Do you ever wonder how Kevin Love, despite possessing limited athleticism, is able to rip down a rebound in traffic, or how LeBron James and Russell Westbrook are able to drive to the basket, absorb contact, and contort their bodies in ways that seem impossible for the mere mortal? Sure, these guys possess immense skills and basketball smarts, but they also have another thing in common: Strong core muscles.
Your core muscles are essentially your lower back, abdominals (including your oblique muscles), and hip flexors. Your core connects your upper and lower body and is vital for balance, good posture and general stability. A weak core means that no matter how big your shoulders or biceps are, you’ll be lacking in explosive power, and will be sure to develop back problems later in life.
In basketball it helps to have a strong legs and a strong upper body, but a strong core supports both. Explosive power is generated in your hips and mid-section—just ask any boxer—and it’s no different for the basketball player exploding to the hoop. Whether you’re an player aspiring to make the pros, or just want to improve your rec’ league performance, here are 5 great core exercises that will translate to a better performance on the hard-court.
So you want to be able to blow by your defender off the dribble? Having strong hip flexors is a step in the right direction. So much explosive power comes from you hips, and transitioning from a stationary position to a quick push-off and drive is greatly helped by having strong hip flexors. To help improve your hip flexor strength attach a cable to your ankle (do 12 reps on each side) and let the foot that is attached draw back, before driving that knee forward and up towards your chest. Push your stationary foot into the ground while you are driving your other leg upwards. All the while make you sure that you engage your abdominals and keep your back straight.
In order to drive to the hoop, or make any sudden upper body movements, a strong lower back is essential. It is vital for stability and control. Position yourself on a hyperextension bench (there should be one available at your local gym) and raise your upper body until your hips and waist are fully extended. If you’re new to this exercise start off using just your body weight and gradually work towards holding a weight to your chest as you get stronger. Not only is this exercise great at strengthening your lower back, if done correctly, it will also give your hamstrings a fantastic workout as well.
Another fantastic exercise for your lower back, one that will make you a beast in the paint and help with that explosive lift you’ll need to get off your jump shot in traffic, or snare a rebound, is the deadlift. If you’re a beginner start with lightweight on the barbell, or just with the barbell itself. Position yourself so that your shins are close to the bar—almost touching—and so your hands are gripping the bar slightly wider than shoulder width. Bend at the knees, keep your back straight, and thrust out your backside as if you’re doing a squat. As you lift, drive your heels into the ground and thrust your hips out on the way up.
Increase the strength of your abdominals and you’ll increase your vertical leaping ability. If your abs are weak you won’t fully maximize the speed and power needed in a game of basketball. A general plank is great for your abdominals, but for another level of intensity, try planking on a stability ball—that will really force your core to work hard. With you back straight and your legs stretched out behind you, place your forearms down on the stability ball and hold that position for as long as you can. To take the intensity to another level place your elbows on the ball and make a circular motion with them.
A few years ago the NBA ran a commercial that showed various players in the gym sweating and putting in the effort required to be great on the hard-court. Kobe Bryant, a legendary gym rat, was shown doing oblique twists with a medicine ball—a fantastic exercise that strengthens those side abdominals that do wonders for your posture. Throughout his career Kobe has been a master at contorting his body in the lane, in order to finish in traffic. Strong oblique muscles have undoubtedly helped his cause. For this exercise, sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat. With both hands hold the medicine ball directly in front of you and slowly and smoothly twist your torso to each side, keeping you head straight, and briefing touching the ball on the ground as you turn.