Memo to the Aging Baller


TrueHoop reader John, in Canada, recently had his doctor tell him something a little bit sobering.

At his age, says the doctor, instead of playing basketball to stay in shape, he ought to start staying in shape to play basketball.

The memo there is something along the lines of: If you don't put some special effort in, you're going to age out of the game.

John is about my age. I totally understand how that must have felt.

I decided long ago that I would be one of those guys who keeps playing decades past when most people stop. I'm committed. I'm nowhere near stopping. So people talking like it's almost time to wrap it up ... I'm not having any of that.

I know how John must have felt, though. Not long after I got back from Training like a Pro, I asked David Thorpe if I was best served playing as much as I could, or instead taking some of that time to perfect new skills, like the new shooting stroke or handle I learned in Florida.

His response was basically: You might as well play as much as you can, because you don't have that much longer to play. (Thorpe, I should point out, is not that much older than me but stopped playing some time ago. My dad, on the other hand, has a couple of decades on Thorpe, and still runs marathons. Fear my genes.)

Anyway, when we were at IMG, the guru of physical preparation for basketball was IMG Athletic Performance Specialist Corey Stenstrup. I e-mailed him about impertinent comments from doctors, and playing for exercise, vs. exercising to play. He wrote back that the doctor was right on the money, and shared some general thoughts about how to physically prepare for basketball:

Basketball is great ... the body needs to move and be active.

Basketball is also phenomenal cardiovascular exercise because of the interval nature of the sport.

However it is not an end in itself. The body will adapt to the stimuli applied to it ... so with that in mind my goal is to challenge the body in ways that will improve performance.

Playing without training, you are like to develop compensatory patterns through poor movement habits. That not only limits performance, but increases the likelihood of injury.

As a performance-based trainer I aim to help the athletes have there bodies explosive, balanced, and moving properly.

To achieve this I have the athletes perform exercises that teach/retrain proper firing patterns. The medicine ball is an ideal way of accomplishing this ... performing functional movement, using proper biomechanical technique, maintaining good posture, with resistance. Some of the exercises we did on Day 1 were good examples. (A little of that is on video here.)

We also work on movements that are targeted at coordination and training the central nervous system. The jump rope during warm-up and the ladder drills we did are good examples.

Strength-based training is again based on training basketball-like movements. We did primary lifts (Olympic based and derivatives, squat, lunge, step up, upper body push, upper body pull). Many of the lifts we did with your group were based on being explosive and using your whole body to maintain postural stability while also performing the primary movement. Maintaining strong and correct posture while using primary muscle groups to move weight is a basic philosophy that will serve athletes of all levels well.

Another concept I feel is of value is multitasking. I usually have about 60-75 minutes, sometimes even less, in a given training session. In your sessions at IMG you saw how we did medicine ball for warm-up one day, the agility ladder another, and the barbell the last ... each one addresses one of three concepts I discussed above.

Our strength training was done circuit style with stretching done during rest periods so we can get strength, conditioning, and flexibility done concurrently. Being efficient during workouts keeps people focused while also getting everything accomplished.

Lastly emphasizing recovery is essential to any training program. The first point I made was that the body will adapt to a stimulus ... in order to achieve that adaptation, recovery must occur.

The foam roll we did to help massage and release tense muscles, the ice baths for nervous system recovery, and the recovery shakes after workouts were intended to facilitate recovery so you could tolerate the heavy training load.

You must support your training program with good recovery strategies to help achieve the gains. Overtraining will lead to injury and decreases or plateaus in training ... so make sure to cycle heavier and lighter training loads and build in recovery strategies and rest into your program.