Explosive Speed and Conditioning With the Utah Jazz

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"Before I get in the ring, I'd have already won or lost it on the road. The real part is won or lost somewhere far away from witnesses—behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights." —Muhammad Ali

With apologies to a certain fresh prince of lyrical musings, summer is not a time to sit back and unwind. Sure, it's tempting to stroll lazily to the beach or, for our landlocked readers, to the cement pond to take a break from the norm. It's even easier to fall into the mindset that you "deserve" time off after a grueling year of classes and sports. But your winter hardwood battles will be won or lost by the quality of your summer sessions.

Mark McKown, Utah Jazz strength and conditioning coach, offers an eight-week training guide to improve basketball-specific conditioning, power and speed. For a moment, forget about the opposition vying for those oh-so-coveted golden tickets to college. Instead, follow this program for yourself, because success is not being better than someone else, but being better than your previous self. After eight weeks of McKown's training, you will know whether winter success lies ahead.


McKown designed this program to improve explosive speed, firststep quickness, body control and conditioning. He says, "Basketball is a power sport with a very large anaerobic fitness demand. Movements are both rapid and explosive, and performed in short time frames. Success on the court requires tremendous athleticism; this off-season program is built to address and enhance each of these components."

The long-time Jazz coach cautions against off-season regimens that ignore anaerobic conditioning or explosive movement development in the weight room. He says, "'Slow training'—which includes aerobic, slow distance running and strength training focused entirely on slow movements—is the biggest mistake when approaching summer training."


"At the professional level, the idea of an NBA player using the off-season to do little more than vacation, lounge around or just recover is a major misconception," McKown says. "A modern player can't afford to approach training camp as an opportunity to 'play into shape.'"


"In the NBA, games average out to 45 seconds of continuous play before a dead ball or a break in the action," McKown says. "In a typical 45-second time frame, a player sprints, slides, jumps and jockeys for position repeatedly; therefore the athlete needs to be well-conditioned. So that's how we train."


McKown's program includes four days per week of training with three days of rest. Mondays and Thursdays are devoted to the lower body; Tuesdays and Fridays focus more on upper body and trunk strength. McKown points out, "All athletes—basketball players particularly—tend to neglect their legs, so even on upper body days there is a fair amount of lower body involvement." Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays are recovery days.

This guide also includes on-court drills. "The court drills are designed to complement what the player is doing in regard to basketballspecific conditioning," McKown says. "Improving athleticism alone is not enough, and that's why I incorporate skill development with the training."

The Jazz strength guru suggests the following schedule for on-court drills:

Weeks 1 & 2: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays
Weeks 3 through 6: Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays
Weeks 7 & 8: Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays

Disperse the workload throughout the week, and always allow for adequate recovery, as the on-court drills are demanding. On lifting days, perform on-court drills after weight room work, because "[they] are supplemental routines that strategically mix conditioning, athletic development and skill work," McKown says.


Each day has six phases, as follows:

Warm-Up: Activates the muscles safely but slightly more aggressively than a traditional warm-up.
Phase 2: An extension of the Warm-Up, this serves as a build-up to
Phase 3. Exercise intensity increases a notch, and a tissue recovery segment makes for a smooth transition from Warm-Up to Phase 3.
Phases 3 & 4: The meat of each workout, as they are a collection of demanding exercises that require explosive movements, multi-joint activities and movements that complement an athlete's on-court maneuvers. If performed correctly, these two phases bolster body control and provide a conditioning perk that carries over to the court.
Core: All on-court movements either originate in the core, are stabilized by the core or are transferred through the core, so it's imperative to be strong and explosive in—you guessed it—the core.
Flexibility: Assists in recovery; post-workout is the best time to enhance muscle elasticity.


Summer can be tough, especially with AAU travel involved, but the training has to get done. "If an athlete is playing AAU ball, I think this program is perfect," McKown says.

Proof of Success

Stockton to Malone; Williams to Boozer. The shorts have changed over the years, but proof of the program's success hasn't. Use McKown's guide now so you can dance under the lights in the future.


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Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock