CrossFit very is hot right now, and basketball coaches are creating CrossFit workouts for their players’ off-season strength programs.
Why not? One look at the athletes competing in the CrossFit Games—with their impressive physiques, endless amounts of endurance, and jaw-dropping feats of power and strength—a coach can’t help but salivate at the thought of turning his players into monsters on the hardwood.
Yet there are some weaknesses to this approach.
The primary goal of a strength program for basketball players is to reduce the likelihood of injury.
CrossFit can arguably increase the risk of injury. It’s not hard to see the potential harm in having a 6-foot-6 wing who weighs 180 pounds Power Clean in a state of extreme fatigue. Just imagine the damage being done to his lower back, shoulders and knees.
One of CrossFit’s most popular workouts, Fran, consists of 21 reps of Thrusters and Pull-Ups , then 15 reps, then 9. Can you picture Kevin Durant completing that without ending up on the IR?
All strength programs must conform to two general principles: progressive overload and specificity. CrossFit is specific to CrossFit, not basketball. Although athletes will get stronger, jump higher, and improve their endurance, those are all secondary goals, which come at the expense of excelling at the various WoDs.
A good off-season program, on the other hand, assesses the athlete, evaluates his or her strengths and weaknesses, and establishes goals that will transfer to improved performance on the court.
The majority of CrossFit exercises are sagittal-plane dominant—Squat, Thruster, Power Clean, and Hang Snatch. Twenty-five percent of the game of basketball is played in the frontal plane—shuffling on defense, crossing over from side-to-side, and performing the Eurostep. So if an athlete uses only CrossFit-style workouts, he will completely neglect training 25 percent of his game.
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How can we adapt Crossfit to basketball?
All is not lost. Crossfit actually has a few great qualities that basketball players can use.
- It teaches compound strength movements like the Squat, Deadlift, Pull-Up and Front Squat.
- It teaches power exercises like the Power Clean, Snatch, Push Press, and Med Ball Throws.
- It includes jumping and sprinting, which are the fundamental movements of basketball.
A safe, effective approach for a lower-body workout would look like this:
- Start the workout with jumping/plyometric-type exercises like Box Jumps, Tuck Jumps or Depth Jumps and perform 2-3 sets of 8-10 repetitions with 90-120 seconds of rest between sets.
- Follow the Jumps with a power exercise like Hang Cleans, Jump Squats or even Med Ball Throws for 3-5 sets of 3-5 repetitions with 120-180 seconds of rest between sets.
- Perform a compound strength movement like Squats or Deadlifts for 3-5 sets of 3-6 repetitions with 120-180 seconds of rest between sets, followed by a single-leg exercise like a Lateral Lunge or Lateral Box Step-Up for 2-3 sets of 8-10 repetitions with 60-90 seconds of rest between sets. Finish with a posterior chain exercise like a Romanian Deadlift or Hip Thrusts for 2-3 sets of 8-10 repetitions.
Of course, even the workout above can increase the risk of injury if the athlete isn’t assessed properly. Not all athletes will be able to Power Clean or perform Front Squats. Proper progression and regression should always be done under the watchful eye of a qualified strength coach.
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