Playing pick-up basketball is great.
Working on your skills in a game-like environment against willing opponents certainly has value, there’s no debate about that. But what often happens with young basketball players is that they become so enamored with spending time on the court that they completely overlook the value of the weight room. And endless hours of pick-up day after day can lead to sloppy habits and make it very difficult for them to maintain or gain lean muscle mass.
As opposed to playing that 11th or 12th hour of pick-up that week, simply spending a couple hours in the weight room instead can offer young basketball players a much bigger return on their time.
In today’s game, if you ignore the weight room, you will get left behind. Sure, there are some players who never touch a weight and get by on their freakish athleticism, but as they get older, they’re going to have to get inside the weight room and play catch-up if they want to compete with the best players in the world.
So no matter how talented you think you are, getting in the weight room sooner rather than later is a good idea. Here’s why overlooking the weight room can cause big issues for young basketball players.
You have most likely heard the phrase “speed kills,” and it is so true when it comes to basketball. If you don’t have the athleticism to make a defender pay when you create separation, you really aren’t much of a threat.
Likewise, explosiveness and power also kill on the court.
The more you’re able to train your muscles to be fast-twitch and explosive, the tougher you’ll be to defend, and the more effective you’ll be on defense. If you can pair those traits with sound technique and a high basketball IQ, you have the recipe of a superstar.
Spending time in the weight room is what’s going to help you build those fast-twitch muscle fibers and develop more speed, quickness and overall athleticism. It will make it so that defenders are not only forced to respect your moves and technique, but your athleticism, as well.
Basketball is a contact sport
Basketball is a contact sport. It might not be like football where you are purposely trying to run someone over, but watch any competitive basketball game and you will see plenty of contact. If you spend zero time in the weight room, how can you expect to hold your own physically on the court? You simply can’t. You’ll get bullied and tossed around.
Whether it is finishing through contact, fighting through a screen, competing for a loose ball, or fighting for a rebound, there’s contact on almost every basketball play. If you don’t build strength, you put yourself in a position where you’re going to get taken advantage of in the vast majority of these encounters.
A lot of times when a defender is guarding an offensive player, they are trying to funnel them or push them out away from the basket. Every cut is bumped, every catch is pushed out away from the basket, etc. As an offensive player, you want to get the ball in a position where you want it and where you are a threat to the defense. This sometimes means that you must be physical with a defender and keep them from riding you out or forcing you away from the basket.
If you are not physically strong enough to fight for positioning on different moves or off the ball, your moves are not going to be nearly as effective. Having a body that’s strong enough to get where you want to go is going to allow you to be able to take your offensive skills to a completely new level of play.
Built to last
Endless hours of pick-up basketball with zero strength training puts players at a higher risk of acute and overuse injuries. Strength training not only helps you build a sort of “body armor” via increased lean muscle mass, but it literally makes your bones, tendons and ligaments more resilient and bigger/more dense. Strength training helps your body prepare for the tremendous amount of force it will be exposed to during competition, making you less likely to experience injuries both big and small and helping you stay strong and healthy over the course of a season.
There are two reasons why I believe many young basketball players don’t get in the weight room. One, they don’t understand the importance of it (which I hope has now been cleared up), and two, they simply aren’t sure what they should be doing in there.
There’s also that long-standing myth that lifting weights will “ruin” your shooting form, which is entirely untrue. Yes, if you try to shoot immediately after an intense lift while your legs and/or arms are still noodles, your shot will be off. But as long as you’re consistently practicing your shot as you’re getting stronger, your body will have plenty of time to adjust to your new strength and you’ll likely find your range and precision will improve.
When just starting out in the weight room, you don’t need to start with Olympic lifts like Squats, Power Cleans and Deadlifts right off the bat. In fact, I would actually recommend not even going anywhere near those exercises unless you have an expert teaching you the correct form for each lift. If you don’t first learn the correct form, you will do more damage than good.
However, there are some simple exercises you can start off with where proper form can be achieved quite easily. Here are a few of my favorite exercises for basketball players to use. When executing these different exercises really lock in on correct form and start with light weight (if weight is used) to make sure you can do the movements correctly.
You can’t expect to be an expert in the weight room your first time there, but luckily, there’s a lot of great information available online (and right here on STACK.com) to help you out. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Talk to a coach, a friend who consistently works out, or maybe a family member who knows what they are talking about. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn as you go.
The bottom line is that many young basketball players totally overlook the weight room, only opting to step inside it once they’re being overwhelmed and overpowered by their competition. You can stay ahead of the game and keep your career trajectory aim upwards simply by spending a couple of hours in the weight room each week. If you have access to a certified strength and conditioning coach, that’s awesome. If not, there are still plenty of safe and effective exercises you can build a routine around. If you are serious about wanting to be the best player that you can be, you must be willing to spend time in the weight room!
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