a leg up on the competition. Think Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, and Lebron James, to name just a few. Improving strength for a basketball player provides so many benefits! Getting stronger will lead to; increased vertical jump; increased quickness and speed; increase the range of your shot; reduce the chance of injury; and help you finish around the rim with contact more effectively. Here is a staggering stat that I read from Eric Cressey's excellent book, "The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual;" In the 2003 NFL combine, there were 12 quarter backs that jumped over 35 inches in the vertical jump test. In the 2003 NBA combine, only 1 of 76 prospects had a vertical over 35 inches, and the average was actually less than 30 inches! These quarterbacks that are among the "least athletic" on the football field had a bigger vertical than virtually every basketball player at the combine!?! Hmm, do you think that maybe these football guys are onto something? Putting a BIG emphasis on the weights in the off-season works for them, and if you put in the hard work, it will work for you!

Mobility/Stability - Mobility is a class of drills that are designed to take your joints through a full range motion. In order to have good mobility, an athlete must be stable through that range of motion. If a player can squat down so deep that his/her butt just about touches the floor, but has very little control at that depth, then the athlete has poor stability. So one must be stable through that range of motion. Stability can be improved through strength training. (check off another benefit for strength training!) The bottom line is that some joints are designed for stability, (again, improved with strength training) some joints are designed for mobility, and basketball players need to take the time to improve both their mobility and stability. Mobility drills are to be done pre-training - either before a weight lifting session or before playing basketball. They can also be done on "off-days" to enhance recovery.

Soft tissue work - Improving the quality of our soft tissues (muscles, ligament, tendons, fascia) is of utmost importance. The more we train (in the weight room, on the basketball court, etc) there will be more knots, adhesions and scar tissue that will build up in our body. This will limit our range of motion, slow recovery, decrease our performance and just down-right make us feel bad/ache. A cheap and very effective way to reduce these knots all over our body, is weekly (and hopefully daily) use of the foam roller and lacrosse ball. These two pieces have changed my life, as well as many of the people that I work with. Sound a little dramatic? Believe me, I am not exaggerating. When I hit my upper 20's I basically stopped playing basketball because I was so sick of always hurting. Then I discovered the foam roller/lacrosse ball. I can now play, jump on the roller after playing (sometimes I use it before and after playing) and recover to play and/or lift the next day with much less aches and pain! Moving and playing pain-free is so much more enjoyable than always feeling banged-up and in pain.

Playing/practicing basketball - Walking onto the court with focus and bringing the intensity is very important here. A ton can get done in a short period of time. Hour after hour of full court basketball will just lead to more muscular imbalances, knots, pain, and make it very difficult to increase strength. You can still play basketball, but it doesn't ALWAYS have to be full-court pick-up games and/or summer league games. Shooting 100 jump shots or working on creating space off the dribble is a great way to save time, and save your joints the additional pounding (as opposed to more pick-up games) while still helping to develop your skills.

Another important thing to remember; no player (or team) has ever received a trophy for being the best conditioned in the off-season. So please stop all the long distance running in the summer. It is too time-consuming, pounds the joints more, and if done too often, can actually make the fast-twitch muscle fibers take on the properties of your slow-twitch muscle fibers. (not a good thing in a sport that requires explosive strength!)


Unfortunately, many athletes, (and people in any walk of life) succeed in spite of what they do, not because of what they do. Yeah, many, many basketball players have had great careers while playing hour after hour of basketball in the summer. However, if I took that same player, and had this athlete put a bigger emphasis on increasing strength, mobility, and soft tissue work in the off-season, he/she would perform at a higher level, while greatly reducing the chances of injury. The time has come for basketball players and coaches to adopt an off-season training model that addresses all of their needs. If you are interested in taking your game to the next level, this is the path that will take you there!

About the author:

Danny McLarty, CSCS, is a fitness coach at New Direction Fitness in Danville, California. Danny's coaching helps athletes get stronger and more explosive for their sport. He also is a Basketball Skills Coach where he helps individuals and groups improve their ability to get open with and without the ball in their hands. Danny was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Hall of Fame in April of 2007. He accomplished this while standing at a height of 5'7". He can be contacted at dmclarty1110@hotmail.com

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