Jimmy Butler is a two-time NBA All-Star. In 2015, he was named Most Improved Player thanks to his stellar defense and for scoring over 400 more points than his previous best.
But the Chicago Bulls guard is not done yet.
He has bigger goals for the upcoming NBA season, which will only be achievable if he can stay healthy for all 82 games—and the post-season if everything goes to plan.
“One of the main goals this off-season is to maintain my health for a whole year so I can help my team win as many games as possible,” Butler says. That’s why his training focus during the off-season was to prevent future injuries. This might not sound terribly exciting, but Butler earns big bucks for his incredible play on the court, not for cheering on his teammates from the bench.
At the same time, Butler must develop his strength and explosiveness to improve the athletic skills he uses to dominate opponents on the court.
Travelle Gaines, founder of Athletic Gaines in Las Vegas and Butler’s trainer, combines these two goals into workouts that require his client to perform exercises simulating how he moves on the court, with an emphasis on single-leg training.
Single-leg exercises like Lunges and Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs) develop Butler’s lower-body strength, but they also improve stability in his legs and hips. Stronger muscles help him maintain balance and control of his body, and reinforce his knees and ankles by taking stress off his joints.
Single-leg exercises also help make his two legs equally strong. Minimizing or eliminating any imbalances allows Butler to powerfully jump off either leg and move quickly in any direction on the court.
“He has to be able to effectively push off his left leg and right leg to be a very explosive player in the NBA,” Gaines says.
Although he’s not doing heavy lifting, Butler says that he’s never experienced a type of training that’s so difficult. In fact, he says he’s never worked so hard in the weight room in his life.
“The way I train now since I’m a pro is way harder than I ever did in college or high school,” Butler says. “If I was doing all of that in college and high school, who knows how much of a better player I would be now. But better late than never.”
Butler is one of the world’s premier basketball players, but you too can take advantage of his style of training.
Performing this workout once per week will improve your strength in executing your basketball skills, while making you more resistant to injury. Just like Butler, you won’t be of value to your team if you’re sitting on the bench because you failed to properly prepare your body.
At first, maintaining balance and control during these exercises might be tough. That’s OK. Just start with light weight, or even your body weight. Perfect the movements first, before you begin to add resistance.
1. Med Ball Slams to Rotational Throw
Improves core strength and rotational power and helps get the heart rate up before more intense exercises.
How to: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with a wall to your right. Hold a med ball in front of your chest. Bring the med ball overhead and powerfully slam it on the floor. Catch it off the bounce and powerfully throw it against the wall. Catch it off the bounce and repeat the sequence.
Sets/Reps: 3×10 each side
2. Split-Stance Med Ball Slams
Builds core strength and single-leg stability, traits that are helpful for quick cuts and jumping off one leg.
How to: Stand with your feet staggered, bend your front knee slightly so you’re in a partial Lunge and hold a med ball in front of your chest. Keeping your core tight, slam the med ball on the ground outside your front foot. Catch it off the bounce and repeat.
Sets/Reps: 3×10 each side
3. Resisted Agility Ladder
Improves the footwork needed to cross opponents and drive to the hoop for a layup.
How to: Stand facing an agility latter with a resistance band around your waist. Have a partner stand behind you holding the band. Move forward through the ladder as quickly as possible, placing two feet in each box. Take a simulated jump shot at the end of the ladder. Repeat shuffling to your right and then to your left.
Sets/Reps: 1×1 each variation
4. Lateral Shuffle to Explosive Shuffle
Increases lateral quickness, essential for when you need to play shutdown defense against agile opponents.
How to: Place a resistance band around your ankles. Assume a defensive position or stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and lower into a quarter Squat. Keeping your chest up, shuffle to your right for five yards, then explosively shuffle to your left as quickly as possible for five yards.
Sets/Reps: 1×3 each direction
5. Single-Leg Box Jump to Depth Jump
Improves stability when landing from a jump to protect your knees from injury, while also making you more explosive on Jumps.
How to: Stand on one leg in front of a knee-high box. Jump up onto the box and land softly with both feet. Step off the box with one foot, then the other. Land softly on the ground and immediately explode up into another jump. Land softly and repeat.
Sets/Reps: 3×3 each leg
6. Lunge With Overhead Plate Raise
Improves single-leg stability and develops upper-body and core strength.
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart holding a weight plate in front of your hips. Step back with your left leg and lower into a Lunge until your right thigh is parallel to the ground and your left knee is about an inch above the ground. Bring the plate overhead without arching your lower back. Drive through your right heel to stand up, and lower the plate to the starting position.
Sets/Reps: 3×5 each leg
7. Kettlebell Single-Leg RDL
This moves strengthens the glutes, which are the primary muscles used for explosive Jumps and Sprints.
How to: Balance on your right leg and hold a kettlebell in your left hand at your hip. Keeping your core tight and back flat, sit your hips back and slightly bend your right knee to bend forward at the waist. With your left leg in line with your body, lower the kettlebell until it’s just above the floor. Drive your hips forward to stand up and return to the starting position.
Sets/Reps: 3×5 each leg