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The Ultimate Guide to Strength Training for Basketball Players: Why, How and What You Need!

The Ultimate Guide To Strength Training For Basketball Players

By Ball Till We Fall, Last Updated February 6, 2022

Category: Basketball Training Guides

Improve Your Strength and Dominate On The Court This Basketball Season

Strength training is an essential component of basketball strength and conditioning. If you want to jump higher and physically dominate the game on both ends of the basketball court you must invest time and effort into making your body as functionally strong as possible. Training for strength must be done intelligently. To maximize strength gains, training must be done in a way that is not likely to cause injury or hinder basketball performance

This is achieved by following a well-designed basketball specific weight training program

To ensure we made this the best strength training guide available online for basketball players we scoured the internet for weeks to compile the leading science based research on the subject. We also collated knowledge from some of the worlds best strength coaches such as Jeff Nippard @jeffnippard and Overtime Athletes (@overtimeathletes), just to name a couple.

  •  This science based article has been fact checked for accuracy. Learn more
Strength Training For Basketball Players Guide

Strength Simplified

Exercise periodization and programming for strength development can often be a confusing and convoluted topic, making it a difficult concept to understand.

But don't worry, I'm going to break down and simplify all the science based information you need to know about exactly how you should lift weights to get strong.

I'll explain why strength focused resistance training is important for basketball players, then I'll go through how this style of training works and what benefits it provides.

Next, I'll talk about the best strength-building exercises for ballers and provide demonstration videos featuring the worlds best strength trainers to help you learn how to use correct form.

You'll also see a list of some of our favourite strength training equipment that can help you on your journey.

Finally I will explain how you can transfer strength gains into an explosive vertical jumping ability.

I have also listed our top 3 recommended online basketball strength training programs that you can download and get started on today. You can jump ahead and check them out here.

What Exactly Is Strength?

Strength Training Adaptions Anatomy and Physiology

Strength is the ability to produce force. When strength training, you lift weights or try to overcome a resistance (body-weight, machines, bands etc) that is challenging for your body to move through a range of motion and to a particular degree. Hence why it is often referred to as resistance training

When training for max strength you must apply a principle known as progressive overload. This principle requires the gradual increase in the load, frequency, and/or number of repetitions of specific exercises performed in training sessions.

Progressive resistance training breaks down your muscle fibers and which then get rebuilt back stronger as they adapt to the stress you place on them.

This training process results in increased muscle size, strength and density.

Are you in a hurry and don't have time to learn how to get strong, and instead just want to get started on an easy to follow step by step strength training program today. Check out the #1 Online Weight Training Program For Basketball Players. It has been used by over 100,000 athletes worldwide and offers a 60 day risk free trial. If you want to get strong and improve your vertical jump be sure to check it out!

Why Strength Train For Basketball?

Strength is important for any athlete playing basketball because it can help improve performance on the court. 

Increasing strength and power can help basketball athletes jump higher (and dunk), shoot from further away, and run faster on the court.  

Enhanced strength can enable athletes to play more physically and absorb contact without being knocked off balance.  

Additionally, resistance training can help reduce the risk of injuries. Research has found that many common basketball injuries, such as ankle sprains, are due to muscle weakness.¹ Strength training can help correct muscular imbalances and make players less susceptible to injury.

It is vital to remember that resistance training for athletes must remain basketball specific. Every strength exercise performed in the gym should have direct carry over to on court performance. The end goal is not to be able to bench press or squat impressive numbers, although these may be a welcomed outcome.

The goal is to remain focused on the key concepts behind the sport of basketball and leverage strength gains to develop: 

  • Mobility and functional range of motion.
  • Explosiveness and the ability to jump higher.
  • Dynamic stability, trunk control and the ability to maintain strength while changing direction.
  • Speed, reactiveness and agility.

How Much Strength Do You Really Need For Basketball?

The strength that you need for basketball depends on what position you play.

Generally, power forwards and centers need more brute strength than point guards and shooting guards do. Strength is particularly important for post offense and defense, boxing out and rebounding. 

For point guards, the ability to maintain a center of gravity through contact is often much more essential than gaining absolute strength and mass. For these players perturbation training and wrestling based movements may be enough.

That said, all athletes can benefit from adding strength to their game.

Dennis Rodman Strength Training Routine

NBA player Dennis Rodman used strength training to his advantage, allowing him to guard much bigger players such as Shaq

Your Quest For Max Strength Gains Begins In The Off-Season

Off-Season Training

The preseason and/or off-season are the best times to undertake serious heavy weight training as it won’t interfere with other basketball training, practice or game performance. It is important to consider that cardiovascular exercise can be detrimental to strength gains. Evidence suggests that strength training should be the primary focus during the off-season or preseason, with cardiovascular exercise taking a secondary role.² 

Proper basketball nutrition should also be a priority to ensure that all the hard work you are putting in the gym is not undone by what you are putting into your body. There are also a range of supplements that can help basketball players support their training and help optimize their strength gains. Creatine is the best supplement to support strength gains.

Transitioning To In-Season Training

As the competitive season gets closer, it is recommended that focus should shift towards maintaining strength and power, rather than increasing them. Training too heavy during the season may leave players with fatigue and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) which studies have shown to significantly decrease on-court performance.³

These days NBA players rarely lift heavy during the season. 

Whenever you do see an NBA player training in the gym during the regular season these days, they are often working on simply maintaining strength, with a greater focus on mobility and injury prevention exercises.

Lebron James Strength Training Routine

Lebron James focuses on light mobility and strength maintenance during the season. His heavy lifting is done in the off-season

Interestingly back before the 20th century's rise of sports science many athletes, such as the members of the 90's Chicago Bulls team regularly lifted heavy throughout the entire season. They even lifted heavy on game days!

Check out the video below to see how the 90's NBA Chicago Bulls team worked on their strength:

Keep It Simple

A lot of modern strength and conditioning coaches and online basketball trainers want to over-complicate resistance training with complex routines. This often does more harm than good as it turns many people away from pursuing their goals of increased strength due to paralysis from analysis.

Many coaches say that training with weights will negatively affect your shot technique. The best way to avoid hurting your shot technique is to keep getting plenty of shots ups during the strength training period. By shooting high rep shots at frequent intervals your body will re-calibrate motor patterns to your new found strength gains.

Related: Improve You Shot! Read our Steph Curry Masterclass Review.

Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen lifted heavy free weights and machines during the season throughout their entire careers. It didn't seem to throw off their shot. Dennis Rodman showed an extreme dedication to strength training, often spending hours before and after games in the gym. This allowed him to become one of the greatest rebounders of all time.

Although the latest "research" suggests otherwise I personally take the old school approach and enjoy training relatively heavy all year round. Experiment and find out what type of training periodization schedule works for you. 

How To Train With Weights For Basketball Specific Strength Gains?

There are many different ways to strength train for basketball. However, all strength-training programs should ultimately aim to improve both strength and power, plus hopefully reduce the risk of injury. This is done through progressive overload, which means gradually increasing the weight used in your workout sets over time. 

Studies show that strength training is very angle and velocity specific. The sport specificity of the end goals you want to achieve should also evolve and become more focussed over time. For example if the athletes goal is to jump higher, what may start out as a heavy resistance training program that initially aims to build maximal leg strength may evolve into more of a power and vertical jump program over the course of 12 weeks.  

It’s important to focus on compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously. This is because these exercises activate the most muscle mass and provide the biggest strength and power gains.

Here are the 4 golden rules of strength training: 

  1. Strength training gives preference to sets of lower repetitions (1-8) over sets of higher repetitions (8-15+).
  2. Strength training revolves around a relatively small number of classic compound exercises. 
  3. Strength training priorities weight increases over increased volume (sets and repetitions).
  4. Strength training prioritizes rest periods, long enough to recover, before each set of exercise.

Let’s take a closer look at how manipulation of these important training variables can help build strength that will carry over from the weight room to the basketball court.


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What Are The Best Strength Training Exercises Basketball Athletes Should Use?

How To Jump Higher With weight training

Deadlifts are a great exercise to help athletes build brute strength and explosive power

The 6 Best Strength Training Exercises For Basketball Players 

Here are our top strength building exercises we believe basketball athletes should use and video demonstrations of how to do them correctly. There are hundreds more exercises out there but these are the ones that hit all the major muscle groups and will give you the best bang for your buck.

Remember to periodize your strength training with power and plyometric work to ensure your adaptions are basketball specific.This is the tricky part! If you need help with this I suggest checking out this basketball weight lifting program or some of these great jump programs.

1. Squat Variations

Squats are a great lower body exercise that builds strength in the hamstrings, glutes and quadriceps. It's a great exercise for improving vertical jump height and explosiveness. Front squats are a variation of the traditional squat that focuses more on strength in the quadriceps. The range of motion of squats can be manipulated to achieve a number of sport specific goals. For example quarter squats may provide carry over to jumping ability. You can also use things like box squats to generate more power from a low static stance. Box squats are a great variation for bigs who need to power up off two feet in the post. It is also very important to use single leg variations of the squat to help build dynamic trunk control and stability. Squats also have a high transfer to other lifts that we might be utilising as we progress to speed strength movements.

Here is a great video by strength and conditioning coach Jeff Nippard demonstrating how to squat for maximal leg strength gains:

2. Deadlifts

Deadlifts work almost every muscle in your body; they’re one of the best exercises you can do for strength and size. I personally recommend Trap Bar deadlifts for most athletes as they are easier to  learn and kinder on the lower back than traditional deadlifts. Deadlifts are particularly great for big guys who need strength and stability in the post. If you are a centre or power forward you have got to try these. Trap bar deadlifts can also be progressed to speed strength movements such as trap bar jumps. This is a great way to tech the athlete how to explode rapidly and decelerate on the ground.

Here is a great video by Alpha Density demonstrating how to trap bar deadlift for maximal lower limb and posterior chain strength gains:

3. Bench Press

Bench press strength is helpful on the basketball court, particularly for post players. Having a strong pressing ability can help you create separation on the offensive end and allow you to shoot from a deeper range. Upper body strength can also help basketball athletes better absorb contact when driving to the basket or fighting for a rebound. The bench press is used to test the strength of athletes in the NBA Draft Combine.

Here is another great video by Jeff Nippard demonstrating how to bench press for maximal chest, back and shoulder strength gains:

4. Chin-ups & Pullups

Chin-ups are one of the best upper body strength exercises to build arm strength, back strength. This exercise is a must for players who want to improve their ability to box out with authority and become better rebounders. Shoulder stability can go along way towards extending a players career as the shoulder is very vulnerable to injury.

Here is a great video by Cali Movement demonstrating how to pullup for maximal back strength gains:

5. Calf Raises

Calf raises are used to build strength in the soleus and gastrocnemius muscles that can be later converted to explosiveness with vertical jump training and plyometric exercises. One leg or two leg calf raises are a great exercise to help prevent tendon injuries of the lower limb.

Here is another great video by Jeff Nippard demonstrating how to calf raise for maximal lower limb strength gains:

6. Power Cleans

Although not technically a strength movement power cleans are a great transition exercise for developing power in the hips and legs once a strong fundamental base of strength has been established. These take a little while to master but can really help increase your vertical jumping ability.

What Strength Training Equipment Should I Use?

List Of Best Strength Training Equipment For Basketball Players

Strength-training equipment can play a big role in strength and conditioning success. You may find this equipment in your gym weight room or alternatively, they can be purchased for home use. It’s important to understand the different kinds of resistance training equipment, how it works and when you may want to incorporate it into your routine. Here are some great pieces of strength-training gear that most athletes will find useful on their journey to enhanced strength:

Helpful Strength Development Equipment List:

  1. Barbells
  2. Dumbbells
  3. Power rack
  4. Weight plates
  5. Adjustable bench
  6. Trap bar
  7. Stability ball
  8. Medicine balls
  9. Plyometric box
  10. Resistance bands

How Heavy Should I Lift?

The weight you use in strength training should be heavy enough that the last few reps of each set are difficult to complete. However, it’s important not to lift too much weight beyond your capability, as this can lead to injury.

Start with a weight that you can comfortably lift for ten to fifteen repetitions and increase the weight gradually as you get stronger. A reasonable starting point would be to lift a load of around 50-60% of your 1 rep max. Beginners tend to gain strength quickly when strength training for basketball, so it can be tempting to add more weight and train with high loads and volume. Beginners should learn to keep their ego in check and focus on perfecting form whilst capitalizing on their "noob gains", while they last.

When training for strength development and sports performance, it’s vital to incorporate explosive exercises that mimic the actions you perform on the court.

A well-designed training program should initially focus on developing correct technique and building stability. The program should then progressively add heavier weights until the desired strength base is achieved. Once an athlete has built a strong foundation the load may be progressively bumped up to around 80-90% of their 1 rep max for 1-5 reps per set. This will maximize absolute strength development. 

Once this has been accomplished and maintained over a period of several weeks, a more aggressive sports-specific approach should be introduced. In this next phase, strength training becomes more focused on power and speed development and less concerned with increasing muscle size and strength. Here is a great weight training program that can help you achieve this.

What Volume and Duration Should My Strength-Training Program Have?

Volume is the number of sets x reps performed in a given workout. Generally, basketball players should aim to perform between three and six sets of each strength-training exercise. Studies have revealed that the optimal duration of a strength-training workout should be around 45 minutes to one hour max. After approximately one-hour strength-training sessions, strength gains are reduced. This is due to hormonal changes that occur during strength-training sessions; it is, therefore, important to keep strength training workouts as relatively short as possible.

Keeping the training intensity up can ensure you get all of your workout completed in under an hour. Coffee and caffeine or a perhaps a pre workout energy drink can sometimes help to maintain intensity during training sessions. If you really want to raise the intensity you can get crazy with smelling salts.

How Long Should I Rest In Between Strength Training Sets?

It generally takes between one to five minutes to recover from a relatively heavy strength set. This is known as the rest interval. Research has shown that longer rest times (3+ mins) are best for maximizing muscle strength gains and are therefore very beneficial. Resting for too long (more than five minutes) can lead to a decrease in strength and power due to loss of mental intensity. However, resting for too short a time interval (eg. less than one minute) can also lead to fatigue and a decrease in strength and power. A good starting point is to rest for three-five minutes between sets.

How Many Days Per Week Should I Train For Strength?

Basketball strength training workouts should be undertaken every second or third day to allow for full recovery between sessions. This allows strength gains to occur without fatigue interfering with strength and power. For example, strength train on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. 3 times per week will be plenty for both beginner and intermediate trainers. Advanced trainers may need slightly more volume. Ultimately the intensity and volume of your sessions will determine how many days rest you will need to fully recover. it is also vital to make time for mobility exercises and active recovery. Also, don't forget that concurrent strength and endurance training are not ideal when trying to get strong. This can be tricky if you are playing a lot of basketball. Of course you don't want to lose your fitness, so try to find a balance that allows you to get the best of both worlds.

Evolving From Strength To Speed and Explosive Power Development

From Strength training to jump training

It is at the mid to later stages of a basketball strength training program that power training and plyometrics are added to the protocol. Power training and plyometric drills improve explosive power and speed, which is essential for dunking. Training with explosive movements can be dangerous and exercise prescription is often complex. It is always best to work with a qualified trainer when first training for explosiveness.

If you are after a "done for you" online strength training program to follow I highly recommend checking out this online workout plan by Jacob Hiller. His online program has helped thousands upon thousands of regular people get strong for basketball using proper form, improve their vertical jump ability and be able to dunk. He also offers one on one coaching tips at a very affordable price. You can read our full Jump Manual Review to learn more.

Don't Forget To Link The Kinetic Chain With Core Strengthening Exercises!

Core Strength Training Helps Athletes Perform Better

Core exercises should also be included as a strength training component for athletes. These include abdominal and lower back exercises that improve strength, balance and coordination to prevent injury during high-intensity workouts. Core training can also help athletes jump higher and sprint faster by creating a more efficient kinetic chain link between the upper and lower limbs. Your body is only as strong as it's weakest link. In many athletes the weakest link is their core. Don't let this happen to you. Some great core exercises include hanging leg raises, ab wheel rollouts and plank variations.

Will Getting Strong Make You Slow On The Court?

NBA player supplement list

No, strength gains should not make you slow on the court if you are training correctly. In fact, strength training can actually help improve your speed and agility. This is because strength training can help improve your muscular efficiency. Stronger muscles are able to generate more force in a shorter period of time, which can translate into quicker sprints and more agile movements on the basketball court.

However excess muscle and fat mass will definitely slow a basketball player down. The goal of strength training should be to improve strength and power without gaining excess muscle mass that would impede on quickness and agility. 

Do NBA Players Do Strength Training?

Yes, strength training is crucial for National Basketball Association (NBA) players regardless of their position. Most teams and players employ their own strength trainers. Often they are highly qualified trainers from organizations such as the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).  NBA strength and conditioning coaches put their athletes through a wide range of strength-training exercises to develop functional strength and resilience. During the season most NBA players use light circuit training to maintain strength and prevent muscle and tendon injuries. Off-season is when their strength and conditioning coach will typically focus on increasing strength and power.

Who Is The Strongest NBA Player?

There is no clear answer as to who the strongest NBA player is. According to anecdotal reports among NBA players Steven Adams is currently one of the strongest players in the league. Adams is reported to have a maximum bench press weight of 400 pounds.

Kawai Leonard, Andre Drummond and Dwight Howard also have a reputation for impressive displays of strength in the weight room. However, strength is not just about benching the most weight. When strength training for basketball, it's important to consider the strength-to-weight ratio as well as explosive power and speed. Adding too much muscle as a result of training with weights can actually slow an athlete down. So, resistance training should be aimed at developing all-round functional strength and power, not just muscle size and strength.

NBA Player Bradley Beal Is Strong

NBA point guard Bradley Beal demonstrates his impressive strength on a trap bar deadlift

Recommended Top 3 Online Strength Training Programs You Can Start Today

There are many basketball strength training programs available online. However, not all of these programs are created equal. It's important to select a strength-training program that is suited to your individual needs and level of fitness.

If you are an absolute beginner, start with a basic home-based basketball-specific bodyweight training program such as Vert Shock . This program aims to gradually develop lower limb stability, strength, and bounce. This popular time-tested program is perfect for younger athletes who want to increase their vertical jump fast. You can read our full Vert Shock Review to learn more. It is also a great "finisher" program for athletes who are extremely strong already and just require a good shock training program.

If you are an intermediate to advanced trainer, consider an advanced strength-training program that focuses on developing all of the aspects of training I mentioned above. The Jump Manual is the #1 online strength-training program that has helped thousands of athletes worldwide to jump higher, run faster and dunk. The Jump Manual's training is designed for basketball players. It is based on scientific evidence and has been designed by Jacob Hiller, an NBA strength coach with over 15 years of experience. You can read our full Jump Manual Review to learn more.

If you are an older athlete and/or more focused on injury prevention perhaps you would enjoy the work of the Knees Over Toes guy Ben Patrick. Ben Patrick has created a resistance and mobility training program that focuses on injury prevention and mastery of fundamental movement patterns. You can check out his program here.

Considerations For Strength Training For Teenage Basketball Players

It is important to consider the strength training needs of teenage athletes. Teenagers are still developing their strength, coordination and balance so should strength train with lightweight and high repetitions. As an athlete gets older they can gradually increase their weight and decrease the repetitions. Teenage athletes should play the slow game and realise that strength training is a lifelong pursuit and the goal is not to reach max potential in several weeks to months.

Parents Of Athletes > READ THIS

Considerations For Strength Training For Older Athletes

As an athlete ages, strength training becomes increasingly important to maintain functional strength, bone density, and joint stability. Strength training can allow athletes to play for longer and can even help to prevent age-related injuries. The extra emphasis placed on sports science and the benefits of strength and conditioning in the professional sporting world over the past decade has seen a gradual increase in the average age of athletes playing at the top level.

Final Thoughts On How Strength Training Can Make You A Better Basketball Player

Strength Training Can Make You A Better Basketball Player

So, as you can see, resistance training is an essential part of improving you sports performance. If you really want to dominate the game on both ends of the basketball court you must invest time and effort into making your body as physically strong as possible.

In summary, basketball strength training provides many benefits including:

  1. Builds a body that is more resistant to injury.
  2. Develops motor skills that promote more efficient and effective movement.
  3. Improves multi-directional force application that allows a player to move faster and jump higher.
  4. Improves the ability of the body to absorb forces throughout the neuromuscular system.
  5. Increases lean muscle mass, making you a more dominant and intimidating player.
  6. Decreases rest and recovery times from high intensity in-game and training efforts.
  7. Increases the total amount of training volume that an athlete can undertake over a yearly period without burnout and injury concerns.
  8. Improves an athlete's ability to handle physical and mental strength.

As Michal Jordan said "Some people want it to happen. Some people wish it would happen. Other people make it happen."

Strength training IS NOT EASY. It requires relentless dedication and effort.

Can you make it happen?

This article has been fact checked for accuracy: See References

At Ball Till We Fall, we strive to deliver objective content that is accurate and up-to-date. Our head editorial team of qualified exercise physiologists and strength and conditioning coaches thoroughly review all published science based articles in order to ensure content quality. The sources cited below consist of evidence from peer-reviewed journals, respected medical organizations and academic associations. Although we strive to deliver accurate and up-to-date information, no guarantee to that effect is made.
Scientific References That Helped Us Write This Article:
  1. Schiltz M, Lehance C, Maquet D, Bury T, Crielaard JM, Croisier JL. Explosive strength imbalances in professional basketball players. J Athl Train. 2009;44(1):39-47. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-44.1.39
  2. Wilson, Jacob M.1; Marin, Pedro J.2,3; Rhea, Matthew R.4; Wilson, Stephanie M.C.1; Loenneke, Jeremy P.5; Anderson, Jody C.1 Concurrent Training, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: August 2012 - Volume 26 - Issue 8 - p 2293-2307
    doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31823a3e2d
  3. Doma, Kenji1; Leicht, Anthony1; Sinclair, Wade1; Schumann, Moritz2; Damas, Felipe3; Burt, Dean4; Woods, Carl5 Impact of Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage on Performance Test Outcomes in Elite Female Basketball Players, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: June 2018 - Volume 32 - Issue 6 - p 1731-1738 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002244
  4. de Salles BF, Simão R, Miranda F, Novaes Jda S, Lemos A, Willardson JM. Rest interval between sets in strength training. Sports Med. 2009;39(9):765-77. doi: 10.2165/11315230-000000000-00000. PMID: 19691365.
  5. Krzysztofik M, Wilk M, Wojdała G, Gołaś A. Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(24):4897. Published 2019 Dec 4. doi:10.3390/ijerph16244897
  6. National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)

You should now have a strong understanding of why and how resistance training can benefit you in a basketball game. Regardless if you are a centre, power forward or point guard be sure to use the exercises and equipment recommended in this guide to help improve your strength, power, and performance on the basketball court. Perhaps consider hiring a strength and conditioning coach to show you the ropes. Alternatively, if you want an easy to follow program that you can start today then check out this awesome basketball weight training plan. And finally, good luck with your basketball strength training next off-season!

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