Sebastian Telfair's speed training plan

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By: Chad Zimmerman

Sebastian Telfair's basketball training philosophy is simple: "The hardest workers play the best." Teaming up with IMG basketball academy director Joe Abunassar, Telfair not only learned exactly what hard work is, he also made NBA history. Snatched by the Portland Trail Blazers as the 13th overall pick in June 2004, Telfair was the first straight-from-high-school-to-NBA draftee shorter than 6'.

"Joe's great at training basketball players, because he has so many ways to make you better," Telfair says. "I will always be training with him because of that."

Through specifically tailored speed training, Abunassar helped this smaller player compete in a big man's game. He trained Telfair with bungee cords and speed ladders, drills and weights to give him explosive, unstoppable speed.

"When you talk about speed in basketball, it's not just running up and down the court. It's explosive speed. It's strength. It's the ability to change direction," Abunassar says. "The court is only 94 x 50 feet, so there's not a lot of sprinting going on. It's stop and go and the ability to be fast with the ball and stay balanced."

All of the elements of Abunassar's program work together to produce maximum results. "The weightlifting is critical to building the strength to get the power to use the speed," he says. "But then there are all the drills that functionally take that strength and turn it into basketball speed."

Drilling at game speed and resting well between reps and sets allow maximum effort on every rep. Abunassar advises speed training no more than 20-30 minutes a day, three days a week. On the other three training days, he recommends a weight-training program to develop leg, hip and core strength and stability that translate directly into faster movement on the court.

Speed Workout

Drill: 5-10-5 Shuttle Drill

  • Set up 3 cones 5 yards apart on the court
  • Start straddling middle cone
  • Pivot and sprint to the first cone
  • Plant and sprint back to the far cone
  • Plant and sprint back through the middle

REST: 20 seconds between reps, 1 minute between sets
BENEFITS: Improves acceleration and change of direction—skills essential to basketball players
KEY POINTS: Work to reach top speed between cones and focus on quick, clean changes of direction

Drill: Quick Feet Sequence

  • Start with feet together at two court lines that intersect to form a plus sign
  • Move feet as fast as possible in a given pattern for 15 seconds
  • Rest 15 seconds then repeat pattern


  • Right foot forward, left foot forward, right foot back, left foot back
  • Right foot right, left foot right, left foot left, right foot left
  • Both feet together side-to-side hop
  • Jump in a square pattern with both feet together

REPS: 4 reps of 15 seconds for each pattern
REST: 15 seconds between reps, 1 minute between patterns
BENEFITS: "The quick feet drills apply most to quick changes of direction in basketball. What you're doing, you're firing your calves, you're firing your legs and you're teaching your muscles memory patterns that are going to translate into quick movements with the ball," Abunassar says.
KEY POINT: Move feet as quickly as possible for each pattern

Coaching Point: "To get faster, rest between reps and repeat at full speed rather than just doing one rep after another."

Drill: T-Drill

  • Start under the basket at the baseline
  • Sprint to the free throw line
  • Plant and shuffle to one elbow
  • Plant and shuffle to opposite elbow
  • Plant and shuffle back to middle of free throw line
  • Back pedal back to baseline

REST: 15 seconds between reps, 1 minute between sets
BENEFITS: "This drill helps with defensive movements and when you're sprinting to the free throw line," Abunassar says. "There might be a situation in a transition play where you have to stop and go to avoid a trap by sliding to the left with the ball."
Reach full speed during the sprint, quickly change direction from sprint to shuffle, drive off your back leg and do not reach and pull with your front leg during the shuffle.

Coaching Point: "Emphasize the angle of your feet. Your toes should point forward. When you shuffle to your left, if your left foot is pointed out, it's harder to change direction and move back to the right. So keep your toes pointed forward as you shuffle—that's defensively oriented."

Drill: Resisted Lay-ups

  • Start at half court with a bungee cord around your waist
  • Dribble at full speed toward basket while partner provides resistance with the bungee
  • At the 3-point line, continue to the hoop as your partner releases bungee cord
  • Shoot a lay-up and return to the half court line to repeat movement

SETS: 1-2
REST: Walk back to start, reset of bungee cord
BENEFIT: "This is good for first-step speed, because the athlete is pulling against force. When you release the cord, it's just—bam!—he's going to the basket," Abunassar says.
KEY POINT: "With the bungee cord, your partner has to pull, pull, pull so you're conditioning to do it harder than it normally is."

Coaching Point: "Take your own conditioning level into account. You may not be able to start with 5 reps. Your quads might cramp up after 3, because the bungee cords are very demanding on the quads."

Drill: Interval Full Court Runs

  • Start at the baseline under the hoop
  • Explode into a sprint to the free throw line
  • Jog to the half court line
  • Sprint to the opposite free throw line
  • Jog to the baseline

REPS: 4-6, build to 10
REST: 5-10 seconds
BENEFIT: Develops ability to switch in and out of top speed
KEY POINTS: Reach full speed during sprints. Focus on acceleration and deceleration in and out of intervals.

Drill: Short Sprint Sequence

  • Start at baseline
  • Sprint to free throw line and back
  • Sprint to half court and back

REST: 5-10 seconds between reps, 1 minute between sets
BENEFITS: Develops quick acceleration and top end speed
KEY POINTS: Reach full speed during sprints. Focus on quick change of direction returning to baseline.

Drill: Multi-directional Speed Work

  • Start in neutral position at center court
  • Move 4-5 steps in the direction of a partner's point; return to center
  • Sprint for forward movement
  • Shuffle for side-to-side movement
  • Back pedal for backward movement
  • For diagonal movements open the hips and shuffle

REPS: 3-5, 15-20 seconds per rep
REST: 1 minute between reps
BENEFITS: Provides a variety of movements and works first-step quickness, change of direction, and reaction time
KEY POINTS: Work on quick transitions from movement to movement and quick change of direction

Coaching Point: "Engage your abs and maintain a stable core—especially with multi-directional movements. Your upper body can be all over the place. If you're tired and your stomach is not tight, you will lead with your shoulders. You don't want that. Always keep your center of gravity over the middle."

Strength Workout

Note: The following workout is a lower-body and core plan; no upper-body lifts are included.

DAYS 1 & 3

Lift: One-Leg Bulgarian Squat

  • Hold dumbbell in each hand
  • Stand on one foot with elevated foot on a bench behind you
  • While keeping your chest up, lower back knee directly to the ground
  • Press through the heel of the ground foot
  • Press through the heel of the ground foot

REPS: 10
REST: 1-1:30 minutes
KEY POINTS: Get low on each rep. Keep your front knee over the ankle, not extended forward. Keep your abs tight.

Lift: Dumbbell Lunge Superset with Split Squat Jumps


  • Hold dumbbell in each hand
  • Press back strong off front foot

KEY POINTS: Keep chest up, abs tight and front knee directly over the ankle. Get low on each lunge. Maintain balance and control throughout the movement.

Split Squat Jumps

  • Start low with one foot in front and the other behind
  • Jump into the air
  • Alternate foot position on each jump
  • Explode off the ground as quickly as you can after each landing

KEY POINTS: Get as high as you can on the jump and as low as you can on the landing. Land softly.
REPS: 8 Lunges each leg, 8 Split Squat Jumps each leg
REST: 1-1:30 minutes after Lunges and Split Squat Jumps, no rest between movements

Lift: Control/Endurance/Balance Leg Work

  • Stand on one foot on a step or platform
  • Lower yourself moving your non-standing foot toward the floor
  • Lower your butt to the step and sit back into the bend
  • Keep your top knee over the ankle
  • "SIT, SIT, SIT!"

REST: 1-1:30 minutes

Lift: Hamstring Physioball Roll-Ups

  • Start with heels on ball and shoulders on ground
  • Roll ball to butt
  • Lift hips in the air
  • Dig heels into ball

REPS: 12
REST: 1-1:30 minutes

Lift: Calf Raises

  • Stand on one foot on a platform with your heel off the platform
  • Lower and raise on toes
  • Use hand weights if necessary

REPS: 25
REST: 1-1:30 minutes

Lift: Physioball Back Extensions

  • Start with knees on ground and hips on ball
  • Put arms in "goalpost" position
  • Lower shoulders toward ground
  • Lift shoulders using lower back

REPS: 15
REST: 1-1:30 minutes
KEY POINT: Use your full range of motion

Lift: Physioball Lift Superset with Crunches

Physioball Lift

  • Start on back with ball between feet and hands over head
  • Use your feet to lift the ball up
  • Lift your shoulders off the ground
  • Take ball from feet with your hands
  • Touch the ball and your feet to the ground between reps


  • Start on back holding the ball with your hands above chest
  • Lift shoulders off ground and crunch

REPS: 20 Physioball Lifts, then 25 Crunches
REST: 1-1:30 minutes after Physioball Lifts and Crunches, not between movements

Lift: Bicycle Rotations

  • Start on back with one knee toward chest and opposite leg extended with foot off the ground
  • Bring opposite elbow to opposite knee above chest
  • Repeat with opposite leg and elbow

REPS: 20
REST: 1-1:30 minutes


Lift: Single-Leg Leg Press

  • Use leg press machine
  • Perform with one leg at a time

REPS: 10
REST: 1-1:30 minutes

Lift: Single-Leg Hamstring Curl

  • Use available hamstring curl equipment
  • Perform with one leg at a time

REPS: 10
REST: 1-1:30

Lift: Resistance Band Work Super-set with Split Squat Jumps

Resistance Band Work

  • Place elastic band around both ankles
  • Stand on one foot and extend opposite leg laterally
  • Control leg back to neutral position
  • Foot should skim floor but not rest
  • Repeat for opposite leg

Split Squat Jumps (See Day 1 Split Squat Jumps description)

REPS: 12 with each leg with bands; 8 with each leg for Split Squat Jumps
REST: none between movements

Lift: Rotating Lower-Back Lift

  • Start lying flat on stomach with arms in "goalpost" position
  • Lift chest off ground and twist to one side
  • Return to center and lower chest back to ground
  • Repeat to opposite side

REPS: 8 each side
REST: None

Lift: Ab Circuit

  • 25 Crunches
  • 20 Reverse Curls: feet in air, soles of shoe toward ceiling; raise hips off ground
  • 15 Center, Left, Right: hands overhead, crunch to center, left and then right
  • 15 Bicycle Rotations
  • Repeat sequence

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock