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A Basketball Training Guide for the Complete Athlete

Brett Kuehn

This basketball training guide will help any age and any level athlete prepare themselves for their basketball career as well as help any parent understand what it takes for their son or daughter to be a complete athlete. It takes a lot of practice, determination and ability to be a great basketball player and playing basketball isn’t enough if the athlete desires to be one of the best. I repeat. Playing basketball all year long isn’t enough to be a great basketball player. An athlete needs to train for basketball as well as cycle-off a training program and playing. Simply put, the athlete needs to prepare the body for the rigors of the sport and they can do this with a detailed basketball training athletic performance program. To start a journey on being a complete athlete it’s good to understand common injuries in basketball and understanding why basketball athlete should be in the weight room by following five principles. Followed by considerations when assessing and screen the athlete prior to introducing them to a structured basketball training program, and then being aware of the tools needed to strength train basketball athletes, progressive development, periodized programming, as well as other considerations when training basketball athletes to be a complete athlete. 

Common Injuries in Basketball Athletes

Injuries can never be avoided; however, a proper basketball training program that includes weight training can help reduce these injuries. According to Mueller Sports Medicine (1), the most common injuries seen in basketball athletes are ankle sprains, patellofemoral pain syndrome (kneecap pain), and ACL Injuries.  Most of these injuries are due to overuse of the specific tendon and ligament, lack of strength in the athlete, and/or the athlete over playing and not taking an off season from the sport. 

5 Principles to Follow When Developing a Training Program - Why a Basketball Athlete Should Have a Strength and Conditioning Program

Any physical preparation training program for basketball athletes should be started by applying these five principles of training to keep the athlete healthy, strong and mobile to enhance performance. The principles are very important for beginner basketball athletes seeking to stay on the court for long term because they help  build a good base for specific basketball training later on. The application and the five principles for older and more experienced athletes ensure long lasting and reduce of injury throughout their athletic career. 

Principle 1 - Develop and Maintain Mobility of the Joints

Good mobility of the joints prevents strain and pain around the joints. basketball is a sport with a great number of jumps and changes of direction. Mobility in upper and lower limbs is critical for shock absorption. Dysfunctional joints leads to compensatory movement patterns which sooner or later leads to micro trauma of the tissues and stress. Furthermore, if the player lacks mobility, his or her force production could be significantly impaired. 

Principle 2 - Develop Strength of Tendons and Ligaments 

Tendons connect muscles to bones and transmit force from muscle to bone so that a movement can occur. It also stores elastic energy which is very important for jumping, rebounding or any other ballistic activity. Ligaments attach bone to each other across the joint. The strength of ligaments are very important when high load is applied as in landing a jump. Even though tendons and ligaments are trainable, most physical preparation programs seem to lack attention to strengthening them. 

Principle 3 - Develop Strength of the Core 

According to McGill, “Muscles of the core are crucial for basketball athletes as it shows high activation during jumps, plyometric exercises and other explosive movements (2). Even though the core is not a power generator, it plays a crucial role in transmitting power generated in the hips”. Weak and unstable core musculature would mean impaired power transmission which would lead to weaker performance. For example, during rebound in basketball, the core muscles contract to stabilize the trunk so that the legs can perform explosive takeoff and the arms grab the ball. 

Principle 4 - Develop Stability

Maintaining body integrity and balance within the base of support in both static and dynamic conditions is very important. If the basketball player loses balance, all further actions of the player are most likely to be impaired until body control is regained. In the sport of basketball, where a vast amount of jumps and changes of direction occur; stable ankles, knees, hips and core are the pillars of transfer force throughout the body.

Principle 5 - Focus on Movements and Not Individual Muscles

Strength training in sports is strongly influenced by the discipline of bodybuilding and its methodology. However, even though bodybuilding type of training can be helpful for a basketball player to some extent; functional strength training covers a much broader perspective. Athletic skills in basketball such as jumping or change of direction are multipoint movements performed in a certain order. For instance, to take off the ground for a basketball rebound, the power is transmitted through hip extensors, followed by knee extensors, then ankle extensors. This powerful sequence is called triple-extension. Simply put, when athletes train for movement the muscles are strengthened to perform action with more power. 

Basketball performance is very much dependent on player’s specific skills and coach’s ability to teach and apply the most effective training methods in accordance with the player’s weaknesses and needs. However, for optimal physical performance, implementing these five principles serves as an excellent way of developing athletic and skillful players.

The Tools

What equipment do you need to train athletes for basketball? Besides the standard sport equipment such as a ball, hoop, shoes, etc. These recommendations will include the equipment needed to make the athlete stronger and faster. For new and young athletes with no training experience in the weight room I highly recommend a basketball training program that only includes body weight training. As the athlete gets stronger I then suggest adding a squat rack, barbell, weight plates, dumb bells, medicine balls, various levels of resistance bands and a VertiMax. These tools will help the athlete add resistance to their body movements to make them stronger and more prepared for the sport of basketball.

The Assessment or Screen

The athlete readiness assessment or movement screen is a basic assessment that can be as easy or detailed as you want it to be. Some will argue you need a full FMS (Functional Movement Screen) and others will argue any test can be passed. I recommend an easy screen or assessment that you can create or do that will give you an idea of how the athlete performs basic movements such as the squat, lunge, push, pull, hinge, twist, and gait. The assessment will make sure the athlete is prepared for a resistance training program which includes lifting weights, speed and agility drills, and mobility drills. For more information why you need or should do an assessment read here "Whey a Movement Assessment is Important"

Every athlete has or had its own movement limitations and this guide will assume that the athlete can move and complete proper movement patterns with proper form. If an athlete has any movement limitations I highly recommend a training regiment that starts with mastering the basics. Here is an article that will point any new athlete to resistance training in the right direction, "Are You Building or Breaking Athletes?"

Progressive Development

A progressive development training program will start the basketball athlete by using their own body weight to develop strength. This will help develop excellent strength-to-weight ratio and will teach the athlete to control their own weight across all planes of motion. A basketball training program should start with training to increase relative strength as well as programming that helps the athlete have body control. When basketball athletes are on their court it’s crucial they understand how to properly jump and have proper landing mechanics. 

Periodized Programming 

According to Verkhoshanksy, “Periodization is defined as the “long-term cyclic structuring of training and practice to maximize performance to coincide with important competitions” (3). Basically, it’s a program design strategy with systematic variations in training specificity, intensity and volume. If designed properly it will help the athlete peak athletic ability during their competitive season. When athletes are in the weight room they can’t be constantly trying to max out the weight training. There needs to be a system that incorporates rest and manages fatigue as well as manages load (amount of weight) and intensity (repetitions). When relating to basketball athletes a good path to follow would be to break the training down into four phases such as early pre-season, late pre-season, in-season, and off-season. Each phase will have its own athletic or fitness goal such as aerobic fitness, functional strength, hypertrophy, explosive power, maximum strength, and speed. 

Other Considerations for Basketball Training 

Plyometrics

Going along with your basketball training strength program plyometrics are a very effective form of power training to help basketball athletes increase vertical jump and increase explosive power on the court. In simpler form, plyometrics is jump training, but not just straight up and down. Plyometrics include explosive jumping movements that move side-to-side, twisting, etc. Plyometrics will stimulate fast-twitch muscle fibers which allow athletes to generate force quickly and efficiently. Plyometrics are a very important piece for any basketball training program, but should only be implemented if the athlete has a base of strength and body control. 

Every Athlete is Different

Every athlete will have their own strengths and weaknesses which is why a workout for basketball players needs to be individualized. A majority of athletes will all be in the same phase of their workouts; unless they’re injured. An example of individualization may be that an athlete has a weak squat so instead of loading a barbell they may only be squatting with a kettlebell. Or if an athlete has shoulder issues you’re not going to want them doing any over head lifting if the required workout includes shoulder strength training. You have to assess your athletes throughout the course of their entire career and program accordingly. When it comes to strength training it's not as easy as writing a workout on a white board and having all athletes training the same. 

Nutrition, Recovery and Rest

Nutrition, recovery and rest for basketball athletes is very important for gaining strength and power. Some of the best ways to recover from basketball training is sleep, hydration, ice, massage, and proper nutritional choices.  It’s also important to stay active on your rest days from the workout and game. Staying active on rest days can include walking, yoga, and a light workout. 

Recommendations for Athletes, Parents and Coaches

Parents, find your son or daughter a sports performance or strength and conditioning coach that understands how to assess, program, and coach your child. It’s important that your basketball athlete properly trains for basketball off the court and in the weight room. A program tailored to an individual athlete that focuses on building strength and mobility will help the athlete in their athletic career. Coaches, please understand the importance of strength training. There are numerous facilities and private strength coaches that would be happy to service your athletes if your school doesn’t have a strength and conditioning coach. 

Basketball training is more than just being on the court practicing or playing games all year round. Ask any qualified successful or long time basketball athlete and they will talk about how their success in the weight room positively impacted their athletic career. There is a lot to understand what goes into the development of basketball athletes such as assessments, periodized programming, progressive development, plyometrics, recovery and understanding that every athlete requires an individualized strength and conditioning program. If I can get any point across it would be that your kids shouldn’t be playing basketball all year round if they want a long and reduced injury career. High schools should hire a qualified strength and conditioning coach, parents allow your children to rest, recover and get them to a sports performance facility.    

  1. Gesicki, J. 2018. Muellersportsmed.com. 5 Common Basketball Injuries. 
  2. Verkhoshansky, Y., “Sport Strength Training Methodology”. Comment on Magnush. 2007
  3. McGill, S.M., 2010. Core training: Evidence translating to better performance and injury prevention. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 32(3), 33-46.

 

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