Best Exercises for Basketball Players

10 Best Exercises for Basketball Players (2024)

When designing a basketball strength and conditioning program, figuring out what the best exercises are to decrease the risk of injury and improve performance is critical. This is because we’re almost always limited by time.

For collegiate programs, the NCAA mandates how much time is allowed for training each week. But, even if there isn’t a time-limiting rule, we all have things in our life – school, work, family, etc that can make it hard to spend hours on end in the gym.

Figuring out the best exercises that absolutely should be in your basketball strength program can help you maximize your time in the weight room and to make sure your efficiency matches your intensity.

So, which ten exercises do I think are the most important and why should you care? I’ve spent 20 years working as a sports performance coach at the collegiate level including multiple collegiate basketball programs.

And, I’m a complete strength nerd who has spent their lifetime looking for every way possible to maximize athletes’ potential.

Top 10 Basketball Exercises

Power Clean

Power Clean First Pull
Arms straight, feet flat, knees out, chest out, eyes straight ahead… great first pull.

If I could only pick one exercise to train basketball players it would be the Power Clean. Power Cleans are basically a total body movement that develops power, strength and coordination.

The only real decision was to choose Power Clean (catching in a quarter-squat power position) or a full Clean (catching a full front squat position). Ultimately, I chose Power Clean over Clean for two reasons.

First, it’s a little easier to teach technically. With each component you remove on an Olympic lift variation (in this case the full catch), the lift becomes a little easier to learn.

Second, when working with athletes, I actually like the additional upper back and biceps work the Power Clean provides by having to pull the bar higher to the power position.

There is one big exception though – I do not have basketball players catch the clean in-season. The wrists are too important in basketball to risk a poor catch leading to a jammed wrist. In-Season we’ll switch to Clean Pulls. Same triple extension benefit with no risks involved with catching the bar.

How To

  • Feet hip-width apart, toes slightly out
  • Bar over middle of feet, close to shins
  • Grip should be slightly wider than shoulder-width
  • Use pronated grip (Hook Grip optional, but recommended)
  • Wrists curled, knuckles down
  • Shoulders over bar, hips higher than knees, arms straight
  • Keep back flat, engage upper back and lats
  • Look straight ahead for posture
  • Take deep breath, brace core

Lifting Phase

  • Lift bar by driving feet through floor, keep arms straight
  • Keep bar close to shins, back angle remains constant
  • Explosively pull bar after it passes knees

Explosion and Catch

  • Achieve triple extension (hips, knees, ankles)
  • Follow with quick, powerful shrug
  • Elbows break out to side
  • Shift feet to shoulder-width for catch
  • Rotate elbows and ‘shoot through’
  • Finish with triceps parallel to floor, elbows forward

Coaching Points

My biggest coaching point for Power Cleans is to just say if you don’t feel comfortable with your technique, then I would refrain from doing them. Wait until you can be properly coached on how to do them correctly so you do not injure yourself.

In the meantime, here are 9 Power Clean alternatives you may be able to try out instead that will also develop explosive power. Some of the alternate exercises I list there are much more beginner-friendly.

Back Squat

Back Squat with Empty Bar

I would consider Back Squat the 1B to the Power Clean’s 1A. I think it falls behind the Power Clean, but not by much.

Having a strong lower body is critical to a basketball player’s success and no exercise is better equipped for building a strong lower body than Back Squats.

Yes, there are other effective forms of squatting (there is actually another on this list) and single-leg movements are very important too (there is one of those on this list as well). But, Back Squats should be one of the primary focal points of a basketball strength training program.

How To

  • Position the barbell on a squat rack at about chest height.
  • Place your hands on the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Duck under the bar and position it on your upper traps or back of your shoulders. Make sure your feet are directly under the bar.
  • Stand up to lift the bar off the rack and take a step or two back to clear the rack. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart.
  • Position your feet shoulder-width apart with toes pointing slightly outward.
  • Take a deep breath into your diaphragm and brace your core.
  • Start by pushing your hips back and then bend your knees to lower your body.
  • Lower yourself until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor.
  • Drive through your heels to straighten your knees and hips, returning to the starting position. Exhale at the top.

Coaching Points

There are two bar position options for Back Squat, low-bar and high-bar. I recommend and teach the high bar position when working with athletes, including basketball players.

The most important aspect to watch for when doing Back Squats is the potential rounding of the back. Immediately end any set where form begins to break down and the back begins to round. A rounded back is probably the most common cause of injury with squatting.


Bottom Position of Pull-Up

Pull-ups are my favorite upper body exercise for basketball players.

If players struggle initially with pull-ups, there are modifications that can be made while building the strength to be able to do Pull-ups. Doing Band-Assisted Pullups, Pull-up Holds and Eccentric Pull-ups are all variations that can be utilized until regular Pull-ups can be done.

Once you’ve mastered Pull-ups, it’s just as easy to modify Pull-ups to increase the challenge. Adding weight or controlling tempo are just two ways Pull-ups can be made as difficult as necessary.

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Approach the pull-up bar and grab the bar with a pronated grip (palms facing away).
  • Use a bench to get to the bar if it is too high.
  • Squeeze the bar and engage the core muscles and do not cross your legs.
  • Engage the upper back and pull up until your chin is over the bar.
  • Pause for 1 second with your chin over the bar.
  • Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.

Coaching Points

By far the biggest mistake I see in the pull-up is lifters not using a full range of motion. Hang all the way down and maintain great tension through the shoulders and abdomen.

Coach’s Note: Chin-ups (palms facing toward you) are a close variation that work just as well in this spot.

Pistol Squat

Football Player Doing a Pistol Squat

Single-leg work is a critical component of any basketball strength training program. That’s not up for debate. However, I struggled with which single-leg exercise to pick.

I picked Pistol Squats for my single-leg movement for a few reasons.

First, it’s a true single-leg exercise. Many single-leg movements actually use both legs, especially as players continue to go up in weight. Pistol Squats are literally done on one leg – no opposite leg to use for assistance whatsoever.

Second, I think you really have to be careful with how much posterior chain volume you place into any strength program. For instance, about half of the exercises on this very list are posterior chain movements. Too much posterior chain work can lead to tight low backs (or worse).

Pistol Squats allow athletes to focus on building true single-leg strength without added low back stress.

How To

Pistol Squat On Air

  • Stand on one leg with the opposite leg straight and slightly out in front of the body.
  • Squat down on the single leg by hinging back at the hips first and then bending the knee and hips until the crease of the hip crosses below the knee.
  • Keep the heel flat and your weight distributed between your heel and mid-foot.
  • Keep your torso as vertical as possible while maintaining balance and a flat foot.
  • The opposite leg should stay straight and extend out in front of you as you squat down (tight hamstrings will make this almost impossible!)
  • Once you reach the bottom of the squat, drive the foot through the floor and stand tall.

Pistol Squat To Box

  • Instructions are the same as above, except the athlete will squat down to a box (or bench) instead of freely in an open space.
  • Make sure the foot is close enough to the box so that the box is not missed when squatting down to touch it. (I’ve seen it happen)
  • Control the descent to the box and sit as softly as possible. A light touch-and-go is ideal if possible. My favorite cue for this was to “treat the box like a glass coffee table.”

Coaching Points

If you cannot do a Pistol Squat the first time trying, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Most athletes I’ve worked with have to start by using a bench for pistol squats. The first thing you need to do to start progressing is figure out where your real weakness is: strength or flexibility.

Some lifters simply don’t possess the strength at first to perform a full pistol squat on air.

On the other hand, many of the athletes I’ve coached actually have the strength to do a pistol squat, but they lack the mobility to be able to go through the full range of motion without falling or their opposite foot crashing into the ground.

Single Arm Dumbbell Bench Press

Single Arm Dumbbell Bench

For the record, I do have basketball players Bench Press and think it’s a great exercise for building upper body strength. However, there is a Bench Press variation that I like for basketball players even more – Single Arm Dumbbell Bench Press.

The reason is that SA DB Bench is an anti-rotational exercise.

That means that as you bench, the core has to work to keep you from rotating and literally falling off the bench. This utilization of the core is so beneficial for basketball players who need to be able to maintain core stability while fighting for position on the court.

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbell
  • Bench

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Grab your dumbbell, sit on the edge of the bench, and sit the dumbbell on your thigh vertically.
  • Take a deep breath, lie flat on your back on the bench, and get your dumbbell in position ready to press.
  • Lay your free hand on your stomach. Placing your hand on your hip (as shown in the featured image above) will help balance you more is a more beginner-friendly hand placement.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  • Keep your butt on the bench.
  • Pull your shoulder blades together and keep the back of your head on the bench. You will slightly arch your back. Keep your core tight and keep the shoulder blades pulled back tight.
  • The dumbbell should be slightly angled at roughly a 45-degree angle to the torso.
  • Press the dumbbell up.
  • Control the dumbbell down during the eccentric movement and draw the dumbbell in, keeping the elbow at that 45-degree angle from the torso.
  • The dumbbell will make contact with your torso right at the nipple line on the chest.
  • Once contact is made, drive the dumbbell back up.

Coaching Points

If you’re familiar with Dumbbell Bench Press but are new to this single-arm variation, you’ll probably be pretty surprised by just how much you need to brace your core to keep from literally rotating off the bench.

For this reason, start light and then work your way up in weight.

Overhead Squat

I absolutely love Overhead Squats for athletes, especially basketball players.

First, it is the ultimate mobility assessment tool because it demands mobility from almost every part of the body. If there are issues with the shoulders, back, hips or ankles they are going to show up when trying to Overhead Squat.

Second, if you want to see a basketball player that has tremendous shoulder stability, watch a player who can overhead squat about 3/4 of their bodyweight. It also, by the way, takes a great deal of core strength and stability to do that as well.

That’s what makes the Overhead Squat such a special exercise and that’s not even to mention that they’ll still help build lower body strength.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Grab a barbell with a snatch-width grip and raise it to full extension overhead.
  • Set the feet shoulder-width apart with (optionally) toes pointed slightly out.
  • Elevate the bar towards the ceiling and then create tension by ‘pulling the bar apart’.
  • Set the eyes straight ahead, inhale and brace the core.
  • Initiate the movement by pushing the hips back and then descending into a full squat position.
  • Keep the feet flat on the ground, weight distributed through the heels and mid-foot.
  • Keep knees pushed out and overtop the shoelaces.
  • When you reach the bottom of the squat, push the feet through the floor and drive the hips up.
  • Once you’ve completed all reps, drop the bar forward to the floor.

Coaching Points

If you find yourself struggling to keep the bar in the overhead position (it keeps falling forward), then you probably have a mobility issue in either the shoulders or thoracic (mid to upper back). Switch to a PVC Pipe until your mobility improves.

Single Arm Dumbbell Snatch

Single Arm Dumbbell Snatch

Another explosive exercise that I love for basketball players is the Single Arm Dumbbell Snatch.

It’s easy to learn, it’s unilateral (one side working at a time) and is a great Olympic lift variation to develop explosive power that can help improve vertical jump. What’s not to love?

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Grab a dumbbell and stand with feet about shoulder-width apart.
  • Stand with knees slightly bent, brace the core and set the back – shoulder blades pulled back, lats engaged, chest out.
  • Hinge forward by pushing the hips back and let the dumbbell slide down right in between the knees, coming at a stop just below the knee.
  • You are now in the ‘power position’.
  • From here, drive the feet through the floor and aggressively extend the hips, driving the shoulders up and slightly back.
  • As you reach triple extension of the hips, knees and ankles – use a quick, powerful shrug and allow the elbow to break and begin the pull with the arm.
  • Keep the dumbbell close to the body as it travels up.
  • Once the dumbbell reaches the highest point of the pull, rotate at the elbow to catch the dumbbell overhead while simultaneously dropping the hips into a quarter squat and shift the feet slightly out.
  • Finish the rep by standing tall and lowering the dumbbell down to the shoulder first and then back to the starting position under control.

Coaching Points

The dumbbell should travel close to the body all the up until it gets about head height, then rotate the elbow, drop the hips and catch. Don’t allow it to swing forward out away from the body.

The second technique flaw is not staying braced through the return of the dumbbell to the starting position, oftentimes from being in too big of a hurry to knock out reps. Letting the dumbbell, especially the heavier you get, yank the shoulder down at the bottom of the rep is asking for trouble.

Trap Bar Deadlift

Trap Bar Deadlifts on Platform

I like Trap Bar Deadlifts for basketball players for a few reasons. First, they’re simply a great exercise for building lower body strength, especially for the posterior chain.

Being able to use a trap bar allows the weight to be shifted slightly more towards the hips which will take a bit of strain off the low back (compared to regular deadlifts). Finally, the elevated handles can be very helpful when working with taller athletes.

How To

  • Ensure the trap bar is on a flat surface and evenly loaded with weight plates on both sides.
  • Step into the center of the trap bar, positioning your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Bend at the hips and knees to grasp the trap bar handles. Your grip should be firm and hands should be about shoulder-width apart.
  • Straighten your back, push your chest out, and look straight ahead. Your shoulders should be directly above or slightly behind the handles.
  • Take a deep breath into your diaphragm and brace your core muscles.
  • Drive your feet through the floor while straightening your hips and knees. Lift the bar off the ground until you are in a fully upright position.
  • Once fully upright, take a brief pause. Make sure your hips are fully extended and you’re standing tall.
  • Reverse the motion by pushing your hips back and bending your knees to lower the bar back to the starting position.
  • Make sure the bar is completely stationary before beginning your next repetition.

Coaching Points

Pro Tip: Don’t have a trap bar? Here are 10 alternatives for Trap Bar Deadlift that don’t need one.

Easily the most common mistake for deadlifts of any kind is allowing the back to round, placing unnecessary stress on the back. Keep the back flat throughout the movement and the core braced.

Do not bounce the bar off the floor between reps. Yes, bouncing the plates off the floor into the next rep may make the lift easier to do, but it’s also a good way to allow your technique to break down. Reset for each rep.


Plank Side View

I know Planks may not be the most exciting choice for core exercises, but they’re just flat-out effective.

They are the best teaching tool available to teach athletes how to brace. Plus, Planks are amazing at improving core stabilization.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Start on the ground on your stomach.
  • Assume a push-up like position on your elbows and toes. Elbows should be directly under the shoulders.
  • Position your body in a straight line from the shoulders through the hips, knees and ankles.
  • Brace the core tight. (As if you’re going to be punched in the stomach)
  • Do not let the body slouch to the ground nor push the hips up high in the air.
  • Hold for the designated amount of time.

Coaching Points

The biggest mistake that I see with Front Planks is athletes holding the position, but not properly keeping the core engaged and just allowing the torso to slouch. So, while they are technically up on their elbows and toes, all they’re really doing is straining the low back.

Box Jumps

Weighted Box Jump

I couldn’t do an entire list of exercises for basketball players and completely leave off plyometric training.

I chose probably the most popular and well-known plyometric training drill. Popular, but still extremely effective. Box Jumps.

Box Jumps will help develop explosiveness and take a lot of wear and tear off the joints by landing on a higher surface instead of all the way back to the ground each rep. Just focus on proper technique and avoid trying to jump on boxes too tall to do properly.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Grab a box that is the proper height for your jumping ability
  • Start just far enough away from the box so that your hands will not hit the box when you swing them.
  • Once you’re in position, stand tall with feet hip-width apart.
  • Now raise your arms overhead and extend up onto the balls of the feet.
  • Start your countermovement by hinging at the hips, bending the knees and throwing the hands down and back behind the body.
  • Immediately redirect by driving the feet through the floor, throwing the hands up and triple extending through the hips, knees and ankles.
  • Land softly on the box by bending the knees upon landing and absorbing the force of impact.
  • Step down off the box and repeat.

Coaching Points

Pick a box that is an appropriate height. You should land on the box in roughly a quarter-squat position. All too often I see athletes jump on a box that is way too high, causing them to have to land in a full squat position.

This is wrong for two reasons. First, picking your feet higher so you can land in a full squat doesn’t actually mean you jump any higher. Second, having to land in a full squat to make it onto the box eliminates any room for error. If you jump perhaps even an inch not high enough you could end up missing the box.

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Final Thoughts

There is no shortage of quality exercises that you can utilize for basketball workouts.

However, in my opinion, those are the 10 most beneficial exercises that will help you improve your explosive power and increase your performance on the basketball court.

Want more ideas to incorporate into your volleyball strength and conditioning program? Here are my 8 favorite core exercises for basketball players.

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  1. This is very helpful! I was looking for exercises specifically for basketball for my neighbor’s son after we were talking about my own strength program for more general fitness and running. I actually do some of the lifts you have here. Your instructions are spot on, so I will definitely be sending this over to him to look at! Thanks!