Hoops is a game of attrition, a fact that becomes painfully clear every March. The strongest, healthiest, and best-conditioned teams are the last ones standing. So to help you elevate your game, we recruited 16 of the NCAA's top strength and conditioning coaches, whose teams often play long after everyone else has gone home. Use their favorite training tricks and tips to pick up your performance. But the real reward is this: These routines blast fat and build muscle. Who says your best days on the court -- and in front of the mirror -- are behind you?
1. Break Fast
The Team: University of North Carolina
The Expert: Jonas Sahratian, C.S.C.S.
To make sure his players are the first ones down the court on a fast break, Sahratian has his Tar Heels do resisted sprints: One player runs as hard as he possibly can while a partner stands behind him and slows him down using a special harness. (To buy your own, search for "resistance trainers" at PerformBetter.com.) But you can also build a winning physique by trying out Sahratian’s Medball 400 Workout, the same ab-blasting core routine he uses with the Tar Heels basketball team. It's a fat-blasting, six-pack sculpting regimen that requires only an 8-pound medicine ball.
2. Crash the Boards
The Team: University of Kentucky
The Expert: Mike Malone, C.S.C.S.
The Wildcats dominate the boards because of the band overhead squat, a warm-up move that adds spring to their steps. Grab a half-inch-wide resistance band, with your hands shoulder-width apart. Stand on the band and spread your feet slightly beyond shoulder width. Press the band overhead and hold it there with your arms straight; this is the starting position. Push your hips back and squat until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. (Keep your torso upright and your back naturally arched.) Explosively spring back to the starting position. Do 2 or 3 sets of 6 to 10 reps before any game or workout.
3. Grab and Go
The Team: Syracuse University
The Expert: Ryan Cabiles, C.S.C.S.
Great basketball requires relentless movement -- setting rock-solid screens, boxing out for a big rebound, and playing dogged defense. Cabiles puts his Orange to the test with a drill called around the world: Set an empty container under the hoop. Distribute five cones evenly along the three-point line, or about 20 feet from the container, and place a tennis ball on each cone. Starting at the container, sprint to the ball farthest to your right, grab it, sprint back, and drop it into the receptacle. Spin around, retrieve the next ball, and sprint back. Repeat until you've retrieved all five. Do this drill 8 to 10 times, alternating your starting direction. Rest 30 to 45 seconds between drills. (Another use for that empty container: You might want it as a garbage can for the 15 Grossest Foods You’re Eating.)
4. Stretch Your Boundaries
The Team: Baylor University
The Expert: Charlie Melton, C.S.C.S.
Basketball is a game of length, and the farther you can extend your limbs in every direction without hurting yourself, the more distance you can cover. The Bears boost their range of motion with the spiderman crawl, a lower-body drill that builds mobility. Assume a push-up position. Now take a big step forward with your right foot and place it outside your right hand. Pause for a few seconds, and then lower your head and chest for a deeper stretch in your thigh muscles. Walk your hands out until you're once again in a pushup position, and step forward with your left leg. Do 8 to 10 reps on each side.
5. Achieve Liftoff
The Team: University of Kansas
The Expert: Andrea Hudy, C.S.C.S.
True power comes from quick, strong movements -- similar to what happens when you jump to block a shot or box out for a big rebound. That's why explosive lifts, such as the dumbbell single-arm snatch, are a staple of the Jayhawks' workouts. In a hip-width stance, grab a dumbbell in your left hand and hold it, using an overhand grip, at arm's length in front of your hips. Then bend at your hips and knees until the weight hangs just above your knees. Now jump, shrug your left shoulder, pull the dumbbell up, and catch it overhead with your arm straight. Do 4 sets of 3 reps with each arm. (For more awesome moves like this, check out The Men’s Health Big Book of Exercises and The Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises.)
6. Drive Hard
The Team: University of Connecticut
The Expert: Chris West, C.S.C.S.
West makes sure his Huskies are as solid as Mack trucks when driving to the basket by training them with the kneeling cable core press, a move that strengthens and stabilizes every muscle from hips to core to shoulders. To do it, attach a D handle to a hip-level pulley on a cable machine, and kneel with your right side next to the weight stack. Hold the handle against your chest. Press your arms straight out, hold for 10 seconds, and return the handle to your chest. Do this 10 times, and then turn around so your left side is next to the weight stack. Repeat the movement. That's 1 set. Do 1 more. Want a complete training plan? Then check out West’s Super-Athlete Workout. It’s based on the winning workout formula that helped the Huskies win the 2011 NCAA hoops crown.
7. Branch Out
The Team: Vanderbilt, University
The Expert: Curtis Turner, C.S.C.S.
The Commodores prepare to handle the unexpected with a drill called maps. Players are given a map of the campus with various highlighted locations, each of which features a fitness challenge. Create your own map drill at a local park. Give yourself five challenges -- squats, pullups, squat thrusts, pushups, and agility drills, say -- and space them about 100 yards apart. Pick a number of repetitions for each that's difficult yet attainable. Go through the stations as quickly as you can two or three times. Do this once a week. Want even more March Madness-inspired training tips? Find out if your team makes The Sweet 16 of Fitness.
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