A basketball training program for professional basketball players isn’t too different from what the training should be for high school or college players - there’s just more of it.
The athleticism of elite basketball players is far beyond simple natural ability. In order to stand out, they have to jump higher, move quicker and run faster. They also need more strength to be able to finish strong at the rim.
While the exact training program of each NBA player may differ, you’ll notice the similarities in their training - lifting weights, speed and agility work, as well as conditioning. Lots of conditioning.
In this article we’re going to focus on the training side of these athletes off the basketball court. Of course, it goes without saying that NBA players also put in a ton of work on the basketball court too.
2017 NBA MVP Russell Westbrook is one of the most explosive athletes in the NBA and his training is meant to capitalize on that.
If you take a look at his training you’ll immediately notice the use of a bungee resistance band during different agility and footwork drills. This elevates the difficulty of the drills and helps him get quicker and more agile.
When it comes to agility drills, bungee resistance bands are great for amping up the difficulty, and as you’ll read in this article, they’re used by many NBA players.
For conditioning, you’ll notice Russell Westbrook doing hill sprints on a massive sandy hill. This is meant to completely exhaust him and build up his aerobic capacity for later in games.
As I mentioned earlier in this article, every NBA player does plenty of on-court work - Russell is no different.
Just like Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard uses a bungee resistance band in his training to improve his explosiveness.
Having a training partner to hold the band as you move through different drills is extremely beneficial.
You’ll notice Damian working on his ability to drive to the basketball while connected to a band as well as his speed and agility utilizing the band as well as cones.
Also like Russell, Damian does various sand training workouts. Even his on-court work is HIGHLY focused on the conditioning aspect mimicking the fast-paced up and down nature of an NBA game.
While lots of basketball players at lower levels are afraid to lift weights, you’ll see Damian pounding the weights, working through different rowing variations to develop back strength as well as movements that develop a strong core.
Also performing presses with a weighted ball and bench to develop upper body pushing strength to make harder passes and be stronger driving to the lane.
Something that shouldn’t be glossed over is the use of lateral movement training as opposed to simply linear movement training. This is important, as basketball involves constant change of direction.
NBA All-Star and 2015 most improved award winner Jimmy Butler uses a variety of tools in his training.
For his off-the-court work, Jimmy warms up with mini bands, doing various linear and lateral walks and kicks as well as squats. These work his hip flexors as well as his hip abductors and adductors to get his body prepared for more explosive movements later in the workout. Furthermore, he uses an agility ladder to hone his footwork and continue the warm up process.
Throughout the workout you’ll notice Jimmy holding a medicine ball or a plate while performing different movements. This not only works his core and adds resistance to those movements, it also works his grip strength, making it harder for defenders to rip the ball away from him.
You’ll also notice Jimmy utilizing box jumps and depth jumps in the workout - this is to help him become more explosive on the basketball court. The reason he does various single leg movements is to work on strength and explosiveness for each leg, as basketball players constantly have to jump off of one leg throughout the course of a game.
Jimmy Butler didn’t become the most-improved player and an All-Defensive team selection by accident, he put in WORK. In his training video you see just a glimpse of that, but remember there is much more to it.
Steph Curry’s training, as you can imagine, includes plenty of dribbling drills. He is after all, a former MVP and plays point guard.
You’ll even see in the video below how he uses a bungee resistance band while dribbling forward and backward to work on his acceleration, upping the level of difficulty of the drill.
Off the court, you’ll see Steph working on his upper body strength with a TRX and doing core work on an exercise ball.
While Steph Curry isn’t the biggest or strongest basketball player in the NBA, by getting stronger in the weight room he’s still able to become more explosive, prevent injuries, and elevate his game.
2011 1st overall pick Kyrie Irving, one of the best point guards in the NBA, talks at length about the importance of being in great shape to be an elite basketball player. He even mentions how he would play basketball for six hours every day after school when he was growing up.
That type of dedication hasn’t stopped.
In Kyrie’s training video you’ll see him working on his lower body strength with step ups and front squats, his upper body strength with pull ups, cable presses, and dumbbell bench presses, and his core with sit ups, hanging leg raises, and Russian twists.
Besides on-court sprints, he also improves his conditioning with the Versa climber, a nifty piece of equipment.
To work on his lateral quickness, Kyrie also uses banded shuffles, a popular training method for elite level athletes.
Known as a master dunker, Zach LaVine works extremely hard to improve his game.
In his training video, you’ll see Zach using trap bar deadlifts to develop lower body strength. This training apparatus is one I’d highly suggest for any athlete because it puts your body in the center of the weight, lowering your chance for injury and allowing you to exert more force.
Besides deadlifts, Zach also uses dumbbells to work on his shoulders and like Jimmy Butler, performs a variety of exercises while holding a weight overhead.
Resisted step ups and lunges with bands allow Zach to develop single leg strength, something basketball players need to excel in their sport.
Andrew Wiggins, the top pick in the 2014 NBA draft, has continued to progress every year he’s been in the NBA, averaging 23.6 PPG in the 2016-17 season.
While his training is similar to the other athletes in this article, there are a few differences.
First, he uses foam rolling in his warm up. This is meant to release tension in the muscles and, when combined with dynamic movements, makes for a highly effective warm up.
The second way Wiggins’ training differs from others on this list, is the use of boxing in his training. This is likely used towards the end of his workout to develop better conditioning. Of course, this shouldn’t take the place of sprints and sport-specific conditioning, but it’ll only help him.
Lastly, Wiggins seems to do more sled work than the other athletes on this list, performing sled pushes and pulls to further develop his conditioning.
Perennial all-star and 3-time NBA champion Dwyane Wade has stood the test of time in the NBA thanks in large part to his training.
In his workouts you’ll notice Wade replicating many of the movements he’ll perform on a basketball court.
He uses a basketball attached to a pulley to work on his ability to hold the ball tight while pesky defenders try to rip it away. He also does various jumps with hurdles and mini hurdles combined with a sprint or a shuffle to mimic what he’ll do in an actual game.
If you’ve ever watched Dwyane Wade play, you also know how strong he is - this is no accident.
Wade works on his strength in a variety of ways and has even worked with Michael Jordan’s former trainer, Tim Grover, to improve his game.
Isaiah Thomas, arguably the best player under six feet in the NBA, uses weight sleds in his training more than most NBA players in this article.
Used mostly for conditioning, Isaiah Thomas, does sled pushes, sled pulls, sled shuffles, sled crossover runs - essentially every move you can think of with a weight sled. This is all to ensure he’ll outlast his competition, playing at a high level late into games.
Standing at 5’9”, it’s even more important for Thomas to be in amazing shape.
Besides conditioning, Thomas also includes conventional weight lifting in his training, performing lat pulldowns, reverse lunges, and dumbbell bench presses to name a few exercises I’ve seen in his training videos.
Like most athletes in this article, Thomas also does band-resisted lateral shuffles to improve his lateral quickness.
King James is blessed with a tremendous amount of natural ability but he also works extremely hard to stay in top physical shape.
LeBron uses just about every type of exercise imaginable in his training from band squats to jump rope to pull ups to boxing and pilates.
Like Kyrie, LeBron also uses the Versa climber for conditioning on top of different on-court conditioning drills.
One thing you’ll notice with LeBron’s training is how he keeps it varied and also utilizes compound movements.
For example, he’ll do conventional back squats, but also does squat and presses with dumbbells. He also does reverse lunges and then does reverse lunges with a dumbbell front raise. This is all meant to ratchet up the difficulty of each exercise, allowing him to benefit more from every minute in the gym.
At any fitness level you can work on your jumping ability, speed, agility, and strength to improve as an athlete.
Lifting weights, working on speed and agility, using plyometrics - they’ll all help you develop as an athlete and give you the edge over your competition.
Get started, stay consistent, and control the only thing you can - how hard you work.