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Basketball Training Techniques – Train Like a Pro

With the NBA season officially up and running, it’s hard for me to focus on much else! I was lucky enough to attend the Toronto Raptors’ home opener last Wednesday (which we won!!!); and being a strength and conditioning specialist (, I couldn’t help but marvel at the tremendous shape these athletes are in and appreciate the countless hours of teeth-gritting hard work that goes in behind the scenes.

So I thought I’d combine my passions and share some basketball specific training techniques with all of you hardwood weekend warriors such as myself.

Any sport specific program covers many disciplines (speed, agility, power, etc), but at the root is an athlete with a solid foundation of core strength, joint mobility/stability, and superior conditioning.  Without this solid foundation, (recurring) injuries can run a muck and take the fun out of your recreational/competitive sporting endeavours.

Below, I will cover a few basics specific to basketball, but transferable to other sports, that will help ensure you lay a sturdy base from which to build.

Skipping and/or mountain climber

  • Skipping is an incredible way to enhance both your muscular and cardiorespiratory endurance.  If performed correctly, it is considered a low-impact form of cardio, which means it is generally safe for most individuals.  If you haven’t picked up a rope in years, don’t fret, because if I can do it, anyone can!  When I participated in a skipping workshop several years back, I was so pathetic, the instructor almost gave up on me.  However, with a bit of practice and patience, I have managed to become very comfortable with the rope.
  • Your goal is to work towards 15-20mins of skipping with minimal rest periods.  A 10min skip at 120rpm (moderate pace) will burn approximately the same calories as a 30min moderate intensity jog.  Make sure to give your calves a thorough stretch afterwards.
  • Start with a standard double leg hop until your comfort level is up.  Then transition to single-leg hops, lateral hops, kick-outs, kick-backs, and the list goes on.
  • Try to focus on interval style training.  Specifically, 2min normal:1min high (fast, high knees, cross-overs, etc).
  • If you do not have a rope, the mountain climber is a great substitute.  However, bear in mind that this is a more demanding exercise and is not as safe as skipping.  Also, the rest period will likely be longer during the exercise. (

Planks and bridges

  • Injuries are more likely to occur when an athlete’s muscles are fatigued.  To handle the riggers of the long game, you want to strengthen your body from the inside-out.  This means increasing the strength and muscular endurance of your entire core; and what better way to do this then by incorporating both static and dynamic plank and bridge drills.
  • These are best done supervised as it is easy to fall into improper and unsafe form without being aware of it.
  • Start with a goal of 3 sets of 30sec holds for both the plank and bridge.
  • Slowly work your way to 1min holds and then into dynamic variations.

Sit-ups and core rotation

  • Now that you’ve developed a strong and conditioned core, it’s time to work on functional movements to strengthen you in particular ranges of motion that will be mimicked in the game.
  • Grab your trainer or workout buddy, some medicine balls, and hit the floor.  Take turns doing 3 sets of 15 reps (advanced athletes working to 12-15 sets of 15-20 reps) of crunches, sit-ups, leg raises, and rotation drills.
  • Crunches are modified sit-ups where only your shoulder blades leave the ground (lower back remains in contact with ground at all times); these are the safest for anyone suffering with lower back pain or is at a high risk.  Whereas, in a sit-up, your entire upper body leaves the ground.  Leg raises can be performed by having your partner stand over your head with his/her feet to the side of your ears as you lay flat; then firmly grasp his/her ankles as you raise you straightened legs up towards his/her outstretched arms.  Lastly, rotational core exercises incorporate a twist motion.  You can add a twist to the sit-up or grab a medicine ball and do some Russian twists.

Lunges and squats

  • No sport specific program would be complete without some serious leg work.  Lunges and squats are two extremely effective leg (and core) exercises that relate specifically to many sport-related movements.  These are generally used as precursors to the more intense power exercises such as the deadlift, clean, snatch, etc, which are used heavily in athlete training protocols.
  • Once again, form is of vital importance to ensure safety, so have a professional observe your form before trying these on your own.
  • Keeping the volume standard, aim for 3 sets of 12-20 reps with no external load at first.  Once you have been cleared to take it up a notch, you can add some weight and look into various variations (sumo squat, front squat, reverse lunge, traveling lunge, etc).


  • With all the changes to the fitness industry over the years, the push-up has held its ground and still reigns supreme when it comes to callisthenic exercises.  This classic exercise engages several major muscle groups, a whole lot of core, joint stabilizers, as well as having a great anaerobic conditioning component.
  • Again, I must stress the importance of clean form for safety.  At minimum, try to have a mirror set up to view your side profile to monitor the position of your hips (to protect your lower back).
  • Start with sets of 10 and aim for a particular cut-off; 30 reps is a good start point.  Keep the rest periods between sets to 30sec.  Once you get into a solid routine, try to take each set to failure (improper form on two consecutive reps) and record your cumulative max.  Use this as the number to beat the next time you hit the floor.
  • Periodically, do single-set max tests where you perform just one set and max out on reps.  This is a great way to set goals, track your progress, and stay motivated

Suicides and lateral shuffling

  • Anyone who has been involved in any kind of athletics knows – all to well – the term “suicides”.  If you personally haven’t had the misfortune of being reunited with your lunch because of them, you know someone who has.
  • Coaches love to sneak these in at the end of a practice as a tool to completely fatigue the athlete, both physically and mentally.  I assure you that we only do this with love…sort of.
  • The real merit is that it trains your mind and body to stand up to the challenges of late-game situations such as 4th quarter play and OT, as well as recurring matches such as tournaments and playoffs.  It is in these situations that the breakdown of just one player can cost everything for the team.  Mental and physical toughness are a necessity when it comes to coming out on top.
  • To perform suicides: start at the baseline, sprint to the foul line and back. Immediately, sprint to the half-court line then back.  Immediately, sprint to the far foul line and back.  Finally, immediately sprint to the far baseline and back.  Record your time and try to improve on it each set.
  • The number of sets completed will depend on many factors, including length and protocol of the session prior to the suicides, fatigue, temperature, hydration, etc.  So start light and crank it up as you get more of a feel of what your body can handle.  On our ball team, our coach would set a goal and we wouldn’t be able to stop until we ran the set in under that time (buckets were always on standby!).
  • Lateral shuffling can be done under the same protocol as the suicides.  These are great to engage the adductors and abductors of the thigh (inner and outer thigh muscles, respectively).  Just remember to stay low by bending at the knees and pushing the butt back, while keeping your upper body erect by thrusting the chest forward and shoulders down and back.

This just scratches the surface of what would go into a structured athletic training protocol, but this should give you a starting point and some food for thought.

Happy training and GO RAPTORS!!