IN 2 PART OF THE SERIES RICE OWLS BASKETBALL STRENGTH COACH SEAN BROWN SHARES WITH US HIS ACTUAL PROGRAM THAT HE UTILIZED THROUGH THE 2017-18 SEASON WITH HIS TEAM. THIS IS A WEEK BY WEEK BREAK DOWN OF THE TRAINING HE IMPLEMENTED WITH HIS DIVISION I BASKETBALL TEAM. THE SERIES CULMINATES WITH HIS SELF EVALUATION OF THE PROGRAM INCLUDING THE RESULTS, THE BENEFITS OF USING THIS METHOD, THE CHALLENGES THAT HE HAD, AND WHAT HIS FEELINGS ARE ABOUT HOW WELL IT WORKED AND WHERE THEY CAN MAKE IMPROVEMENTS. LET’S GET RIGHT INTO THE MEAT AND POTATOES OF THE PROGRAM:
What We Did
Intensity slightly up, volume down relative to the previous cycle. This is an introduction for the players, learning the new lift structure and how to autoregulate.
Week 2:1 x 5, 1 x 3 warmup sets, 2 x 3 working sets
Set a baseline for where our strength is at this point.
Week 3:2 x 5
Now we really learn how to autoregulate. Take your numbers from the first two weeks and give the best 2 x 5 you can give today.
Week 4:2 x 5
Can you do a little more than you did last week? If not, no problem. If so, fantastic.
With the exception of RDL (would continue to get our best 5), we knew heading into the first competition week that we wanted to hit a heavy double, and then back the intensity off the following week.
Week 1:1 x 5 warmup, 2 x 5 working
Take the intensity down a bit and give me picture perfect quality.
Holiday tournament week. Hotel lifting at its best (that’s a different article).
Week 3:1 x 5 warmup, 2 x 5 working
Back from the tournament, match or beat your sets of 5 from two weeks ago. One obvious caveat – if you are injured or really beat up, we are adjusting.
Get stronger. Work up to your best set of 2. For some guys this might end up being 5/3/2/2/2 or more.
Week 5:2 x 5
Finals week and a road game. Best 2 sets of 5 you can give today.
Week 6:1 x 5 warmup, 2 x 5 working
Match or beat last week, if you can.
Week 7:2 x 5 Deload
Between holiday break and long road trip over New Years. Range of motion and movement quality for 2-3 days.
Week 8:2 x 5
Load the bar up again and see what you can do.
Week 9:6 x 1
Most fun week of the year.
Week 10:2 x 5
Beginning conference travel schedule, which for us is 5-day trips, playing 2 games. This leaves 3 days to lift before we fly out, so we would squat, bench, deadlift on those 3 days. RDL would be part of the prep portion in the 5-8 rep range on at least 2 days.
Week 11:2 x 5
At home this week, so we can lift on game days as well. Intensity very much varies player by player at this point.
Week 12:2 x 5
Only one road game this week. Ride the wave. However, you’re feeling is how we’re going.
Long trip this week. 3 days to hit our best double for three main lifts. This is the last time we will do this.
Dependent on player. Late season nagging aches and pains affect things here. Young or low-minute guys are looking at improving in the 3-5 rep range. Older and high-minute guys are getting a lot of extra attention to keep them going for the final two weeks.
Week 15:Same as last week
We were able to remain relatively healthy and just about every player hit respectable intensity.
- Game Day Lifting – We did not lift for road games. At home we found success with simple movement complexes and fast & light trap bar deadlift sets. Players felt bouncy and ready to go before shootaround. As the season progressed and players learned what they liked, we adjusted individually.
- RDL – I don’t like going low rep on RDL. At most if I wanted to have a guy push the weight up we would talk about finding the 3-5 rep range. But for the most part we stuck to 5 reps even when the other major lifts were hitting 1,2,or 3 reps that week. As the season progressed we actually picked RDL volume back up to the 5-8 rep range and put them in the prep portion, particularly in travel weeks.
- Travel Lifting – Days between road games we could still hit solid movement complexes with hotel dumbbells and whatever else we could find. Running, crouching, crawling, and rolling require no equipment. We combined these with recovery modalities including pool, bike, mobility work – whatever we had available to get our guys ready to play in a tight turnaround.
- Random Changes – Coach changes the schedule, academic meetings, whatever it may have been, sometimes it just didn’t happen. Not often, but there are a few days scattered throughout the season where we didn’t get to lift. The beauty of the high frequency of this program is that I didn’t have to be frustrated by that. Lifting 4 times in a week instead of 5 is not really something to get upset about.
- Players – Sometimes I could see it or hear it. Sometimes the player knew it. Either way, there were days when a player would just not have what they needed in the tank. Depending on what was going on, the solution ranged anywhere from alternative exercises, to more correctives, lowered intensity, recovery modalities, or even to just skipping the lift for that day and heading out to the court to get ready for practice. The latter didn’t happen often but on a couple of occasions did. I have the benefit of a few pieces of technology to help me monitor player load so I usually knew when to look out for it.
To be short, just about everybody got stronger. The following data is based on end of off-season testing numbers compared with our heavy week in January. I know that data can be a little misleading but the bottom line looks like this:
Front Squat (1RM)
Average Change: 7.71%
Best Improvement: 20% (True Freshman)
Worst Improvement: -5% (Mid-Season Lower Body Injury)
Bench Press (1RM)
Average Change: 3.69%
Best Improvement: 8.9% (True Freshman)
Worst Improvement: -2% (Mid-Season AC Ligament Injury)
Average Change: 15.8%
Best Improvement: 61.5% (True Freshman)
Worst Improvement: 0%
I’m not presenting Trap Bar Deadlift data because as we progressed we used the deadlift on game days and on longer weeks as a dynamic effort lift. As such, our intensity dropped and we were looking to train speed-strength qualities on these days. As a result, I don’t have specific testing numbers to evaluate for the Trap Bar Deadlift. In the future I hope to have measurement tools to evaluate bar speed to utilize for this very instance.
I also have not included weighted chin-ups because the numbers are just ridiculous. In the preseason we did a lot of bodyweight pull-ups and chin-ups with low weight if any added resistance. Beginning with the non-conference weeks we began hitting sets of 5 or less and the numbers for that began skyrocketing. As far as I know there’s not a lot of value in me examining how or why we saw 200+% increases, but if somebody knows a good reason to dive deeper I’d love to talk about it. I love doing them. The players love doing them. I highly recommend them.
Regarding our results, this is negatively skewed data. There’s a pretty simple reason why. I had three freshmen that trained with me for four weeks before we began the preseason. Their low training age, immediate neuromuscular adaptation and just general strength improvement skews our averages in favor of looking greater than they really are for the entire group.
Additionally, I understand that at the end of the day we are looking for KPI improvement and translation to the court. I’m currently gathering our postseason testing numbers and will evaluate from there. However, the intention of the program for the season was to progress the strength levels of our relatively young team. As such, the examination of our core lift improvements serves, to me, as an indicator of success or failure in that regard.
I think the biggest challenge of following this template was getting my players to really understand what things are supposed to feel like. So, in reality the challenge is helping them understand autoregulation. I have the benefit of only worrying about 23 athletes on campus. 8 of them are golfers, the other 15 are the basketball players I run this program with. As a result, I can spend plenty of time with them to move the education process along. Regardless, there is a steep learning curve that accompanies taking a group that has never really thought about how much weight is the rightweight, and teaching them how to figure it out on their own.
Depending on the player, this can go in both directions. I have some players that I found myself constantly pushing because the bar was flying and they just didn’t feel confident yet that they could add more. I also found that with a couple of my guys if I told them to warm up with 50-60%, they would put more like 75-80% on because they didn’t like how light the warmup felt. So, sometimes I was simultaneously pushing one player to do more while telling another to back off for this set.
It became a very taxing process, and the hardest part was probably remaining patient and forcing myself to not tell them what weight to put on. We did not arrive at a place of complete understanding, and I wouldn’t expect them to in 15 weeks, but by the end of the season we had a much better feel for our own bodies and how much resistance is right than when we began.
We spend so much time planning and studying and trying to create a plan that will allow our players to feel their best when we want, hit their new max when it benefits us, etc. We know it will probably not work out the way we want it to. There’s too many variables in the way during the season. Ultimately, we just want to keep our players healthy, help them get better at their sport, and peak at the right time (that’s what I want at least).
Instead, with this framework the pressure on me to make sure our bodies were exactly where I wanted every day was removed, and I was focused on making sure we were the best we could be at that moment. In essence, I had to surrender to the things outside of my control and allow myself and my athletes work on their terms. At times this is frustrating for sure, and I had plenty of moments questioning what I was doing. However, when a player comes in on a random Tuesday mid-season and starts crushing weights they’ve never touched before, the value of this program demonstrates itself.
Just about every player had a moment like this, and most of them walked in the room knowing it was coming. When your body feels great and is ready to get better, why would I limit you to a certain percentage? Conversely, if you’re fried and barely making it through the day, why would I put you at risk because it’s “max day”. The value of this program lies in its versatility. Done properly, this program is what each individual needs every day.
I’m not saying I did it perfectly. I’m not saying it was perfect for every guy every day. I missed on a lot of things. Overall however, my players and I both saw very concrete improvement and most of it was done on their terms.
How I Feel
It’s uncomfortable. It’s an uncomfortable way to approach things. The athletes are confused at first about how to dictate their own training intensity. I’m uncomfortable presenting that I did this without being able to point to a specific periodization scheme or volume/intensity chart and explain the exact science behind the program. It’s not that cut and dry. Instead, this program was an evolution of many that came before it aiming to improve the quality of training we can get in a long and sometimes painful college basketball season.
I know what I would like to improve upon, but hopefully this can continue the conversation about micro-dosing and how to utilize it most effectively. Anybody with questions please don’t hesitate to reach out. I would love to talk about it.
WHO IS SEAN BROWN?
Sean Brown is in his first year as Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Rice Men’s Basketball team. He comes to Rice from The University of Texas at Austin, where he spent the last two years working directly with Men’s Basketball.
In his current role, Brown is responsible for all year-round strength & conditioning aspects of the Men’s Basketball and Men’s Golf programs at Rice.
Prior to Rice, in 2016-17 he served as an Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach at The University of Texas at Austin, working directly with Men’s Basketball under the guidance of Director of Basketball Performance, Daniel Roose. Brown was hired into that role after serving as a Men’s Basketball Strength & Conditioning Intern during the 2015-16 season.
He also has held volunteer/internship positions with Southwestern University where he worked with football, volleyball, basketball, swim & dive and soccer, as well as University of Texas Athletic Performance.
Brown is a Strength & Conditioning Coach Certified through the Collegiate Strength & Conditioning Coaches Association, as well as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength & Conditioning Association. He earned his B.A. in English from The University of Mary Washington in 2009, and an M.Ed. in Kinesiology – Sport Sciences & Nutrition from The University of Texas at Austin in 2016.
A native of Fairfax, VA, Brown lives in Houston with his wife, Kate.
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