Anyone who is involved in sport will know that small tweaks and minor adjustments to training can make all the difference to a performance, and basketball is no different. Being able to reach an extra inch or be a second quicker in reaction times and movements can be the difference between winning and losing, and all of this has to be achieved throughout months, even years of training on the court and in the gym.
What makes a good basketball player?
When looking at different athletes for different sports, it's important to first look at the ideal athlete for their sport. What qualities are important and how can you best train the athlete to get as close to perfect as possible? Within this, you also have to look at the individual. Although athletes of the same sport might look like they are built in similar ways and have the same physical attributes, everyone is different and has completely different strengths and weaknesses.
A good basketball player must possess 3 key skills, no matter what their position, which are; strength, power and agility. Basketball is a highly dynamic sport, with periods of high intensity skill work within roughly a 2 hour game, which requires the players to have good aerobic endurance as well as the ability to be explosive during the short bouts of intensity. Because of the mixed demands of the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems, the athlete must have sufficient muscle mass to be able to be able to perform leaps, sprints and fast changes of direction, whilst also remaining lean enough to possess the required aerobic fitness. Core strength and upper body strength are essential to allow the player to be agile, quick and able to to perform the skills required.
All of the points discussed so far can be worked on within training and nutrition, however, successful basketball players are usually genetically gifted with the most suitable body type for the sport. Natural height, strength and leanness is desirable, and most would argue is essential to succeed as an elite basketball player.
So how should a basketball player train?
At a low level, basic fitness, core strength and agility can be worked on with a Personal Trainer or coach, and detailed specifics aren't too necessary. However, for a higher level athlete, much more fine tuning is required. The details of the specific training are extensive and impossible to put into a short blog post, and nutrition is too specific to an individual, so I have drawn on the major elements of training below:
This cannot be achieved by lying down and doing a 'mini abs circuit' - your whole core must be strong, and that includes everything from the Glutes and Hip Flexors to the Obliques and Rectus Abdominis.
As a Personal Trainer, I would work on this with my client using a number of approaches. These include Pilates based movements (window wipers, leg lifts), isometric holds (hollow hold and plank variations) and strength based movements for the posterior chain (hip thrusts, glute bridges, RDLs). Lateral work and also unilateral functional work is very important as it directly transfers to basketball, so movement in all planes should be trained.
Power is a combination of using strength with speed, so plyometric moves or any other explosive exercises are key here. This is applied to lower and upper body in the form of vertical & broad jumps, medicine ball vertical & lateral throws, plus many more. Olympic lifts are also great to improve power; cleans, snatches and jerks are all power based moves that form a large part of most athlete programs.
This is not something that a Personal Trainer would necessarily work on with the athlete (sports psychologists are employed for this), however the mentality required to be at the top of your sport is so important - you could be the best in the world but if your head's not in it then you simply won't be successful. Resilience, drive, determination and focus are key qualities to work on, and to be successful you must be committed and put the effort in!
Conditioning should be performed with the sport in mind. To be able to last a whole game the athletes must be aerobically fit, but this doesn't mean they should run on a treadmill for an hour. Conditioning drills such as shuttles, and quick bursts of intensity in the form of sprints mixed with light jogging simulate the game and therefore help the athletes get fitter in the most effective way.
Agility is the ability to accelerate, decelerate and change direction in the quickest and most efficient way without compromising on posture and stability. Being such a dynamic sport, agility is one of, if not the most important skill to work on as a player. Some individuals are naturally more agile and coordinated, however it is definitely a skill that can be improved with training. Specific agility drills that I would use for basketball players include: T cone drill, agility ladders, hop sequences, hurdle drills and plyometric box exercises.
Speed for basketball is not necessarily trained as you would expect normal speed training to be done. Basketball players seldom need to sprint for any distance, so 100m sprints are simply unnecessary. Short sprints with changes of direction are far more applicable, so the acceleration of the sprint is more important than enduring a high top speed. To work on this I would program hill sprints, sled drags, knee drives and of course strength training in the form of squats and single leg exercises such as Bulgarian split squats and lunges.
There are so many more aspects of training that would be considered when programming for a basketball player, but these are the basic elements that I would focus on. As said previously, if at a lower level, I would recommend focusing on fundamental fitness and strength before trying to fine tune, however identifying weaknesses and working on those will help your game hugely.
Sterling Fitness offers Personal Training as well as Online PT and we have experience in training athletes from a variety of sports including basketball, so if you think that you could benefit from some professional training to help with your sport then please do get in touch.
Keep an eye out for further blogs to come on other sport specific training, and please do share with anyone who might be interested in reading them!