Targeted Fitness | How to get your body game ready with Lee Sherlock

It goes without saying that targeted physical fitness is one of the core aspects of being a good basketball player. Amongst mental preparation, rest, sleep and many other core needs of the human body, physical fitness for the player is the baseline for being prepared for anything that can happen in a game. Even in the top leagues a lack of physical fitness, whether it is through lack of preparation or a flu, can be the make or break of a game.
Just think to that moment in ‘The Last Dance’ where the great Michael Jordan felt like he wasn’t game ready after his stint at playing baseball for a year. His body had adapted to a different sport and this brought a few initial challenges to the game of basketball after his infamous return and legendary come back. So if there is a particular approach to training for a strong basketball body, what are the core strength and conditioning rules for you?
Here our strength and conditioning coach Lee Sherlock talk to us about his approach to making you game ready. Clue: it’s not just in the body!
How is training someone for basketball different from other sports- what is unique to a basketball body?

Regardless of what sport it is that you’re training for, all athletes will train all the different components of physical fitness- Strength, power, aerobic endurance, anaerobic endurance. I could go on and on. However, depending on your sport (even further again, playing position), you may have to top in more to certain elements of fitness. For example, a marathon runner will spend the majority of his time training to increase his aerobic endurance, to give him the ability to run for miles upon miles, whereas a front row in rugby will spend a lot more time developing a high level of lower body strength to be strong in a tackle and a scrum. 

Now, when we look at a basketball player, they have to be able to jump high, and run fast over a short distance. This means they should focus mainly on building power, explosiveness, and anaerobic endurance (sprinting). The majority of basketball players are not big and bulky like a rugby player, or a bodybuilder.

How many ‘Mr.Olympias’ do you see in the NBA? They may seem slimmer in stature, but they are still strong and explosive with the muscle mass that they have available.

In my lifetime, I have seen skinnier guys who are just as strong (sometimes stronger!) than guys with big arms or big legs. It is still very important to vary your training, meaning you should still look to lift heavy and work on your strength, play around with the amount of sets and repetitions. In general however, focus on being able to move the barbell, dumbell, kettlebell, as fast and as explosively as possible. 

Most common injuries and how to avoid them

According to the research available, the two most common injuries seen in basketball players are ankle sprains and overuse knee injuries, such as patellar tendinopathy. This differs quite a lot to field sport athletes, such as Gaelic football players, where muscle injuries like hamstring and calf strains, are by far the most common. From my own experience, I have seen quite a few calf strains in basketball too, including one I suffered myself, but I would probably see overuse issues with the Achilles tendon being more of an issue. 

Injury prevention is an absolutely massive part of my job, and it’s something I find so fascinating. The use of the term “prevention” has been debated quite a lot, because unfortunately injuries cannot, and will never be 100% preventable. Accidents often happen, and injuries are simply part of the game… but there certainly are ways of reducing your risk of suffering from injury. 

  • Manage your training load. Slowly ease yourself back into training if you take an extended period off. The majority of injuries occur (overuse injuries in particular) from doing TOO MUCH, TOO SOON, or training far more than you usually would over a short period of time.
  • Keep your knees and ankles strong. You cannot technically strengthen a joint or the ligaments around it, but what you CAN do is strengthen all of the muscles that surround, and support the joint. E.g. Strengthening the muscles of the foot and ankle to absorb the shock as you land, limiting the chances of rolling your ankle.
  • Prepare your body. If a basketball match contains a massive amount of jumping, landing, and sprinting, well then train your body to do those things! Incorporating these into your training will make your body far more robust and ready to tackle the demands of the game, and in turn limiting your risk of injury. 

What’s your role as strength and conditioning coach at EJ Sligo All Stars?

With my role as S&C coach, there are a number of responsibilities I have while working with the team. In season, my main goal is to keep the team as injury free as possible, as well as trying to maintain strength levels that the guys built up over the off-season.

Obviously I could go into a lot more detail about the gym work, but that is it in a nutshell. The injury prevention aspect is obviously massive for me due to my background in athletic therapy. If I can do my best to prevent as many injuries as possible, it means less injuries for me to treat. Prevention is the best cure as they say! This is done in a number of ways. Firstly, this began in the pre/off-seasons, where I incorporated specific exercises into players’ gym programmes, to make them as robust as possible for the upcoming season, as well as trying to build on aspects of strength and explosiveness. Secondly, by keeping in constant contact with coaches Shane and Glen, to communicate that there may be too high of a training load over the course of a week or two, which may lead to some guys picking up some overuse injuries.

Finally, I have the guys go through a basketball specific injury prevention warm-up before every training and game. This gets the body primed and ready for what to expect while playing.

How did you discover basketball?

It was actually a friend of mine from primary school who got me started playing basketball. He started training with the All-Stars in sixth class, and asked me would I come along. Truth be told, I hated every second of training, and dreaded training every Wednesday.

One of my earliest memories was getting frustrated when losing the ball during dribbling drills, and a much younger Glen Monaghan telling me: “Rome wasn’t built in a day, son”.

I used to beg my parents not to make me go! But now that I’m older I could never be more thankful for being introduced to the game. The game of basketball has provided me with lifelong friends, some amazing contacts, and some of the best memories I’ll ever make. It gave me the opportunity to play in Ireland, the UK, the US, and Spain, and successes in Club All-Irelands, School All-Irelands, and multiple tournaments around the country. Unfortunately, knee injuries have brought my playing time to a halt for now, but the fact I can still be involved with this club, players, and coaching staff, is something I am extremely thankful for.

What about training during the off season? 

In terms of the off-season, the main aims would be to really increase strength across the board, and also to increase size and muscle mass in some of the younger guys who may need it. Sometimes it all depends on an individual player’s goals.

If one of the guys tells me he wants to increase his jump height, then that will be the main focus of their off-season, likewise if someone tells me they feel too small and weak when trying to get to the basket, the goal will then be to increase full body strength and size.

Typically then as we get closer to the season, gym days would taper off slightly, and the goal then shifts to sprint/speed work on the court, and increasing fitness levels to make sure players can perform at their best on the court, for as long as possible, without tiring out too much. Finally, I’d include some type of performance testing in the pre-season, such as aerobic fitness and jump height testing, to see how much of an impact the off-season training had, or possibly catch out the ones who may have taken too long of a holiday.

Tell us a little about yourself, your background and your approach to your work

So for my undergraduate degree, I did a BSc. in Athletic Therapy and Training in DCU. This allowed me to become an expert in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of musculoskeletal injuries. This January, I also hope to start a MSc. in Sports Performance in UL, to continue learning more and more. I currently work as Strength and Conditioning (S&C) coach for Sligo All-Stars Senior Men’s, Head Athletic Therapist and S&C coach for Sligo Senior and U20 Hurlers, S&C coach of the Sligo U16 development squad, and offer Sports Performance coaching in ROM gym.

I will always describe myself to people primarily as an Athletic Therapist, and have worked mainly with teams in Sligo and further afield in this role. But great thing about that course in DCU is that it offered modules on elements of sports science and training methods, such as Sport and Exercise Physiology, Sport and Exercise Biomechanics, and Conditioning Science, to name but a few. I also spent time learning outside of college, doing small weekend or refresher courses, as I have always had a love, and interest in training.

The combination of all of those elements has given me the tools to be able to use what I have learned to help athletes reach their full potential, to perform at the highest level of their sport. 

Being able to rehabilitate an injured athlete back to full health, and return to their previous level of performance will always be a massively rewarding feeling, but I also have that same feeling when I see one of my athletes hit a personal best in the weight room or in performance testing! I count myself very lucky that I can work with teams as an Athletic Therapist, and/or S&C coach.

Follow Lee on instagram for some super raining videos and tips to avoid injury and how to train→ @ls_athletic_therapy.

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