All exercises can be divided into two categories: bilateral (where both sides perform equal work) and unilateral (where more pressure is put on one side). Basketball is a unilateral sport.
Running, cutting, going for a layup, step-backs, side-steps—all are movements that require single-leg strength and stability. This is the main reason why basketball training should focus more on unilateral lower-body work than bilateral lower-body work.
The Lunge is perhaps the most well-known unilateral exercise, and for good reason. Lunge exercises can do a fantastic job of enhancing unilateral strength and stability, and therefore translate to the court very efficiently. Let’s dive into two great Lunge exercises basketball players can utilize to improve their game.
3-Way Lunge with Heavy Ball Rotation
The 3-Way Lunge with Med Ball rotation requires an athlete to perform three lunges one after another—a Forward Lunge, a Side Lunge and a Drop-Step Lunge.
The player must move the ball (which can be a heavy basketball, a med ball, or a normal basketball, depending on your skill level) overhead from one hip to another. When planting the foot for the lunge, the ball should already be near the opposite hip. This is a great 3-dimensional core activation exercise (forward lunge – sagittal plane, side lunge – frontal plane, drop-step lunge – transverse plane). The main goal is to stabilize the upper body and maintain an upright position.
I also put a big emphasis on how the player plants his or her foot during this lunge exercise: heel first, balls of the foot second. By planting the heel in this sequence, you force the body to activate the glutes more as opposed to putting excessive pressure on the quadriceps muscle. This is a great exercise to perform before practice.
You can also add aggressive slams after the ball rotation to make the exercise more about force development and absorption. This will help wake up the central nervous system, recruit muscle all over the body, and improve the athlete’s mood. This variation is a perfect fit for a pre-game routine if the goal is to mentally pump up the athlete.
If you’re using this exercise prior to a game or practice, perform six reps on each side and perform two sets. If you’re adding it to a strength workout, aim for three sets of 4-6 reps on each side. The focus of the exercise should always be on high quality movement. If you see that you cannot control the ball throughout the movement, lighten the load.
Heavy Ball Lunge Matrix into Shot
As a basketball player, if you have more positions where you can be in a triple threat, you’ll become a more dangerous offensive player. This Lunge matrix variation can help you learn how to efficiently change body positioning while always being ready to shoot.
This Lunge matrix consists of six types of lunges: Forward Lunge, Diagonal Forward Lunge, Side Lunge, Backward Lunge, Cross-Step Lunge (lead foot behind) and Cross-Step Lunge (lead foot in front).
During the Lunge, the ball is moved aggressively overhead, from the hip to outside the front knee. As you return to the starting position, shoot the ball as soon as you get that back foot back underneath you. If you have a heavy basketball you can use, adding slams will be a great option to improve explosiveness and body stability.
Throughout this Lunge matrix, you want to think of the six following cues:
- Braced Core
- Upright Torso
- Center of Gravity in the middle of your body
- Knee doesn’t collapse inwards when foot is planted
- Strong grip on the ball
- Fast transition from the Lunge to the shot (keep ground contact time to a minimum)
The ideal number of shots to take within this exercise is 24 (2 shots each lunge each side). The goal is obviously to make them all. I would not recommend performing more than 24 total reps. Basketball players already have plenty of running/stopping and jumping/landing during their play, so it’s important not to overload them. If you want to progress this drill, you can give the player extra tasks to increase their focus. Examples would be challenging them to make all the shots “all net,” or all “off the glass,” or high arcing, etc.