Programming and Periodization
Strength and conditioning involves the development of physical and physiological characteristics that contribute to increased sport performance. These qualities include, but are not limited to, aerobic and anaerobic power, speed, strength, power, agility, change of direction (COD) ability, and core strength. While these characteristics are relatively straightforward to develop on their own in uni-planar sports that predominantly require only one of the body’s energy systems (e.g. weightlifting, power lifting, or endurance running, cycling and swimming), it is more difficult to develop these qualities concurrently in multi-dimensional sports such as basketball. This illustrates the importance of the careful organization of training elements in order to optimize physiological adaptations, peak at the correct times during the competitive season, and prevent maladaptation such as plateau, detraining, or overtraining. This organization of the overall training plan is referred to as periodization. There is a plethora of factors to consider when creating a periodized program, which will be outlined below.
Periodization is typically viewed in three distinct contexts, namely macrocycles, mesocycles, and microcycles. In sequential order, the macrocycle provides a very broad and general context for the entire training and development plan, while the level of detail and planning increases as one progresses further through the mesocycle, microcycle, and intra-session levels. The macrocycle typically refers to the entire calendar year, encompassing all aspects of the competition year. Overall considerations in the macrocycle that will guide programming include important dates such as testing periods, major competitions, and travel schedule which will in turn dictate aspects such as the distribution and emphasis of training elements, tapering, peaking, and transition periods of deliberate rest and recovery.
Mesocycles represent subdivisions of the macrocycle into distinct training blocks, and are typically measured in months. These blocks consider the subcomponent phases that make up a competition year (i.e. off-season, pre-season, regular season, and post-season). Considerations in the mesocycle include focused blocks of particular physical qualities (e.g. hypertrophy, technical proficiency, general preparation and accumulation, maximum strength, power, maintenance, and recovery). For a particular performance quality, it is imperative to ensure that there is a linear progression of intensity with a simultaneous regression in volume in order to ensure progressive overload, consistent positive adaptation and the avoidance of plateau. Moreover, while some training elements may be de-emphasized in certain mesocycles and competition periods, it is important that all training elements remain present in the program to some degree in order to prevent detraining of those qualities.
Lastly, microcycles are subcomponents of the mesocycle, typically measured in weeks, which cover training elements in a more specific manner. Considerations for the microcycle include daily undulations in intensity and volume, variations in exercise selection, and active recovery interventions in order to prevent excess fatigue, avoid mental stagnation, and adequate recovery and tapering for competition days.
Primary vs. Secondary Exercises
In a periodized training plan, the intra-session content is the most important determinant of an effective program that elicits optimal positive adaptations. Exercise selections within a training session can be broken up into two categories: primary exercises and secondary exercises. Primary exercises are high in intensity and are the key developers of muscular strength and power. Due to the movement complexity and high central nervous system demands when producing maximum force, velocity, and power, primary exercises should be placed early in the training session while athletes are fresh and least fatigued.
In contrast, secondary exercises are more supplementary and supportive in nature, and assist in eliciting adaptations such as muscular hypertrophy, muscular endurance, and cardiovascular fitness through increased volume. Also, secondary exercises assist in the improvement of posture and can address muscular imbalances and strength ratios within the body. Because secondary exercises occur later in the session after the primary exercises, they should be inherently lower in intensity. Attempting to excessively load the intensity of secondary exercises is redundant and potentially dangerous, as athletes will be accumulating fatigue, which may increase the chance of acute injury, non-functional overreaching, or overtraining.
Regarding the actual battery of exercises, there is a multitude of options as dictated by research. Olympic weightlifting exercises should be a primary component of any strength and conditioning program, as they have been demonstrated to produce greater performance enhancements than vertical jump training (Tricoli, Lamas, Carnevale, and Ugrinowitsch, 2005). Therefore, exercise variations such as power cleans, hang snatches, push jerks, and high pulls can be used to great advantage. In stark contrast, Bevan et al (2010) discovered that peak power output occurred in a squat jump at 0% 1RM (i.e. bodyweight), which warrants the inclusion of bodyweight exercises such as countermovement box jumps, depth jumps, broad jumps, explosive step-ups, bounding, and sprinting. Contrary to this even, other research has demonstrated that loaded plyometric exercises elicit greater improvement of vertical and horizontal jump performances than unloaded plyometrics (Khilifa, Aouadi, Hermassi, Chelly, Jlid, Hbacha, and Castagna, 2010). This suggests exercises such as barbell squat jumps, jump shrugs and jumping split squats would be appropriate additions to a program as well.
With regards to speed, 1RM squat performance has been shown to be the best predictor of sprint performance across 5-10 meter distances (Chaouachi, Mrughelli, Chamari, Levin, Abdelkrim, Laurencelle, and Castagna, 2009). Also, the inclusion of supra-maximal partial repetitions in conjunction with full range of motion repetitions has been shown to shift the curvilinear relationship between force and velocity upwards, thereby increasing force production at a given velocity (Bazyler, Sato, Wassinger, Lamont and Stone, 2014). Moreover, all contraction phases of general lower body strength exercises, and the eccentric phase in particular, correlate significantly with change of direction ability (Spiteri, Nimphius, Hart, Specos, Sheppard, and Newton, 2014). This would suggest exercises such as heavily loaded squat and dead lifts variations through full and partial ROMS would aid in the development of strength, power, and in turn, agility.
Though athletic performance in basketball is clearly influenced by lower body power, upper body strength is also required to an extent. For example, basketball players require upper body strength for several skills such as shooting and passing, and may also be required to apply brute upper body strength against an opponent when battling for position (Abdelkrim et al, 2010). As a result, upper body development should still carry emphasis, which will ensure well rounded athletic development and also prevent fatigue, overtraining and overuse injuries in the lower body. A study by Hermassi, Chelly, Fathloun, and Shephard (2010) found that during in-season training, heavy bench press and pulling exercises performed at heavy loads (i.e. 80-95% 1RM) were superior to moderate loads (55-75% 1RM) when developing peak power, dynamic strength and throwing velocity. This is because heavier loads increase motor unit recruitment and synchronization, and create conditions and endocrine responses that stimulate superior muscle growth (Hermassi, et al, 2010).
Based on the varied findings of this research, it would be prudent for strength coaches and athletes to include aspects of weightlifting, loaded and unloaded jumping, as well as heavily loaded general strength exercises such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and pulls when attempting to develop explosive power and velocity. However, the simultaneous inclusion and equal prioritization of all elements is not advisable, as excess intensity, volume and interference may elicit a neurological down-regulation of the overall intensity and expression of power, which would in turn stifle adaptation and supercompensation. Therefore, careful examination at the macro-, meso-, and micro-cycle levels will dictate appropriate exercise selection and optimal interplay between volume, intensity and the resultant emphasis on velocity, force, and power development.