All my athletes, and especially my basketball players, want to know how they can increase their “bounce.” My answer is, it’s easy. It’s just a simple matter of physics and hard work! And for my players, these are my five best exercises that translate to the movements and strength qualities of basketball players.
I have been blessed to serve as the strength and conditioning coach for multiple state champions, including two high school basketball state champs, and designed and consulted on the program for a national champion high school basketball team. Many people ask me what I believe are the best strength training exercises for developing young basketball athletes. My answer is that there is not an absolute “best” list. Every coach must first decide the principles of their program. From there, he or she can determine the methods to reach the goal.
That being said, I do have favorite exercises for the high school basketball players I work with. Below I will describe the five I use most. These exercises are not in any particular order except for the first, the squat. I consider the squat the most important exercise for basketball players.
1. The Squat
The squat is the number one movement in all of my strength programs, including my basketball program. I tell my players that athletes are built from the ground up. If they want to run fast and jump high, they must have a strong base, and that all starts with the squat exercise.
The squat exercise has gotten a bad reputation from some basketball strength coaches and physical therapists who believe that tall players shouldn’t squat because they cannot do it properly. However, when I say the squat exercise is the number one movement in my strength program, I am not talking only about the back squat. Depending on their current level, my athletes may use a front squat, a goblet or dumbbell squat, or just an air squat. We put all of our athletes through a squat progression and only advance them when they’ve demonstrated proficiency in each movement.
Basketball players are always asking me what they need to do increase their vertical jump. Vertical jumping is a measurement of power, so the more an athlete can enhance their power, the greater their jumping ability will be. Force is a component of the power equation. The squat exercise will enhance an athlete’s force production capabilities during the hip and knee flexion and extensions, which are vital for jumping. Additionally, the squat increases the leg-strength-to-bodyweight ratio, an important component in an athlete’s ability to accelerate, decelerate, produce power, and elevate themselves into the air.
Simply put, if an athlete wants to be a better basketball player (jump higher, run faster, stop in less time, and change direction quicker), they need to produce more force. Squats have a direct effect on these skills and the force needed to excel at them.
2. The Clean Pull
As mentioned earlier, in order to jump high and run fast an athlete must be able to produce power. Power is the product of force times velocity. The velocity portion can also be referred to as the rate of force development. To be powerful, the goal is to produce a lot of force quickly.
The clean pull involves a triple extension of the hips, knees, and ankles. This explosive move will train rate of force development and will help the athlete become more powerful.
One of the things I like best about the clean pull is that most athletes can learn it rather quickly. The full clean exercise involves much more learning and technique than the clean pull, and I feel that athletes get great benefits of the rate of force development from the clean pull without needing to learn the full clean. If an athlete wants to progress to the full clean and catch the bar, or their college program wants them to start cleaning once they sign with them, then we will progress to it.
3. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
Many basketball athletes have weak hamstrings and weak glutes since the demands of the sport place a higher emphasis on jumping, quick burst running, and abrupt stopping—all these movements are very quad dominant. It is vital to target both the hamstrings and glutes when strength training to balance out that asymmetry. Both the hamstrings and glutes play a major role in protecting the ACL when landing from a jump and when planting and cutting.
One of my favorite exercises to train the posterior chain is the single leg Romanian deadlift. This exercise trains hamstrings and glutes, and because it is a single leg movement, it also trains balance and can help eliminate any asymmetries in the body from right leg to left leg. Additionally, when athletes perform the exercise with one dumbbell, it trains the core in anti-rotation.
4. The Chin Up
Basketball requires more pulling strength than pushing strength. The Chin-Up strengthens the muscles in the upper back and biceps, which are needed for pulling down a rebound or playing tough with the ball in the post.
All of my athletes always want to bench, and we do pressing exercises with our basketball players. However, I like to explain to them the “why” behind everything we do. When I am talking to them about the demands of the game of basketball, I really emphasize how much pulling strength is needed in basketball, and I explain how the Chin-up will help.
5. Dumbbell Step-Ups
This is a great single-leg exercise that helps to eliminate any strength imbalance between an athlete’s right and left legs. Many basketball players have one leg that is stronger than the other due to jumping off one foot more than the other. We want the body to be as symmetrical in strength as possible.
Additionally, since this movement trains one leg at a time, it improves balance, which is extremely important for a basketball player. I like to have my athletes pick their foot up off the box and then drive it into the box and step up. By picking their foot up and then driving it into the box on each rep, they learn to generate force into the ground. Lastly, at the top of the movement, I want them to drive their opposite knee up and hold it for a good two-count. This really helps develop single-leg balance and strengthens the opposite hip flexor.
In conclusion, all my athletes, and especially my basketball players, want to know how they can increase their “bounce.” My answer is, it’s easy. It’s just a simple matter of physics and hard work! And for my players, these are my five best exercises that translate to the movements and strength qualities of basketball players.