Lifting Weights and Shooting
Let's start this discussion by cutting right to the chase.
Lifting weights will not hurt your shot in basketball.
Sure, your arms may feel like rubber right after a hard workout in the weight room. If you pushed yourself, you should feel that way. However, once the lactic acid starts to subside, the mechanics and muscle memory that you use to shoot a basketball will take right back over.
Shooting, like other athletic movements, is based on muscle memory. If you a shoot a certain way over and over again (good or bad), eventually your brain says "this is how you shoot a basketball," and your body follows.
A lot of young athletes worry about getting bulky or losing flexibility. Two things here.
1. You would have to be lifting weights constantly, with heavy weight, and over a long period of time to accumulate any amount of bulk that could remotely hurt you.
2. Your muscles are built to expand and contract. If you never stretch them, of course, they're going to tighten over time. The goal for most basketball players isn't just to lift for the sake of lifting. You're trying to become more explosive. To do that, you need to work on both resistance exercises and flexibility exercises.
Will Lifting Heavy Weight With My Legs Hurt My Quickness?
Again, the answer is no. Whatever quickness you have today was developed through fast-twitch movements. Think of your weight lifting sessions as the resistance portion of your workout. Once the weights are put away, just don't forget about those movements (i.e.: continue to play basketball along with your weight training).
Most young players don't do enough lifting with their legs. They're easily moved off the block, and they lack great balance in their movements. When you lift with your legs, think about the movement and posture of your entire body. If you have a noticeable difference in leg strength on one side vs. the another, target those weak areas. No one is completely symmetrical, and it's ok to be honest if certain movements are harder for you than they are for others.
Another things to look at is your ability to shoot straight up and down. When you shoot a three-pointer, are you landing two or three feet in front of where you're taking off? Or, is your body in a straight line as you shoot? Developing overall head-to-toe strength should help increase your range.
When Should I Lift?
Some NBA teams lift after games. For most high school players, it's probably not realistic to do that. I'd recommend this:
During the season, try to lift 3x per week. The goal here isn't to overly exert yourself, but rather, to maintain strength and flexibility.
In the off-season, if you have the ability to go 5x/week, do it. The off-season is the perfect time to push yourself in the weight room, gain strength, force your muscles to get sore, and then rinse and repeat. Outline some goals for yourself in the off-season and set up a training program that will help you achieve them. A skinny post player that's trying to gain weight and strength should have a different training program than a guard that's trying to become more explosive.
How Heavy Should I Be Lifting?
It really depends on what your goals are, but I will say this: if you're new to lifting, proper form is everything. Most basketball weight lifting programs will include Olympic lifts. These are complex movements that can take some time before they feel natural. If you have to start with no weight, do that.
Once you've established your form, you'll need to challenge yourself. That can be done with more weight, more reps, or a combination of the two. My advice here is don't get caught up in the hoopla of "Look at how much I can bench!" Nobody cares, unless you're training for a weight lifting competition. You should be focused on relative improvement. So, if you can clean 30 lbs today, work your way up and keep track of what you can do in a month, 3 months, etc.
What Kind of Lifts Should I Focus On?
You want to focus on complex movements, so think Olympic lifts where you're forced to activate your whole body. This doesn't mean that these are the only type of lifts you should do, but you want to stay balanced. If you start on the bench press, go to the squat rack or leg press next. What you want to avoid is isolation exercises for small muscles. Bicep curls are great for the beach, but if you want to improve your game, there are other movements that will be a better use of your time.
For some examples of what explosive strength training looks like, check out this video.
Becoming More Explosive Can't Be All Lifting
Explosive athletes can contort their bodies in ways others can't. Just like lifting leads to strength, pliability leads to more fluid athleticism. You can accomplish this in two ways:
1. Flexibility: Incorporating things like yoga or barre will help you become more pliable. For a lot of young athletes that lift a lot, these exercises will be hard because you're probably not used to bending or extending like this. In most cases, this is a good "hurt" because you're lengthening tight muscles and flexors. In general, you should start to feel more fluid if you stick to a program that incorporates some of these movements.
2. Plyometrics: You need to activate your fast-twitch muscle fibers, and we do that through literal explosive movements. It could be resisted short sprints or jumps, the use of medicine balls, or applying heavy resistance to short, quick movements. An offensive lineman, for example, will work on being able to apply maximum power to the three to five yards in front of him. A basketball player may focus more on things like explosive leaping, back pedaling, lateral sliding, etc.
Here are some exercise examples.
If you're a young player and debating whether to add weight training to your schedule, I'd say full steam ahead. Just be sure that you're using proper form and know what you're doing. For any young athlete, I recommend taking a strength training class or working with an upperclassmen to show you the ropes. Before you know it, you'll not only begin to see gains, but you'll become a stronger and more confident player out on the floor.
For more basketball-related content, check out the basketball section of our blog.
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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