Conditioning with UNC Basketball

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By working through heart-pumping circuits and workouts, the North Carolina Tar Heels built a high enough work capacity to drive them straight to the 2005 NCAA basketball title.

By: Josh Staph

"The ability to do work, tolerate it and recover from it." That is "work capacity" as defined by Jonas Sahratian, director of strength and conditioning at the University of North Carolina. That is also what drove the Tar Heels to the 2005 national championship in men's basketball.

"You can call it GPP—general physical preparedness—like the Soviets used to," Sahratian says. "I look at it as the foundation on which strength, speed and all the other important qualities are built."

To increase the Tar Heels' work capacity, Sahratian designed a program loaded with "hidden conditioning," which allows athletes, while conditioning, to improve their core and general strength, flexibility, endurance and anaerobic power. The program also serves as preparation for more advanced training—including Olympic lifts, squatting with heavier loads and speed development. "The athletes do a lot of abdominal core work and general strength training while at the same time getting their heart rates up, thus providing a great conditioning tool," Sahratian says.

Integrating the following three heart-pumping routines into your conditioning program will help build work capacity and provide an alternative to traditional methods.

Medicine Ball Circuit

Medicine ball training works the three planes of motion used in competition: transverse (top and bottom), frontal (front and back) and sagittal (right and left). "In sports, you are in a three-dimensional, unstable environment," Sahratian explains, "and the medicine ball is great for training the small muscles along the spine through all of those patterns of motion. We use it in-season as a warm-up before practice and off-season either to warm up before a workout or for core work at the end. We might even use it on an off day as a recovery tool."

During the off-season, which is the Tar Heels' high capacity work phase, they do 20 reps of 10 med ball exercises using a 3-5 kilo-gram ball. They go through the circuit four or five times, with a 90-second rest between each set. Sahratian cuts the circuit to one round for in-season warm-ups.

Big Circle

  • Begin holding med ball above head. Move arms in a circle like the arm of a clock.

Wood Chopper

  • With knees slightly flexed and ball overhead, chop ball between legs, then back up again

Side-to-Side Throw

  • Face wall holding med ball to side
  • Rotate body to throw ball to wall
  • Catch ball on the opposite side and repeat on that side

Overhead Throw

  • Throw ball at wall in chopping motion.

Rocky Solo

  • Sit upright with legs straight out
  • Rotate with ball to right and set ball behind you
  • Turn to the left,, pick up ball and repeat

Split Leg Overhead Throw

  • Stand facing wall with ball overhead and feet spread apart
  • Throw ball at wall in chopping motion

45-Degree Twist

  • Sit down with feet slightly off the ground
  • Lean back at a 45-degree angle
  • Twist with ball to each side

Chest Pass

  • Face wall with knees flexed and stomach tightened
  • Throw med ball from chest into wall
  • Catch and repeat

Coaching Point: If a drill is a directional one, remember to repeat the exercise on the opposite side.

Sit-up Throw

  • Lie down with knees bent, feet flat on ground
  • Holding ball, sit up and throw it into wall
  • Catch and repeat

Toe Touch

  • Lie on back with legs straight in the air and med ball over head
  • Sit up and touch ball to toes

 

Barbell Complex

Great for strength, endurance and progression to Olympic lifts, the barbell complex comprises five consecutive weight-training exercises, each consisting of six reps. After completing each exercise, move on to the next without resting or putting down the bar.

 

Two clues assure Sahratian that the barbell complex effectively increases work capacity. First, when he places his hand on a player's chest to adjust his form, "it feels like his heart is jumping through his chest," he says. Second: "The guys absolutely hate it."

The Tar Heels go through this grueling circuit four to five times in the off-season and one to two times in season before moving to other weight room drills. Use between 40 and 50 percent of your body weight for the entire circuit and a 90-second recovery period after each set.

Upright Row

  • Grip bar slightly narrower than shoulder width
  • Raise bar toward chin, keeping elbows high

or

High Pull

  • Begin in upright position with bar just below knees
  • Fire hips, knees and ankles while simultaneously shrugging forcefully
  • Pull bar upward, keeping it tight to chest

Muscle Snatch

  • Grip bar wider than shoulder width,, holding it in front of thighs with knees flexed
  • Fire hips, knees and ankles while simultaneously shrugging
  • Pull bar upward, keeping it tight to chest
  • Catch bar overhead with straight legs

Goodmorning

  • Stand with bar resting on back and knees slightly bent
  • Bend forward at hips keeping back flat and tight
  • Drive hips back

Squat to Press

  • Stand with bar resting on back*
  • Squat down as deep as possible keeping weight on heels and knees behind toes
  • Drive up and press bar overhead

*If you have shoulder problems, begin with the bar in front as if you were doing front squats.

Bent Over Row

  • Bend at hips
  • Pull bar toward chest keeping back flat

 

Bodyweight Circuit

Sahratian uses this circuit with incoming freshmen to prepare them for training at a high level. "I think too many people want to rush things. You have an 18-year-old kid who has never really lifted weights coming in and trying to do things he is not ready for. His ligaments, tendons and back are not ready for that," he says. "These kids do not have the proper core strength yet."

 

Eventually, Sahratian weans the younger athletes off this circuit and challenges them with advanced training.

The Tar Heels use their own bodyweight as resistance in as many as 10 exercises one right after the next. They rest for 90 seconds and go through the circuit four to five times in the off-season or one to two times in season. Here is a sample UNC bodyweight circuit.

Push-up X 10

Sit-up X 20

Bodyweight Squat X 20

  • Begin with feet hip width
  • Squat down until thighs are just below parallel
  • Drive upward with legs into starting position

Pull-up X as many as possible

  • Hang from bar with overhand grip
  • Pull up until chin is above bar
  • Lower in control until arms are straight

Walking Lunge X 20 (10 each leg)

  • Step forward into lunge position, keeping front knee behind front toes
  • Lower into lunge until back knee is just above ground
  • Raise to standing position and lunge with opposite leg

Chin-up X as many as possible

  • Hang from bar with an underhand grip
  • Pull up until chin is above bar
  • Lower in control until arms are straight

Walking Lunge with Twist X 20 (10 each leg)

  • Step forward into lunge position keeping front knee behind front toes
  • Lower into lunge until back knee is just above the ground
  • Rotate upper body toward respective side of front leg
  • Raise to standing position and repeat with opposite leg in a walking fashion

Crunch X 20

Back Extension X 10

  • Lock legs into back extension machine
  • Raise torso until parallel to floor
  • Lower back down under control

Close Grip Push-up X 10

  • Position hands on the floor so that thumbs and index fingers form a triangle
  • Perform push-ups

Reverse Trunk Curl-up X 20

  • Lie on back with knees bent, feet flat on floor
  • Bring knees toward head keeping knees bent at 90 degrees
  • Lower feet to ground and repeat

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: BASKETBALL TRAINING | CORE | CHEST | ENDURANCE TRAINING | EXERCISE | MED BALL | THROW | HEELS | HEART