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Q | I want to get back into pickup basketball, but I haven’t played in a few years and I’m not sure my body is ready for the experience. What can I do at the gym to prepare myself for the court?

A | Smart training for any sport always starts general, then gets specific as the season approaches. If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll need to build some basic strength and fitness before you start perfecting your skyhook. “Overall strength training will help minimize your likelihood for injury once you start training,” says Ryan Capretta, MS, CSCS, owner of Proactive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, Calif. “By strengthening the muscles, you’ll take stress off the joints when you play.” (For a great beginners’ strength-training program, see “One Month to Muscles.”)

Next step? “Get good at jumping,” says Capretta. Start by trying five sets of five jumps onto a low box, focusing on landing as quietly as possible on each repetition. Between reps, step down off the box, one foot at a time. Over the course of a few weeks, increase the height of the box. Then, says Capretta, get hopping. (See “BREAK IT DOWN: The Box Jumpbox” .)

After two to four weeks of jump training, says Capretta, add some “M cone” runs to improve agility: Set up five cones in an “M” pattern about 10 to 15 yards square. Starting at the bottom left corner, weave around the cones as fast as you can, facing the “top” of the M throughout the drill. (Your route will look like this: Run forward to the top left corner, then backward to the bottom middle corner, then forward again to the top right corner, and finally backward to the bottom right corner.) Rest for 30 seconds or so, then repeat the drill, this time starting at the bottom right corner of the M. Repeat until you can’t maintain full speed for the entire drill. “Agility drills like this will improve your ability to change directions quickly,” says Capretta. (For more speed and agility drills, visit “The SAQ Workout“.)

Do this three times a week (after a general warm-up but before strength training), and in a few weeks you should have no problem keeping up on the court. Have fun!

Andrew Heffernan

Andrew Heffernan, CSCS, is an Experience Life contributing editor.

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