Basketball strength and conditioning guru, Jonas Sahratian, provides four basic speed drills that require nothing more than a wall, a towel, a hill and hard work to get real results.
By: Chad Zimmerman
Wherever Jonas Sahratian goes, basketball excellence follows.
As an intern with Al Vermeil, strength and conditioning consultant to the Chicago Bulls, Sahratian contributed to the team’s 1997 and 1998 NBA Championships. During his tenure as head of basketball training at the University of Kansas, from 1999 to 2004, the Jayhawks appeared in every NCAA tournament and made it to the Final Four twice. And in his first year as strength and conditioning coordinator at the University of North Carolina, the Tar Heels took home the 2005 NCAA Basketball Championship.
Sahratian isn’t the only common thread among these teams, though; they also share the gift of incredible speed, which Sahratian emphasizes in his program—particularly the ability to accelerate.
According to Sahratian, training acceleration requires two elements: explosive strength training and mastering running fundamentals. Olympic lifts, jumps and other explosive movements produce strength and power. Learning to move and accelerate properly can help any athlete apply new strength to improved speed.
Sahratian provides some training principles and effective drills that you can use to convert your weight room work into greater acceleration on the court.
Sahratian’s 4 Principles
1. Basketball Speed = Acceleration
“Speed in basketball is about acceleration, not max velocity; so most of the work we do is between zero and 30 meters.”
2. You don’t need the ball to work speed
“I think a typical error basketball players and coaches make is speed training with the ball. When we work on acceleration development, that’s the only thing we concentrate on—we’re not working to get faster with the ball. The guys will learn to do that during practice and when they play.”
3. Speed vs. Conditioning
“A lot of people confuse conditioning with speed development. They think ‘Oh, I’m going to go out, run and make myself faster by running until I puke.’ That’s not speed or acceleration development in my eyes. To train for explosiveness, speed, power and acceleration, you need adequate recovery. Your nervous system needs time to recover and regenerate, so each rep or set is at maximum effort.”
4. Do what they did
“All kinds of people call and email to ask me for so-and-so’s workout. This happened a lot when I was at Kansas.
“People would call and ask, ‘Can you send me Kirk Hinrich’s workout?’
“And I’d be like, ‘You’re not Kirk Hinrich.’
“‘Well, what does he do?’
“‘You don’t understand. Where he started and what he did then are completely different from where he is now and what he does today.’
“Too many athletes want to rush things, thinking they should do what a top athlete does now. What they need to do is perform drills the athlete used in the beginning, when he was working on the basics. That’s what will help an athlete get to the top in the future.”
Sahratian’s 4 Drills
1. Wall Marches
• Stand facing wall
• Lean forward and place both hands on wall
• Keep 45-degree body angle
• Drive one knee toward chest; point toe toward shin
• Hold for 2-3 seconds
• Drive leg back down and drive opposite knee to chest
• Hold for 2-3 seconds, repeat
“This drill helps athletes who can’t hold good drive angles when they start accelerating. The hold helps the athlete learn to keep proper running posture by working the core—the abs, low back and hips.”
2. Scramble Ups
• Start on ground on stomach in push-up position
• Place hands flat on floor next to chest; point toes toward shins
• Get up and sprint forward on partner’s command
• Do not round back when getting up
• Sprint 20-30 meters
• Repeat 4-6 times
“When you get out of push-up position, you’re almost in the perfect drive position to come out and accelerate through the sprint. Make the drill a race by performing it with a partner. Every athlete runs faster in a race.”
3. Resisted Sprints (with towel)
• Place towel around waist
• Have partner stand behind you and hold both ends of towel
• Sprint forward against partner’s resistance
• Keep forward lean during sprint
• Sprint 5-10 meters
• Repeat 5 times
• Sprint once without resistance
• Repeat entire sequence
“Working against extra resistance improves your rate of force development and teaches you to overcome inertia. This trains the nervous system to produce changes, which helps create greater force when the extra resistance is removed. This helps achieve greater speed.”
4. Hill Runs
• Sprint up a hill with five-to-30-degree angle
• Sprint 10-20 meters depending on steepness
• Repeat 4-6 times
“Running hills puts you in the perfect body angle to work acceleration. Many believe Walter Payton was so great because he ran hills.”