Taking long breaks in the weight room won't simulate game conditions. To achieve a higher level of conditioning, you must push yourself, even during rest periods. This will allow your body to adapt to the constant movement necessary for success in sports like basketball, lacrosse and hockey.
Incorporate the following four plyometric exercises between strength exercises. As you become familiar with the types of movements involved in active rest, feel free to include other sport-specific and/or plyometric exercises in your rest periods to avoid plateaus and keep your workouts fun.
Split-Stance Med Ball Chest Pass
NBA MVP Steve Nash uses this exercise to develop power in his chest and to work the stabilizer muscles that keep him in a split stance. “He’s locking out his back leg, using his glute and leg to kind of make a tripod position,” says Phoenix Suns head strength and conditioning coach Erik Phillips.
Perform 10-12 reps as hard and fast as possible to keep your blood pumping, just like on game day.
Sets/Reps: 1x12, 1-2x10
Nothing helps you build a powerful lower body like Scissor Jumps. This grueling exercise gives you the tired legs that afflict every athlete toward the end of the fourth quarter [the third period for hockey players], allowing your body to adapt to the stress. Here, Super Bowl Champion wide receiver Marques Colston, of the New Orleans Saints, performs the exercise. Lynn Goff, strength coach and athletic trainer at Professional Athletic Performance Center (Garden City, NY), says, “The main thing is that they’re not shortening their stride, [and] that they’re getting their knee, hip and ankle all fully extended and hitting that triple extension before they bring that foot to the front.” She adds that athletes should not rush through this exercise. Be sure to get some air on your jumps and pay close attention to your form.
Sets/Reps: 4x5 each leg with 25-30 second rest
Wide-Stance Med Ball Throws
Blast your core with this exercise so you can maintain strength, stability and power for the duration of a game. Baltimore Orioles slugger Mark Reynolds uses it to simulate a batter's swing. But any athlete can use it to build strong, resilient abdominals and obliques. "Instead of letting the weight of the ball move your body, use your core to throw the ball—and not your arm," advises Reynolds.
Sets/Reps: 3x10 each side
Greg Gatz, director of strength and conditioning for Olympic sports at UNC, has the men’s soccer team perform Ice Skaters to develop leg and hip strength, as well as cutting ability. The goal is to get as much lateral extension as possible, landing on the outside leg before exploding once again to the other side. Bend your ankle, knee and hip during the exercise to perfect the triple extension—a movement athletes perform constantly in games. Inserting this exercise into your rest periods will not only give you cardio benefits but will challenge your legs in a different plane than Scissor Jumps.
Sets/Reps: 3x10 each leg
Continue pushing your conditioning limits by integrating these plyometric exercises into your rest periods. But be smart and pay attention to your body. If you need a breather, take it. There's a huge difference between taking it easy and pushing yourself too hard. Find the happy medium, and you'll dramatically improve your conditioning.