When you make a purchase through links on this post, we may earn a commission through Amazon or other retailers. Learn more about our affiliate disclaimer. Specifically, in this article, I highly encourage you to pickup a small set of resistance bands. They’re great for targeting certain hard-to-reach muscle groups.
I myself am not naturally athletic. There’s nothing in my genetics that would suggest to anyone that I should pursue basketball in any way. That means that, in order to be even mildly competitive, I have to work at it.
And I have been. I’ve been grinding on my own basketball conditioning for awhile now. I’ve made plenty of mistakes. I’m always fighting against work, my kid, age, and just life in general to try and stay on top. So I know how tough it can be.
And at this point, I just want to share some of the little tricks I’ve picked up over the years, so that others can benefit from what I’ve learned. You’re probably not winning titles with this stuff. But you may very well find some tips in here that are going to help you fit being a better basketball player into your busy life, at any age, and whatever shape you might be starting out as.
And that is something special. Because basketball is fun as hell, especially when your body is up for the challenge.
Finding your Motivation
A lot of this stuff takes motivation. Basketball is fun. Training for basketball is not as fun (not for most people at least). I am one of those most people. So I do have some suggestions for staying motivated.
Start gentle. One of the main sources of failure for any difficult endeavor is an unachievable goal. If you’ve never run 5 miles, start with one mile. If that doesn’t hurt tomorrow, try 2 or 3 next time. Listen to your body.
Going too hard, too fast, is one of the worst mistakes you can make. If your workouts are hurting, you’re going too hard. Place extra emphasis on stretching and flexibility. You’re not building the bridge here, you’re forging the steel. Give your body a chance to cure before you toss it back in the fire.
You can lift all day and blow up like Conan (The Barbarian, not the late night host), but the connective tissue that holds it all together will be built for lifting, not shaking defenders. It’s sustained balance over time that leaves you truly strong and durable.
And that’s what you want for hooping. You want to trust your shoulders and knees and ankles to handle the impacts and repetitive motion. That’s how you stay on the court, and that’s how you get better every day.
And finally, make a little checklist. I think this might just work for me. But there might be one person out there for whom it also works. Every few weeks I write myself a little checklist that points towards my current goals. I make copies of this list.
My goal every day is to complete the list. And it’s designed in such a way that it is very difficult to complete at my current fitness level. This is motivation for me, the thought of seeing that list all crossed off at the end of the day.
Flexibility and Basketball Conditioning (Don’t get Hurt!)
Stretch. Stretch. Stretch…
If you follow the NBA, you’ve probably caught some of the Wembanyama flexibility hype. To summarize for those not paying attention, there’s a French dude in the NBA who’s 7’4″ and does the splits.
But why does he do the splits?
Flexibility and proper body mechanics are key to a long, healthy basketball career. You might get away with punishing your body when you’re a kid. I know how it is. You want to play, not get bogged down in the strength training and the proper mechanics. But this approach will come back to haunt you, I promise.
So modern NBA players know that if they want a long and healthy career like Kareem (who was a vocal proponent of yoga, btw) they need to consider flexibility.
And when you look into the most common basketball injuries, you realize that your joints are the glaring weakness. Anything you can do to strengthen and protect your knees and elbows is going to help you stay on the court.
Get in the habit of performing a simple warm up routine before every playing session. I know this can be tough when you just want to get to hoopin’, but the earlier in your basketball career you develop a stretching routine, the longer your body will have to show its appreciation.
I’ll provide a few example stretches that myself and others have found helpful. But I recommend that you develop your own routine, customized to your needs. When something hurts, as it inevitably will, because this is basketball, go on Youtube and find some movements designed to help heal that type of injury, and add the ones you like to your routine.
I find that the most important regions to target for the repetitive motions associated with basketball are the kips and shoulders. You put a lot of stress on your rotator cuff when you’re putting up hundreds of shots a day. And improving hip mobility can be massively helpful.
Remember that none of this should be painful in any way. If you feel pain, hunt for a modified stretch that you can accomplish pain-free that targets the region that is causing you pain.
Hip Stretches for Basketball Players
My favorite pre-hoopin’ stretch. Sit on the ground with your palms planted on the ground near your butt. Your knees should be bent in front of you, allowing your feet to lay flat on the court, maybe a foot apart. Rock your knees gently to either side, allowing your right knee to near your left foot as you rock left, and your left knee to touch near your right foot as you rock to the right.
Step one foot forward and lower yourself down on bended knee, allowing the back knee to drop close to the ground. This is a common yoga position. Feel this stretch primarily in the trailing hip.
By leaning the front knee away to the outside, you can extend this stretch into what is known to yogis as the pigeon, opening up the hips.
This is a one-legged squat that is an advanced stretch, but very helpful. You may well have to build up to doing these on a regular basis.
Spread your feet to around double your hips width. Place your hands together at your chest to center yourself. Bend one knee, gently lowering your body to that side, while keeping the opposite leg straight. Perform a one-legged squat, as deep as you’re comfortable with. Repeat on the opposite side.
This is an active stretch. More than a stretch, it activates muscles that are crucial to playing basketball. Cossack squats can be very challenging, even if you’re in good shape.
Don’t do too many. It’s really not hard to overdo these when you get started. A good start is probably 2 or 3 sets of 10x. If it’s a challenge at first, don’t be afraid to just start with regular squats and build up to the Cossack squat.
Shoulder Stretches for Basketball Players
Alright, I named this one myself, but I think it fits.
Stretch your arms straight out to the sides, with your thumbs up. Keeping your arms as straight as possible, rotate your thumbs back. Tuck your shoulder blades and get a good twist on those shoulders. Yell the phrase, “I’m King of the world”, into the sea breeze.
Then, without releasing that shoulder twist, rotate your thumbs back forwards. Try to rotate only your hands, without moving your shoulders.
This one is great for rotator cuff issues. I suffered with rotator issues for a long time, to the extent that I actually became quite proficient as a left-handed shooter. But then I discovered this stretch and the next, and my issues slowly resolved themselves.
If you’re too young to remember Hollywood Hulk Hogan in his prime, I’ll fill you in. He used to tear his shirts off a lot. Well, I guess it wasn’t that much by pro wrestler standards, but by literally any other standard, it was a lot.
This exercise recreates that motion, using your back muscles to pull your forearms away from each other. It’s great for resolving shoulder pain, and probably also good if your goal is to be able to tear your own t-shirt off of your body. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that that is an admirable goal.
This move requires a resistance band. A small set of resistance bands is clutch. They’re cheap, but more importantly, they’re compact. There’s probably not an easier way to fit a full body workout machine in your pocket. Even yoga kinda needs a good mat.
For this one, take a band and hold it out between your hands, with your elbows at a 90° angle, like you’re about to do the robot.
Tuck your scapula tight, pulling your shoulders down away from your neck. Then gently pull your hands away from each other against the resistance of the band. Try some different bands or combinations of bands until you find a resistance you’re happy with.
This move has been the most effective remedy for my shoulder issues. The combination of basketball and typing at a computer for long hours triggers my existing rotator cuff issues. Doing some Hogan Pulls every day has been key to counteracting that.
You need some kinda long, straight bar. A broom stick will work in a pinch. A length of pipe or PVC is good. A weight bar will usually work too.
Hold the bar over your head, with your hands spread wide. Move the bar backwards behind your head. Feel the gentle stretch in your shoulders.
To crank it up a little, gently move one hand forward and the other back. Title the bar to either side. Then combine the movements, with the bar guiding the gentle rotation of your shoulder.
Running for Basketball
Don’t just run. Incorporate sprinting intervals.
Done properly, running can be one of the most effective conditioning techniques for basketball, developing your short-term (anaerobic) metabolic functions in addition to your long term (aerobic) metabolic functions.
Especially as I got older, my motor started to become my main weakness on the court. I could keep up with the youngsters in short bursts, but after a few games, I’d get gassed out.
I’ve been running a whole lot longer than I’ve been playing basketball. I figured the endurance part would be easy. But I’m more of a distance runner. I never trained for speed.
I had to take cardio a little more seriously. I started training for speed. There are a lot of ways to do this, but my main adjustment was to incorporate intervals into my running schedule.
Once a week, I added a run that included two sets of 30 second coast/sprint intervals. I started with sets of three. That’s only six 30 second sprints. A total of 3 minutes of real work. Don’t let that fool you. Intervals can be rough for a lot of people. I found them to be very difficult at first.
I graduated pretty quickly to what’s called a Mona Fartlek. This is an interval that comes pre-loaded on the Run Intervals IOS App, so check that out if you need some app-based guidance.
But keep at it. It gets easier. And it’s the only way I know to really challenge the systems in your body that allow you to continuously perform in a sport like basketball where you’re just constantly changing gears.
Oh, and the jump rope helps here. On top of beating on your metabolic system, you’re also working your legs, specifically your calves, which can have some impact on your vertical over time.
Plyometrics for Basketball
Side jumps, jumps from ledges, hop squats, bounce squats. Plyometrics are the way to jump higher. If you go searching on the road to dunkhala, you will find two roads.
One road is that of the vertical program. This is any one of countless ‘proven’ systems that theoretically allow you to pay to add vertical to your jump. This road is not the correct road. It leads to a wall where you are asked to pay more.
The other road is called ‘plyometrics’. Basically, you find a ledge and jump up onto it, then back down, and then you do that over and over and over again. This road actually leads somewhere.
There are a lot of different types of these ‘plyometrics’. Start simple, jumping up and down from a ledge. Then do it on one leg. When you get bored, explore the variations.
Weight Training for Basketball
I’m not big on weight training, personally, but I try to keep it up. Squats, in particular, are an important part of my own basketball conditioning program.
Squats are just a great way to improve your leg conditioning and make it easier to roam the court in a crouch for hours at a time. And if you can hold your legs properly, you can also begin to hold your hips properly. This is a good thing.
But general weight training is fantastic for your body. As you identify the parts of your body that are experiencing pain or moving in a way that is not optimal, introduce lifts that help stabilize and strengthen that region.
Basketball and Nutrition
It took me many years to try, but I’m a big supporter of calorie counting. Get yourself an app to track calories and stick with it for a couple of weeks if you can.
I’m not trying to help you lose weight here. I’m only suggesting that the first step in balancing nutrition is to give yourself a clear view of what you are putting in your body.
For many, this is the missing key. Myself, I eat pretty well, with minimal processed food in my diet. But it’s taken a few good stretches of actively monitoring what I eat to understand how dramatically it can affect my performance; cognitively, physically, even emotionally.
And any decent diet monitoring app will break down your macros (I’ve always used this one called Lifesum, and it works fine). This should guide you towards not only monitoring how much or how little you are consuming, but shaping what it is that you consume. You should start to find that when your body gets more of the right stuff at the right time, you’ve gained something like a super power.
Which brings us to Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED’s). The definition at this point is pretty murky. There are substances out there that can improve your performance with very minimal side effects. Take caffeine for example. An espresso before a workout is quite nice.
But PED’s are as much a problem in the basketball world as they have ever been. The NBA has been widely criticized for it’s policies in PED detection. And with the competitiveness of the modern field, there’s more incentive than ever to ake advantage of any advantage out there.
I know very little about PED’s that are not easily grown organically. I do know that, in a world where even government approved food products can contain ingredients that are weird and disturbing, the consumption of unregulated chemicals makes me nervous.
And it seems that these dangers are being reflected on the court. Basketball has the highest rate of cardiac arrest among its participants. The problem is most dramatic in Division I basketball players. PED’s are often cited as a probable cause. The high level of competition incentivizes PED use. And, so the theory goes, the PED use increases risk of cardiac events.
And one final tip. Cut out sugar and alcohol. Much easier said than done, but the benefits are massive.
Meditation and Focus
Mental strength is no less important in any pursuit than physical strength. Walk into any gym and you can find those dudes who look like they could lift a Buick, but the slightest emotional challenge sets them off.
Basketball is pretty unique in that everyone on the court is challenged to make precise and thoughtful movements even as they are pushed to extremes of physical exhaustion.
I love meditation. I have a hell of a time doing it, and that’s okay. It is very hard. It may well be the hardest element of this entire article.
Sit quietly and comfortably. Endeavor to make your mind inactive. When your mind finds activity, terminate that activity. When your mind inevitably finds a new activity almost immediately, terminate that new activity, taking care not to find a new activity in being frustrated with your inability to make your mind inactive.
Do this for 20 minutes. Try to do it every day. It will never really be comfortable, I think. But it will become bearable, even pleasant.
The result is that you sort of feel better. You may find an improved ability to manage your own emotions, though that may take years. You may also find it becomes more comfortable to slip into that flow state where the world flows on around you and you are simply existing in the dance. This flow state makes for some fantastic basketball.
Health and fitness is always an ongoing battle. I feel fortunate, personally, to have grown my interest in fitness as I get older. In my twenties and even my thirties, I wasn’t much interested in challenging myself physically. For the majority of that time, my main source of exercise was working in a kitchen for 12-16 hours a day.
This means that, while a lot of my peers are on a distinct athletic downtrend, I’m moving steadily in the opposite direction. This is the silver lining on a youth devoid of athleticism. I’m on track to find my own athletic peak deep into my forties.
What this means for you is that everything I’ve shared here is compiled, not from the perspective of a young person with boundless energy and no concept of recovery time, but that of an old man who’s been fighting his body and mind for many years, with very little reward.