Elite basketball players are made in the off-season. It’s the only time they have to commit fully to training their bodies and developing their skills. You, too, need to make the most of this time, because your results could determine whether you lead your team or blend into the pack this upcoming season.
We spoke with five elite basketball strength and skill coaches to learn what the best basketball players do in the off-season to become better players. Here’s what they said:
Alan Stein, owner of Stronger Team and head strength coach for basketball powerhouse DeMatha Catholic High School, advises taking a full two weeks off on two separate occasions before the start of the basketball season.
He says, “Basketball is now a year-round sport, and players need to rest their minds and their bodies.”
That’s right: no weight room workouts, no skill sessions, not even a pick-up game.
Understandably, the idea of taking time off can be difficult to endorse for the dedicated basketball player. However, Stein assures us that “this mental and physical break is the best thing a player can do for his or her mental sanity and physical progress.”
Your body gets beat up during the season, and you may have nagging injuries. Before you even think about hitting the weights, you need to address them. “You shouldn’t ignore sore ankles, sore knees and sore backs,” says Stein. “The worst thing a player can do is to let small injuries turn into something much worse.”
If you’re still experiencing pain after two weeks of rest, Stein recommends seeing a medical professional.
Again, no working out during this time. But, start to incorporate foam rolling, stretches and yoga movements to enhance the recovery process.
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Stein suggests taking ten minutes every day to sit in total silence and reflect on last season and your upcoming training program and practice sessions. He says, “This daily reflection period will provide clarity for a purposeful and productive off-season.”
Basketball skills coach and founder of Jump Start Hoops Koran Godwin adds, “The first step to a successful off-season is evaluation. Ask yourself and your coach what you need to work on to become a better basketball player.”
Referencing Stephen Curry’s transition from shooting guard to point guard so he could play in the NBA, Godwin says, “It is very difficult to change positions and mindsets so late in your career, but Curry was able to work in the off-season to make this transition. He worked on his ball handling and became a point guard his senior year and eventually a first-round NBA pick. He had to evaluate and apply himself to make his dreams a reality.”
Correct Imbalances and Learn to Move
Before you start your training program, you need to focus on your fundamentals, fix imbalances and learn to move athletically.
Having assessed and trained over 100 NBA athletes, Dr. Marcus Elliott and the folks at P3 found that basketball players often make their initial ground contact with their toes, which can lead to ankle sprains and knee problems. Instead, you should maintain a dorsiflexed, or toes up, position. Adam Hewitt, general manager at P3, says, “Active dorsiflexion places the body in a safer biomechanics position to absorb force upon impact. It results in greater stiffness of the ankle joint, which causes it to function as a spring, resulting in greater force production and reaction time.”
Before performing any plyometric exercises, P3 has their athletes perform ground contact drills and calf mobility exercises, such as foam rolling and stretches.
And this basic work has paid off.
“Many of our NBA players have benefited greatly from learning how to properly interact with the ground,” says Hewitt. “This past off-season, [Utah Jazz guard] Alec Burks touched 12 feet, 2.5 inches—a 6-inch increase from his initial assessment in 2012. He was also carrying 10 additional pounds of lean muscle mass compared to his initial assessment.”
Below are four drills recommended by the experts at P3:
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Commit to Skill Development
To become a better basketball player, Godwin says you need to follow the three D’s: Dedication, Determination and Discipline.
He says, “You need the dedication to stick to your workout schedule. When you are determined to do something, nothing is going to stop you from getting in the gym. Lastly, when you train, you need discipline. The ability to listen to your coach and perform a drill correctly is going to dictate the efficiency of your workouts.”
This is especially important for skill development. You can’t just go through the motions and expect to become the next LeBron.
“It’s the quality and consistency of your workouts that is going to make the difference,” Godwin says. “Spending countless hours perfecting your craft is only productive if you train at game speed. Taking game shots and pushing yourself to the max will ensure your skill set transfers over to the real game.”
To hone your craft, try the drills demonstrated by Godwin in the video player above. You can also develop your shot accuracy from different positions on the court with the 12 Balance Shooting Drill, demonstrated by Stein below.
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Get Strong and Fast
One of your primary goals in the off-season is to get stronger and faster. It’s the only time you can devote yourself completely to your training. But you can’t just bang out a few exercises and expect results. To make maximum strength gains, Bryan Meyer, owner of B Meyer Training and Dwight Howard’s strength coach, advises you to always have a plan. He says, “I’ve been Dwight Howard’s performance coach for the past eight years, and we have a plan in place every summer. Each summer has been different, but the plan has never changed, which is to be the best center to ever play in the NBA.”
WATCH: Dwight Howard’s Off-Season Workout
Although you probably don’t have such ambitious aspirations, start your off-season by identifying your goals. Whether you work with a strength coach or train on your own, structure your workouts to help yourself achieve your goals as an athlete.
To get started, here are some exercise and drill recommendations from Stein:
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RELATED: Alan Stein’s Summer Basketball Workout
Get Athletic and Efficient
OK, so you got stronger. But that doesn’t mean much if you can’t use your strength during a game.
According to Andrea Hudy, assistant athletic director for sport performance at The University of Kansas and owner of Hudy Sports Performance, you need to train the way you use your body on the court. “You must improve movement efficiency on the court,” she says. “If you become more efficient through strength training, you can have better performance results during competition with the same or a lesser amount of physical exertion.”
Basketball skills such as sprinting, jumping and shuffling laterally have two common threads—a triple extension of the hips, knees and ankles to accelerate, and use of the muscles on the front side of the body to decelerate.
Hudy explains that performing Olympic lifts, such as the Hang Clean, trains this exact movement sequence. “The athlete lifts the bar from the floor and accelerates through extension of the ankle, knee and hip as done in running and jumping,” she says. “After completion of the triple extension, the athlete must brace to receive the bar and decelerate into a full squat position.”
Doing Hang Cleans four times per week will produce significant improvements in your game. Just ask No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, who trained under Hudy at Kansas. “He improved his total amount of ground reaction force and rate of force development, which makes him more reactive and explosive,” she says.