Search for “LeBron workout” videos on YouTube, and you’ll notice a trend: King James trains just as much off the court as he does on it. That’s because kicking ass on the hardwood involves more than a smooth jump shot.
“Basketball players need to be strong, powerful, and agile,” says Jon-Erik Kawamoto, MSc, CSCS, a strength and conditioning specialist and managing director of JKConditioning in Newfoundland, Canada. If you don’t have all three of those attributes, you won’t have much opportunity to show off your smooth stroke.
Here, Kawamoto lays out six of the best strength exercises for pick-up or rec-league basketball players.
The exercise: Start in a standing position. Keeping your head up, shoulders back, and your feet roughly shoulder-width apart throughout the movement, bend your knees and reach down for your barbell. Pushing through your feet—always keeping your back straight—lift the barbell up to your starting position, then return it to the floor. Complete four sets of four or five repetitions.
The benefit:* “This exercise will improve the strength of your hamstrings and glutei, also known as the posterior chain,” Kawamoto says. You need these muscles for leaping and quick movements, he says.
The exercise: Using either dumbbells or a barbell, you’re going to hold the weights on your shoulders with your elbows pointing straight out in front of you. With your feet about shoulder-width apart, and your head up and looking straight ahead, sit back like you’re going to sit down in a chair. Allow your knees to bend outward as you sit back. When your thighs are nearly parallel with the floor, pause and return to starting position. Try for four sets of four or five reps.
The benefit: Kawamoto says this exercise works your quadriceps and glutei, which are used for jumping and running.
SAGITTAL PLANE LUNGE
The exercise: Standing with your hands on your hips and your feet shoulder-width apart, step straight back with one foot and sink down to your knee. Be sure to keep your head up and back straight, and try to keep your knees from flexing in or out during the movement. Stand back up to starting position. Repeat twelve times with each leg, and try for three sets. You can also do these holding dumbbells in your hands if you want more resistance.
The benefit: This will improve your balance, strength, and stability, Kawamoto says. “Since basketball isn’t played with your feet parallel all the time, off-set stance exercises such as lunges are important to include in your training program to challenge hip and leg stability.”
FRONTAL PLANE LUNGE
The exercise: Starting with your feet spread several inches beyond your shoulders and your toes pointed straight forward, you’re going to lean and lower yourself down to one side. Keep your hands on your hips and your head up throughout the movement to keep you spine in a straight, neutral position. Return to starting position, and then lower yourself to the other side. Come back up, and repeat twelve times with each leg. Try for three sets.
The benefit: Good for improved balance, strength, mobility and stability, this will also stretch your groin muscles, Kawamoto says.
BARBELL BENCH PRESS
The exercise: Lying on a flat bench, lift up the barbell, keeping your wrists straight and your fists inline with your forearms. Slowly lower the barbell almost to your chest, keeping it over your nipples—not back over your shoulders. Remember to keep your shoulder blades together throughout the movement. Push the barbell back up until your arms are nearly locked. Try for three or four sets of eight to 12 repetitions.
The benefit: This exercise will strengthen your shoulders, chest and arms. “Upper body strength is important for holding your ground on the court,” Kawamoto says. “You don’t want to be weak and easily pushed around.” He says you can also do pushups or other forms of the bench press.
SEATED LOW ROW
The exercise: After taking a hold of the rowing handle bars, sit with your knees slightly bent, your shoulders back and your chest out. Pull the weight back to your midsection, trying to move only your arms. Your upper body and back should be motionless. Try for three or four sets of eight to 12 repetitions.
The benefit: This (and all other rowing exercises) will strengthen your shoulders, back and arms, Kawamoto says.
BONUS WORKOUTS FOR BASKETBALL PLAYERS
Kawamoto says plyometric exercises will train your muscles and tendons to store energy, which improves your jumping and sprinting ability. Cone or ladder drills will up your agility, your cutting ability, and your footwork, he says.