The Complete Guide to Strength and Conditioning for Basketball
Wanna be so agile that you break some guy's ankles? So powerful that you straight up leap over a guy and land that board-smashing dunk? You're gonna need some serious physical presence, and to get it, let's talk about strength and conditioning for basketball. Here's what we'll be covering...
The Big Problem: A Lot of Basketball Strength and Conditioning Advice Sucks
I've been delivering strength and conditioning for almost a decade, across various sports, with everyone from recreation to elite international athletes, and I'm going to be real with you, a lot of the programs and workouts out there are just not good.
Some of the info is just plain old wrong, some of it is okay, but very little of it is optimal, and that's what you're looking for right?
"Who wants to be only half as good as they could possibly be?"
Think I'm exaggerating? Check out this 2015 recommend workouts page from USA Basketball. One workout suggests super-setting rear delt flyes with treadmill sprints (guaranteed to make you look like the biggest clown in the gym) whilst another has you doing 500 reps in 15 minutes. Why? God only knows!
It sucks to put hours, weeks and months into training that doesn't get you proper results. It's frustrating, it wastes your time, and it costs you opportunities. No more.
Basketball Strength and Conditioning - What You Actually Need to Do (Based on Years of Hard Data)
In 2005 a survey (Simenz et al.) asked 20 leading NBA strength and conditioning coaches what type of training they wrote and how they organised it. These were the guys at the top of their game. Common themes included strength work, power work, as well as some conditioning and flexibility work. The use of plyometrics, squats and olympic style lifts was popular, and the coaches all tended to use a form of periodisation to organise this training.
On basketball conditioning specifically, a fantastic paper (Schelling and Torres-Ronda 2013) broke down and analysed the various energy systems at play within competitive matches, and suggested a 5 system periodised model to develop these systems.
If it all looks a bit complex, don't stress it, I'm going to simplify it into a step-by-step training plan for you later in the article.
Strength Training for Basketball
Why is strength important in basketball?
Strength training is the fundamental building block of power and rate of force development. Your acceleration, change of direction and jumping ability all require you to be strong. Strength also reduces your risk of injury.
How do you build strength for basketball?
You build strength for basketball just like you build strength for anything else, by using resistance training, progressively adding weight to your lifts over time.
For basketball, we want the majority of your training to be lower body focused, but with enough upper body work still in there to help you fend off opponents and maintain your space.
Basketball strength exercises
With a lot of strength exercises to choose from, here are some of my recommended strength exercises for basketball. I've divided them up by movement pattern and by stimulus level. Lighter movements tend to be easier on your body, and great for most beginners, heavier movements tend to be a bit harder on your body, and unilateral (1 sided) movements are great for balance and stability.
Lower Body Push
Lower Body Pull
Upper Body Push
Upper Body Pull
Bulgarian Split Squats
Single Leg Feet Elevated Ham Bridges
Dumbbell Bench Press
How many sets and reps for basketball strength training?
I recommend going with 1-5 sets of 3-6 reps for most exercises, sometimes going as high as 10 reps at times (mainly on unilateral exercises)
In season, you might only do 1 or 2 sets, especially if a game is close, whereas in off or pre-season you might do 5 sets.
How often should basketball players lift weights?
How often you lift depends on the basketball season. If you're in-season then chances are you're only going to be doing 1, maybe 2 strength sessions per week. In your off-season, this might be more like 4 or 5 strength sessions per week. It's all about balancing training stimulus and your ability to recover.
In-season Basketball Strength Training Program
This is just an example program as I don't know your exact training situation (If you want something individualised for you, consider asking me to write you a custom program)
Once per week:
Goblet Squat: 2 sets of 6 reps @ RIR 3
Deadlift: 1 set of 5 reps @ RIR 3
DB Bench Press: 2 sets of 6-8 reps @ RIR 3
TRX Row: 2 sets of 6-8 reps @ RIR 3
*RIR is Reps in Reserve
Notice how in-season training is pretty easy? You're mainly looking to maintain or slightly improve.
Off-Season basketball strength training program
*Almost all sets should be at 2RIR or 1RIR.
Day 1: Upper A
Bench Press: 4 sets of 5 reps
DB Row: 3 sets of 8 reps
Day 2: Lower A
Back Squat: 4 sets of 4 reps
Back Extension: 3 sets of 10 reps
Day 3: Upper B
Barbell Row: 4 sets of 6 reps
DB Bench Press: 3 sets of 8 reps
Day 4: Lower B
Romanian Deadlift: 3 sets of 5 reps
Goblet Squat: 3 sets of 8 reps
*Notice how off-season training has more sessions and more sets? This is where you're going to want to push your strength work as hard as possible.
Order a Custom Basketball Strength and Conditioning Program
If you want someone to take the thinking away and give you a roadmap, why not consider having me design and write your basketball strength and conditioning programme specifically for you?
You send in your details, answer some questions about your training numbers, goals, training history, equipment etc, and then I craft your program custom to you.
I also throw in a check-in each month, just to make sure that everything is working well, and to make any adjustments if needed.
Power Training for Basketball
Why is power training important for basketball?
Why else? So that you can dunk baby! Well, dunk, but also jump, accelerate, sprint, change direction, shoot and pass.
How do you train power for basketball?
There are two main movement patterns that you will need to be powerful in on the court: Lower body pushes, for your jumps, sprints and changes of direction, and upper body pushes, for your shots and passes.
I recommend 1-2 exercises for each movement type, performed 2-4 times per week, for 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps.
Basketball power exercises
Lower Body Pushing
Upper Body Pushing
Squat Jumps / Countermovement Jumps
Med Ball Chest Throws
Med Ball One Arm Throws
Hang or Box Clean Pulls
Med Ball Overhead Throws
Conditioning for Basketball
Why is conditioning important for basketball?
Being able to accelerate, change direction and jump is great, but you've got to be able to do those things repeatedly for a prolonged period of time. No team wants an amazing basketballer who can only play ball for 5 minutes. That's where your conditioning comes in.
What types of conditioning do you need for basketball?
Above I mentioned a great 2013 paper by Schelling and Torres-Ronda. I've used it to form my recommendations here. You need to develop:
Aerobic fitness and VO2 Max: Using longer, low-intensity methods
Anaerobic Lactic Fitness: Using mid-length, mid-intensity methods
ATP/PCR systems and Anaerobic Endurance: Using short-length, high-intensity methods
The ability to combine these in match formats: Using basketball-specific drills and games
*Specific workouts for each are just below
How do I plan basketball conditioning?
Imagine a pyramid. We want to start by building a wide, general base, and then taper down and get more specific to basketball as we near the competitive season.
Off-Season Basketball Conditioning Program
These are your classic aerobic capacity workouts. Not too hard, you're just building the base.
Session 1: 30-40 minutes at 70% VO2 Max (About 80% max heart rate)
Session 2: 4x4 minutes at 90-95% VO2 Max (About 95% max heart rate) with 3 mins rest
Pre-Season Basketball Conditioning Program
Session 1 is your lactate session (it's going to burn) whilst session 2 is your power endurance session, which builds your ability to repeat max efforts.
Session 1: 3x(6x15s) @ "all-out" intensity. 45s rest between reps. 4 min rest between sets.
Session 2: 2x(10x5s) @ "all-out" intensity. 30s rest between reps. 4 min rest between sets.
In-Season Basketball Conditioning Program
This is where we take all your prior hard work and make it as specific as possible.
Session 1: On court. Fast-paced drills. Small-sided games. Games with fewer players, compact spaces, shorter rests etc. Training that is deliberately physically demanding.
Session X: Performed once every 2-3 weeks. Pick either session 1 or 2 from pre-season.
Strength and Conditioning for Basketball: Putting it All Together
Alright, we've covered a lot of information. Good information. But a lot of information. So let me condense it down into a quick TLDR summary for you in infographic form.
When you put everything together in this sequence, you'll be the strongest, most explosive and fastest basketball player you've ever been. We're talking higher jumps, quicker passes, more aggressive and agile changes of direction and loads more. Plus you'll have the energy to keep playing at 100% whilst everyone else is getting tired.
That's a recipe for dominating your opponents, winning games, and getting noticed by talent scouts.
Strength and Conditioning for Basketball: Frequently Asked Questions
Can I combine different types of sessions in my basketball strength and conditioning plan?
Yes, absolutely. I've found that strength and power sessions work really well together. 1 or 2 power exercises plus 1 or 2 strength exercises are a great combo.
Try to keep your basketball conditioning workouts at least 3-4 hours apart from your strength workouts though, so as to minimise the interference effect.
What is the best conditioning for basketball?
It's not 17s, NBA lane agility drills or suicide drills that's for sure. The best conditioning for basketball is a combination of aerobic, lactic, anaerobic and skill-specific fitness, as described above.
Are strong arms important for basketball?
Not really, good athletes generate power from their legs, core, hips and shoulder complex. With that said, if you follow the recommendations above, your arms will get stronger.
Alright, that's enough reading for today, time for some action...
1) Get in the gym and start training as I've described above to give yourself the athletic edge. And if you want something more individualised, consider having a look at my custom programme options
2) If you want more training tips, workouts and programmes, feel free to join my mailing list.
3) And if you're looking for 1:1 strength and conditioning coaching to improve your sports performance, you can find more information about my personal coaching services here.
'Til Next Time
Alex Parry, MSc, BA
Alex is the Head content writer and Coach at Character Strength & Conditioning, as well as an Assistant Lecturer and PhD Researcher at the University of Hull.
His experience includes 7+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.
Schelling, Xavi; Torres-Ronda, Lorena (2013). Conditioning for Basketball: Quality and Quantity of Training. Strength and Conditioning Journal: December 2013 - Volume 35 - Issue 6 - p 89-94. doi: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000018
Simenz, C. J., Dugan, C. A., & Ebben, W. P. (2005). Strength and conditioning practices of National Basketball Association strength and conditioning coaches. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 19(3), 495–504. https://doi.org/10.1519/15264.1