Build Strength Fast With Cal Basketball's 4-Week Workout

STACK Expert and Cal Basketball strength coach Scott Thom lays out an off-season training plan that builds strength fast.

Cal Basketball Workout
It's that time of the year again. Spring workouts start for us two weeks after the season ends. Last year, I used an insane amount of volume in the B2B workout to gain strength and quickly increase the fitness base for my players at the University of California.

This spring, the approach is similar, but instead of the insane volume, we're focusing more on using pause reps to increase time under tension (TUT) on the muscle. We went with a linear progression for three weeks, maxing out in the fourth week. That gave us a good baseline to refer to when creating individualized summer workouts.

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Time Under Tension Workout

General Guidelines

In the TUT workout, every rep is done with a two-second pause. It's the responsibility of the partner to count the pause while the player performs the exercise. It shifts the focus to the teammate and away from thoughts like "This is hard," "My girlfriend didn't text me back," and "I'm tired." Block out the nonsense and focus on creating a "contagiastic lift"—a contagious, enthusiastic lift.

As a coach, I watch form. Every repetition should be perfect or close to perfect. Partners should be spotting and counting the two-second pause, which forces the lifter's body to hold a position with weight and increases time under tension, fatiguing the muscle more than with conventional reps. It also builds stability and confidence in each exercise. You should move the bar as if you own it. If you're bench pressing, you're squeezing the life out of the bar, pulling it to your chest, controlling it in the hole and then driving it through the roof on the ascent. Own every single repetition!

Tempo and Injury Prevention

Your work-to-rest ratio should be around 1:1.5, with injury prevention exercises paired with the main exercises. Injury prevention exercises improve problem areas such as hip tightness, lack of ankle mobility and internally rotated shoulders. These are just some of the areas that, if not given attention, could cause problems down the road.

I think it's important when re-establishing strength to also spend time on injury prevention work as well. The goal is always to get your players stronger, faster and more explosive, so take the time during these "reset" phases to focus on the little exercises (injury prevention work), so your players can handle becoming stronger, faster and more explosive.

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Hello Again, Olympic Lifts

As the season wears on, I often do fewer Olympic lifts due to the technical demand they make. Don't get me wrong, I am a firm believer in Olympic lifts and their carryover to basketball. However, due to time constraints, I like to keep our lifts short, sweet and to the point. I don't need my players thinking about the intricate movements of a Snatch. I need them getting after it in 20 minutes and then stepping on the floor ready to bring it in practice. To make sure we continue to train the explosive component in-season, I substitute Olympic exercises with exercises less technical: Sand-Bell Tosses, Verti-Max Jumps and Medicine Ball Slam-Jumps. One to two times a week should suffice. Every day in practice the players train in an explosive manner the majority of a two-hour practice.

I reintroduce Olympic lifts from the ground up. The first week, we do nothing but Clean Pulls from the floor, focusing on starting position. The second week we do High Pulls from the floor, with the focus on a strong Pull from the floor, creating momentum with initial pull, keeping the bar close to the body. The third week, we do Full Cleans from the floor, focusing on catching the bar on balance and riding it down to a solid "in the hole" Front Squat. We put it all together in the fourth week and max out on Power Cleans, focusing on getting the bar has high as possible and catching it in a solid manner. The rep progression is as follows:

  • Day 1: 1x4, 1x4, 1x4, 1x4
  • Day 2: 2x4, 2x4, 2x4, 2x4
  • Day 3: 3x4, 3x4, 3x4, 2x2
  • Day 4: 4x4, 4x4, 4x4 (Max Out)


The core work at the end of each workout is short for one simple reason. With each two-second pause a player completes, he's engaging his core. By the end of the workout, his "core work" is pretty much complete. No need to do 400 reps of mat work; keep it short and sweet.

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Gotta Eat To Grow

The majority of my players usually do not take in enough calories to maximize a TUT workout. Athletes must understand how necessary it is to take in an abundance of calories during this four-week phase. It's not uncommon for some of my players to have daily caloric intake goals of 4,500 to 5,000 calories. If they don't take in enough calories, they will break down and not make the progress they should. My players often drink a Vitargo during a workout and a 600- to 700-calorie protein shake immediately afterward. These only supplement their daily caloric intake, but it's important for the coach to stress solid eating habits during this intense training phase.

The Body Will Adapt

The first week you do 5x6 reps, 6x5 the second week and 7x4 the third week. Save the fourth week for "Meek Mill" max-out week. Meek Mill is a popular artist these days, and he definitely gets my guys hyped up for maxing out. From week to week, you need to go up five to 10 pounds with each set. You have one fewer rep but one more set, so if on week 1 you finished Flat Bench with 225 pounds for six reps, in week 2 try to reach 225 on your fourth set so you can hit 225 on your fifth set and finish at 230 or 235 on your sixth. Even if you hit 225 for your last three sets on the second week, that's still 15 reps at a weight you could only do for six reps the week before.

RELATED: 7 Reasons Why Your Workouts Don't Work

Get the complete workout here. Do not perform reps that are blacked out.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock