In the off season, while maintaining foot quickness and agility, strength and conditioning coach Tory Stephens also aims to increase the players' strength. Strength is the key to power, Stephens explained when he recently took time to talk about conditioning programs for the Lady Raiders. He also works with Tech's football, soccer, softball and baseball programs.
Power lets a post player skim a rebound off the rim or a guard pop up for a clear jump shot at the elbow in heavy traffic. Strength develops the power that propels a vertical jump, a critical element in such performances.
A question Stephens often hears, he said, is how to increase a vertical jump.
"To increase your vertical jump, number one, you've got to get stronger first," he said. "Strength is an equation in your power output. If you don't have the strength part of it you'll never be able to produce the power to get up. A vertical jump is a true test of power."
"As a prime example, Chesley Dabbs and Darrice Griffin have our two highest vertical jumps. They're close to 30 inches. For a girl that's phenomenal," Stephens said. "You don't see that very often. You can tell in the weight room, they're the most powerful in their explosive lifts, too. You can tell it's not just a coincidence that they're jumping 30 inches. They're producing in the weight room, too, and it all shows."
"(Dabbs') strength has improved dramatically, and her vertical jump – she's always been pretty powerful in her legs. She started off at, I think, 24 and a half inches when she got here. She's up close to 30 now. When you're looking at five, five and a half inches' vertical jump, that's a big increase."
Dabbs has the greatest lower-body strength on the team, a strength Stephens credits for her leaping ability. "You can tell by the way she shoots her jump shot. She elevates, every time, and the more explosive she gets," he said, "she's up and over the defenders, and then gets a clear shot off."
"It's the same thing as grabbing rebounds, but she's just one example," he noted. "Everybody on the team, we obviously want to get ‘em more powerful."
Jumping is only part of the rebound process. A player must reach the ball, grasp the ball – and hang onto the ball. To help with those skills the Lady Raiders use a jump strap device attached to a practice ball, he said, and a series of exercises. Each exercise requires 10 successful repetitions at a given length of the strap, and then the player takes a step back, increasing the difficulty.
"The ball's attached to the band and it's fully extended," he said. "As you take a step back the band gets tighter. They have to make 10 catches in a row, and then take a step back. We do that high, and low, and at chest-height. It increases your reflexes, but it also increases your grip strength on the ball, too."
The free weights with which the team works also serve to increase grip strength, Stephens said. "The work we do, just holding the weights in all these exercises increases your grip strength."
In addition to free weight exercises, the team does explosive Olympic lifts and strength lifts. These are the same for post players as guards, Stephens said. The same is true of the rebounding exercise. But other parts of the conditioning program are more tailored to the individual.
Looking ahead: In Part III, Coach Stephens talks about coordinating rehabilitative and conditioning programs to benefit student-athletes.