Tier System Strength Training – Pre Season Basketball

Tier System Strength Training for Pre-season Basketball

Steve Hartman
Head Sports Performance Coach
Bellarmine University

As the Head Coach and sole staff member of the Sports Performance Department, I create, write, implement and supervise training programs for twenty-two varsity sports encompassing over four hundred student-athletes. Our facilities include an eight hundred square foot weight room, an auxiliary turf room and one basketball court utilized by three teams for conditioning, individual instruction, team practices and by other organizations when no athletic events are scheduled.

There are several major conditions to consider when developing a pre-season sports performance program for the Men’s Basketball Team at Bellarmine University, a private, parochial, Division II school located in Louisville, Kentucky. Specifically, facility space, equipment, staffing, schedules and a system of planning and organization are of paramount importance.

Our biggest challenge on a daily basis is to find a way to meet the needs of our athletes and coaches. The answer for us is to apply the “Tier System” developed and written by Coach Joe Kenn to achieve our program goals. We begin by listing our training objectives and to develop a “needs” analysis based on player positions whether they are a guard or forward.

We incorporate our “Pre Season Intents”, which are:

– Prepare the team for the volume of practice
– Produce and protect at all times
– Improve speed and conditioning (energy system specific)
– Improve core strength, flexibility, total body strength and power

The factors for consideration in establishing this successful pre-season program include:

– Accounting for team practices, individual practices, double sessions, and structured pick-up games
– Availability for court time conditioning with 3 different teams occupying the floor due to practices and university events
– Look to enhance recovery, reduce soreness and keep the athlete engaged
– Limited to 20 hours per week based on NCAA Division II rules
– Out of those hours I’m given an hour a day for 5 days over a span of 6 weeks.
– Given my 30 total hours over 6 weeks, how to attain the goals of the pre-season objectives under these constrictions

For each training session we utilize Coach Mike Robertson and Coach Joe Kenn’s “R8” method, which includes:

R1 – Release: soft tissue work using foam rolls, lacrosse balls, golf balls, car buffer or tiger tail.
R2 – Reset: help restore alignment and improve function of movement patterns.
R3 – Readiness: The pre-activity prep, or warm-up, aiming increase body temperature and kinesthetic awareness. This is the strength circuit for the movement categories involving neck, core, posterior chain & posterior shoulder.
R4 – Root: Power zone or core work.
R5 – Reactive: Improve power and explosive development with plyometrics or med ball throws.
R6 – Resistance: Training session for that day.
R7 – Regeneration: Energy System Development.
R8 – Recovery: Traditional cool down, stretching, relaxation drills, cold tub.

Next step is to look at the demands required for each position. The following lists some of the points of emphasis to create their training program.

Guards: Movement and fitness based program. We want our guards to be “bullets not bowling balls.” Our head coach wants them to be able to play low and play fast. We will emphasize unilateral lower body movements that will increase strength, mobility, and work capacity. Our mascot is a Knight so we came up with the term “body armor” to implement circuits that will help protect our ankles, knees, and hips. All movements will be technique based and emphasize control on the eccentric phase and an explosive concentric phase while always paying close attention to posture. Total body movements will be predominantly medicine ball throws or plyometrics. Upper body strength will involve Max Effort bench press with Repeated Effort horizontal and vertical presses, while playing close attention to our push/pull ration, trying to keep it close to two pulls for every one push.

Forwards/Centers: Strength and movement based program.  It is more important for our big guys to be able to handle themselves in the low post, while still being fit enough to play a fast style of basketball. We will put more emphasis on bilateral lower body movements, as well as total body Olympic based movements. Lower body strength and explosive power will help our low post athletes box-out and be in a proper position to out-rebound their opponents. In addition, their low post work will be enhanced by training their backs, so we will focus on developing a strong core and upper back by making sure that we have at least two pulls for every one of our pushes. We will also train our Max Effort bench press very hard with our big guys. There will be an emphasis on Lower body injury reduction by utilizing the “body armor” circuits and eccentric hamstring exercises.

Conditioning Objectives:
Our head coach will demand a fit and fast team. Because of this emphasis, conditioning will take place on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On these days, we will spend the beginning of the session (no longer than a few minutes) working on sprint mechanics and running technique. On non-lift days (Tuesday & Thursday) the Speed School will be followed by agility/footwork sessions that will incorporate both short agilities (under :07 seconds) and long agilities (in between :07 seconds and :14 seconds), and will culminate with agility based conditioning (agilities that range over :15 seconds that will involve change of direction). On lift days (Monday & Wednesday), the Speed School will be drawn out longer and involve elements of lateral speed as well as linear speed. The conditioning on Lift Day #1 will be our slide board session for lateral quickness, while Lift Day #2’s conditioning session will consist of bike sprints in a Tabata fashion, 20 seconds hard, 10 seconds rest. Lastly, the Lift Day #3 is designed to train the men for their 22’s test with tempo runs.

Click link below for example layout of the 6-Week Pre-Season Training overview.    

Bellarmine Pre Season

Click link below fro example Forward/Guard Daily Training Template using the R8 method and Tier System.

ForwardsGuards Hartman

We have sixteen basketball athletes training out of 800 square feet and there are a lot of moving pieces to their sports performance program. By incorporating the R8 method and Tier System, it has allowed us to accomplish all of our objectives for each position. Starting the session off with the readiness circuit creates space and tempo. Pairing movements with the priority lifts in our turf room also frees up space and keeps our athletes moving. As you can see from the templates above, we do a lot with a little. It does not matter if you have 800 square feet, or 8,000 square feet, following the R8 and Tier System method works! We are absolutely committed to this method and the benefits it produces for our program, and our athletes. As coaches, we all know that success is predicated on winning! Since the 2011-12 season, our men’s basketball program at Bellarmine University has achieved the following:

– 2011 NCAA National Champions, NCAA Midwest Regional Champion, Regular Season Conference Champions, Conference Tournament Champions

– 2012 NCAA Midwest Regional Champions, Regular Season Conference Champions, Final Four

– 2015 NCCA Midwest Regional Champions, Regular Season Conference Champions, Final Four

– 2017 NCAA Midwest Regional Champions, Regular Season Conference Champions, Conference Tournament Champions, Final Four

Our team won the NCAA Division II National Championship in March 2011 and in 2017, we earned our fourth trip to the Final Four in the last seven years. We firmly believe that we are in this position because each athlete over the years has been available to contribute to the game and stay on the court longer. There is a deep commitment to every member of our team to make this possible and with the utilization of Coach Kenn’s Tier System, it aids in the process of creating a competitive edge over the competition. Please consult Coach Kenn’s website ( for further information. I am happy to respond to any questions you might have. Please forward them to

The Squat Bible – Book Review

The Squat Bible

Book Review

Joe Kenn

Big House Power

The Squat Bible, written by lead author Dr. Aaron Horschig is a must read for any coach, athlete, or fitness professional utilizing a squat variation in their programming.  Regardless of years under a bar or coaching experience, the information in this book will give you both the reassurances that you are on the correct path and simple “nuggets” to help improve the technical efficiency of this popular movement.

As some of you may know, I have been utilizing the 3 C’s concept to evaluate one’s exercise technique.  These are Corrosive, Competent, and Competitive.  Dr. Horschig speaks about movement competency early in his book and how we have allowed athletes to sacrifice efficient movement in order to perform.  Let’s remember inefficient or corrosive technique increases risk of injury and decreases potential transfer to athletic traits.

The book is simply written, very will organized, and a simple read.  These are critical keys to me in my ability to comprehend the information presented and apply the information to my athletes.  I really liked how each basic squat movement was broken down technically (Back, Front, Overhead), in particular, the slight differences between a bodyweight squat compared to a loaded squat.

The key to this book in my opinion is the individual chapters of squatting based on a joint by joint approach.  I was impressed by Dr. Horschig’s detailed analysis of each joint from foot to shoulder, its importance to an efficient squat and the corresponding correctives movements to help areas of inadequacies.  This is something I must commit to doing a better job of being educated on. 

It’s funny that the number one point that has resonated with me as a coach and lifter from the book was very early on when Dr. Horschig wrote about the “Tripod Foot”.  Most of us have discussed the importance of the foot being grounded into the floor while squatting, but the three points of contact emphasis was a genius point to me.  Maybe this is a term I just missed out on and I am behind the times, but I don’t care, I love that one.

To wrap it up this book is well worth the investment.  I promise you will learn something too help improve this giant of strength exercises.

Rating = 2 Thumbs Up ? ? and Double Words Win

Discover the Power of Play


Mike Daley CPT, CPPS
Head Strength Coach
Newell Strength

BOOM! Like a bat out of hell I took off.

Maximum force is being imposed into the grass through my right leg; ankle extension, knee extension, hip extension – I am generating every last watt of power possible. I continue accelerating toward an apparent opening ahead, reaching maximum speed in the process. My legs are now in a cyclical rhythm, propelling me farther and farther from my attacker and closer to freedom.

I swiftly approach the opening … It’s a dead end.

Without thinking, I begin to decelerate. My center of gravity quickly lowers and my feet begin to chop rapidly until I can safely stop, plant, and adapt (plan my next escape).

TAG – I’m it.

Little Jimmy just tagged 8-year old me. Game on.


Gone are the days of unorganized sports. Early sport specialization is the downfall of today’s youth. Meeting up with friends to play tag/manhunt, pick-up basketball until mom calls you in for supper, the garbage can strike zone for stick ball – All activities of the past.

But, why?

“If my kid wants to have a future in, (Insert Sport Here), he/she MUST begin high level sport-specific training immediately!”

Here’s the TRUTH…

All sports are played in a chaotic environment. No, I am not referring to crazy parents screaming at their kid. I am referring to not knowing what stimulus is going to be thrown your way.

Consider the following:

* A football safety tracking down a running back to make a tackle.
* A center fielder running down a fly ball to make a catch.
* A goalie making a diving stop to win a game.
* 8 year-old me avoiding Little Jimmy’s tag.

All four scenarios task an athlete with reacting to a stimulus they cannot predict (a chaotic environment) and seamlessly moving their body through space.

There is no way to predict the future, but there is a way to set athletes up for success via sound fundamental movement patterns and exposure.


For a young athlete to stand out, the deciding factor will be their ability to seamlessly combine fundamental movements through space. Rather than organized sport, expose your athletes to chaotic environments and let them learn how to move.

Fundamental movement patterns begin with variations of crawling, walking, and running and evolve to squats, hinges, pushes, pulls, and carries. The ability to execute these tasks fall under one of four categories:

1. Unconscious Incompetence – You don’t know any better, or what is correct.
2. Conscious Incompetence – You know you can do it, but don’t know how to do it.
3. Conscious Competence – You know you can do it, but have to think about doing it.
4. Unconscious Competence – You can accomplish the task, without thinking about it.

Take walking as an example. When you were a baby you had no thought of walking. You were perfectly content with the ability to crawl, until you became aware of walking (#2). You became conscious of what walking is, but had no idea how to execute that movement. Once you reached a certain amount of exposure to walking, you began taking your first steps. While taking those steps, you had to focus on every movement to ensure you didn’t fall (#3). Today, walking is a non-event. There is primarily no thought put into executing the skill of walking and you excel at it through years of practice (#4). The more you do something, the better chance you have at mastery.

The more situations kids can be exposed to, the more adaptable they will become in chaotic environments. A one-on-one basketball lesson will not elicit the same benefit as a pick-up game in the backyard. Is there a benefit? Yes, of course, but let’s look at the bigger picture for YOUTH development. Learning a crossover move through a cone and driving in for a lay-up looks GREAT to a parent. But what happens when reality sets in? The cone (player) has a mind of its own, a mind that is dead-set on keeping you from making that crossover move and scoring that basket.

Bring back unorganized sports.
Empower kids to create their own games.
Let kids witness The Power of Play!



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