When strength coaches start putting together weight lifting programs for a particular sport, they don’t just simply jot down some favorite exercises that will make someone stronger. They don’t just copy a program that someone else made up, They don’t get onto youtube and search videos for sport related strength programs. What they do, is to analyze the sport they are working with and do a biomechanical analysis of the major movements and look at the primary energy systems needed to play the sport. These things guide their decisions about how to create a program for athletes participating in that sport. In basketball, the basic research has been done multiple times. And what the strength coaches know is that basketball is a very complex collection of athletic skills and abilities. Without going into detail of the biomechanical analysis, consider what the casual observer can understand about basketball. Basketball athletes need to be able to sprint fast, jump high, move laterally with speed in a defensive slide, react quickly to a moving opponent and ball, change direction quickly and instantly, develop hand-eye coordination skills for shooting and and ball handling, be able to stop and go quickly for 40 minutes a game and have the muscular strength of an athlete who works with his/her arms above their head to rebound, shoot and play defense.

That said, there are a lot of things to develop in order to become a better basketball player/athlete. To simplify it a little bit, we know that basketball then, is a power sport in that one needs strength and speed. A player also needs agility, that is, the ability to change direction quickly. Players also need coordination, flexibility, and anaerobic fitness. If we just focus on strength and speed for a moment though we can start to narrow down the type of workout that makes one better. To get started, I wanted to communicate a list of my top 5 lifts for basketball athletes. While there are many opinions on which weight lifting exercises are the most important for basketball players, the following core lifts, are the top 5 lifts that I believe should be included in every basketball strength program. I have included the rationale for each lift as well.

  1. Squats. The rationale here is that this one exercise develops hip strength like no other. It is this hip strength that is the basis for increasing running and jumping power. It is felt by many researchers that in order to reach your potential as a jumping athlete, that you need to squat two times your bodyweight as a minimum requirement for reaching your maximum jump height. There is still some controversy over which is better; front squats or back squats or some other variation. But since the difference is probably minimal, then start with back squats for ease of execution. In regards to the depth of a squat, this matters as well but can be variable based on a player’s ability. Some people are not structurally build to do a deeper squat and taller athletes in particular may have more problems with it. It should be also noted however that doing squats appropriately can also increase hip mobility and lateral movement ability. So a big part of squats is trying to work on things that increase the depth of the squat and not just lift more weight from a shallow position.
  2. DeadLift. The rationale here is that this lift is a prerequisite for doing other power exercises like cleans and snatches. It would be difficult to develop power through weight lifting exercises without the appropriate strength to lift a bar off the floor with good form. As such, this is also a great exercise for developing anatomical core strength and thus increasing functionality of the human musculoskeletal system. In that regard, deadlifts also help tremendously with the strength necessary to elevate in a straight vertical line in order to shoot the ball well.
  3. Power Cleans. The rationale with this exercise is that it is one of the best for developing power. It is well known that weight lifters are the most powerful athletes in the world. Competitive Olympic lifters average vertical jump heights of 38-42 inches. What basketball player wouldn’t want to have that? In addition, olympic lifts are fabulous for increasing one’s work capacity. Your ability to stay in the game without fatigue will be helped tremendously with just this one lift.
  4. Power Jerks. The rationale behind this lift is to help basketball players be more powerful while their hands are moving over their heads. Jump shot range, rebounding, lay-ups etc. are all basketball skills that require you to move your hands up over your head while jumping. The power for these skills comes from the hips and triple extension.
  5. Standing Military Press. Shoulder strength is much more important than chest strength in basketball given the number of times during a game one needs to compete with his hands over his head. This is separate from power jerks in that it is more of a pure strength exercise (one of the primary prerequisites for developing power) but plays an important separate role in developing shooting range and rebounding strength in particular.

It really doesn’t matter if you are a young basketball athlete or a seasoned veteran, I believe these 5 lifts need to be included into your lifting regimine. They don’t have to be done every day or in the same cycle, but ignoring these will lead to deficiencies that can have a profound negative effect on your abilities.