Athletes have used resistance training for over half a century now to improve their sporting performance. From weekend warriorette to professional netball player a well-designed gym based resistance programme will improve your physical attributes and decrease the chance of injury.
With a combination of skills such as running, jumping, throwing and catching, netball places great demands on the body. With these physical demands there are also risks. During the 2014 season netball had the second highest amount of ACC injury claims behind rugby union. The most common injury site was the ankle, followed by the knee. The focus of a good training programme must be to address the physical demands and decrease the rate of injury of any sport.
Resistance training will give the greatest benefit to explosive speed (power) and agility on the netball court. Traditionally the two main techniques used to increase power in the gym are strength training (resistance training) and speed training (plyometrics and Olympic lifts).
Strength training focuses on increasing an athlete’s force production therefore in the equation, power equals forces X distance / the time, and an increase in force = an increase in power. The main drawback with this type of training is increasing force generally means increasing mass. Increasing the mass of an athlete can have a negative affect on agility and fitness around the court. Plyometrics and Olympic lifts will produce some strength improvement although their main focus is to increase the speed of producing force of the nervous system.
The nervous system is very specific, if you training using explosive movements you become more explosive. Nowadays most sport trainers use a combination of the two for optimal results. I believe combining Olympic lifts, traditional strength training and plyometrics in a movement specific programme will give the best power increases for netball.
Agility is affected by factors such as: strength, power, coordination and balance. Although the practice court is the best place to learn the skills needed to play netball the gym can help improve agility. Like all physical attributes if you want to improve agility you must force the body to adapt by placing it in an environment it finds hard to cope with. Equipment such as wobble boards and Swiss balls or using one-legged exercises will increase the demands of the nervous system and produce improvement.
Decreasing injuries must be a priority when designing a resistance programme. An injury to a key-player can mean the end of a championship title chase. Injuries to the knees and ankles are the greatest threat to netballer’s availability. Apart from increasing strength and agility the other key area is to increase the strength and use of the stabilising muscles of the lower leg joints. Stabilising muscles are used to help protect the joints of the body. Creating an unstable environment will force the muscles to work even harder and improve their ability. Although fit, agile players will put themselves at great risk they also need the physical conditioning to cope with the demands of modern netball.
The Exercise Programme
Before commencing this programme seek clearance from a medical practitioner. At least a six-week conditioning programme designed by a qualified instructor should be completed before commencing this programme.
The following programme is an example of an all-over body resistance programme focusing on the specific movement patterns of netball. The key factors are explosive power, balance and strength needed for netball. The programme is best used after completing a conditioning phase to build strength and coordination needed for the following exercises. The programme should be followed for no more than 4 weeks. After completion, seek help from a qualified instructor or personal trainer for a change of programme.
Possible periodisation programme for netball
Phase Weeks Workouts (per week) Reps Load Rest
Conditioning 4 3-4 12-8 Medium 60sec
Strength 4 3 8-6 Heavy 120sec
Specific (Peaking) 4 2-3 15-12 Medium 30sec
The above table is an example of a pre-season periodisation programme. If possible complete 16 weeks before the start of the season. You can also start this cycle any time however be careful not to over-fatigue before games. Once the season commences, try a non-linear training plan described in Issue 8 of Femme Fitness and Lifestyle. I recommend 2 resistance workouts per week, first workout focusing on strength and the second on power.
The following programme should be completed 2-3 times per week (With at least 1 rest day between workouts). Work your resistance training around netball practice and games making sure you have time to recover before games. Core-stability training (abdominals and lower back) should be completed 2-3 days per week. A warm-up of 5-10 minutes cardio should be completed at the start of the workout. A warm-down and full body stretch session should be completed at the end.
Sets Reps Load Tempo Rest
Backward lunge on wobble board 3-4 15-12 3-6kg ball Fast 30sec
Squat jump with medicine ball 3-4 15-12 3-6 kg ball Fast 30sec
Boxed plyometric press up 3-4 15-12 B/weight Fast 30sec
Alternating dumbbell bent over row 3-4 15-12 Med Fast 30sec
Push press 3-4 15-12 Med Fast 30sec
Do not hold your breath, breathe out on exertion. Select a load suitable for the rep range. Although the tempo is fast, maintain technique throughout exercise, once you lose your technique, STOP!
Backward lunge on wobble board with a medicine ball twist
This exercise is great for improving balance and coordination specific to netball. The nature of the exercise helps improve the stability of the ankles and knees, which are areas at risk while playing netball. Start without the wobble board if you have trouble balancing.
Place right foot on wobble board while holding the medicine ball on your chest. Keep back and neck in neutral position and abdominals strong throughout entire lift.
Backwards lunge and side twist
Perform a backwards lunge while twisting the medicine ball to the same side as the fixed leg. Keep feet parallel and hips facing forward throughout the entire movement. Keep eyes on the horizon and the chest up throughout the exercise.
High knee and ball lift
Return to starting position, then using the same leg used in the backwards lunge, lift the knee as high as possible while maintaining a neutral back position. Press the medicine ball above your head at the same time as the knee lift. Finish rep range then swap sides.
Squat jump with medicine ball
This exercise is used to help improve jump height and explosive power. The horizontal medicine ball press is added to create the specific movement pattern found in netball. Practice the exercise first without too much intensity to master the coordination
Feet should be between hip and shoulder width apart, toes forward and slightly outward. Keep elbows high, eyes on the horizon and the chest up. Hold the medicine ball to your chest.
Move with hips first then knees. Squat as if sitting into a chair, keeping the abdominals strong. Stop descent if the heels start to rise or the pelvis tilts backward. Stop when the thighs are parallel to the floor.
Explosively drive through your heels using your glutes and quads. Try for as much height as possible in the jump. At the same time press the medicine ball horizontally from your chest. Keep eyes on the horizon, abdominals strong and the chest up throughout the movement.
Boxed plyometric press up
Plyometric exercises are used to improve power and speed. This exercise focuses on those aspects while demanding a level of coordination seen in a netball pass.
Start with hands on two Nike step boxes (or similar) slightly greater then shoulder width apart. Perform full press-ups or on knees depending on strength.
Keep back and neck in neutral position throughout entire press up. Stop when upper arms are parallel to the floor then return to starting position. In one movement hop down so hands are placed on the floor between the boxes.
Perform a tricep press up while maintaining a neutral back and neck position. Explosively press up into the wide hand placement.
Alternating dumbbell bent over row
Although netball involves pushing movements, you have to train the back. This ensures a balance to the body and less risk of injury.
Start with feet shoulder with apart. Hold the dumbbells with an opposing grip. Bend at the hips while keeping the back and neck in a neutral position. Start with one dumbbell close to your side and the other in the down position.
Down and up phases
While pulling one dumbbell to your side, the opposite dumbbell should be lowered. You can have some rotation through the spine but make sure you maintain a neutral back and neck position. Imagine a rod running down your spine that your torso is rotating around.
The push press comes from the Olympic lifting family of exercises. It is a great exercise for improving explosive power in movements above the head. The weight (load) used for this exercise should be greater then traditional shoulder press because of the addition of more body parts being used in the lift.
Feet should be between hip and shoulder width apart, toes forward and slightly outward. Hold the barbell with a grip slightly to the outside of your shoulders and your elbows under your hands. Keep back and neck in neutral position and abdominals strong throughout entire lift. Start in a quarter squat position. Push the barbell up in an explosive movement using your arms, legs and calves. In this case do not lock your elbows at the top of the movement.
Slowly lower the barbell to the starting position. Do not let gravity lower the barbell control the descent.