Phillips shows athletes how to “step up” their games in the weight room.

Brad G. Faye/Suns.com

Last year, I wrote how you can train like Steve Nash. This year, I tried to become Steve Nash…

I always believed that if you really want to know or do something, you need to do it yourself. So when people ask me how NBA players work out during the offseason, I figured I needed to experience it personally.

As a former basketball player in college as well as overseas, I’ve had several strength and conditioning coaches in my career, but I’ve never had the privilege of being guided by anyone as talented as the gurus on the Suns’ training staff. Their methods are simple, but drawn off a thorough and intricate underlying philosophy. They treat every athlete individually, tailoring every workout to their specific bodies and goals.

But when I underwent my workout with head strength and conditioning coach Erik Phillips, I performed the same workout that every new Suns player undergoes when they arrive in Phoenix. From that workout, my medical history, my goals and the length of my offseason, Erik would then prescribe me an individual workout, that over time, would consist of three phases:

1. Stabilization
2. Strength development
3. Power enhancement

1. Stabilization

Depending on the athlete, each phase can last a different amount of time. If an athlete enters the offseason battered, injured or imbalanced muscularly, the stabilization phase can take longer than someone beginning training with a balanced body. In addition, most of the Suns that log heavy minutes during the course of the season stay within this phase as they train throughout the season.

If the training staff doesn’t have enough time with a player, the player may never move out of the stabilization phase and into a more advanced phase. That is why I performed my workout in this phase.

Many people believe basketball players shouldn’t lift weights during the season, but all of the Suns perform weight training all-year long, even on game days. In order to keep their muscles strong, prevent injury and build them back up from being from broken down, the players need to maintain their strength by lifting weights. Now that doesn’t mean that they lift heavy weights with low repetitions or that they lift like the wanna-be bodybuilders you’ll see at your local gym.

In fact, a great deal of the exercises that the players perform in the weight room don’t use anything other than body weight or a band for resistance. But speaking from experience, you will be tired and sore once you’ve finished.

2. Strength Phase

After a player has completed the stabilization phase of strength training, which could take anywhere between a couple weeks to just over a month, the athlete moves forward and into the strength phase. In the stabilization phase, you not only work your main primary muscles, but also the stabilizing muscles, which allows you to make faster strength gains in the strength phase.

Besides the fact that the stabilization phase creates a solid foundation to make gains from, it also allows for the proper muscle balance to develop throughout your body. How many guys do you see at a local gym doing the same upper-body exercises day after day to build a huge upper body while having toothpicks for legs? Not only does that kind of lifting create a greater risk of injury, but it also doesn’t allow the body (the upper-body included) to grow as fast as if they worked out their entire body.

So as an athlete progresses into the strength phase, they lower the reps from 15-20 to 10-12 and increase the amount weight lifted. In addition, you would begin to use less exercises with just your body weight and move to exercises where you only use free weights.

Lastly, this is the phase where plyometric training starts to become more of a factor. For those of you who don’t know what that means, it is the type of exercise using explosive movements to develop muscular power. These drills are usually time-oriented and consist of bounding, sliding, and jumping. An example of this kind of drill would be jumping on and off boxes.

3. Power Phase

The final phase of preparation for the season occurs in the power phase. This is the phase where players really grow from one season to the next. When players come back bigger, stronger and faster, it is because they have been able to spend a good amount of time in this phase. The repetitions in this phase can range from 4-8 reps, using a heavy amount of weight.

The key for any explosive athlete is to add as much lean muscle that your body can handle, but without taxing your frame over the course of the season. In order to deal with the rigors of playing 48 minutes of offense and defense in the NBA, a player has to learn to possess the right weight and body type for his position. Even if a player is all muscle, he might not be as effective carrying extra muscle on his frame as he chases opposing players around screens or if he has losses in flexibility.

That’s why it is important to go through the stabilization and strength phases as well as play and stretch after your workout so you can build muscle, but without losing flexibility. After the Suns players work out, which can be between an hour and an hour and a half, they perform basketball drills for an hour to an hour and a half afterwards. One of the objectives is to work the athlete hard enough on both the court and in the weight room so that the athlete is fatigued, but not to the point where he is hurting too much to play the next day. Soreness and tightness are good, but pain means that you’ve pushed it too far.

In this phase, a lot of supersets are performed. For example, if I was working on my chest, I would bounce an 8-pound medicine ball off of a wall by throwing it quickly off of my chest 20 times before moving to the bench to do eight reps on the bench. Then I would jump over to a series of other different body parts before moving back to my next superset on the chest.

Hybrid Phase

There is a phase included in the video that is not traditionally one that you would use during offseason training: the hybrid phase. The hybrid phase is a phase that takes elements of the stabilization, strength and power phases and melds them together to form the type of workout players do in the month leading up to training camp. It allows the players to increase their endurance as well as hit the fast-twitch muscle fibers needed for power and explosiveness.

The Suns training staff has a system that has rejuvenated the likes of Shaq, STAT, Grant Hill and Nash. I don’t know if there’s hope for this guy though.
Brad G. Faye/Suns.com

How to Train
The Suns’ training staff believes in training that incorporates exercises that work your entire body. Although they may break up workouts by focusing on the upper body one day and the lower body the next day, other parts of the body are incorporated daily. For example, if you’re working out your chest and back one day, you still would have some legs exercises thrown in there to coincide with core training.

One of the major focuses of Phoenix’s training staff is to make sure the athlete has a strong core. Possessing stable abs and lower back allows the athlete to make quicker gains with the rest of his body parts as well as prevent injury. Therefore, when you do a full-body exercise, an exercise on the stability ball or on one leg, you will be targeting your core as well as another major muscle group. Almost all of the exercises the Suns perform incorporate the core into their workout.

Another important factor in how you work out is the tempo of your reps. It should take you about four seconds to lower the weight, two seconds to lift it back up while holding the weight for two seconds at the peak of your lift. It is vital that you control the weight and keep that tempo consistent, because that is how you build your stabilizing strength.

The speed of the workout is also imperative. If a player is performing a full-body workout, he will usually rotate between four to seven exercises that hit different body parts. Let’s say that you go: dumbbell bench, standing row, shoulder press, pull-ups, step-ups to bicep curls and finish with leg presses. You would go from one exercise to the next with no rest, but at the end of all of those exercises you would rest for about a minute to a minute and a half. You want to be breathing heavily throughout the workout, so you are getting cardio into your workout too.

So here is an example of a typical Suns workout:
Warm Up
Cardio for 5-10 minutes (run on treadmill until you start sweating)
Light stretching
Core & Balance
Plyometrics
Weightlifting

Rest for a minute and then repeat the round of exercises one or two more times (depending on how tired you are and how much of an expert you’ve become). Then follow all of that by going to the gym and doing basketball drills for an hour to an hour and a half and that’s when you know that you’re working out like a Sun.

Erik recommended that you do the workout three times a week to start and then progress from there. If you are playing or working on your game the other days, than you are doing more than enough to improve yourself during the offseason.

Notes: It should be noted that this workout can be done by men as well as women. If you feel pain or loss of strength due to extreme soreness, then you should refrain from working out further. If you feel like the weight will collapse on you or that you are too fatigued to work out, take the day off. But if it is just soreness, continue to work through it.

For all of the women that are reading this, feel free to use this workout, as well. Women always are scared of getting too bulky or big from lifting like a man, but don’t worry, our training staff assures you that you won’t look like a linebacker if you follow this workout.

But most of all, remember, your skills are what separate you from other players on the court. Take whatever your physical and psychological advantages are utilize them on the court. Know that Steve Nash can’t bench more than most guys in his position or out-dunk many of them, but he’s a two-time MVP because of his mind, hand-eye coordination and endurance.

**For further information and a video guide of how to perform the Suns’ workout, click here.

**If you’d like to print out the complete Suns offseason workout, click here.

******BE ADVISED!!! These exercises should not be performed unless under the supervision of a certified strength and conditioning trainer. Many of these exercises could result in injury if performed incorrectly!! *******

Any questions or comments for Suns.com’s Stefan Swiat? Click here to send him your comments by e-mail.

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