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Faster, Stronger, Better India: Zak Penwell’s book hopes to improve Indian basketball players

It has been a 121 years since the day that a physical education coach by the name of Dr. James Naismith wrote the rulebook of a new game called ‘ Basketball’ at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts, USA. This game became popular after that, and before his death in 1939, Naismith saw the game of basketball form its own world body and become an Olympic sport. A century after he first invented those rules, a certain Michael Jordan won his first NBA championship and found himself in the middle of the revolution that made basketball one of the most popular sports on the planet.

But no matter how famous the game got, however many Jordans, Wilts, Magics, Shaqs, and LeBrons it spawned, the root behind this game’s international growth was a physical education teacher.

Now, as the country of India attempts to become the next big market to accept basketball, it’s another physical fitness specialist who hopes to be amongst the roots of this tree. A year and a half ago, the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) hired the American Zak Penwell, the first ever Strength and Conditioning Coach for the national basketball system. After working with Indian players of all ages, levels, and states from across the country, Penwell has penned a book for Indian basketball players to help them develop into the best that they can be.

The book Strength & Conditioning, which Penwell has made available free online, cuts directly to the game’s very soul: physical education. Penwell wants to help Indian players run faster, jump higher, and eventually, play better basketball.

Penwell came to India after combining a world of athletic-conditioning education and experience. to focus on the strength and conditioning training for both of India’s men’s and women’s teams, as well as the players on the junior national programmes. Penwell was previously at Scotland’s Sportscotland Institute of Sport, where he worked with athletes from a range of national teams including swimming, basketball, sprint canoe, judo, rugby, golf, curling, triathlon, and field hockey. Since 2006 he has spent over 40,000 athlete contact hours in the weight room, with over 550 elite collegiate and international-level athletes. Penwell is a graduate of the U.S. men’s and women’s college basketball power the University of Connecticut, where he earned two degrees from the top Kinesiology program in America.

The experience of working with different age groups – in India and abroad – comes in handy for Penwell to script his guidebook for the largest possible audience. The drills in the book can be used for all age levels, and Penwell uses the same programmes when training India’s national teams. Gender and skill-level is no bar, and minimum equipment is required. Although the book is useful for coaches, the amount of detail and clarity with each description makes it easy for any player to start many of the exercises himself/herself. Some of the exercises require simple equipment, some involve the presence of other players, and some of coach or trainer, too.

On the book’s online release, Penwell mentioned that, “This is an initiative to reach the far corners of India with a solid, scientifically based strength programne. There are a lot of bad programmes out there by people who have never coached or who have no knowledge of exercise science or kinesiology and are just looking to make some money. Those kinds of programmes don’t help out players. This will. So we want to get the word out as much as possible, and that’s why we’ve decided to make this a free resource instead of selling it.”

The book is a gym rat’s fantasy: instead of ignoring the workouts, or doing the wrong ones, here is a one-stop guide on how to go to go right. The right push-ups, the right type of upper-body pulling, the right chin-ups, the right squats, the right way to run, and the right type of running.

After instructing readers on the correct mind-set that he expects one to bring to strength and conditioning training, Penwell tips off the workout in the way that any basketball drill should start: with the warm-up. From there onwards, the book is divided into several useful chapters focusing on each aspect of hoops-related training: agility, jump training, strength, conditioning, movement enhancement, injury prevention, and nutrition. The book is littered with several images of male and female Indian players demonstrating the workouts described for the readers. There are dozens of different exercises in each section, and Penwell describes the exact advantage of each one for the player on the court.

For example, he focuses on teaching how to jump and land properly to enhance body control in air, which can then lead to better body control when taking a turnaround jump-shot in an in-game situation. In another section, he writes about how leg swings (front and back, side to side) can help ensure hip mobility and thus help players improve sprinting, jumping, and changing direction on court.

Another interesting section is the one about conditioning, where Penwell mentions the average number of time a player on a court does high-intensity movements as compared to low intensity or rest moments. This knowledge allows him to recommend exercises that help enhance conditioning focusing on short, intense moments of explosiveness in multi-directional moving patters.

An important section in the text is on how to prevent injuries in different parts of the body. An injury can be a tougher opponent for a player sometimes than the opposing teams! Penwell mentions how the hamstring injury is the one that India’s national teams are most affected by. In this section of the book, he shares some useful knowledge on how to prevent basketball-related injuries and also recover from injuries the right way.

In the ‘Nutrition’ section, Penwell recommends conditioning and diet to prepare players for a strong practice session, which will then prepare them perfectly for an even stronger performance in-game. Penwell has even made a special note for vegetarians in this section so that those who don’t eat meat can get the right nutrition to support a healthy basketball playing body.

There is some intriguing information towards the end of the text on the importance of sleep. Penwell mentions that when basketball players sleep up to 10 hours instead of their normal 7-8 hours, their free throw percentage, three point percentage, and sprint time improves! The lesson here? Go ahead and take nap!At the end of the book, Penwell details an example training schedule that coaches/players can follow or refer to.

Penwell has tied in everything to strength as the most important component to enhancing a player’s abilities – strength defines power, speed, agility, quickness, and eventually, their sports skills. His long term plan is that coaches around the country will start implementing the right kind of strength and conditioning training on young basketball players, and hopefully, we’ll see youngsters with the right body and mind for basketball spring up all over the country.

And eventually, bring some major improvement to the future of basketball in India.

So whoever you are – a star player in the national system, an aspiring young hooper, a coach looking for the right way to hone his players, or just someone interested in reading about how a physically ideal basketball player should be trained – click over to read Penwell’s text and learn a little more. It’s free!

Click here to open Zak Penwell’s book: Strength & Conditioning: The Complete BFI Program for Training Basketball Players to Run Faster, Jump Higher, and Perform Better.

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Edited by Staff Editor
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