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Not all workouts lead to better games. Many basketball players perform workouts that don't necessarily correlate to peak performance on the court. Training for absolute strength (how much you can lift) and hypertrophy (increased muscle size) are two common weight room mistakes among basketball players. Sure, you can strive to boost your strength and size, but these should not be your primary goals.
Instead, basketball athletes need to focus on sport-specific strength, movement and conditioning. If you're not sure how to add these into your current training, read on.
Lifting heavy weights is not essential for basketball athletes. Your main goal should not be muscle size. Just look at some of the top NBA players (e.g., Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant), and let me know if you think they'll be entering any bodybuilding competitions. What's more important is the ability to perform strength exercises correctly. Basketball players must produce a significant amount of power while performing their workouts. Try the following moves, which are great for developing basketball-specific strength:
One-Arm Dumbbell Press
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart
- Hold one dumbbell in neutral position
- Press overhead explosively
- Alternate arms
Sets/Reps: 4x6-8 each arm
- Start with back leg on bench, toes pointed down
- Drop back knee onto ground
- Place front knee at 90-degree angle
- Drive up on front heel
- Slowly lower back into starting position
- Perform set with opposite leg forward
Sets/Reps: 4x6-8 each leg
Conditioning and Movement
The two can be placed in the same category, because basketball-specific movement training will also help your overall conditioning. Basketball is full of changes of direction and stop-and-start sprints—so this is exactly the type of movement and conditioning you should perform when training for the court.
Conditioning and movement training should be performed on days that you complete a strength workout, but it can be done later if time is an issue. A few basketball specific-movements should be the main focus of these workouts, including:
- Sliding (Defensive Slides)
- Change of Direction Drills
- Linear Sprints
Below is a video of some of the conditioning drills we use at Accelerate Basketball Training.
This circuit consists of a Med Ball Clean and Press, Resisted Sprints and Battle Ropes. Perform each exercise for 30 seconds with no rest between. Rest 30 seconds after completing the circuit once, and perform the routine four more times. The entire workout should take 10 minutes.
Hold a basketball in your weak hand during the change of direction and linear drills, and try to mimic specific moves you want to make during a game. This will develop ball-handling skills as well, making the drills more game-like. Try to perform two or three days of movement and conditioning every week. Keep the reps low, but keep the speed high. Find more basketball drills and exercises in our Basketball Exercise Guide page.
Next time you walk into the gym, don't pick up the heaviest weight you can find. It won't help your game. Instead, work on basketball-specific strength, movement and conditioning. For more information on how to improve your basketball game, please check out acceleratebasketball.com, or feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Justin Wetherby is the head strength and conditioning coach for Accelerate Basketball Training in Charlotte, N.C. He has worked with hundreds of athletes, including high school, college and professional players. Although he devotes most of his time to improving basketball performance, Wetherby is enthralled with all aspects of human performance.