Strength for Basketball

Incredible strength is not required for the sport but it is critical that the athlete be able to quickly deploy their strength. Strength training improves the following skills: shooting a longer jump shot, jumping higher, playing defence in the paint, blocking a shot, protecting the basketball, making crisp passes, and stealing the ball from the opponent.

Primary Strength Needs

Points of emphasis are core strength and explosive strength which closely mimic the intensity of the game.

Lower Body

One of the most important uses of strength in basketball is its contribution towards a high vertical jump which is required for defense (contesting shots, stealing passes), rebounding (at both ends of the court) and shooting (to elevate shots over a defender). During an elite game, the average player executes 247 high intensity movements, including forty-four jumps (Abdelkrim, El Fazaa, & El Ati, 2007, p. 72).

Many training programs are backwards-designed. When there is a performance gap, strength and conditioning coaches will address the cause (the physical performance factors and fundamentals that underlie the skill) before tackling the symptoms. For example, when a player has a slow first step, they will try to achieve strength gains in the lower body first (Zimmerman, 2005).

Contribution of the Lower Body to Basketball:

  • Muscles Used: Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Calves
  • Uses: jumping to shoot or rebound, running up the court, dribbling

Upper Body

Elite players need to attain a minimum of upper body strength in order to be competitive on the court but a high score is not critical to playing time or athletic success.  When two players possess similar skills and experience, the athlete who is fitter usually plays more (Hoffman, Tenenbaum, Maresh, & Kraemer, 1996, p. 70).  In fact, at Eastern Commerce in the 2000s, the upper body strength of basketball players who accepted college scholarships was less than their teammates.

Although one third of National Basketball Association teams use the bench press as a physical performance factor tests (Simenz, Dugan, & Ebben, 2005, p. 496), players should not obsess about their absolute strength.  Once they have reached the minimum level, they should concentrate on developing their dynamic strength on the court. Too much strength training can detract from performance on the court (Zimmerman, 2005).

Contribution of the Upper Body to Basketball:

  • Muscles Used: Triceps, Biceps, Shoulders, Chest Muscles
  • Uses: shooting the ball, passing


Core work is essential for basketball (Stein, DeMatha High School Weight Room Tour, 2010).  Players will become more confident, fight harder for loose balls, pivot more aggressively and make the most of the strength in the upper and lower bodies.  Core strength helps players improve their balance and generate explosiveness.

When a player possess a stronger core area, it becomes more difficult to to knock a stronger player off the ball as they dribble.  While fouled by defenders, players maintain more consistent motions as they shoot while defended, increasing accuracy and leading to three-point plays (or made baskets if the foul is not called).

Contribution of Core to Basketball:

  • Muscles Used: Abdominals, Gluteal Muscles, Hips, Lower Back
  • Uses: transferring strength from legs to upper body, playing defence, protecting the basketball while dribbling

Putting It Together: Vertical Jump

Many basketball players focus upon their vertical jump because of its correlation – real and perceived – to success on the court. Vertical jump height is highly correlated to playing time at the collegiate level (Hoffman, Tenenbaum, Maresh, & Kraemer, 1996, p. 69). Athletes must train their lower body (quadriceps, hamstrings and calves) and core (hips, glutes, abdominals and lower back).

A high vertical jump demands that a player be very powerful and explosive. Those who jump the highest possess outstanding flexibility, core, strength and power (Stein, Improve Your Vertical Jjump by Training Your ‘Core 4’, 2010).

It is not simply a matter of repeating leg presses or squats.  Shots are taken at any time during games and players must be able to load quickly in order to explode upwards.  Some factors, like the abundance of fast-twitch muscles in the lower body and the central nervous system (C.N.S.) are genetically determined and difficult to develop although all athletes who train will observe some improvements (Stein, The Truth about Vertical Jump, 2010).

Despite extensive training, some elite athletes under-train their hips and hamstrings (Theoharopoulos, Tsitskaris, Nikopoulou, & Tsaklis, 2000, p. 461).  The hips must be developed because they contribute twenty-three to thirty-nine percent of the total work performed during the vertical jump (Holcomb, Lander, Rutland, & Wilson, 1996, p. 84). Coaches should take care to train all muscle groups and both sides equally.

Strength Training Components

Due to the importance of other physical performance factors, such as agility and speed, coaches should consider training in sport-specific situations (Chaouachi, et al., 2009, p. 1575).  Upper and lower body explosiveness in young basketball players can be improved with a combination of plyometrics and resistance training.  This training – when closely supervised – carries a low risk of injury or long-term harm.  A single session can include both plyometric and resistance training (Santos & Janeira, 2008, p. 908).

Plyometrics Training

Every N.B.A. team uses some form of plyometrics for lower body, upper body, core, or explosiveness training (Simenz, Dugan, & Ebben, 2005, p. 498).  Medium to low frequency plyomteric training produces similar gains in sprinting and vertical leap as higher frequency training but with greater efficiency (Sáez Sáez de Villarreal, González-Badillo, & Izquierdo, 2008, p. 722).  Especially with young athletes, there is no need to overdo training in terms of intensity and quality.

Some plyometrics fail to train the muscle groups in proportion to their contribution to the vertical jump and must be adjusted to the requirements of the sport (Holcomb, Lander, Rutland, & Wilson, 1996, p. 83).  Consider bending more at the waist during depth jumps to exercise the hips or starting the exercises from common basketball positions.

Athletes should begin with plyometric training once per week and build towards twice weekly training (in addition to resistance training — some resistance and plyometrics sessions can be combined).  Brief periods of detraining, for example three weeks, during taper periods can induce an improvement in running and jumping (Sáez Sáez de Villarreal, González-Badillo, & Izquierdo, 2008, p. 724).

Resistance Training

On average, professional basketball players train three to four times weekly for durations of about forty-five to sixty minutes per session. Teams use free weights or Olympic-style weight lifting; machines are used in limited circumstances.  Common exercises include the squat (and variations like single-leg squats, split-leg squats and leg presses), Olympic lifts (such as variations of the clean and hang clean), lunges, core exercises and bench presses (Simenz, Dugan, & Ebben, 2005, p. 499).

Cardiovascular Training

Although players may execute over a thousand distinct movements during the game, they also run up to five kilometres (Narazaki, Berg, Stergiou, & Chen, 2009, p. 425).  The aerobic energy system as shown a higher VO2 max score, the more game time a player can devote to active movements, such as sprinting and jumping (Narazaki, Berg, Stergiou, & Chen, 2009, p. 429).  Strength conditioning is inexorably linked to energy systems training.

Strength training should follow a short five to ten minute cardiovascular warm-up.  Intense strength training (resistance, plyometrics or combined) cause athletes to surpass their aerobic threshold and increase blood pressure (Kleiner, Blessing, Davis, & Mitchell, 1996, p. 60).  Energy systems and strength endurance will optimize performance in competitions (Zimmerman, 2005).

Training Strength

Mixing up exercises and combining different types of training increases the enjoyment of working out. A unique and diversified program results in better adherence to the training regiment and improved results (Santos & Janeira, 2008, p. 908).

Players can become stronger with a few minutes every day. Some drills are best performed in pairs, which also provides for constructive feedback, accountability, and positive encouragement.

Not every school or youth team has access to a fitness room with free weights and machines so coaches must be creative with incorporating strength training into practice.  Workouts with body weight and low resistance (with pilates equipment, power balls or resistance bands) suit those who are new to strength training and simulates basketball movements.

Youth Training

Young athletes, including those younger than twelve years old, can achieve gains in strength, maximal oxygen uptake, body composition and motor performance skills as a result of strength training (Faigenbaum, et al., 1996, p. 109). It is important that coaches closely monitor the training so that players follow correct form and do not lift too much weight.

At the beginning of puberty, there is an increase in the muscular proportion of young men from twenty-seven to forty percent of body mass. Training at this time can achieve high gains in strength (Santos & Janeira, 2008, p. 907). Use a Yearly Planning Instrument with macro and micro cycles to ensure players do not overtrain and allow for taper periods before important competitions.  Start with higher volume and lower intensity and technique early in the season during the preparatory phase.


Basketball players must recovery in order to absorb the gains from training.  Workouts can alternate intensity levels, train different muscle groups and include various performance goals.  Corrective work helps perfect technique, enable the low and dynamic movements required for elite basketball and increase flexibility.  Active recovery disperses lactic acid and speeds transitions between components of a workout.  Proper nutrition after a workout is paramount, including high carbohydrates foods to replenish energy, proteins to build muscles and fluids to rehydrate (Zimmerman, 2005).

Program Length

Even a strength training program as short as eight to twelve weeks – three times weekly – can effectuate significant gains in jump height and power (Caruso, et al., 2008, p. 702). Jumps and movements should be performed at the speed that they will be executed in games for optimal results (Caruso, et al., 2008, p. 772).

Any program should be continued throughout the season because stopping the training will result in significant loss of strength, even if the youth is participating in other athletic activities (Faigenbaum, et al., 1996, p. 113). Provide support for athletes who wish to pursue the training on their own time outside of the team.

Core Exercises

A coach can create a meaningful strength workout in practice by dividing a squad into pairs so they can cycle through these core stations. The stations could be performed during practices or separately as part of team workouts sessions in the fitness centre or dryland training.

Select four to six stations for each workout. Intervals begin at thirty seconds and build towards a minute and players should visit each station three times. The work:pause ratio is 1:1.

Sport-Specific Exercises

By adding additional resistance to regular basketball movement, coaches can incorporate sport-specific strength training into practices. In order to execute powerful movements in games, players must practice strength training from a balanced position at high intensity.

These stations focus on developing the triceps, hips, quadriceps and hamstrings. Select four to six stations for the players to cycle through in partners. Each set includes 6-8 repetitions early in the season building towards a dozen reps later. The work:pause ratio is 1:2.

Other Athletic Abilities


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