There is one and only one objective of strength training for basketball. And it's ridiculously obvious…To improve your game.
But as simplistic as that might sound, consider this for a moment...Is it fair to assume that when you mention "strength training" to most athletes they immediately think of lifting heavy weights with the sole objective of lifting even heavier weights next time?
That's NOT the best approach for basketball players.
To have the greatest impact on your game, strength training for basketball should aim to develop explosive power. And that takes something a little more refined than just lifting heavy weights alone.
Unlike football, basketball is a non-contact sport (although at times, some would argue with that!). It's a game of finesse that requires highly developed motor co-ordination. And as a result, the classic misconception is to assume that strength training will hinder those finely tuned skills and hamper agility around the court. That's not the case at all.
Follow a basketball-specific strength training program and you will improve every aspect of your game...
- Your acceleration and speed around the court.
- Your range of shots and passes.
- Your explosive power - in particular your vertical jump.
Not only that, strength training for basketball can also significantly reduce your risk of those all-to-common joint and tendon injuries.
The Different Types of Basketball Strength Training
We can split the term 'strength' into three separate categories.
- Absolute or Maximal Strength
- Muscular Power
- Muscular Endurance
Strength is simply the foundation of speed and power and that is why training your maximal strength might not be directly useful for basketball players but it’s simply a means to an end. And the end is to increase your explosive speed and muscular power.
Power is a combination of both absolute strength and speed of movement. Increase either one without reducing the other, and you increase explosive power.
Finally, Your ability to perform repeated, high-intensity movements without fatigue is a reflection of your muscular endurance. Improvements in muscular endurance will improve your ability to repeat sprints up and down the court in quick succession. It will also improve your ability to jump several times in succession with minimal loss in power.
So how do you develop maximal strength, muscular power and muscular endurance all at the same time?
The answer is you don't. Instead, break strength training for basketball into several, distinct phases.
Phase 1: Off-Season - Build Functional Strength
Before you begin the more intensive strength training for basketball, it's crucial that you prepare your body. During the off-season, and even the early pre-season, begin by performing functional exercises that focus on stabilizing muscles and in particular, core stability...
Basketball places a lot of uneven strains on your body. You throw predominantly with one arm for example. Some joints and tendons are placed under more stress than others. The same muscles are used over and over and grow strong while others are neglected.
A low-intensity functional strength phase helps to restore the balance. So the goals of this phase are:
- To prepare joints, ligaments and tendons for more intense work in subsequent training phases.
- To strengthen neglected stabilizer muscles.
- To balance the right and left side of the body.
- To correct any imbalance between flexors and extensors (the pectorals and triceps may become overly strong in relation to the rhomboid and biceps for example).
In this phase, dedicate a good deal of your time to strengthening your center of power. The muscles of the trunk and lower back connect the upper and lower body. They support every twisting, turning, jumping and lateral movement. They are literally the link through which all movement passes.
This is the most important phase in strength training for basketball. Yet most players and coaches dismiss it. And it becomes doubly important for younger players. The foundations you lay in the off-season and early pre-season literally determine the quality of strength and power you can form in later phases. Not to mention how likely you are to avoid or suffer acute and chronic injury.
Phase 2: Off-Season/Early Pre-Season - Build Maximal Strength
Preparing fully makes maximal strength training that much more productive.
Your goal now is peak strength. Then you can convert it into muscular power through plyometric training. Aim to complete this phase at least 4 weeks before the start of the competitive season.
Most basketball players never progress past this phase. They keep lifting more and more weight until they get injured or burnt out. But that's good news for you.
Three strength training sessions a week is enough to build maximal strength. Try to separate each session by 48 hours.
Phase 3: Late Pre-Season - Convert to Muscular Power
Now it all starts to come together. You've taken the time to prepare. You've worked hard to build a high level of strength. Now it's time to reap all the rewards on the court.
Use plyometric training to convert your newfound strength into basketball-specific power. Focus on the lower body with rebounding exercises like depth jumps and work the upper body with medicine balls. A quick word to the wise however...
Plyometric training is a relatively simple concept but you MUST get it right. Excellent form is essential. So is restricting yourself from overdoing it... Plyometrics is not physically challenging - not in the sense that wind sprints are. You will probably feel like you haven't done enough. Resist any temptation to do extra. Plyometric training is NOT about "no pain-no gain"!
Phase 4: In-Season - Maintain Muscular Power
Accept that over the course of the competitive season you will lose some maximal strength. But don't worry about that...As long as you maintain the high levels of muscular power you've worked so hard to attain, you'll be a better player.
During the in-season spend 1 or 2 sessions in the weight room and 1 or 2 sessions on plyometric training.
"During the season, I focus a lot on weight training, building up my strength level as the season progresses. Clean pulls, deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, back squats, things of that nature. In the off-season, it's about getting stronger as well as more agile. Then, obviously, you want to get on the court and work on your skills. I shoot between 750 and 1,000 makes a day." - Kobe Bryant
Should You Lift Weights Before or After Practice/Games?
Strength training or weightlifting for basketball players is different than lifting in other sports due to the skill demands of the sport. There are several schools of thought regarding basketball and lifting and whether workouts should occur before or after practice.
Most teams and players prefer to work out after a practice or even after games. The idea is that the muscles will still be warm and they will not be worn out by a short session (30 - 35 minutes), therefore you will still get some strength benefits. This also eliminates any worries about messing up shooting form because there will be an extended rest time before the next game.
Some players however, including basketball legend Michael Jordan, actually prefer lifting before games or practices. This type of practice sessions focuses on light weights, quick reps and agility work, avoiding heavy lifts altogether. That plan works well to alleviate the concerns of practicing or playing basketball directly after the workout.
So, what should you do? The best way to make a decision regarding lifting is to see how you respond to strength training. If you can play immediately after training with no ill effects, go for it. Some athletes require at least 48 hours to recover from a heavy lifting session in which case, it’s important to monitor muscle soreness and its effect on flexibility and movement on the court. There is no wrong or right here, just do what works best for you or your athletes.
Don’t forget the most important factor of every training program…rest! Factor in several weeks of rest over the course of a season. You may want to take a week off entirely every 6-8 weeks, or have a 2 week period of light circuit training every now and then.
Sometimes pushing yourself over your limits is not the solution. Smart work and some rest during the off-season always lead to big plays during the season!