How to Get Into Basketball Shape
I still remember finding the extra trash can. At that point my boss and I had committed to our plan and we were not turning back. Even as the players’ complaints quietly transitioned into looks of concern and then as more of them started gathering around the tall trash cans contemplating whether or not to relinquish the contents of their stomachs.
As division one strength and conditioning coaches, my boss Ray Eady and I had not intended to create what has become known as the go-to conditioning drill to get basketball players into game ready shape. All we wanted was for them to stop running and testing the mile run as part of their pre-season conditioning plan.
“Listen Ray and Amanda, we’ve had our players run the mile for years as part of their conditioning and fitness test, why should we stop now?” Was the question demanded of us from the Head Basketball Coach. As politely as we could, we explained that having basketball players run the mile not only didn’t get them in basketball-ready shape, but was also a detrimental waste of time and energy.
Running a mile, in a straight line at a constant speed, is not the same as the short sprints, explosive first steps, powerful stops, and constant change of direction that is the game of basketball. Our bodies are amazing at adapting to whatever stimulus we give it. If we run a mile, our body will make the appropriate adaptations to run a mile better next time, but when has a basketball player ever run a straight mile during a basketball game? The answer is never. The court is only 94 feet long and what happens within that 94 feet looks nothing like running a mile.
“I want my players to run a mile. They need to be ready for the upcoming pre-season games.” The Head Basketball Coach said as he stared at us. At the end of the day it is his team and what he wants he gets. As strength and conditioning coaches we need to compliment his wants with our expertise.
“Okay coach. We will make sure when it is all said and done the players will have run a mile in distance.”
How were we going to have the Division One athletes run a mile that looked more like the game basketball? When we solved that question, we created what we now call The Basketball Mile.
A mile is 5,280 feet. A basketball court is 94 feet long. 5,280 feet divided by 94 feet equals slightly over 56. So 56 full court sprints equals one mile in distance.
Basketball is a game of starts, stops, and changes of direction, so instead of 56 full court sprints, we wanted the players to do half court down and back sprints. That way they would have to change direction with each attempt. This means our basketball mile is comprised of 56 half court down and back sprints which totals one mile in distance.
At many levels basketball is played with four quarters that are followed by a short rest break after the first and third quarters and an extended half time rest break at the end of the second quarter. With that in mind, we took the 56 half court down and back sprints and broke them up into four quarters of 14 sprints per quarter.
For example, if it took the fastest player five-seconds to sprint to half and back he got fifteen-seconds of rest before the next sprint. And if it took the slowest player ten-seconds to sprint there and back he only got ten-seconds of rest before the next attempt.To ensure the players were sprinting at game-like effort we had a continuous running clock that sent the players off for their next sprint every twenty-seconds. Including the breaks, the total time is 26 minutes and 20 seconds.Now our mile is looking more like an actual basketball game. Treat the quarter breaks like you in a game, allow them to get water, wipe the sweat and get back to the line before the next buzzer sounds.
As the players fatigue it takes them longer to complete each sprint so their rest gets shorter and shorter. This is an important aspect of the drill since in a game when players are fatigued they still need to be able to perform at maximum effort.
Not only are the players having to give great effort every time to ensure as much rest as possible, but they are forced to accelerate, change direction, and decelerate with each attempt. Just like in the game of basketball, they have to restart their engines continuously throughout the drill.
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The first time we did The Basketball Mile, some of the more fit players thought it was “too easy” as they were on sprint 8 of the first 14 and didn’t feel too winded. Yet, as the the continuous running clock kept everyone honest to sprinting exactly every twenty seconds, questions like, “Are you sure that was twenty-seconds?” started popping up.
As soon as the first 14 sprints were done the continuous running clock kept running for the two minute rest break. Which is just enough time to hydrate and wipe the sweat. Suddenly the players found themselves lining up for the second set of 14 half court and back sprints. It didn’t take long for the “bigs” to start missing their send offs and being forced to give even more effort to catch up.
As the drill continued, we had our first player run to the trash can as the team was now in the upper 30s (of 56) for max attempts with very short rest in-between. Their bodies were never getting a full chance to recover, just like in the game of basketball.
As a side note: When your body’s muscular and cardiovascular systems demand more and more blood to help them perform, sometimes you get to the point where your body has to shift blood away from your digestive system to help these systems. This is why your body sometimes forces you to empty your stomach. Digesting is simply not as important as breathing and moving at that moment.
The Basketball Mile became our Friday conditioning drill that pre-season and as the players got into better shape we lowered the twenty seconds between send offs to fifteen seconds. When the first pre-season game arrived the Head Basketball Coach confirmed, “I’ve never had a team so fit and ready for our first pre-season game.” He never had his team run straight miles again after that.
Please understand that I am not saying that The Basketball Mile should be your one and only conditioning drill. What I am saying is stop running a traditional mile thinking it will get you into basketball shape! Running a mile is not basketball. Your conditioning needs to replicate the movements, energy systems, and efforts of the game of basketball as much as possible. Don’t let poor conditioning hold you back from being the best you can be!
Too many players waste time working on things that don’t happen very often in games. One thing all great players have in common is their intentional training of game-specific actions
This is a correspondence between PGC owner Dena Evans and a long-time PGC grad. I was so moved by Dena’s response to this player, which the player’s father shared with me, I decided to ask Dena, and this athlete, for permission to share this correspondence publicly. If you know the heart-ache and disappointment of not reaching your team or individual goals, this is a must-read.
Far too often, basketball players make the game too hard with their go to move. They use multiple dribble combo move that rarely result in a successful attack. James Harden
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