Basketball Training with KG and Billups

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It's a typical weekday afternoon. Nick Palazzo and I are talking shop in his office. We're brainstorming new ways to help our fellow athletes continually improve, when my phone rings.

To avoid missing yet another call, I sprint to my office, hurdle my trash can, bowl over an extra desk chair and dive for the receiver.


It's a typical weekday afternoon. Nick Palazzo and I are talking shop in his office. We're brainstorming new ways to help our fellow athletes continually improve, when my phone rings.

To avoid missing yet another call, I sprint to my office, hurdle my trash can, bowl over an extra desk chair and dive for the receiver.

"This is Chad," I say, trying to collect my wind from the impromptu speed and agility course I just ran.

"Mr. Chad Zimmerman?" asks an unfamiliar voice.

"Yes," I say, still breathing hard.

"This is Mr. Kevin Garnett."

Holy *!?%

"Hey KG," I respond, trying to sound like talking to an NBA great has left me completely unaffected. "Thanks for calling. Do you know what we're going to talk about today?"

"Yeah, we're going to be talking about my man Joe [Abunassar] and the performance training he puts together for me and the other guys."

"That's right. You mind telling me a bit about his program and how it's helped you?"

"What I love about Joe's program is that it's completely balanced. He mixes strength training, which benefits my conditioning, with a lot of basketball stuff to improve my game on the court. Joe's program was the first to combine the two consistently.

"I can't lie. It's helped me. It's helped my game; it's helped me mentally; and it's helped me physically to endure the pounding of an 82-plus game season."

"What keeps you going back to Joe year after year?"

"Everything is about results. You don't do something unless you get results, and Joe gets results. Look at me and all the other guys he trains. We're doing our thing, getting it done on the court."

The "other guys" KG is referring to include 2004 Finals MVP Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince, Al Harrington and Sebastian Telfair. With praise and support from KG and a star-studded clientele, Abunassar presides over a training world that I needed to learn about.

Joe Abunnasar directs the IMG Basketball Academy in Bradenton, Fla. He says, "The combination and periodization of my six training elements produce a well trained, elite basketball player."

The six training elements of Abunassar's program are strength, performance, nutrition, corrective work/flexibility, on-court work and recovery. Changing the intensity level of each element in line with the time of year creates perfect basketball periodization. Abunassar uses this formula for every client, although he customizes each program to meet the player's needs.

"Basketball coaches have put together great on-court improvement programs," Abunassar says. "Strength and conditioning coaches have designed hundreds of programs to improve players in their areas of expertise. Yet very few players receive instruction on properly combining these two areas with nutrition, corrective work and effective recovery methods."

Here, Abunassar provides a plan with sample training sessions based on the elements and fundamentals he uses with KG and his other clients. He also shares some philosophy and general recommendations. The plan is appropriate for ballers of all ages and abilities.

Try it out and see if you start singing Abunassar's praises like his star client, 2004 NBA MVP Mr. Kevin Garnett.

Strength Training

When designing a customized weight-training program, Abunassar first targets a player's on-court weaknesses. For example, if a guy is slow off the dribble, he prescribes lifts that strengthen the guy's quads, hamstrings and glutes.

Correcting on-court weaknesses, however, is not the sole focus. Abunassar's clients' strength programs, including KG's and Chauncey's, "focus on balance and improvements in overall kinetic chain function (the transfer of energy from one body part to another)." Another priority is general strength training, although Abunassar warns that too much of this can result in debilitating on-court problems.

STACK SAYS: Transferring the force produced by your legs when pushing off the ground to your trunk, and then to your arms when jumping to shoot a three is an example of a kinetic chain function.

"Intensity levels, specific exercises, rep/rest patterns and ratios change depending on the time of year," Abunassar says. Whereas maintaining weight is the focus in season, Abunassar emphasizes strength gains in the off-season. He employs three effort or intensity levels, each appropriate for the time period. These are appropriate for an athlete of any level.

Effort Level 3 – Off-season
Perform 3 sets of 10 reps for each exercise 3 days per week. The first 2 sets should be very challenging, and the third difficult to finish.

Effort Level 2 – Pre-season
Perform 3 sets of 8 reps in a circuit format 3 days per week. Perform 1 set for each lift, then move to the next exercise. After completing 1 set of each exercise, move through the complete circuit again twice.

Effort Level 1 – In-season
Perform 3 sets of 8 reps in a circuit format 2 days per week. All lower body lifts should be replaced with corrective work.


Days 1, 3

Upper Body Lifts

DB Chest Press 3 x 10
Seated Rows 3 x 10
Push-ups 3 x 15
Reverse Grip Pulldown 3 x 10
Seated Shoulder Press 3 x 10

Lower Body Lifts

Single-Leg DB Squat 3 x 10
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift 3 x 10
Walking DB Lunge 3 x 10


Physioball Weighted Sit-up 3 x 10
Single-Leg V-ups 3 x 10
Alternate Arm/Leg Supermans 3 x 10
Side Bridge 3 x 10

Day 2

Upper Body Lifts

Standing Single-Arm Cable Chest Press 3 x 10
Standing Single-Arm Cable Row 3 x 10
Single-Arm Lat Pulldown 3 x 10
Standing DB Press 3 x 10

Lower Body Lifts

Single-Leg Leg Press 3 x 10
Hamstring Physioball Roll-up 3 x 10
Physioball Bridge Holds With Weight 3 x 45 second hold


Physioball Weighted Sit-up 3 x 10
Single-Leg V-up 3 x 10
Alternate Arm/Leg Supermans 3 x 10
Side Bridge 3 x 10


Days 1,2,3

Upper Body Lifts

Standing Single-Arm Cable Chest Press 3 x 8
Plyometric Push-ups 3 x 10
Standing Single-Arm Cable Row 3 x 8
Reverse Grip Pulldown 3 x 8
Medicine Ball Woodchop Throw 3 x 10
Standing DB Press 3 x 8

Lower Body Lifts

DB Step-ups 3 x 8
Power Step-ups 3 x 8


Days 1,2

Upper Body Lifts

Standing Single-Arm Cable Chest Press 3 x 8
Plyometric Push-ups 3 x 10
Standing Single-Arm Cable Row 3 x 8
Reverse Grip Pulldown 3 x 8
Medicine Ball Woodchop Throw 3 x 10
Standing DB Press 3 x 8

Lower Body Corrective Work

Single-Leg Dumbbell Squat

• Hold dumbbell in each hand with back foot on bench

• Squat down by sitting back; maintain tight core and keep shoulders up

• Drive up when thigh is parallel to ground; keep knee behind toes

JOE'S LOWDOWN: "You get all the benefits of a regular squat—like working the glutes, hamstrings and quads—but you also work balance, stability and flexibility in the leg you're using. You also work your core by forcing it to balance your body on one leg."

Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

• Hold dumbbell in opposite hand of working leg

• Bend forward with control by shifting hips back

• Keep back flat and do not change flex in knee throughout entire motion

• Lower as far as possible, then return to standing position through same motion

JOE'S LOWDOWN: "This lift really works glute and hamstring strength and endurance, depending on the rep scheme. The single-leg aspect emphasizes core strength and balance stability."

Standing Single-Arm Cable Chest Press

• Begin in staggered stance

• Drive arm forward until straight while keeping core tight

• Engage chest on both push and release of cable

JOE'S LOWDOWN: "Standing with a cable, rather than lying on a bench, introduces rotational force. You get the same chest work while stabilizing your core and working on balance."

Standing Single-Arm Cable Row

• Begin in staggered stance with leg opposite of rowing arm in back

• Pull cable until hand is at chest; keep core tight and body balanced

• Engage back on every rep

JOE'S LOWDOWN: "When you do a seated row, your body is locked into place and doesn't have to maintain balance, which is why I have the athlete stand up. It works endurance and stability of the entire body rather than just strength, so we do it when we get in season."

Physioball Bridge Holds with Weight
(45 second holds)

• Assume bridge position with shoulders on ball and feet pointed straight ahead

• Create straight line from shoulders to knees to engage glutes

• Do not allow hips to dip during hold

• Increase time of hold as strength increases

JOE'S LOWDOWN: "This trains the glutes and upper hamstrings, which is where a basketball player gets most of his power. Movements should be initiated by firing the glutes, but many young guys lean forward to jump, using their quads instead. We train them how to fire their glutes in the weight room so they can do it on the court."

Reverse Grip Pulldown

• Grasp pulldown machine with palms facing body

• Pull weight down until handle is at chest level

• Control weight up until arms are completely straight

JOE'S LOWDOWN: "This works your lats and other muscles in the upper back. We use it more in the off-season when we are trying to build strength in those areas."

Physioball Weighted Sit-up

• Hold weight overhead and place lower back on physioball

• Perform sit-up without allowing ball to move

• Lower with control

JOE'S LOWDOWN: "On a physioball, you have to contract the abs up and down and in an additional plane of movement. You have to balance on the ball, which recruits more muscles than lying on the ground."

Single-Leg V-ups

• Lay with arms overhead and legs straight

• Keeping arms and legs straight, fold at waist bringing opposite arm to opposite leg

JOE'S LOWDOWN: "This really hits your lower and upper abs simultaneously, because you raise your legs and upper body. You work your obliques as you rotate up."

Alternate Arm/Leg Supermans

• Lie on stomach with arms overhead and legs straight

• Raise opposite arm and leg, keeping them straight

JOE'S LOWDOWN: "This is a great movement to strengthen most of your back muscles. Whenever you train your abs, you want to work your lower back equally to balance strength in your core."

Side Bridge

• Lie on side with elbow underneath

• Raise body onto elbow and feet; keep body in straight line from shoulder to feet

JOE'S LOWDOWN: "This is pure oblique work, mostly for endurance. If you don't shrug your shoulder and keep it stable, then you will really feel a burn in the side closer to the ground."

Standing Dumbbell Press

• Begin in a hip-width stance with dumbbells at shoulder level

• Without arching back, drive dumbbells up until arms are straight and dumbbells are overhead

JOE'S LOWDOWN: "Standing forces you to contract your core to stabilize the weight overhead."

Corrective Work

Poor ankle flexibility can result from knee problems. Poor hip mobility can prevent a player from moving quickly. Corrective work aims to fix and prevent such kinetic chain reaction problems. Like the rest of Abunassar's program, corrective work is customized to a player's individual needs. A physical therapist evaluating a player can identify the areas of his kinetic chain that require improvement, and then prescribe corrective flexibility training, strengthening drills, self myofascial release exercises and movement pattern drills. Performing the exercises daily for an extended period is the only way to correct problems. Consistency is key!

On-Court Training

EL3 Workout
(September/October, Late Pre-Season)


BALL HANDLING – Perform ball handling drills for 5 minutes as a warm-up

PERIMETER DRIBBLE SERIES – Perform all drills from the left wing, top of the key and right wing


• Start at left wing

• Catch pass, take one dribble right, shoot

• Repeat until you make 7

• Repeat for each spot


• Same drill as above, but dribble left


• Get low on dribble

• Move a significant distance with the one dribble

• Attack the basket instead of moving laterally in front of defender

• Pound and protect the ball with each dribble

• Raise quickly and keep perfect balance on jumper

FREE THROWS – Make 2 free throws


• Start at left wing

• Catch pass, jab step right, take one dribble left, shoot

• Repeat until you make 7

• Repeat for each spot


• Same drill as above, but jab and dribble right


• Jab hard, but maintain balance

• Emphasize quickness from jab to dribble

• Stay low and explosive on the dribble

• Move directly to the basket

• Maintain balance on shot

FREE THROWS – Shoot free throws for 5 minutes, then get a drink of water


• Start at left wing

• Catch pass, jab step right, take two dribbles left, shoot

• Repeat until you make 7

• Repeat for each spot


• Same drill as above, but jab left, and take two dribbles right


• Use a hard jab step and strong dribbles

• Stay low and explosive on all moves

• Use dribble to distance yourself from defender

• Maintain balance on shot

FREE THROWS – Make 3 free throws


• Start at left wing

• Catch pass, jab step right

• Take one dribble, step back and move left, shoot

• Repeat until you make 7

• Repeat for each spot


• Same drill as above, but jab step left and move right


• Focus on body control and balance at all times

• Drive hard into the defender with first step

• Step back with distance away from the defender, creating space for shot

• Maintain balance on shot

FREE THROWS – Make 4 free throws, then get a drink of water


• Start at left wing

• Catch pass, take one dribble right, crossover dribble, shoot

• Repeat until you make 7

• Repeat for each spot


• Same drill as above, but dribble left


• Take defender one way with a strong dribble

• Use a quick crossover, tight to the body

• Move away from the defender on crossover

• Stay low for entire move and maintain balance on shot

• Do not float from momentum

FREE THROWS – Make 3 free throws


• Start at left wing

• Catch pass, take one dribble and step back

• Use crossover dribble and get to basket

• Repeat until you make 7

• Repeat for each spot


• Maintain control for entire move

• Sell your step back move

• Crossover quickly and move away from defender to the basket

• Take straight path to the basket to prevent defender from catching up

FREE THROWS – Make 4 free throws, then get a drink of water


• Start under basket

• Backpedal to left wing

• Catch pass, dribble once or twice for pull-up jumper

• Jog back to basket, repeat until you make 10

• Repeat for right wing


• Use a hard backpedal to work calves and quads

• Use a quick change of direction when ball is received

• Maintain balance on dribble pull-ups

• Stay low during entire sequence for quick release

SPOT SHOOTING – Choose 5 spots around perimeter and make 10 shots from each


EL 1 = 120-136 bpm

EL 2 = 137-164 bpm

EL 3 = 165-180 bpm

Abunassar points out five keys to a successful on-court training session:

1. Go into each session fully recovered from previous workouts. "Many coaches put players through high-intensity drill work 12 months a year. This increases risk for injury and minimizes the training's effectiveness."

2. Separate individual on-court work from team training. "Players have to work on improving their overall skills, not just their role within an offensive scheme."

3. Repetition of each drill is critical.

4. Don't stop mid-drill to correct a problem. "Athletes need to move through the drills and learn to self-correct during the play."

5. Identify specific fundamental problems before the workout, then use them as improvement goals for the session.

Abunassar's keys to building an effective training program:

1. Early in the off-season, on-court workouts should be less intense and geared toward building endurance and improving fundamentals.

2. Intervals of varied intensity during a single training session help players reach game heart rates for sustained periods of time. The length and intensity of each interval should increase as the season approaches.

3. Players cannot drill hard for five or six days a week. Recovery helps the athlete achieve maximum results.

4. Conditioning drills should be part of court work—especially as the season approaches in EL 3.


As simple as it sounds, the body needs recovery time to absorb improvements made during training. Although Abunassar's training program uses different intensity levels, recovery prevents overtraining and maintains the program's effectiveness.

For a basketball player, recovery does not mean taking a day off. It's a combination of controlling effort levels, hydrating properly, completing corrective work, resting and active recovery. Examples of active recovery include riding a bike, swimming, pool jogging, stretching and light shooting.

Nutrition is also crucial to recovery. Ingesting high-carb foods within an hour after training accelerates recovery; hydration replenishes fluids lost during hard training.

During an EL 3 on-court session, a player must fully recover from the workout so he is not fatigued the next day or later in the week. When he is tired midweek, positive training gains are lost, injury is a risk and time spent becomes time wasted.

Check out this sample plan, which combines varying intensity levels, corrective work, rest and active recovery.



Warm-up, lift, core and balance

High intensity court work



Warm-up, lower body core and balance

30-minute high intensity court work

30 minutes light shooting




Warm-up, lift, core and balance

High intensity interval, court




Warm-up, core and balance

Court work — short intervals




Warm-up, lift, core and balance therapy

Active recovery shooting on court

Afternoon off



On-court work only

Performance Training

Performance training addresses speed, agility, quickness, explosiveness, jumping ability, basketball-specific movement patterns, cardiovascular capacity and flexibility. Improving all of these elements eliminates specific physical deficiencies and converts pure strength gains developed in the weight room into basketball-specific strength.

On-court training sessions include all eight performance components, making it Abunassar's preferred performance training method for basketball players. These sessions train basketball-specific movements relevant to the game.

Development of the eight performance components results from strict adherence to the prescribed on-court intensity levels. Even in the off-season, during the period of lowest on-court training intensity, performance training should still be included in the total training plan.


Being aware of what to eat and when helps you:

• Store the maximum amount of energy in your body

• Use stored energy more efficiently

• Recover quickly from high intensity workouts or competition

• Avoid multiple days of poor training from fatigue and lack of body awareness

To make sure you get enough calories and nutrients during the season, analyze your carb, protein, fat and vitamin intake in three-day periods.

Carbohydrate Info

• Carbs fuel working muscles; so increase your in-season intake—especially in the days and hours before games and training sessions

• Daily carb intake should equal about 4 to 4.5 grams per pound of body weight

• Food eaten 30 minutes before a one-hour training session should have a higher concentration of simple sugars to provide a large amount of energy quickly

• Food eaten two hours before a two-hour game or training session should have a higher concentration of complex carbs to provide lasting energy at a slower rate

• Eating carbs within an hour after competing or training helps the body recover within 24 hours, versus up to 72 hours otherwise

Protein Info

• Protein helps the body produce enzymes used by the aerobic system to burn carbs and fat

• Daily protein intake should equal about .9 to 1 gram per pound of body weight

• Good sources of protein include chicken, fish, pork, low-fat or lean beef, eggs, low fat dairy products, any type of bean, and nuts and seeds (though high in fat and not as protein-rich)

Fat Info

• For a fit athlete, fat is an efficient energy source when carbs are simultaneously burned

• Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in nuts, avocados, olive oil and fish are beneficial to energy burning and overall health

• Limit fat in meals eaten before a high-intensity game or training session

Vitamins and Minerals

• Vitamins and minerals prevent deficiencies that can harm performance

• Antioxidants neutralize free radicals that result from high activity levels and that can damage cells

Following is a sample eating plan that provides guidelines for meal timing and content based on a winter break practice and game schedule.


General Recommendation: Start hydrating early. Entering practice even a bit dehydrated affects performance and makes recovering for Tuesday's game more difficult. Drink water most of the day, but have one sports drink within 30 minutes of practice.

BREAKFAST: Two hours before practice, eat a low-fat, high-carb breakfast. The goal is to build muscle energy stores with complex carbs for Tuesday's game.

Recommended Foods: non-sugar cereal, oatmeal, eggs, extra lean bacon, lean turkey bacon, glass of fruit juice

Recommended Supplement: Multivitamin

POST-PRACTICE MEAL: This might be the most important meal of the day, because it replaces lost energy and helps the body recover for Tuesday's game. Eat carbs within 60 minutes after practice along with a balanced portion of protein, fat and vitamins.

Recommended Foods: chicken sandwich, turkey sandwich, burrito, pasta, rice, vegetables, baked chips, low-fat yogurt

Recommended Supplement: Post-workout recovery shake

DINNER: Should be of a moderate caloric intake that will top off muscle energy stores.

Recommended Foods: pasta with chicken, whole grain rice with sauce or chicken, grilled chicken, pork or fish with vegetable and side of pasta or rice,side of potatoes prepared any way but fried, one glass of fruit juice and ample water


General Recommendation: Eat lighter meals; you should be slowly building energy stores from morning until game time. Sip water all day to recover from Monday's training and prepare for fluids lost during the game. Don't drink sports drinks until right before the game.

BREAKFAST: Make sure to get enough complex carbs, protein and vitamins. The goal is to boost muscle energy stores for the game.

Recommended Foods: eggs, waffles, whole grain pancakes, oatmeal, lean meat, fruit

Recommended Supplement: Multivitamin

LUNCH: Use Monday's post-practice menu options for a light lunch.

PRE-GAME MEAL: Eat a light pre-game meal between 3:30 and 5:00. About 70 percent of the meal should consist of carbohydrates; the balance should be a lean protein. Avoid beef because of its high fat content and fruit because of its high sugar content. Drink plenty of water.

Recommended Foods: pasta, rice, potatoes, chicken, fish, pork

POST-GAME MEAL: Eat a meal within 60 minutes after the game to replace lost energy and fluids and to provide protein to repair damaged muscle cells.

Recommended Foods: Pasta with some sort of protein, rice, chicken, fish, lean meat, vegetable source for vitamin content

Recommended Supplement: Recovery drink or shake

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock