The preseason training period for a college basketball team typically begins in early September and concludes in mid October. It is likely that a winning season is dependent on the quality of training during this 6- to 8-week period. For the strength and conditioning coach (SCC), this is a time to develop those characteristics, which can produce maximum performance and diminish the likelihood of injury, including strength, power, agility, flexibility, anaerobic endurance, and lean body mass.
With such great importance placed on this phase of training, the SCC must develop and oversee a training regimen that addresses the above goals, while also considering the fitness and skill level of his or her team. Before the start of the preseason period, a battery of tests (Table 1) can be used to evaluate which performance variables may need to be improved. By identifying the specific needs and goals of the team, in collaboration with the coaching staff, the SCC will enhance his or her ability to implement an effective training plan. This article focuses on the preseason training period of a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III women's college basketball team and takes into consideration Division III regulations that limit off-season training activities.
NCAA DIVISION III ATHLETICS
The unique environment of Division III athletics can present particular challenges to the SCC. According to the Division III mission statement, participating institutions are to place the highest priority on the overall quality of the students' educational experience and on the successful completion of all academic programs (39). As such, these institutions cannot offer athletic scholarships, must limit their traditional sport seasons to 21 weeks, and may only allow a limited number of formal training sessions during the noncompetitive season. With the exception of men's and women's basketball, teams are permitted 12 supervised training sessions that must not exceed 6 hours per week or 2 hours per day. These instructional sessions, identified as the “nontraditional season,” are voluntary, and individuals cannot be punished if not in attendance (38).
This intermittent training schedule can be problematic as extended breaks in training can reduce physical fitness and athletic performance. After an extended period of inactivity, an athlete has to start from a decreased level of fitness. Also, the likelihood of injury increases if time and effort are not spent recovering the prebreak level of fitness (60). The absence of a formal, supervised, and ongoing off-season conditioning program can make it difficult for the SCC to plan a preseason regimen that is appropriate for the fitness level of his or her team. The ability to safely and effectively prepare a team for the upcoming season in a relatively limited amount of time requires the SCC to carefully consider a variety of factors. These include, but may not be limited to underlying performance variables, bioenergetic considerations, common injuries associated with women's basketball, and the force generation characteristics of the sport.
The enhancement of the body's ability to use energy to sustain maximal performance is vital. Without a concurrent increase in energy utilization efficiency, the high-energy requirements of maximum performance cannot be continually met, and performance will decline (14). Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the body's primary energy source, and it is produced and replenished via anaerobic and aerobic metabolism. Anaerobic energy systems include the creatine phosphate and anaerobic glycolytic systems. Brief bouts of maximal intensity (between 2 and 10 seconds) are predominantly fueled by the creatine phosphate system, whereas activities that last between 10 seconds and 2 minutes largely depend on anaerobic glycolytic pathways to generate ATP.
When the demand for energy is high and the ability to uptake oxygen is reduced, such as in high-intensity work completed over moderate durations, lactate concentrations rise. If lactate is produced faster than the body's ability to remove it, blood pH levels are decreased, leading to the impedance of muscle actions. Beyond 3 minutes, the body replenishes ATP primarily through aerobic metabolism. It should be noted that all 3 energy systems work together to produce ATP during a given activity. However, the intensity of an activity, which has an inverse relationship with its duration, determines the primary contributing energy system (56).
The question then is what energy system is primarily taxed during a game of basketball? Bouts of high intensity followed by periods of reduced activity characterize the sport. As an example, a case study of a Division I player looked at the number of high-intensity efforts, submaximal efforts, and duration of efforts during a game. Noteworthy, of the high-intensity efforts (M = 134.75), 97% occurred at a duration ranging from 1 to 15 seconds, whereas 94% of all submaximal bouts (M = 150.25) occurred at a duration ranging from 1 to 20 seconds (51). Although it may be problematic to generalize these findings because there was only a single participant, its results support the use of anaerobic conditioning protocols in preparing individuals for competition, which corroborate previous findings (21,35,52).
Heart rate responses of basketball players during a contest often exceed the intensity necessary to develop oxidative pathways (34). Increases in maximal oxygen uptake (o2 max), which is an index of how efficiently the body uptakes and uses oxygen to produce ATP, are not improved after a game of basketball (6). Castagna et al. (9) examined the effects of maximal aerobic power on the ability to repeat short sprints that mimic competition. Results showed that repeated sprint ability is not predicted by individuals' maximal oxygen uptake but rather by their capacities to buffer lactate. Short-to-moderate bouts of maximal intensity significantly improved players' abilities to remove lactate, thereby enabling them to realize lower sprint times later in the training session. That said, training protocols that stimulate anaerobic glycolytic pathways and increase the body's ability to maintain maximal efforts despite relatively high blood lactate concentrations are advised (52).
Because specific demands invoke specific adaptations, preseason conditioning activities should replicate game situations to ensure that players are appropriately prepared for competition. Under this proposition, lactic acid tolerance training (LAT), anaerobic tolerance training (ATT), and phosphate system training (PST), as described by Bompa (4), are recommended during the preseason to improve basketball-specific conditioning. LAT enables an athlete to adapt to the acidic effects of lactic acid. Work periods of less than 1 minute require several repetitions (reps) (52).
High-intensity bouts of 1-2 minutes interspersed with submaximal work are suggested. If the intensity of the exercise remains high and rest periods are minimized, there is evidence (49,50) that supports the use of interval training to improve anaerobic capacity. Individuals should experience mild stress and discomfort because of slightly increased speeds and limited rest intervals. This can have a positive physiological and psychological impact on performance (4). LAT sessions should be limited to 1 or 2 times per week to reduce the possibility of overtraining. Similarly, ATT uses moderate work periods to stimulate anaerobic metabolism and enhance the body's ability to remove lactate. Moderate-to-maximum efforts combined with work to active rest ratios of 3:1 are recommended to develop a greater capacity to remove lactate. PST is also used to increase a player's ability to exert maximal force over a short period. This training can increase the quantity of creatine phosphate stored in the muscle and stimulate enzymes to release ATP via creatine phosphate pathways. Short bouts of maximal effort combined with relatively long rest intervals are advised (4,56).
The idea that training variables should be manipulated to reflect situational demands is important, particularly during the preseason (44,52). Because the game of basketball is characterized by short bouts of high intensity along with the capability to initiate quick changes in movement speed and/or direction, agility training, which involves such sport-specific actions as sprinting, lateral shuffling, release/sprint steps, and backpedaling, is recommended.
Agility in this case is defined as a physical skill that enables individuals to rapidly and efficiently decelerate, change direction, and accelerate (54). Literature has recognized agility as a trainable motor skill that can be improved through proper practice (27,31,32,45). Activities such as pattern running, mirror drills, shadow activities, and tag games can enhance players' economy of movement and improve their abilities to respond to task relevant cues, which, in turn, can improve anticipatory abilities, enhance sport-specific actions, and reduce the likelihood of injury (3,23,57,59).
Training variables can be modified to improve team performance during the preseason. For instance, the intensity and therefore the duration of exercises can be reduced to advance the level of conditioning. Rest intervals can also be manipulated in accordance. Activities between exercise bouts may include jogging, walking, or core training. Table 2 provides an example of a progressive 8-week preseason conditioning program that includes agility training. Two separate 1-week unloading periods are used to facilitate physiological and psychological recovery so that underlying performance variables are realized. Activities that include various recreational games, along with light, unsupervised exercise, can be performed during these periods.
The majority of injuries related to basketball are similar for men and women. Injury rates among male and female college athletes are also comparable. Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are the exception. The occurrence of ACL injuries among female athletes has been well documented (28). Indeed, it has been shown that female athletes participating in cutting or jumping sports such as basketball are 4-6 times more likely to experience a serious knee injury than their male counterparts (19).
Literature (33,41,43) has suggested that several variables contribute to the increased prevalence of ACL injuries among female athletes. Structural factors include (a) a greater Q angle, which is an angle formed by a line extending from the anterior superior iliac spine to the midpoint of the patella that is bisected from the tibial tuberosity through the midpoint of the patella; (b) greater increased external tibial torsion; and (c) increased forefoot pronation (25,41). These structural differences tend to cause female athletes to exhibit greater knee valgus during landing, which, if combined with hyperextension, is a primary mechanism of an ACL rupture (55).
Functional differences between male and female players include (a) poor core stability, (b) reduced hamstring activation, (c) decreased vastus medialis oblique development, (d) poor gluteus medius stability, and (e) inferior eccentric quadriceps strength. These factors commonly contribute to reduced knee flexion and greater knee valgus during landing and cutting movements (25,30,41). Lephart et al. (30) compared several strength variables in male and female athletes during single-leg landing and forward hop activities. Women had significantly less knee flexion than men. During the single-leg landing, women had significantly more hip internal rotation. Women also demonstrated significantly less peak torque to body mass for the quadriceps and hamstrings. Weaker thigh musculature was thought to be the primary reason for the poor landing mechanics observed among the female athletes sampled. In related research, Leetun et al. (29) found that male athletes produced significantly greater hip abduction, hip external rotation, and quadratus lumborum measures than female athletes. These results suggest that differences in core strength may also contribute to the increased incidence of ACL ruptures among female athletes.
Notwithstanding potential factors that predispose female athletes to noncontact ACL injuries, Renstrom et al. (43) posited that aptly designed training programs could diminish the potential for these injuries. Training regimens that emphasize core stability, develop the gluteus medius and external rotators of the hip, and strengthen the quadriceps and hamstring musculature can reduce the incidence of ACL tears (25). Meyer et al. (37) observed a significant decrease in valgus torque and a significant increase in knee flexion during landing in female athletes after a 6-week conditioning period that included core strengthening and lower-body resistance training. Similarly, Leetun et al. (29) found that female athletes who did not sustain a knee injury during the competitive season were stronger throughout their core musculature, demonstrated by greater abdominal function and superior back extensor and quadratus lumborum endurance. Significantly greater hip abduction and external rotation strength were also observed in female athletes who did not sustain a knee injury in comparison to those who did.
It should be noted that anatomical, neuromuscular, and hormonal differences-although empirically demonstrated (36)-do not solely explain the greater incidence of ACL ruptures among women as compared with men (16). Häkkinen et al. (17) posit that differences in the overall volume and/or the type of training performed during the preparatory period may also contribute to the disparities in lower extremity strength and power observed between men and women. Indeed, it is these differences that foster the primary mechanism of ACL tears among women, namely, noncontact injuries that occur when the player is making a sudden stop, making sharp cuts, or landing and pivoting (25,36,41).
That said, literature (19,20,36) has indicated that plyometric programs, which address faulty landing mechanics and progress athletes through specific drills, can improve hamstring-quadriceps strength ratios, enhance the reactive abilities of the hamstrings during deceleration, diminish landing forces, and decrease valgus and varus torques, which, in turn, can minimize the likelihood of noncontact ACL ruptures among female athletes (20,36).
The plyometric program (Table 3) advances players from low- to high-intensity drills and gradually increases the number of foot contacts during the preseason training period. Athletes initially perform bilateral in-place single response hops and gradually proceed to box jumps, multiple response jumps, and single-leg hops. The decision to progress a player is dependent on the ability to demonstrate proper landing mechanics and tolerate (no lower extremity pain) training sessions. Because players are also participating in conditioning and weightlifting activities, along with unsupervised pickup games, plyometric sessions are limited to 1 day per week to enable recovery.
In addition to the battery of tests described in Table 1, functional movement screening (11) as described in Table 4 may help determine which players are in need of specialized prevention programs. Depending on the results of the screening and in collaboration with the sports medicine team (i.e., athletic training staff, physical therapist, and team physician), a customized program can be useful to improve apparent weaknesses that contribute to ACL injuries. The program should address specific functional deficiencies so that a player is able to safely participate in a strength and conditioning program.
FORCE GENERATION CHARACTERISTICS
In combination with a conditioning program that mimics the bioenergetic demands of basketball, a resistance training program that enhances strength, and therefore power output, is critical. Strength is defined as the maximal amount of force a muscle or muscle group can generate in a specified movement pattern and velocity (12). Alternatively, power is the ability to exert as much force as possible in a limited amount of time (60). It is argued that nothing is more critical to athletic success than the capacity to display a high rate of force development (26,60). As in most sports, developing a basketball player's power output is considered an essential component to a successful performance. Effective play often demands the capability to outmaneuver defenders with quick changes in movement speed and/or direction. Players are frequently reacting, starting, and stopping in response to situational factors. As such, the ability to absorb and rapidly produce force throughout the lower extremity joints is crucial to performance and the prevention of injury (41).
Along with plyometric training, weightlifting is one of the most accepted methods to enhance power output among athletes. Hori et al. (24) found that weightlifting, which includes variations of the snatch and clean and jerk, had a positive effect on performance in sports such as basketball, football, volleyball, and track and field. The same study indicates that athletes benefited by performing movements requiring a rapid acceleration against resistance. Indeed, the kinetics and kinematics of the pull phase of the snatch and clean and the drive phase of the jerk display comparable sport-specific acceleration patterns (24,26).
Studies have demonstrated a correlation between weightlifting and sport movements, particularly vertical jump performance. The vertical jump test, regarded as an indicator of an athlete's power output, has been shown to be related to performance in several sports including basketball (5,7,22). Research has revealed a significant relationship between weightlifting performance and jump performance (8,17,47). Stone et al. (47), for example, observed the snatch to be biomechanically similar to the vertical jump. The same study also found that weightlifting movements improved vertical jump results. Similarities in maximal power, time to maximal power, maximal force, and time to maximal force have been observed between the hang power snatch and the noncountermovement jump in athletes. Ground reaction forces in the snatch were also comparable to that of the countermovement vertical jump (13).
Besides the development of power output, which is regarded as the primary physiological factor in determining successful performance in many sports (18,26,40,58,60), additional benefits of weightlifting include neuromuscular and neuroendocrine adaptations, increases in lean body mass, balance, flexibility, coordination, and kinesthetic awareness (18,53). Arguments also posit that weightlifting, if taught and supervised by a qualified instructor, likely reduces the chance of injury when participating in athletics because these movements not only strengthen the muscles, tendons, and ligaments but also increase overall coordination (18,24,42).
Economy of time is another advantage of weightlifting (18). Weightlifting tends to involve nearly every major muscle group in the body along with the many smaller stabilizer muscles (18,42). Thus, it is relatively easy to train the entire body with 1 or 2 weightlifting movements. This is an important consideration, particularly as it relates to NCAA Division III athletics where the amount of time spent in organized training sessions during the noncompetitive season is significantly limited.
RESISTANCE TRAINING PROGRAM
The program shown in Tables 5 and 6 used 3 resistance training sessions per week and was developed based on the concepts put forward. The program was implemented over an 8-week period with consideration given to distinct NCAA Division III rules, which limit the frequency and duration of training sessions during the preseason.
The exercises listed in Table 5 were used to prepare players who were not yet familiar with weightlifting movements and/or lacked the necessary flexibility, posture, and strength requirements to participate in a weightlifting program. For those individuals who were deemed prepared, a program (Table 6) emphasized the following: (a) ground-based movements performed in a standing position, (b) free weight exercises, (c) movements that trained multiple muscle groups and surround multiple joints, and (d) exercises performed in an explosive manner.
In terms of exercise selection, variations of weightlifting movements were used to vary intensity for the purpose of recovery or unloading depending on the load prescribed for each set. For example, the clean and snatch exercises, if performed in their entirety (with squat catches), can allow for greater loading. In comparison, power-style variants typically allow for less loading and, in turn, can enable higher velocities and power outputs (26,48). Additional variations can be added to improve technique, keep training interesting, and avoid stagnation (26).
The resistance training program (Table 7) was a part of a structured preseason conditioning regimen designed to prepare individuals for the upcoming season. The timing, frequency, duration, intensity, and volume associated with particular training sessions were carefully considered to effectively limit fatigue so that the quality of training was preserved.
It should be noted that the regimen presented is one component of a year-round training program. As such, certain times of the year are dedicated to different training goals. Each phase of training is sequential, progressive, and intended to prepare individuals for the competitive season. After the competitive season, considerable importance should be placed on comprehensive structural strengthening by using a variety of movements. In doing so, it is the intention to lay the physiological and structural foundation for further training that will emphasize other aspects of performance (i.e., maximum strength and power) (48). As the competitive season approaches, specialized preparatory exercises are used to enhance those movements that translate to a successful performance on the court. In turn, fewer exercises are used.
Because power output is considered an essential component of successful sports, performance and power production is largely the result of efficient neuromuscular processes, and the quality of reps should not be negatively impacted by fatigue. Thus, reps will typically be between 1 and 3 reps for weightlifting movements with rest intervals of at least 3 minutes during this training period (2,24,26,48). Volume (the total weight lifted i.e., sets multiplied by reps) should also be reduced in favor of intensity (the number of lifts completed at or near an experienced individual's 1 repetition maximum). In this way, fatigue can be effectively managed, while power output is maintained or improved.
The preseason is a time to develop those characteristics that underlie performance and reduce the chance of injury. Notwithstanding the needs of the team or particular individual, these attributes typically include, but may not be limited to, strength, power, agility, flexibility, anaerobic endurance, and lean body mass. Particularly problematic is the interrupted training schedule noted to be pervasive in Division III athletics. Unique regulations that limit training sessions in the noncompetitive season highlight the need for assessment and, in turn, call for the design of an effective preseason conditioning regimen.
Although it is important to address all specific components during the preseason, the concurrent training of opposing fitness characteristics can be counterproductive. For instance, aerobic training supports the proposition that this kind of training, if extensive, can interfere with gains in lean muscle mass, strength, and power (10,15,44,52). It is essential not to diminish these qualities that underlie performance. This may be one, if not the key difference, between the design of off-season and preseason conditioning regimens. The need for specificity in training, if appropriate as determined by preliminary testing and ongoing evaluation, is paramount as the competitive season draws closer.
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Keywords:© 2010 National Strength and Conditioning Association
basketball; female; preseason; weightlifting; bioenergetics; injury prevention; conditioning; NCAA Division III athletics