It's amazing what you can do with the right right kind of training. When I was first approached to train Ovidijus Galdikas and Eigirdas Žukauskas, two Lithuanian-born professional basketball players, I jumped at the opportunity. Two summers prior I had the opportunity to work with them as well. But this past summer, I felt much more equipped. The first thing I did when they got here was put them through a structural balance test to determine which muscles were strong and which muscles were weak. I also checked mobility/range of motion issues.
Even though they both play basketball, they are both completely different players at two completely different positions (one is a center and one is a guard). Because of this, I knew I their training needed to be more specific than just “training for a basketball player”. I also knew that they each just finished a season of basketball and were needing specific, individualized structural balance training (based off of our structural balance testing) as well as learn some new lifts and movements. My style of training is far different than what they are used to back home.
Preston Greene is on a very short list of PICP level 5 trainers in the world. He currently is the strength & conditioning coach for the University of Florida basketball team. One thing I learned from his work is that many of these tall (and very tall!) athletes have very weak cervical spine extensors and upper back muscles because they're constantly looking down at people and stretching those muscles. So for Ovidijus, who stands 7'2" tall, I used a lot of face pulls, wall leans and other simple, corrective exercises to strengthen his upper back and neck.
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When we started out the majority of the lifts were unilateral and using dumbbells instead of barbells. There are many benefits to this but one of my main reasons was to help figure out if they had strength imbalances from their left side to right in both their legs and arms.
*Note: If I take the same athlete and clone him and one of those athletes is structurally balanced and the other is not, the structurally balanced athlete will beat the non-structural balanced athlete every time.
It’s imperative at the beginning of a training program to correct asymmetries and imbalances before you get to the big, bilateral exercises like squats, deadlifts, barbell overhead presses and other lifts.
Other ways I helped balance out their bodies was with farmers carries and fat grips. Weighted farmers carries are known to help balance out side-to-side imbalances. Using fat-gripped implements is also a very effective tool in the process of correcting imbalances. I trained the weak side with more reps than the strong side, if needed, to help offset a weakness. i.e. For the “external rotation elbow on knee” exercise Eigirdas was stronger on his left side. Because of this imbalance, I had him perform the set starting with his left side, then go to the stronger, right side, then perform more reps (amount varied) on his left side. That left, right, left sequence would constitute one set.
In addition to their workouts, I made a total overhaul to their nutrition as well. At 7’2” (218cm) and only 238lbs (108kg) Ovidijus was really needing to put on some lean muscle mass. I made some calculations and laid out my nutrition plan for them. They stuck to the numbers and within a month Ovi had gained 7kg of lean muscle mass! We are very fortunate here in Southern California to have some healthy, organic options in bulk at Costco. These guys needed to eat a ton! Regarding supplementation I kept it simple. I made sure they had the basics: vitamin D, omega-3, zinc and magnesium as well as creatine - still the king for hypertrophy - and occasionally some melatonin to help them sleep. Without sleep, growth is extremely difficult!
As the weeks went by I progressed the guys’ exercises and changed up their lower body workouts to include much more athletically-based movements. We added in some banded deadlifts, jump squats, Romanian rhythm squats as well as other ways to trigger the nervous system and stimulate muscle fibers which would help improve their acceleration and speed. Because they still needed to add size for the upper body, especially with Ovidijus, I kept much of their upper body days hypertrophy based.
At the end of their training their split looked like this: Monday - posterior chain/acceleration day, Tuesday - upper body pushes, Wednesday - rest/on-court drills, Thursday - quad dominant, Friday - upper body pulls, Saturday - Rest/on-court drills, Sunday - Rest. On some days, when we had court time, the guys would get some shots up after their workouts.
By the end of their training I also had made some appropriate individual changes to their training - specific to their basketball positions. Eigirdas had bulked up to 240lbs and looked like a fitness model whereas Ovidijus still needed some upper-body / shoulder strength and size to help him bang in the paint with other centers. I had Eigirdas doing exercises to help improve his lateral quickness as well as first step off the dribble.
When it was all said and done Ovidijus had put on 18 lbs of muscle in just 7 1/2 weeks with his body fat lower than when he started. Eigirdas had put on 15 lbs of muscle. As great as that is, what’s even better is that during our on-court basketball drills and workouts they both attested to feeling an increase in their vertical jumping ability and quickness - even with the added size. That’s the real test of great training: making sure it transfers directly to the specific sport and specific position of the athlete. I was really proud of the guys' hard work, attention to nutrition, as well as making sure they got their sleep! Without proper rest & sleep recovery is severely diminished and will limit many of the gains you could potentially see from your training.
* I work with athletes of all ages and sports. For results like you read here please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text Phil at 949-933-3680.