In my last post, I discussed some general guidelines and concerns for formulating injury prevention strategies for Netball players. To sum that post up, Neuromuscular Training Programs with an emphasis on plyometrics and resistance training appear to be most effective in the reduction of knee injuries, particularly of the ACL, when properly designed and adhered to by the athletes. The post concluded with a general outline of how to progress training from and offseason to actual in-season play. I want to delve a little bit deeper on the training methodology and how to effectively use strength and conditioning principals to maximize on court performance. For consistencies sake, these programming tips are going to be geared towards female youth Netballers. However, it is important to note that exercise prescription, load, volume and intensity will vary depending on the individual needs of each athlete; including their training age, biomechanics, injury history, muscular imbalances.

General Concepts

For the purpose of team sport training, no specific exercise or sets of exercises will transfer DIRECTLY to improved performance on the court.

To clarify. All work performed with the weight room with free weights, plyometrics, and odd object training is just general physical preparedness for team sports. The actual team sport practice is what develops sport specific skills. There is no magical set of exercises or modalities that contribute to immediate better play. With that said, the goal of the strength and conditioning aspect of athlete development is to build a physical foundation that allows the athlete to participate in more team sport practice with a decreased risk of injury and improved energy system development to sustain quality sport specific team practice for a longer period of time. The next logical issue, and the starting point for every well-structured training program, is how exactly we figure out what each individual athlete needs to develop in order to have the opportunity to be more successful at game time.

Needs Analysis for Netball

Here are the questions and answers for a complete needs analysis for netball:

  • What are the general tasks and muscles used to perform those tasks in a match?

For netball, explosive movements involving forward, vertical, and lateral jumping are performed frequently throughout the game (1). Also, passing and shooting are integral aspects of the game. Since possession of the ball involves a plant/pivot foot that cannot be moved until the ball changes hands, rotational strength of the core, mobility of the hips, the ability to generate and dissipate toque in the ankles and knees, and the ability to absorb the shock of landing are absolutely paramount.

  • How long is a match?

Four fifteen minute quarters.

  • How much of that time is spent moving and what kind of movement is being performed?

The work to rest ratio is, on average across all positions, typically 1:3 (2). The work being performed includes running, sprinting, shuffling, lunging, passing and receiving, and frequent highly explosive jumping movements. Netball can be classified as a predominantly anaerobic sport where a higher aerobic capacity can contribute to a faster and more efficient rest interval.

  • What are typical injury sites?

Knees and ankles primarily. Mostly from poor landing mechanics, incorrect landing technique, abrupt landing or inefficient eccentric movement control.

Those questions being answered now paints us a picture of the direction training needs to go in. Obviously, qualities such as anaerobic power, absolute muscular strength, explosive power, and core strength are incredibly important for the future development of sport specific skills. From the injury reduction standpoint, focusing on land/jumping mechanics via plyometrics and utilizing eccentric focused movements to improve dynamic joint stability will be key. These qualities should be present for the year round training of netball athletes. The emphasis of training will change throughout the course of the year, but, for long term success, at no point should modalities that work on the above mentioned skills not appear in the training plan.

Organization of Training for Netball

The trick to designing an effective plan that spans the offseason, to the pre-season, to the season, and to the post season is to start with the development of many general skills and slowly transition to the development of only the important sport-like skills. For example, slower speed eccentric focused plyometric work should be used with higher volumes of work early in off season training. The majority of game speed/fast transition explosive plyometric work should occur later in the off season/pre-season at lower volumes. In competition, plyometrics should only be utilized as “refresher” exercises to ensure athletes remember how to jump, land, and change direction correctly.

Single Session Organization

With the high anaerobic demands of the sport, every single training session should begin with some mobility work including targeted foam rolling work, activation work and following that, movement preparation work should be done. What is selected should be dependent upon what is being worked on in that particular training session and the individual needs of the athlete. For example, a heavy lower body/squat/deadlift workout could start off with some targeted glute activation work such as mini-band walks, glute med clams or glute bridging to ensure good activation of the glute muscles prior to commencement of the training session. For an upper body pressing dominant workout, exercises focused on scapular mobility or shoulder stability would be excellent options. Again, it just has to make sense with and aimed to improve the main work of the day. Once movement prep is done, the next component of the session should be plyometrics. Following that, the heaviest lifting for the day should be done. Not only are plyos a great warm up for heavy lifts, doing neurologically demanding (like high speed explosive movements) exercises before heavy lifting can actually improve the quality of that heavy lifting session. All assistance work should follow the main lift, then some directed core work, then stretching and/or light aerobics to help kick start the recovery mechanisms.

With that basic plan for an individual day laid out, I am now going to take you through several weeks of how I would suggest setting up a lower body focused training day and how it should progress from early offseason to post season.

Accumulation Block- Lasts anywhere from 3-8 weeks. Very general training focused improving the most basic foundational qualities of the sport being trained for. This should be very early on in the offseason.

Lower Body Accumulation Session:

  • Warm-up: 5 minutes of leg swings in every direction, 5 minutes of dynamic stretching focusing on hip adduction, abduction, extension, and flexion, 5 minutes foam rolling any problem areas.
  • Movement Prep: 3 sets of 20 seconds of each of the following: planks, hip lifts, and diaphragmatic breath holding
  • Plyometrics: 3×5 of each of the following: kneeling jumps focused on holding the landing position for several seconds, broad jumps with focused eccentric/landing control
  • Main Lift: Squats for 5×5 with 70% of 1 rep max
  • Assistance Lifts: Romanian Deadlifts for 3×10 with 3 count eccentrics, Bulgarian Split Squats with no added weight for 3×10
  • Core: Pallof Presses for 3×30 seconds each way
  • Cool-Down: 4 minutes steady state aerobics at 70% of Max Heart Rate.

This session has a large emphasis on general eccentric control in both landing and in controlling the external load of the Romanian deadlifts. The plyometrics are very general and the core work helps enforce a neutral spine an anti-rotation aspects.

Intensification Block- 3-8 weeks. Training specificity increases and intensity of all session begins to ramp up dramatically. This block should occur midway through the offseason leading up to the pre-season.

Lower Body Intensification Session:

  • Warm-up: 5 minutes of leg over hurdle work, 5 minutes of single leg bounding work, 5 minutes of rolling problem areas with a LAX ball.
  • Movement Prep: Squats facing the wall with a weighted kettlebell for 3×10 with a pause in the bottom position, 2×20 of single leg glute bridges.
  • Plyometrics: 3×5 of kneeling jump immediately transitioning to a broad jump, 3×5 of single response single leg line hops
  • Main lift: Squats for 3×3 with 80% of the athletes 1 rep max
  • Assistance Lifts: 1 Leg Slow Eccentric Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts for 3×10 on each leg, weighted walking lunges for 3×10 on each leg
  • Core: Suitcase Paloff Press 3×10 reps
  • Cool Down: Static stretching and foam rolling

This session has progressed in intensity from the previous block. The main lift is significantly heavier, the plyometric work has progressed in terms of mimicking a more sport-like scenario by adding in change of direction, and the core work now involves a slightly more dynamic component.

Transformation Block- 2-5 weeks. This is geared towards wrapping all of the previously developed skills/qualities together for optimizing the athlete’s performance in sport specific practice. This should take place at the end of the offseason and transition the players into competition/in-season.

Lower Body Transformation Session:

  • Warm-up: 5 minutes of light quick stepping on an elevated platform (like a stair step), 5 minutes of hip airplanes, 5 minutes of bodyweight mini-band squats and bodyweight lunges
  • Movement Prep: 3×10 seconds of heavy front squat holds, 3×15 seconds of heavy pallof presses, 2×20 cook hip lifts.
  • Plyometrics: 3×5 of dropping from a 12inch box, landing, and taking two explosive lateral steps. 3×5 of kneeling jump to box jump of moderate height.
  • Main Lift: Squats for 3×2 reps at 85% of the athletes 1 rep max.
  • Assistance Lifts: Deadlifts from the floor for 3×6 at an RPE of 8. Weighted rear foot elevated split squats for 3×6 on each leg at an RPE of 8
  • Core: Rotational lateral med ball throws 3×10 each way.
  • Cool down: Static stretching and foam rolling

Weight being lifted is at its highest intensity, core work is more game-like than previous blocks, and plyometrics have a higher ground reaction force component than any other week. This block can be considered a “taper” or a “peak” timeframe before the season begins.

In Season Maintenance- The goal here is maintain all of the skills developed in the offseason as well as limit fatigue accumulation

Lower Body In-Season Session:

  • Warm-up: 5 minutes of foam rolling problem areas, 10 minutes dynamic warm up, activation work (specifically targeting the glutes)
  • Movement Prep: 3×20 seconds of glute bridges, 3×30 seconds planks.
  • Plyometric: Box Jumps at moderate heights for 3×5, Kneeling Jumps to vertical jump for 3×5.
  • Main Lift: Barbell Box Squats- to a box that allows the athletes thigh to be parallel with the floor, 3×5 at an 8 RPE.
  • Assistance Lift: Romanian Deadlifts for 3×5.
  • Core: Pallof Press- Hold and twist for 3×15 on each side.
  • Cool Down: 12 minutes static stretching and/or foam rolling problem areas

This session is geared towards recovery and maintenance. The warm up is general and aimed at improving blood flow to the legs. Plyometric work here has much lower impact forces at play than previous weeks in order to help preserve knee joint integrity. The switch to box squats will allow the athletes to work on squatting technique and reap all squat induced benefits, but box squatting is much less stressful. The cool down is also completely aimed at improving/maintaining good movement quality while not interfering with the fatigue accumulated from in season play.

Conclusion

The programming example I have laid out is merely a suggestion to showcase how to progress training and the differences between training blocks. I strongly suggest using the needs analysis skills I explained earlier to figure out your individual needs for your sport if you do not have access to a qualified and educated strength and conditioning coach. If you have any questions about the type of strength and conditioning program you should be following feel free to email me at [email protected]

 

References

[1] Lavipour D. Development of a netball specific dynamic balance assessment. (Published PhD Thesis). AUT University, New Zealand, 2011.

[2] Davidson A and Trewartha G. Understanding the Physiological Demands of Netball: a time-motion investigation. International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport 8: 1-17, 2008