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5 Intermediate Strength-Training Lifts for Basketball Players

  • Author:
    Danny McLarty, CSCS
  • Date:
    Apr 29, 2015

I recently wrote an article about basketball strength training for newbies. Many loyal readers liked it, but some of you asked me for something a little more advanced than a bunch of body weight exercises.

My response to these youngsters went something like this: "I know you want to do heavy bench presses and squats, but honestly, at this point in your 'training career,' push-ups, body weight lunges/split squats, and some core exercises are all you need to get off to a great start in the weight room." (Yes, there are a few exceptions to this rule.) Well, hopefully you took this advice and mastered the form on the exercises that I outlined in this article.

After putting in 6-plus consistent months at the beginner ("newbie") stage of weight training, you will start to approach the intermediate level. Once entering this new level of manhood (or womanhood), it's time to start packing some weight onto the bar. After all, body weight exercises can only take you so far. With that said, I will highlight five great exercises for you to include to help you take your strength to the next level.

Trap Bar Deadlift

Deadlifts (and their variations) are one of the best exercises to include for improving strength throughout the entire body. It hammers the "posterior chain" (hamstrings, glutes, back), which are the muscles most responsible for speed and strength. It also works your gripping muscles, your core, and your quads. Talk about big-bang-for-your-buck!

You can also do conventional deadlifts and sumo deadlifts. However, the trap bar deadlift is the easiest to learn and master. So I suggest starting with the trap bar before moving onto a straight barbell.

Push Presses

The push press is basically an overhead press with a bit of a leg drive. Push presses work your shoulders, triceps, and core. This is a great exercise for improving upper body strength and power.

Bench Press

Now, I must say, I think the bench press is an overrated exercise. Not that I never have my athletes bench. It's just that too much emphasis is often put on the bench press.

C'mon, admit it, this is the first question you ask your friends: How much do you bench? Meanwhile, squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, and other great exercises often get tossed to the wayside. Because I know you are going to make the bench press a big part of your lifting program no matter what I say, we might as well go over proper technique...


Squats are an absolutely great exercise! They strengthen the quads, and if you get deep enough (with proper form), your hamstrings and glutes will get worked as well. It will also help strengthen your core. Before you graduate to some of the big-boy squat options (i.e. back squats, front squats), I suggest you start off with the goblet squat.

When the weight is held in front of your body, it automatically makes your core fire. This will make you more stable which will help you get deeper with your squat and help grove the proper squat pattern.


Rows are one of the best upper-body exercises. They strengthen your back, biceps, and gripping muscles. To improve your physique, strength, prevent injuries, and to improve performance, proper posture is very important. And rows are perfect to help getting you standing upright.

With as much time as we spend these days slouched over in front of the computer and in front of the TV, rows become all the more beneficial. And for those of you that have earned the nickname, "Mr. Bench Press Guy," rows will help balance you out.

There are many row variations available: seated cable rows, dumbbell rows, TRX rows, and barbell rows are among the most common options. Use them all and be sure to keep your shoulders blade retracted (together) throughout the movement.


In the offseason, I suggest three full body workouts per week. For a basketball player, it would be tough to get more than three lifting sessions in per week. After all, you are going to need to spend some of your time working on your handles, your pull-up jumper, and your distance shooting, right?

One more thing to remember, while the above exercises are great, they are not the end-all-be-all. Don't forget to include single leg exercises (lunge variations) and direct core work (ab wheel rollouts, reverse crunches, etc.).

As an individual that is entering the intermediate level of your lifting career, I suggest that you rotate your set/rep scheme. Something like this:

Day 1

Four sets of 4-6 repetitions for each exercise on that given day.

Day 2

Three sets of 8-10 repetitions for each exercise on that given day.

Day 3

Four sets of 6-8 repetitions for each exercise on that given day.

The in-season program would be just maintenance. If you can get into the weight room two times per week, that would be great.

But for the offseason, if you can get in the weight room three times per week while getting stronger in all of the above lifts (with picture-perfect form), you'll be headed towards the next level on the court.

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