These days, almost every professional basketball player performs some sort of strength training. And why not? The players today are bigger, stronger, and faster than the players of yesteryear. Sure, part of that is due to better steroids (I kid, I kid. We all know it’s all hard work and talent *wink wink*), but let’s not underestimate the role of supplemental strength training in there.
For those of your who already wholeheartedly embrace strength training, you can skip this next section, but for those of you who aren’t on board yet, read on.
I’m a basketball player, not a weight lifter. Why do I need strength training?
The reasons to strength train are so extensive that I won’t do it justice in this article, but I will mention the most important reasons to strength training.
Firstly, strength training helps you run faster and jump higher. Think of it as putting a larger motor in your car. Think about it this way: you have two athletes: athlete A and athlete B. Athlete A can bench press 200 pounds, and athlete B can bench press 300 pounds. Which of those 2 athletes will be able to bench press 100 pounds faster? The answer is pretty clear: athlete B. The reason is that for athlete B, 100 pounds is only about 33% of his full strength, whereas for athlete A, 100 pounds is 50% of his full strength. The same applies to running, although obviously not with the bench press.
Secondly, strength training helps your correct any muscular imbalances you may have (and trust me, you do have them). For instance, in a lot of athletes, the hip flexors (the muscles that run from the lower back to the upper thigh bone) are tight. When these muscles are tight, they make their antagonistic muscle (the muscle on the opposite side of the joint) weak. The antagonist to the hip flexors are your glutes (the butt muscles). Contrary to popular belief, the quads (front of the thigh) are not the primary muscle responsible for jumping high and running fast (although they do contribute quite a bit). The glutes and hamstrings (back of the thigh) are. With a properly designed strength training program (and that involves more than just simple butt strengthening), you can correct any imbalances you may have.
Muscle imbalances also create something called “energy leaks.” An energy leak is when a portion of a muscle’s force goes into fighting its antagonist, as opposed to pushing you forward as in running or propelling you upward as in jumping. Plug your energy leaks, and you get stronger, faster, and let’s not forget, healthier.
I’m sold. So how do I strength train for basketball?
I’m big on the concept of individualization. For a program to work as well as it possibly can, it has to fit to the person doing it like a glove. It has to address a person’s deficiencies, experience, body structure, experience, and a host of other factors. Pre-made programs do not do this, and if I created a pre-made program in this article, it would be an injustice to the majority of readers.
So then, I will give you some general guidelines about where to go with your strength training.
The first step is to examine yourself (or get yourself examined) for muscle imbalances. Identify where your energy leaks are, and correct them. Think of this step as taking off the brakes from your potential progress. There is not use in pushing the gas pedal, if you’re simultaneously pushing on the brakes. This is exactly what happens when you jump right into strength training without addressing any underlying imbalances.
The second step is to evaluate how much strength training you need. Again, this is a big component of individualization. Here is a test you can do to tell you how much strength training you will need. Find what you 1 repetition maximum is in the squat. Is it more than 1.5 times your bodyweight? If it is, you don’t need that much strength training (notice that I didn’t say “you don’t need any strength training”). If your 1 repetition maximum in the squat is below 1.5 times your bodyweight, you’ll get significant benefits from strength training.
A general program should have a few exercises, and should have you in and out of the gym in under an hour.
One word of caution: the most common strength training programs you find on the internet are bodybuilding programs. You are a basketball player. There is no sense in following a program made for a bodybuilder. Not only is it a waste of your training time, it is detrimental to your game.
The third step, once you are up to par in your strength is to gradually transition into power training. This is where things like plyometrics come in. But hold your horses. Plyometrics are extremely misused, so before you jump right into a plyometric program, you need to go through the first two steps before jumping (no pun intended) to this step.
So there you have it. A quick primer on the basics of strength training for basketball. Future articles will address endurance training, as well as go into more depth on the various aspects of strength training. Additionally, there will be some case studies of specific athletes, and how their programs were designed.