Designing an In-Season Training Program for Basketball – Part I

This is part one of two and here I’ll be discussing the initial assessment and testing all coaches and players should address prior to beginning an in-season training strength & conditioning program.
Before beginning a strength & conditioning program, it is important that all players receive medical clearance from their doctor.  Since this is for “in-season”, I’ll assume that has already happened (or they wouldn’t be allowed to participate).
With the following assessment tools, you will be able to find any deficits a player may have, as well as any strengths that can be utilized in competition. As you will see, many tests are pass-fail. A failing grade doesn’t mean a player isn’t allowed to lift, just that he/she has a deficit that should be fixed and both the player and coach should be aware of. These are also tests which can be re-administered to determine progression during the season, or reveal signs of regression and overtraining.
Flexibility & Mobility
This is an important, and vastly overlooked, aspect of basketball performance. Poor flexibility can leave a player at greater risk for an injury such as a muscle pull and limit mobility. Mobility is even more essential as basketball players are consistently shifting body position from upright, to half squat, to triple extension. Combined with the need for rapid power development and the ability to transfer energy, mobility is necessary to make movements more efficient and allow the body to function properly.
Deep Squat – This is the most beneficial test, providing mobility information for the ankles, knees, hips, spine, and shoulders. To test, have an athlete perform an overhead squat with either a PVC pipe or wooden dowel. Have them go as deep as they can. Scoring is as follows:
What is Tested
Heels stay flat on the floor
Ankle Mobility
Knees stay straight, don’t bow out or cave in
Hip Flexibility
Hips parallel with or below knees
Hip Extensors Mobility
Lower back stays arched, not rounded
Hip Flexor/Hamstring Flexibility
PVC pipe stays over base of neck, behind knees
Shoulder Mobility
Remember, a failing score on any of the criteria doesn’t mean the athlete can’t begin a training program, but shows a deficit that needs to be addressed by the player and coach.
In-Line Lunge – This test will address any imbalances between the right and left sides of the lower body. To begin, place a strip of tape on the floor (15” for athletes 5’8” and under, 16” for 5’8”-6’0”, 17” for 6’0”-6’4”, and 18” for athletes over 6’4”. Another method is to measure the lower leg from ground to the attachment of the pattelar tendon, however this can be time consuming with a full team of assessments). Have the athlete stand in a lunge position, with the heel of the front foot on the front edge of the tape, and toes of the back foot on the back edge, with a PVC pipe or wooden dowel across the upper back (as in a squat). The player will then lower the back knee to touch the tape behind the front foot. Perform the test on both sides, up to three times. Scoring is as follows:
What is Tested
Feet stay pointing straight and on tape
Ankle Mobility
Back knee touches tape behind front heel
Hip Extensor Strength (Front Leg)
Minimal to no upper body movement
Hip Flexor Flexibility
PVC pipe stays parallel to ground, doesn’t dip left or right
Balance/Hip Stabilizers
Back hip is fully extended in bottom position
Hip Flexor/Quad Flexibility
Note any left-right imbalances an athlete may have and be sure to dedicate time to correcting them. These are more important than bilateral deficits because inefficiency on one side of the body is more likely to result in microtrauma.
Flexibility Tests – These are pretty standard flexibility tests that will determine any tight muscles that require additional attention. This is a very basic group of tests, namely for ease of use by a coach looking to assess multiple athletes in a limited amount of time. The three tests focus on the muscles of the leg, and are to be used in conjunction with the above mobility tests to determine program requirements
Thomas Test – Have an athlete lay supine on a training table, with edge of table at the bottom of the athlete butt. Have the athlete raise one knee and pull it to his/her chest. If the down leg raises, this shows a tightness in the hip flexors. Test both sides.
Quad Test – With the athlete laying prone on a training table, the coach will passively flex one of his/her knees, testing ROM of the knee. If the heel can touch the athlete’s butt, it is above average, within two inches is average, and if the heel can’t come within two inches, it shows tightness in the quadriceps. This is not a stretch, the coach only goes until there is resistance within the muscle.
Straight Leg Raise – With the athlete lying supine on the table, the coach will raise one leg, bracing the other above the knee. 80-90 degrees is above average, 70-80 degrees an average score, and below 70 degrees shows tightness in the hamstrings.
Achilles Test – Have the athlete stand with the balls of their feet elevated 2” (a 2×4 works well) with heels on the ground. The athlete will then flex their knees, pushing them forward as far as they can while keeping their heels flat on the ground. This is not a squat, the athlete doesn’t need to go very low, just enough to push the knees forward, there shouldn’t be more than 6” of vertical displacement. If the athlete is able to get his/her knees 2” past their toes, they score an above average, 0-2” is average, if they can’t get their knees to their toes, this shows a tightness in the Achilles tendon and soleus muscle.
Shoulder/Chest Flexibility – Begin with the athlete standing with shoulders abducted to 90 degrees and elbows flexed at 90 degrees (as if signaling a made field goal). The athlete will pull his/her elbows back as far as possible, maintaining a straight upper body and 90 degree angles at the shoulders and elbows, with forearms perpendicular to the ground throughout the test. Elbows should go back symmetrically. Any left-right difference should be addressed. If neither elbow can move backwards 2” or more, both sides should be addressed.
Because of the wide array of test scores in performance testing, many of the following tests will not have grades assigned. There are too many factors in play that have a greater impact on the results than the athlete’s readiness to train (such as age, gender, height, weight, etc.) and these fluctuate drastically from year to year, athlete to athlete. Instead, these tests will help track progress (or regression) over the course of the season, and help establish individuals’ strengths and weaknesses.
Vertical Jump – Use a Vertec or a jump mat if you have one. Begin with both feet on the ground and perform a countermovement jump. Three attempts and record the highest mark.
Standing Broad Jump – Lay a tape measure out flat and have the athlete line up toes at 0. Jump using both legs at the same time and mark where the heels land. The mark only counts if the athlete sticks the landing. Three attempts and record the best mark. If an athlete is unable to jump as far as he/she is tall, then plyometric exercises should be avoided until they improve their leg strength.
Pro Agility Drill – Set up three cones in a straight line, 5 yards apart. Have the athlete begin in a three-point stance in line with the middle cone. The athlete will start on his/her own and sprint to the left cone, to the cone on the far right, then back through the middle. Time will start at first movement and stop when the athlete breaks the plane of the middle cone the second time. Three attempts are allowed, recording the fastest time.
Push Up Test – Have the athlete perform as many push ups in 30 seconds as possible. Female athletes may perform the tests in a kneeling position in place of a regular push up. For a repetition to count, the elbows must go through a 90 degree range of motion.
Chin Up Test – This test can be conducted one of two ways. For the first method, have the athlete perform as many chin ups as possible without rest. The player should use a supinated grip with hands shoulder width apart. Only full repetitions count (a full repetition being when the athlete clears the bar with his/her head and reaches at least 120 degrees at the elbow at the bottom of the repetition). If an athlete is unable to do one repetition (or is noticeably apprehensive about attempting), then he/she can perform a timed hold at the top position (with head above the bar). The total time in seconds becomes the athlete’s recorded score. When retested, the athlete should attempt to perform full chin ups to see if enough progress has been made to complete full repetitions.
After completing this assessment, the player and coach will be made aware of any deficits or imbalances that will need to be addressed with the training program.
Friday, I will cover what considerations will need to be taken into account when designing a training program for players, as well as provide an example outline and suggested exercises.
If you have any questions regarding the assessment or any of the tests, please don’t hesitate to contact me
All the best,
Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW

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