Train Like A Ball Player

I tell everyone I can: Value performance over the scale. The numbers on a scale can be deceptive in many ways. Performance, however, is a measurement of what your body is capable of. Instead of staring at a mirror trying to attain an unrealistic standard you’ve set for yourself, focus on improving your abilities. As you improve your performance you will improve yourself confidence. By doing things you never thought you could do, you will make your body strong and capable and you will look in the mirror and like what you see.

Because we are focusing on performance, we don’t need to follow dreadful, monotonous routines. There is something to be said about training with the passion of a professional athlete instead of doing countless reps of boring exercises.

Lots of us grew up playing basketball and even as adults, all it takes is the sight of a basketball to want to pick it up and shoot some hoops. Some of us never stopped playing. There are a number of adult leagues all over and playing brings us back to when we were kids and all that mattered was the ball and the court. Let's bring that feeling back and take a look at how top level teams train to improve their court performance.


Coaches look for a lot of things from their players in the weight room that they know will translate into a better performance on the court.


Some things that strength and conditioning coaches will test their athletes for is their raw strength, their agility, their jump, and their endurance. In the weight room they'll look at the back squat, bench, chin up, power clean, and the overhead squat. Meanwhile on the court they're testing an athlete on their 30 yard sprints, the Figure 8 test, the NBA’s box agility test, the vertical and broad jump, and finally their 1 mile run. Now you do not have to do all of these tests every week to get better at them, a good idea would be to test yourself on some of these, just to see where you are. Continue to train and follow your program then in another month or so, you can spend a day retesting yourself and trying to push past your previous limits. What we will talk about next is what exercises you can do in the gym that will translate into progress on these benchmarks.

Figure 8 Agility Test

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NBA’s Box Agility Test


This isn't bodybuilding and this isn't a summer body workout (although you will certainly have a one with this training), so you won't see any body part splits. An athlete doesn't walk into the gym prepared to do “back & bis”. They have a particular set of skills they know they need to work on and their programs are scheduled accordingly. These skills are grouped as such:

  • Maximal Sprint Speed

  • Speed & Endurance

  • Vertical & Horizontal Jumping Power

Kevin Love - NBA Power Forward/Center

Candice Parker - WNBA Forward/Center

Maximal Sprint Speed

Maximal Sprint Speed is tested with the 30 yard sprint and the 1 mile run. How fast can you push yourself to the absolute maximum for 30 yards? And then for a mile? The 30 yard sprint test is a great gauge for how quickly your can cover a short distance. This is optimal for that half court action, getting to that ball and taking it to the basket. While the mile run is a different kind of gauge to see how you can keep up that maximal speed for a longer distance, which is necessary for constantly running up and down the court for the entire game.

Walk into any collegiate gym and you'll see rows of power racks and athletes occupying them. Inside of every power rack you will see them  The most common exercise that you will find any athlete doing is the back squat. This is a fantastic exercise for many reasons but for basketball it helps with that maximum sprint speed and for improving power in that vertical jump. The posterior chain is hammered by the back squat and that is where we find the power for most of our movements.

A variation you will see is the front squat, which places more emphasis on the quadriceps. If you look at the muscles activated at the beginning of a sprint, the quads light up. By placing the bar on top of your chest, you move the weight from over your posterior chain and onto the front, loading your quads with the most resistance. You will also find that the front squat engages your core in a totally different way. Your lats will be more involved by trying to keep the weight on your shoulders and your transverse abdominus (aka your 6 pack) will be on fire trying to keep your torso stable.




Front Squat

More emphasis is placed on the quads.

Usain Bolt isn't the fastest ever because of weak quads.

A big problem with the casual gym goer is that they just don't know what exercises to do. If we’re looking at working out the way a basketball player trains, we find the exercises that will provide assistance to the skills we talked about before. Namely, running and jumping. Exercises that assist the squat in building powerful legs are:

  • Romanian Deadlift - building up that superior hamstring and glute strength

  • Leg Curls - an isolation exercise for the hammies

  • Lunges - the second best exercise (Squat is god-tier) for all round leg development. If you have problems with balance and mobility, working into this exercise slowly can help with that because this requires lots of it.

  • Step Ups - An exercise popular with a lot of personal trainers, and for good reason. It's a low impact exercise and it's easy to increase the resistance just by changing the size of the box.

  • Calf Raises - If you play basketball, you wear shorts. If you wear shorts, you can't have undefined calves. Put some weight on and finish your workout with 3 to 5 sets of 10 to 25 reps of calf raises.

I'll finish this segment by saying that everything I listed above is just accessory. If you want to get better at sprinting, the best way to do that is to sprint more. Run suicides, run patterns, sprint up a hill, sprint backwards. If you want to get better at jumping, jump! Whatever you want to improve, do that.

We’ll talk about Speed & Endurance and Vertical & Horizontal Jumping Power in the next segment.

If you have any questions about the exercises or how to develop a routine around training like an NBA star, feel free to email me: