Updated: Sep 19, 2020
Chances are you're facing cancellations of all team practices, closure of rec centres and gyms, and a complete lack of insight as to when things will return to normal. You're far from alone, you're in the company of the entire basketball community.
Largely the mindset should be:
Stay ready so you don't have to get ready.
It will probably come as a bit of a surprise when team play is allowed to resume. At the same time, it doesn't look like it's coming soon. So that presents the question... What can you do during this time of abundant time and scarce resources?
For most high school, collegiate, and professional athletes basketball becomes a year-round commitment. This means you generally have very little time to recovery from the wear and tear of a season. You may never have this much time off again until you hang your jersey up for good. The next time you check into a game you should be
a) The healthiest you've ever been, and
b) In the best shape of your life.
Wait for next season. You're going to see a big gap between the athletes who decided to take this time off completely and the athletes that were intentional with their workouts.
The former will feel great at the start of the season, but will be out of shape and will quickly succumb to chronic injuries like jumper's knee because their body hasn't built up any resilience.
The later will also feel great, but they will also have the endurance and explosiveness to get right into high-paced practices and will be less likely to breakdown through the course of the season.
Let's get into the blueprint.
I am not a medical professional and the suggestions below do not replace medical advice. If you're dealing with an injury you should get a diagnosis before continuing with exercises specific to the area.
Some of the suggestions below require getting outside. As of March 27th in Ontario there are no restrictions on being outside, just a push to maintain social distance. When participating in any outdoor activities you should follow the social distancing recommendations and if guidelines around being outdoors are different in your area or in the future you should follow those first and foremost.
1) Pain/Injury Management
I'm going to specifically refer to tendinopathies here. The most common in basketball players tends to be the patella (jumper's knee), the achilles, and the plantar fascia (bottom of the foot).
There's two aspects to managing pain and injury that are highly relevant at this time. One, you have to recover from the wear and tear placed on your body from the previous basketball season (and seasons prior, if relevant). Two, you have to build up your mobility, movement quality, fitness, strength, and tissue resiliency to reduce the likelihood of future injuries.
The biggest key here is to move the hurt area as much as possible. Movement stimulates blood flow and blood flow stimulates healing, though everything you do should be pain-free. If, and only if, the smallest/simplest imaginable movement still causes pain (and you've been medically cleared to move) then the secondary goal is to minimize pain as much as possible.
A simple first step: Full body CARs (Controlled Articular Rotations) routine. I've included my video of hip CARs above, but you can easily find tutorials for full body routines on YouTube. Completion of a full body CARs routine will take every major joint in your body through its entire range of motion. This is important for maintaining mobility but it's also a great body scan to see what ranges you have control over and what ranges you might have pain in. Perform 2 reps per joint daily to keep them healthy. If you have a joint that gives you trouble double the reps.
It's important to understand that these tendinopathies commonly occur because the tissue wasn't able to adapt to the demands placed on it. Therefore we need to be able to load the tissue and increase the tolerance.
Isometric holds are the lowest stress type of load you can use, so it's a great place to start. With jumper's knee as an example, try a split squat hold. On day 1 try a 30s hold on each side. If it doesn't cause any pain, do a second set. Wait 2-3 days; if the pain hasn't gotten worse then you can repeat the exercise. Either make each set a little bit longer or add a third set (don't change two things at once though). Wait another 2-3 days and repeat. The rest in between is to make sure the exercise isn't too much for the tissue to adapt to. If you get reckless and move too fast this will just make the symptoms worse.
As long as the isometric holds aren't causing any pain and you've worked your way up to 3 sets of a minute or so then it may be time to implement some eccentrics. Eccentric refers to the lowering phase of the exercise, this is what we are going to emphasize. I personally like the eccentric lateral step down. To perform these use the bottom step of a staircase, standing sideways with one foot on the edge of the step and the other hanging over the edge. Slowly bend the knee of the leg that's on the step to lower the other foot to the floor; aim to make the downward portion of the movement last 5 seconds. Try 3-5 reps and again wait a few days to see if symptoms worsen. Over time, given no increase in pain, work up to 3 sets of 8 then look for something a little bit higher to step down from.
This must be a slow process to work properly. Do not rush this. The same process can be repeated for the ankle or other join. Don't hesitate to reach out if you'd like an example of how it might look for another joint.
2) Mobility & Movement Quality
This is a great chance to make some big improvements to your mobility and enhance the quality of some fundamental movement patterns.
Here's a routine that will address the usual limiting factors in basketball players (hips, ankles and back) and more. It could be performed as a warm up before a workout or as a rest day activity.
90/90 PAIL/RAIL - 1 set (both directions on both sides; 4 total)
(Note: Due to the intensity of these, don't perform them daily. Take 1-2 days off for these only)
Dynamic Ankle Mobilization - 8 reps each
Ankle End-Range Contractions - 6 reps/breaths each
Kneeling Thoracic Rotation - 8 reps each
Cat Camel - 8 reps
Bodyweight Lateral Squat - 2 sets of 10 each
Bodyweight Single Leg Deadlift - 2 sets of 10 each
3) General Fitness - Endurance & Diet
Keeping your fitness level high will contribute to better recovery from your other workouts and will make sure you're not rushing to get in shape when the season rolls around. Unless your endurance was notably bad last season it doesn't necessarily need to be a priority, but you should still be getting 2-3 sessions in a week.
At this time I think a great option is the 3D tempo circuit shown below. You get exposure to every direction of movement (forward, up, sideways, rotation, backwards) and it's low impact relative to long distance jogging so your knees and feet will thank you.
Use roughly a 20m distance (for simplicity, just pace out 20 strides and put a marker down). One length of each movement is one set. Try 5 sets with 30 seconds rest between sets.
Weekly you can progress these forwards by, again, either adding sets or decreasing rest time slightly. Don't do both in one week.
Once you know when the season might be back in play you can begin to add more intense conditioning drills that incorporate hard cuts.
As for diet, the same way you don't want to be rushing to get your endurance up before the season, you also don't want to have to rush to lose weight. Determine what your goals are and watch the scale over time. If you're looking to put on some muscle make sure you're slowly gaining weight week by week (about 0.25-0.5lbs/week). Muscle doesn't grow fast, so quick weight gain suggests you're putting on unnecessary body fat. Alternatively, if you're looking to lose weight a healthy rate is 1-2lbs/week. Track your weight daily but only look at weekly trends (it's normal to have daily fluctuation; we want to see a trend over 7 days). Adjust your food intake up or down slightly week by week until you hit the sweet spot for your goal outlined above.
As for food choices, eat as many greens as you can get your hands on but understand that won't do much to contribute to weight gain if that's the goal. Generally try to eat single ingredient foods (example: oatmeal) and limit refined/added sugars. Also, aim to get a protein, a carb, and a vegetable in every meal. Don't aim for perfection right away, instead make the changes you think you can realistically stick to long-term and progress over time.
4) Strength & Resiliency
I've seen first hand how physical development takes a back seat to games and practices during the season across all levels of basketball. While this may contribute to short-term results it's detrimental for the long-term health and development of you, the athlete. I bring this up because even the best strength and conditioning programs may be limited in how much they will be able to do with you down the road. With that said, use this time to get strong.
Unless you have extensive training experience, there's a high chance that the added strength with translate to performance on the court. More importantly though, a stronger body is a body more resilient to injuries.
At the very least get really good at the bodyweight variations of the following:
Single leg deadlift
Single leg calf raise
You can find some ideas for new exercises and variations to make each exercise harder with my free download, The Ultimate Home Workout Guide.
If you're following the guidelines for tendon pain outlined at the beginning of this post, continue to train around other joints but stick to the isometrics or eccentrics until pain subsides. Remember, nothing should be pain inflicting especially the strength work.
If you're suffering from any leg pain or injury just put this section aside for now. Focus on everything else until you're pain-free and healthy.
If you are healthy you do need to ensure that your legs are prepared to handle the high loads involved in the jumps, cuts, and sprints that occur in a game. To do this we're going to follow a protocol you'll be familiar with by now.
Start with a set of 5 maximal effort jumps, landing softly each time. Any pain a few days later? If the answer is no, repeat the same 5 jumps but add 3 sprints for 10m. Still no pain? Perform 2 sets. You know the drill by now. Tendons will adapt slower than the muscles will so even though you will feel like you can do a whole bunch of jumps no problem you may end up overloading the tendons. Stimulate them (don't annihilate them), let them adapt, and then give them something a little bigger to adapt to.
You can go fast but fall short, or you can take the slow, diligent process and go further than you can imagine.
I grew up without access to indoor courts, so this isn't a new topic for me. Here's some ideas for how you can get your skill work in.
Ball handling in your basement, on the driveway, in empty school parking lots, etc.
Does your school/community have outdoor hoops? Get shots up there. If the courts are always occupied try showing up earlier.
If not, do form shooting up in the air. You can still work the shooting motion without a hoop. Here's a great IGTV video by Damin Altizer showing you how you can actually make improvements to your shot from a chair.
All you need is a brick/concrete wall to add in some passing drills.
I wanted to finish off with a commonly underappreciated part of the development process. Training your mindset and thinking ability can't go overlooked. Here's some techniques to try:
Visualization is done by clearly picturing skills or scenarios in your head. It works by rehearsing the same neurological firing patterns that are responsible for actually performing the action.
The possibilities here are endless. Here's a 6 minute video walk through for shooting. I really hope you at least give that video a chance once. If you want to take it a step further you can also run your team's plays in your head, or imagine what dribble moves you would use to counter various defensive positions.
Where visualization is about focusing intently on a vision or an action, mindfulness is more about quieting the noise in your head. The better your peace of mind and focus can get, the better you will be at decision making and the more thoughtful you will be when reacting to an event.
I found a great guided beginner's meditation video. It's shorter than 5 minutes, which may very well still feel like a very long time but I hope you challenge yourself to give it a try. Before you write it off consider that many NBA players, as well as top performers in others professions, have taken to meditation/mindfulness. There might just be something to it.
Take some time to watch players you aspire to play like. Don't limit yourself to just NBA, but watch collegiate and high school players too. We are lucky to live in the time where there is no end to the available film to watch. I encourage you to take notes; what skills or physical abilities do they have that you don't? How could you modify your workouts to begin to add those tools? Watch their intangibles too. How do they respond when they miss a shot? How do they interact with their coach? There's clues to greatness in every detail.
I've given you a lot, so here's a simple breakdown of what I would encourage you to add to your routine:
Full body CARs routine daily
Mobility & movement routine daily (except for PAIL/RAILs)
Get creative with your skill work. Do some sort of practice daily.
Isometric or eccentric work for sore tendons every 2-3 days
Get strong around healthy areas. This is highly individual, but since home workouts have a lower intensity you can probably train full body strength 4-5 times a week.
Do some sort of explosive exercise every 2-3 days if pain-free.
Stay in shape with 2-3 endurance sessions a week.
Every day pick something from the intangibles section and work at it for at least 5-10 minutes. Don't overlook that section.
Now go dominate your training! Share this with a hooper that needs to see it.
For the best resource on individualized basketball performance training, check out the MHP Basketball Strength & Conditioning system.
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Don't hesitate to reach out with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org