I’m not a fan of phrases like hacks or quick wins because it gives the impression that something meaningful can be achieved quickly and easily. However, I’m a big believer in activities that yield significant returns in a short time (in a sports context, that means 2-3 months) yet it doesn’t require much investment of time.
This article is all about that, with a specific focus on basketball players. So without further ado, let’s dig in!
1. Proper sprint training
Basketball players run a lot. But most of the time, not in a way that provides an excellent speed-enhancing benefit. What then makes an effective sprint speed session, you might ask? Here are the criteria that need to be fulfilled for that to happen:
- Sprints need to be performed in a “fresh” state. You’re not fresh enough if you can’t run at least 95-97% of your best sprint time.
- The sprints must be performed at maximal effort, ideally racing against someone or trying to beat the time.
- Enough rest is provided after each sprint, so quality is maintained. 45-60s of rest for every 10 meters of a sprint.
- At least some focus on addressing correct sprinting mechanics.
If we look at what the majority of basketball players are doing, we will see that:
- They often do sprint training in a fatigued state
- They don’t rest long enough
- Little to no focus on sprinting technique
- Focus on quantity rather than quality (effectiveness judged based on tiredness)
Contrasting that with what proper sprint work should look like, it’s easy to see how quickly basketball players can become faster by changing a few things. Athletes often tell me this feels like “cheating” because they get faster without getting gassed out, like during their basketball “speed building” sessions!
2. Proper strength training
Even today, I’m amazed at how poorly true strength is utilized in basketball circles. While the situation is improving, basketball coaches and athletes still do not recognize the vast benefits of strength training. Even those who understand that strength training is a MUST often fail when it comes to program design.
When implemented at least semi correctly, basketball players often experience fast and noticeable improvements in their strength and explosiveness. I have seen guys going from barely touching the rim to dunking in a matter of 4-8 weeks!
So, the question arises, what’s the proper strength training? For me, the following criteria should be met:
- 1-2 exercises per movement category per session
- 2-4 strength training sessions per week (1 is acceptable during in-season)
- 1-3 sets of 6-20 reps per exercise
- There should be a plan of how exercise is going to be progressed (more weight/reps)
- The rest period between exercises and sets is long enough to maintain quality.
- Good exercise selection. My favorite exercises when designing a strength program for basketball players are the following:
Lower Body Push: Goblet Squats, Split Squats, Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat, Step-Ups, Front Squats, Skater Squats, Single Leg Squats, Lateral Lunges, Calf Raises.
Lower Body Pull: Dumbbell/Kettlebell Deadlift, Trap Bar Deadlift, Hip Thrust, Single-Leg RDL, 45 ° Back Extensions, Stability Ball Leg Curls, Copenhagen Plank
Upper Body Push: Push Ups, Dips, Overhead Press, Bench Press, Landmine Press.
Upper body Pull: Inverted Rows, Cable Rows, Pull Ups/Chin Ups, Lat Pulldown.
And that’s it! It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that for hoopers to start seeing some crazy and quick gains.
3. Dedicated foot training
Many things can be said about foot and ankle complex and basketball players. According to Deitch and colleagues (2006), ankle and foot injuries account for almost a quarter of all basketball injuries. Poor proprioception, strength, mobility, and neuromuscular abilities of the foot-ankle complex are risk factors for lower extremity injuries (Akoh et al., 2020).
From a performance standpoint, dedicated foot training improved jumping and running performance (Tourillon et al., 2019; Unger and Wooden, 2000). So it would be crazy to say that well-functioning foot and foot training is unhelpful.
Unfortunately, basketball players spend a lot of time in their hopping sneakers, which hinders their proprioception, mobility, and function. Also, ankle taping is widespread in basketball. While taping is helpful in some instances, prolonged and unnecessary use only further inhibits the proper function of the foot and ankle.
Keeping this in mind, it’s clear why even a little time spent on specific foot exercises can quickly bring noticeable improvements for basketball players. So a more practical question, what exercises and methods can be used to train the feet?
First, just spending some time without shoes during the warm-up is an excellent way to challenge your feet. Mobility, low-intensity plyometrics, and other low-impact barefoot exercises will be beneficial.
Second, specific foot exercises like the short foot are a great way to target smaller muscles of the feet and ankle. Calf raises, posterior calf raises, anterior tibialis raises, towel-toes crunch, and single leg balance hip circles are all simple yet effective exercises for strengthening the ankle-foot complex.
Lastly, exercises and activities that challenge balance and proprioception are an excellent way of improving foot function. Single-leg balance exercises, single-leg strength-free weight exercises, trail runs, and other activities performed on variable and “different” surfaces will deliver a nice proprioceptive challenge.
And you don’t need to spend much time with these exercises! A few minutes every other day will be enough to notice a difference.
Akoh, C., Chen, J., Easley, M. and Amendola, A., 2020. Foot and Ankle Injuries in Basketball: From Basketball Sports Medicine and Science. Spring, pp.455-458.
Deitch, J., Starkey, C., Walters, S. and Moseley, J., 2006. Injury Risk in Professional Basketball Players. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 34(7), pp.1077-1083.
Tourillon, R., Gojanovic, B. and Fourchet, F., 2019. How to Evaluate and Improve Foot Strength in Athletes: An Update. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, 1.
Unger, C. and Wooden, M., 2000. Effect of Foot Intrinsic Muscle Strength Training on Jump Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 14(4), pp.373-378.
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