Articles & Resources

Recovery for Basketball by Devan McConnell

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Sep 27, 2010 6:08:00 PM

by Devan McConnell

Recovery and regeneration are hot topics in the field of Sports Performance. In my experience, much of the information about regeneration is anecdotal, and that which is not is often highly debated. At Stanford, I try to implement a multitude of different recovery strategies. Some may work better than others, and I am always learning and honing my protocols, however in my mind it’s better to be doing something directed at recovery and regeneration than doing nothing at all. Here are a few of the tools and protocols I will use with my athletes throughout the year.

1. Hydrotherapy- This can take several different forms, and as I said before, much of the research and recommendations on hydrotherapy is conflicting, but what seems to be constant is that some sort of hydrotherapy is beneficial, and the faster you get your athletes in the water, the greater the benefit. We will implement cold tub baths, hot tubs, contrast baths, contrast showers, and hydro-massage, where we can use pressurized water within a tub to apply direct massage. From time to time we will also perform pool workouts. It is important to note if the athlete is finished training or competing for the day, as this will influence which protocol we will use, and whether we finish hot or cold.

2. Stretching- Maybe one of the simplest and most often used protocol is just good old-fashioned post practice/workout static stretching. Not only  can we restore some length to overworked tissues, but we can also trigger the parasympathetic nervous system to begin bringing down heightened physiological markers and start relaxation. We will also employ other stretching techniques, such as Active Isolated Stretching, Partner Stretches, Fascial Meridian Stretches, etc.

3. Self Myofascial Release- This would consist of the use of foam rollers, massage sticks, various balls of different size and density, as well as other soft tissue tools. The purpose post exercise is to decrease the tone of soft tissue, release trigger points, activate the parasympathetic nervous system, and begin the process of returning the body back to baseline.

4. Lower Body Elevation and Breath Work- These are two very simple ways to begin the recovery process, which we will usually pair together. We simply have the athletes lay out on the turf along with their feet elevated up against a wall. At the same time, they are instructed to put one hand on their stomach, and the other on their chest. For about 5 minutes we will just focus on deep belly breathing, attempting not to let the chest rise and fall with each breath. This diaphragmatic breathing pattern facilitates relaxation, quickly brings heart rates down, and helps with venous return.

5. Cobblestone Mat Walks- We set up several cobblestone mats and the players walk back and forth barefoot for a few minutes. Eastern Medicine has long preached about the benefits of cobblestone walking, as the bottom of the feet are said to have a sort of “road map” to the rest of the body, where specific acupressure points can influence heart rate, blood pressure, relaxation, etc. Even if you do not believe this, after a tough training session, practice or game, it just feels good on the feet. Happy feet make a happy player!

6. Post Workout Nutrition- Nothing fancy here, just a carb/protein drink immediately post exercise to facilitate recovery via muscle protein synthesis, glycogen repletion, and hydration.

7. Yoga- We have a yoga instructor on staff that we can set up sessions with. From time to time we will utilize yoga for its relaxation and regenerative properties.

8. Flush Rides- Flush rides on the bikes post game can help bring down heart rates and work out some of the “tightness” the players often report feeling. 10-15 minutes of low level riding also allows players to “debrief” and relax with each other.

9. Mobility/Dynamic Cooldown- Mobility of the ankle, hip, and thoracic spine is always important, and by having a brief mobility circuit set up where the players perform one or two drills for each area serves the double purpose of adding in mobility work and slowly bringing athletes back down from a heightened sensory level after a strenuous session or game. Similar to the secondary effect of flush rides, the psychological benefit of “debriefing” together post game is an added bonus.

All in all, we have many tools available to help aid in recovery and regeneration of our student athletes. Some are well documented, while others are a bit outside the box. I believe what is most important when it comes to recovery practices are to make sure you are always doing something. Consistency in my mind is perhaps the biggest factor of whether or not a benefit will be seen in performance from utilizing recovery methods. Another important factor is to not get stuck using just 1 or 2 modalities. Like the exercises we prescribe, the body will adapt to recovery methods used over and over, eventually decreasing the effectiveness. Therefore, it is important to use a multitude of different tools in order to continue to see a positive response.

Recovery and Regeneration are a hot topic in Sports Performance these days for a reason. With so much on our athletes plate every day, and the level of competition so close, the ability to recover faster than your opponent could be the difference between winning and losing. If you aren’t spending a few minutes addressing this crucial part of the training and adaptation process, you might not be getting all you could be from your athletes.

Topics: Health & Wellness, Devan McConnell

Single Leg Squat Testing

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Sep 21, 2010 8:03:00 PM

By Devan McConnell 


The problem with single leg training is that it's no fun. I've never come across an athlete who voluntarily wants to spend time performing unsupported single leg squats. Because of this fact, I recently engaged in a conversation with several of my colleagues about including pre-season tests which encourage our athletes to train the most important exercises over our summer programs.

By including a Single Leg Squat Test in the pre-season, most players will be sure to "remember" to hit this exercise while at home. If the players know there will be a specific test, they will train for it. However there was some debate over how to implement the test. Several ideas were thrown around, all having merit. A simple 10 or 20 rep test was one idea. Another variation was to perform "rounds" of 10 per leg. Percentage of BW was another variation. One coach talked of performing a 5RM test.

I think the trickiest part is figuring out exactly what we want out of Single Leg Squatting, and then figuring out exactly how to test for it. I tried a couple of different methods. First I had my females do a simple BW 20 or max rep test, where they basically just went for as many reps as possible on one leg, then the other. If they hit 20, I called the test. The average was 15. With my guys, I felt that this would not be challenging enough, and also I don't think a max rep test accurately looks at the quality I want trained with this exercise; functional strength. I'm not too concerned if my players have a great deal of muscular endurance with the single leg squat, I want them to be extremely strong on one leg.

The variation of the test I implemented with my men's team was a spin off of UMass Strength Coach Chris Boyko's idea of doing "rounds", combined with the idea of progressive resistance. I had my guys set up the box for parallel (between 14-16 inches depending on tibia height). The entire test was done with 5lbs dumbbells. I had them complete 5 reps at "bodyweight" on each leg, then put on a 10lbs vest. Then they did 5 more reps on each leg. If they completed that, they added another 10lbs vest, and continued in this manner until they came to failure. Failure would be falling off the box, fully sitting on the box, an extended rest between reps (subjective by me), or taking more than 20 seconds to add a vest and start the next round.

The high score was 7 vests on both legs, which 3 of my players were able to complete. That's a total of 35 reps per leg, and a finish of 70lbs. I'm not convinced this is exactly the test I want to use in the future, but it certainly gave an idea of several factors, including strength, muscular endurance, asymmetries, and compete level. The downside of course is the need to have multiple vests, length of time to do the test, lack of true "maximum strength", and inability to test more than a few guys at the same time.

Overall as an experiment it gave me a relatively good idea of the single leg strength of my guys, as well as a good indicator of their compete level. Also it gave my guys an idea of what "strong" is on one leg, and a goal to shoot for over the summer. However you view this variation, the important thing is that we continue to train our athletes to be strong on one leg and keep pushing the envelope to find out what that really means.

Topics: Strength Training, Devan McConnell

Devan McConnell

Posted by Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group on Sep 4, 2010 3:31:00 PM

everything basketball


Devan McConnell

How and why did you get into the field of strength and conditioning?

Growing up I was a hockey player. I was always decently talented, but I was fortunate to be instilled with a great work ethic from my parents, who always preached the importance of dedication and hard work. Because of this, and my passion for the game of hockey, I was always trying to better myself.  In high school I was again very fortunate to have access to a strength and conditioning coach and PE teacher by the name of Chris Mattingly, who taught me how to train and was really ahead of his time back then.
I really enjoyed training and quickly saw how it improved my performance on the ice, and ever since I was hooked. I trained throughout my career and really had an interest in not only getting myself better, but helping my teammates improve as well. It was not until I was in college that I realized this hobby and passion that I had was a viable career choice. Up until then I never put two and two together and I was looking to get an education in Physical Therapy, although I knew I wanted to be on the performance side of things, not necessarily the rehab side.
It was at that point that I again found myself in an incredibly lucky situation, as I was invited to be an intern by Michael Boyle. I spent my junior summer learning and coaching and getting more and more passionate about strength and conditioning, and ever since then I have been completely immersed in the field.

Who in the field has influenced or helped you the most?

I have had many people influence me over the years, but by far the biggest influence on my development and career path has been Michael Boyle. I actually met him for the first time when I was 15 at the USA Hockey National Festival, however it was during my time in college when he really took on the role of mentor to me. He invited me to work as an intern at his private facility, MBSC, and ever since he has helped shape my philosophy as a coach. Things like training movements not muscles,  training athletes not sports, the importance of single leg work, and how to “speak coach” are all valuable lessons I’ve learned from Coach Boyle.

What is your philosophy on basketball conditioning?

Basketball is a power, interval sprint based game. The movement patterns and work to rest ratios are very clear when you break down game film. There is absolutely no slow, endurance type action that takes place during a basketball game. Coaches who still believe steady state aerobic work is necessary to the conditioning of a basketball player are simply uninformed, naïve, or just plain stubborn and set in their outdated ways.
When performing conditioning work for the game of basketball, it is crucial to understand the energy system demands of the sport, and build your program around that. Because of this, all the conditioning work I implement with my athletes is interval based. We use different tools and different intensities based on the time of year, injury history, and other various circumstances, but we are always performing our conditioning work in an interval format.
Interval training is not only more specific to the demands of the game of basketball, but it also produces better results than steady state aerobic exercise in less time, with less joint stress, and on a wider spectrum of physiological adaptations than any other method. We can not only develop the anaerobic energy system of a basketball player with interval training, but also the aerobic system. This is not possible in the reverse order. An athlete cannot become more anaerobically trained via endurance work. Most sport coaches do not know this and have a hard time understanding the reasons behind it. 
Not only do I utilize interval training for these reasons, but also to avoid the negative impact that endurance work can have on a power-based athlete. Changes in the physiology of an athlete such as a shift towards slow twitch muscle fiber can occur, which will lead to a decrease in speed and power.  Overuse injuries are also more likely to develop due to the repetitive stress that will occur with long runs.

Should a female basketball player train differently than a male basketball player?

No, a female basketball player should not train any differently than a male player, however in   my opinion it is most male’s who should train like females. The things that are important for a female basketball player to focus on in order to be successful from a training standpoint, both when it comes to injury reduction and performance enhancement are the same variables which will help a male. Explosive power, single leg emphasis, core and lumbar stabilization, interval training. These are all areas of development which will help any athlete, whether they are male or female, or for that matter a basketball or football or hockey or lacrosse player.
Unfortunately, many males still spend the bulk of their training time worrying about one-upping their teammates on the bench press, getting as much arm work in as possible, and wasting their time and potentially setting themselves up for future back problems with spinal flexion based core work. On the other hand, most females, if they train at all, spend their time doing aerobic exercise, performing high rep-low weight “strength” work, and also focusing on spinal flexion based core work. Both groups would benefit from training in a functional manner, that is taking a look at how the body actually operates, and performing exercises which compliment and improve their ability to play the game of basketball.
Generally speaking, males need to leave the ego at the door, and females need to learn how the benefits of proper training will help them be successful, and for both groups that means training the same way- intelligently.

Topics: Devan McConnell, Q&A