You’d probably agree if we said you’re a tremendously gifted baller and athlete in general. Well, now that we’ve got that out of the way, there’s something you need to know. Young, gifted basketball players everywhere are suffering from an epidemic that’s sweeping the country. Warning: You might be at risk!
A lot of young basketball players simply go out and play, or just work on their skills,” says Robert Hackett, strength and conditioning coach for the always-dominant Dallas Mavericks. “This happens because kids are grabbed at an early age and told they need to work on their skill level, but nothing is done to develop them athletically beyond their current abilities. You see it even more when a kid is really gifted.”
This parochial approach builds skilled players who fall short of their basketball potential. “I’ve had some amazing athletes over the years; they couldn’t bend over and touch their toes or squat into a low defensive position, because they were just used to shooting the basketball,” Hackett says. “They may have been able to jump over the rim, but working on their range of movement and flexibility would’ve made them much better.”
So think about it: You can hit the open shot from anywhere—even the stands. But without athleticism, how will you beat the defense or get open? Hackett solves the problem by emphasizing overall body strength, especially in the legs and hips, to help generate the power, quickness and change of direction needed to foil a defender.
“Each level you go up, the guys are much stronger,” Hackett says. “And it’s not absolute strength in the weight room; it’s strength that results from better balance, flexibility and the understanding of leverage. The most important areas of strength in basketball are the legs and hips—especially the hip flexors. That is where you generate all of your power in an explosive movement, but many guys are very tight there.”
Hackett notes that as the Mavs continue working on their overall body strength, balance and flexibility, they gain a better understanding of leverage and how to keep opponents off balance. “The whole basis of basketball is getting the other guy off balance—whether it’s with a shot fake, dribble or quick movement. This training teaches you that, so you can get by a guy or post up on him.”
To address the endurance aspect of court play, Hackett makes the Mavs perform high reps when strength training. “We do higher reps because this sport is more about strength endurance than just being strong,” he says. “You have to call upon your strength energy system over and over throughout a game. Also, the season is very long, and we want to be fit enough to last the whole way.”
Although leverage, balance and flexibility are usually difficult for taller players to master, Hackett’s methods have turned the seven-foot Dirk Nowitzki into an agile threat from the perimeter. Dirk hits about 43 percent of his shots from downtown, because he can get open and keep his defender off balance. Dirk’s success and Hackett’s training are two significant reasons why the Mavs are the NBA’s best in the West and have the leverage on the league to be the heavy favorites for this year’s NBA title.
• Assume position on four-way hip machine so roller pad is in front of right thigh
• Standing on left leg, drive right knee forward
• Return to start position; repeat for specified reps
• Perform set with left leg
• Repeat exercise with pad on outside of thigh, inside of thigh and behind thigh for each leg
Variation: Perform against band resistance if four-way hip machine is not available
Sets/Reps: 2×15 each leg/each direction
Hackett: This works the hip rotation, mobility and flexibility that are so important for jumping, generating power and staying low in a defensive stance.
• Assume single-leg position with off leg in front
• Drive hips back and lower into squat position keeping knee behind toes and weight on heels
• When top of thigh is parallel to ground, drive forward and up, out of squat.
• Repeat for specified reps; perform on opposite leg
Sets/Reps: 2×20 each leg
Hackett: This is great for hip, hamstring and glute strength and balance.
Bodyweight Lateral Lunge
• Assume athletic stance
• Take large step right with right foot
• Drive hips back and lower into lateral squat position, keeping weight on heels and right knee behind toes
• Drive up and left out of side squat into standing position
• Repeat for specified reps; perform set on left leg, then rest
Sets/Reps: 3×50 each leg
Hackett: This builds strength in the abductors and adductors, which are crucial in change-of-direction and lateral movement ability. You’d be amazed watching some guys try to get the proper technique of keeping their backs straight and not bending over at their waists.
• Assume athletic stance with feet just wider than hip width and toes slightly pointing out
• Drive hips back and lower into squat position keeping weight on heels and knees behind toes
• When tops of thighs are parallel to ground, drive forward and up, out of squat into standing position
• Repeat for specified reps
Advanced: If you can perform a squat without your heels coming off the ground, perform exercise with bar and light weight
Hackett: You will see a lot of big guys who can’t even get into the squat position, so we use very light weight and high reps to get them into it. We already know these guys are big enough and capable of squatting 500 pounds, but putting that weight on their backs to have them squat for absolute strength isn’t important. Once we get to using weight, we begin with 95 pounds, and increase it only as their body positions improve.