Basketball, perhaps more than any other sport, is perceived as a game of natural physical gifts. Being tall helps, of course. Having long arms—what broadcasters these days call “length”—makes for good defense. And some players seem like they were born able to jump through the roof.
So yes, all those traits play a role. But basketball also demands quickness, lateral movement, and explosive power—all of which a player can develop and improve. Even the most physically gifted athletes will struggle to keep up and react quickly on the court if they lack strength in these areas.
Plus, focused training can help reduce the potential of getting hurt. Basketball produces injuries such as sprained ankles, sprained ACLs or MCLs, and chronic back issues that come from playing a physical sport on hard surfaces. “You have to get the lower body stronger so it can absorb force,” says trainer Ken Croner, a former Butler University basketball player and owner of Munster Sports Performance in Munster, Indiana.
Here are 10 basic exercises that will improve your lateral quickness and explosive power while reducing risk of injury.
Pete Williams is a NASM-certified personal trainer and the author or co-author of a number of books on performance and training.
1. Lateral lunge
Why you should do it: The lateral lunge mimics basketball’s standard defensive shuffling motion. More importantly, it opens up the muscles of the groin and hips.
How to do it: From a standing position, step to the right, keeping toes pointed straight ahead and feet flat. Squat onto your right leg, keeping the left leg straight and the weight on the right leg’s midfoot to heel. Squatting as low as possible, keep the left leg straight and hold the position for 2 seconds. Return to standing position and repeat for 10 reps, then switch sides.
2. Glute bridge
Why you should do it: To improve the firing and muscle-recruitment patterns of the glutes, which are important for jumping and explosive movements.
How to do it: Lie face-up on the floor, with knees bent 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor. Squeeze a rolled-up towel between your knees. Bridge hips toward the ceiling by firing (squeezing) your glutes. Only your shoulders and heels remain on the ground. Hold the top position, then lower the hips to the ground without touching. Repeat for 10 reps.
3. Physio ball leg curl
Why you should do it: Like the glute bridge, this keeps the hips extended and forces the hamstrings to work, ultimately improving leaping ability and posterior strength.
How to do it: Lie face-up with legs straight and heels on a physio ball. Squeeze glutes to raise the hips and pull your hips toward you. Don’t drop your hips as the ball comes toward you. Extend your legs, then repeat the leg curl for 10 reps. Make sure your hips never touch the ground.
4. Lateral bound
Why you should do it: To build explosive lateral power in your legs, which primes players for fast cuts and side-to-side movements.
How to do it: Stand balanced on your right leg, with your left foot on the ground. Squat slightly with the right leg, then use the leg and glutes to jump to the left. Extend your ankle, knee, and hip, and land on the left leg only, making sure to maintain your balance. Hold for a count of three, then bound to your right. Do 10 reps per side.
5. Romanian deadlift (RDL)
Why you should do it: Jumping higher and being more explosive comes from the ability to hinge from the hips, rather than jumping from the knees. RDLs build strength in the hamstrings, glutes, and back.
How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell at each side. The weight should be on the back half of your feet. Shift the hips back and lower the dummbells as far as you can while keeping your back straight. Fire the hamstrings and glutes as your return to standing position. Do 10 reps.
6. Alternating dumbbell press
Why you should do it: A jump shot requires full extension through the lats and back along with shoulder stability. This lift improves all of those areas.
How to do it: Lie face-up on a bench, holding dumbbells at the outside of your shoulders and with palms facing your thighs. Lift both dumbbells over your chest. Keeping one arm straight, lower the other dumbbell, touch the outside of your shoulder, and push it back up. At the top of the movement, push farther with both hands, as if trying to punch the ceiling. Do the same with the other arm. Repeat for 10 reps.
7. Goblet squat
Why you should do it: To develop power in the lower body.
How to do it: Hold a kettlebell with two hands against your chest as if preparing to drink from it like goblet. Squat by sitting your hips back and down, keeping the weight in the heels of your feet without lifting your toes. Maintain contact between the kettlebell and your chest. Your elbows should gently touch your knees. Rise and extend powerfully through the hips. Repeat for 10 reps.
Why you should do it: An effective jumpshot creates full extension through the lats, back, shoulders, and wrist. A pullup, done properly, mimics such movement, and builds essential all-around back strength.
How to do it: Hanging from a bar with either an overhand or reverse (underhand) grip, pull your shoulder blades back and down to lift your body up. Finish by pulling with your arms. The key is to return to the fully extended position after each rep—otherwise, you’re not reaching full extension, the movement you want on your jumpshot.
9. Single-leg hurdle hop
Why you should do it: By extending through the hip on one foot and landing on that same leg, you’re improving your ability to land and absorb force, reducing the possibility of common basketball injuries.
How to do it: Stand on one leg in front of a line of low hurdles. Hop over one hurdle, sticking and holding the landing on the same leg. Repeat over remaining hurdles. Land softly, absorbing the force through the hip and glute. Change sides and repeat on opposite leg.
10. Medicine ball squat to press
Why you should do it: By bending at the hips and exploding up, you mimic the proper jumping motion for basketball.
How to do it: Stand holding a medicine ball at chest level. Lower yourself into a squat, keeping ball at chest level. Extending through the hips, launch the ball and your body into the air, throwing the ball straight up and as high as possible.
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