When you look at the best players in the NBA, you’ll notice they have one core thing in common: They work their asses off to stay strong, fit, and injury-free.
Between all the jumping, scrambling, quick changes of direction, and all-out sprinting, basketball is about as physically demanding as it gets. That’s why we called up Mubarak “Bar” Malik. As the director of performance for the New York Knicks, Malik has trained stars like Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, and Derrick Rose to stay strong, healthy, and agile through grueling NBA seasons. Here’s how you can do the same for yourself.
Part I: Core strength in basketball
Malik defines core strength as the dynamic relationship of the hips, trunk, and shoulders that creates a foundational base for all movement.
Malik says: “Core strength is important because it affects force production and injury prevention. Basketball players can build up this area by incorporating exercises that involve the co-contraction and dynamic exercises that involve stabilization between the hips, trunk, and shoulders.”
Exercises for core strength:
1. Single-leg bridge
2. Swiss ball Y-T-I
3. Front plank
4. Miniband lateral walk
Part II: Basketball agility
Agility is the ability to stop, start, change direction, and accelerate—and it’s vitally important for basketball players in order to dominate on offense and defense.
Malik says: “Agility involves whole-body horizontal changes of direction, vertical changes of direction, and rapid movement of body parts, which encapsulate the game of basketball.”
Exercises for agility:
1. T-drill (sprint forward 10 yards, shuffle laterally 5 yards, shuffle laterally the other way 10 yards, shuffle back to the center 5 yards, then backpedal 10 yards)
2. 5-10-5 drill (on the same line, sprint 5 yards, turn the other way and sprint 10 yards, turn the other way and sprint 5 yards)
3. 4-cone drill (use 4 cones to form a square with 5-yard sides; sprint, shuffle laterally, and backpedal around the square)
Part III: Basketball mobility
Mobility is a method of stretching that addresses elements affecting performance, including muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, and the joint and motor control necessary to perform the movement correctly.
Malik says: “Mobility is important for players because they need to have a full range of painless motion in all the soft-tissue areas surrounding the feet, calves, hips, and shoulders to increase their fluidity on court.”
Exercises for mobility
1. Lacrosse ball to feet
2. Pigeon stretch
3. Downward-facing dog
4. Lat hang
Part IV: Basketball strength
Malik defines strength as the ability to exert submaximal force against resistance. In the case of professional basketball, that’s about 48 minutes of force against resistance—more, if the game goes into overtime.
“You can build up strength and strength endurance through resistance training by doing multiple sets of particular exercises—but the emphasis is still on developing strength to support the movement for the entire duration of a game,” Malik says.
Exercises for strength
1. Bulgarian split squat
2. Dumbbell chest press
4. Barbell squat
5. Inverted row
Part V: Speed on the hardwood
Basketball is played very fast. To be able to sustain acceleration is the nature of the game. Malik says: “We put our guys through speed training. We wrap a bungee cord around a player’s waist. You’re getting them to run against resistance, so once the bungee is removed, their nervous system is firing a lot more quickly. This helps with acceleration and in-game quickness.”
Speed exercise: Resisted sprints
Part IV: Basketball prehab
Prehab involves trying to eliminate as many asymmetries as possible. In basketball, the focus is on the hips and lower legs.
Malik says: “Foam rolling is a great way to work the soft tissue. Our players will do specific dynamic stretching, and then we’ll take advantage of this new suppleness by having them do specific individual prehab exercises.”
Exercises for prehab:
1. Foam rolling (focus on calves)
2. Ankle dorsiflexion
3. Standing hurdler hip stretch
4. “World’s greatest stretch”
5. Hand walk