Basketball Strength Training for Newbies

  • Author:
    By <a href="http://www.DannyMcLarty.com">Danny McLarty</a>, CSCS
  • Date:
    Apr 6, 2010

Take a look around. What are you seeing more and more in basketball? Guys on the court that are as big and wide as a barn-yard door. I was watching a NBA game last night and there happened to be a game playing on that ESPN classic channel at the same time. I found myself flipping back and fourth between commercials.

I knew today's players carry quite a bit more muscle mass then the players of the early '80s. But WOW, I couldn't believe the difference. When you have the chance to see both eras playing at the same time, the difference becomes even more apparent! If Michael Cooper were to attempt to take a charge with LeBron James coming at him with a full head of steam, I think Coop would be sent flying into the 10th row. And back then, Mr. Cooper was one bad boy!

Times have changed, and this will only continue in the years to come. Get strong or get left behind. But where do you begin? If you do not have an experienced strength coach to work with, what are you to do? There are a couple things you can't risk happening.

  • You don't want to get hurt. And if you don't know what you are doing, that can easily happen.
  • You don't want to put all that time into resistance training without getting results. Spinning your wheels and going nowhere is very frustrating. That time could have been better spent developing your left hand, or working on your mid-range game.

So, if you are new to the strength training world, are you simply out of luck? NO!

The Pushup

Everyone thinks they know how to do pushups with proper form. But from what I've seen, most people do NOT do them properly. This is especially true of beginners. To make sure you are know how to perform these with proper technique, let's go over the correct form.

As you start the descent, "pull" yourself down with your shoulder blades, tuck your elbows 45 degrees relative to your torso, keep your head/neck neutral (in line with your spine) throughout, and keep your abs tight (like you are about to take a punch to the stomach). Make sure to have the chest lead the way to the ground (or bench), NOT the chin. Go down slow and controlled, and explode up to the top. This "explosion" is controlled speed. Think of keeping your body rigid throughout. Do not let the hips or upper back lead the way on the ascent. The hips and shoulders should be as one. In the video below, you'll see the following exercises. They are in order from easiest to hardest. Make sure you master the easiest before moving onto the next level up.

  • Bench Pushups (easiest)
  • Step Pushups
  • Floor Pushups
  • Feet Elevated Pushups
  • Spiderman Pushups
  • Band Pushups (hardest, and to make it even more difficult, just use a thicker band)
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Single Leg Movements

In the early stages of your strength training "career," you don't need to throw a heavy bar on your back and perform squats. Controlling your body on one leg should provide plenty of resistance for now. Plus, single leg movements are great for improving the stability of the muscles around your knee. As far as form--keep your chest high, abs tight, and the weight on the heel of the forward foot (do NOT let your weight shift toward the front part of your foot).

  • Static Lunges
  • Reverse Lunges
  • Walking Lunges
  • Bulgarian Split Squat - Keep the torso upright. This is a quad-dominant movement.
  • Bulgarian Deadlift - This exercise incorporates more of a forward lean, making it into a hip-dominant (hamstrings and glutes) movement.

Plank Variations

  • Plank
  • Swiss Ball Plank - Brace the abs as if you are taking a punch to the stomach. The further you roll it out, the harder it is.
  • Pushup Elbow Touches - When you raise your hand off the ground to touch your opposite elbow, the goal is to NOT let your hips rotate AT ALL. Pretend you have a hot cup of coffee on the small of your back and if you move your hips, it will spill on you (the wider your feet, the easier it is. the narrower your feet, the harder it is - work within your level).
  • Pushup Pocket Touches - Same as above but you will now put your hand by your hip.
  • Swiss Ball Rollouts - Push the ball out as far as you can while keeping your back flat and abs tight.
  • McLarty Rollouts - Push the foam roller out as far as you can while keeping your back flat and abs tight. (When the roller gets closer to your knees, it is more difficult. When it is closer to your ankles, it is easier.)--Side Plank - Keep abs and glutes tight the entire time. Keep a straight line from ankles, hips, and shoulders.
  • 1-Leg Side Plank

Setting Up a Program

Now that you know how to perform these movements, the next step is to incorporate them into a program. To start with, you should pick an exercise from each "category," (Pushup Category, Single Leg Category, Plank Category) that challenges for 3-4 sets of 10-12 repetitions with PERFECT form. So, if you can do multiple sets of more than 15 "bench pushups," then it is time for you to progress to a more difficult version. Same thing with the single leg movements. When it comes to the plank variations you can just hold the position longer, or push the ball out further, (like in the Swiss Ball Plank) or bring your feet in closer together (making your body more unstable, causing your muscles to fire harder in attempt to better stabilize yourself) for the elbow and pocket touches, to make it more challenging.

Once you can complete 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps of the most difficult version of the pushups (band pushup) and complete 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps per leg for the most difficult single leg movement (Bulgarian Split Squats/Deadlifts), then it is time for you to hit the iron. You will have earned the right to do all sorts of "fun" lifts, like sumo deadlifts, bench presses, push presses, and squats.

In the early stages of your strength training career, keep it simple. Use your body weight as resistance, build a solid base, and practice perfect form with each repetition. When it comes time to lift some heavy weight, you will have prepared your body for an injury-free career that will have you running right through the competition. You will no longer get pushed around on your way to the basket. With this new strength, the most common thing you are going to hear is AND-1!

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