Off-Season Training with Elie Hajjar
Getting my body ready for next season has been my primary goal this off-season. All athletes go to the gym and put in the work necessary in order to improve their skills and ability. However, there is no one-fits-all program that athletes can follow blindly because each athlete has a different body and different areas that need to be tuned. My struggle this off-season has been with Elie Hajjar. He works me out 5 times a week 1on1 with each training differing in time, intensity and focus. He is a human movement science and biomechanics specialist with a master’s degree in Athletic Performance and Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization Level. He is also a certified mulligan practitioner for manual therapy. As much as he can, during every workout, he always explains to me what I’m doing and why I am doing it in order for me to fully understand what I am putting my body through. He listens to my instincts and is open to discussion about any feedback I give him back about my body.
The most important part of training is body assessment. It allows the trainer to correctly determine limitations in the body of the athlete and thus properly prepare to tackle areas that need improvement. Assessment allows the trainer to determine areas prone to injury during lifting because off-season workouts are much harder and demanding.
I showed up to training 3 weeks after the last game of the season. The first thing on schedule was In-Body assessment to check my body composition, including skeletal muscle mass, water mass, and fat percentage. Second and more importantly, the Functional Movement Systems (FMS) plus Motor Control Assessment. This test is a complete movement test using a scale of 1-3 of range of motion of various joints including shoulders, knees, hips, ankles. Third, I went into a very detailed biomechanical screening through a 3D kinematic model post FMS. The tests showed that I had a limitation in both ankles and extremely tight hips (both common with basketball players). Knowing information as such is critical to determining how to lift weights because just trying to squat or deadlift more reps with higher weights would result in definite injury. Using this test, my base level was determined and now I could move to the next step.
This routine takes me about half an hour before each workout. I start with rolling my foot on a tennis ball to loosen my plantar fascia. Then I perform a deep foam roll on my calves, hamstrings, IT band, quads, back and shoulders. After that I do sleeping arm stretches for my rotator cuffs, and a T-spine mobility exercise. Then comes the cat and cow stretch to ease my back muscles, sleeping pigeon stretch for my hips, followed by kneeling stretches in multiple planes for my hip flexors, and stretching my hamstrings. Then I do a couple manual range of motion exercises for my ankles. Then I grab a rubber band, and do preventative exercises for both ankles in 4 directions, and for my hip while lying on my side. And now I can move to improving my joints stability. For my hips, I do single-leg bridges while moving the straight leg up and down slowly. For my shoulders, I do kettle bell arm bars. For my ankles, I stand on a balance pad and hold for 30 seconds while trying to close my eyes. For my knees, I stand on a Bosu ball and try to touch the floor with my other foot in 4 directions. After that, I grab a stick and perform hip hinge exercise to improve hip mobility, followed by single leg deadlifts using a kettlebell. Finally, I can start my workout.
This section is the most underrated and overlooked part of training. Doing my correctives allows me to train properly by minimizing risk of injury. Frankly I have ignored this part for most of my career, and I have one of the stiffest bodies for an athlete but doing these every day is crucial. It is the most important point that my trainer stresses me on, and he would not allow me to work out until I actually do them all. Some days, depending on the training, he even adds some other exercises in order to fully activate all my muscles and joints. He also sends me home with homework telling y to do my correctives at home every night and before any basketball training I have; so I went to the store, bought all the equipment necessary and it’s become part of my routine to do these exercises at night.
Training smart is more important than training hard.
My trainer implements my workout plan based on my physical assessment and progresses according to the response he gets from my body. All exercises that we do have different variations according to each limitation every athlete has. When I first started, I had a terrible range of motion in my ankles; thus when doing squats, he would put small plates under my heels in order for my heel not to come off the floor. Tight hips lead to a higher risk of back injury, so back squats were out of the question to start off with. My trainer had me doing front squats instead. This way the forces on my back were coming at an angle through my shoulders down my spine instead of the forces coming straight down on the vertical plane of my spine, allowing me to squat to deeper degrees without pain or risk. This way, I could feel my hips more stable, and perform the exercise correctly. Another major exercise I do is trap-bar deadlifts. Because of my limitations, when I first started my trainer did not have me doing the deadlifts from the ground. Instead, he put plates that raised the bar from the ground a bit that minimized strain on my back. He then gradually decreased the elevation of the plates and now I can normally deadlift from the ground.
Every exercise I do, my trainer is always focused to make sure I maintain control over the weights, all my joints are stable and moving in harmony, and pushes me to my limit, but never more. Workouts usually take me about an hour and a half. This year, my trainer incorporated VBT (Velocity Based Training) that consists of tracking every rep’s velocity and power through a portal dashboard. Through this he could carefully analyze my movement patterns scientifically.
My trainer tweaks my workout based on basketball. All plyometric exercises that I perform are from situations that naturally occur when I play the game. Thus he prepares drills specific to those instances. Weight training has infinite variations; therefore it is necessary to establish your goal in order to correctly plan how to train.
My trainer has worked with multiple basketball teams and he always attends practices and games, so he knows exactly what areas need improvement and what exercises would tackle those obstacles. His main target is to get me physically ready for the wear and tear of the season, to minimize risk of injury as much as possible, and of course, a little bit of ‘sun’s out guns out’ for the summer.