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How to Improve Your Game This Off-Season

Crossover Jab Step | Basketball Skills

If your plan to get better this off-season was to play a lot of NBA 2k, I’ve got some bad news for you…

AAU and Summer League can help your game, but to become the best player you can be, you need to work hard on your individual skills too. Basketball has changed dramatically because of the three pointer. Players can now dominate a game with good shooting and ball-handling skills, (there’s a guy named Curry on Golden State who I hear is pretty good) so it’s imperative that you work on that part of your game. A good off-season program will include both strength training and skills practice, making you a better athlete and a better player, so put down the controller and lets get started!

April: This is a time to rest and recover from any injuries sustained during the season. This is also the time to check with your Doctor and make sure you’re able to perform strength training and conditioning workouts, as well as AAU or Summer League basketball. If the weather is warm enough to shoot outside, and your body has rested and feels healthy, you can start to work on your shooting and dribbling. Use the month of April to search for online videos of how to perform all of the exercises I recommend here, along with drills for shooting and ball-handling. You may also want to seek out a competent trainer and/or coach if one is available to you.

May-June: This is when you really get into your training! You will be following a schedule of strength training 3 days per week, and skills training 3-4 days per week. I recommend a full-body workout 3 days a week for basketball players. A full-body program 3 days a week provides more volume than a typical “Push, Pull, Legs” split, meaning that you will work each body part 3 times per week instead of 2. Additionally, you can work on your ball-handling and shooting skills on your recovery days (the days you are not working out), providing you with a nice active rest day.

Strength Training for May-June: May and June will be comprised of Hypertrophy Training, which is a fancy term for growing your muscles. If you are lucky enough to belong to the local YMCA/YWCA or a gym, there may be people to help you with your form, and you should seek them out, but I also recommend searching for videos on YouTube and practicing the form first. If you are working out at home, online videos can be great to help you get started, but if you know someone knowledgeable who can help with form, that is better.

First, warm-up with 5-10 minutes of ball-handling. Don’t worry, I have included what specifically to do in the next section. Try to work up a good sweat. For hypertrophy training, do 3 sets of a weight that you can lift 8-12 times with good form. Rest for 1 minute in between sets. Once you can perform more than 12 reps on the last set with good form, you should add weight. You should strength train 3 non-consecutive days per week, such as Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. After the warm-up, here are the exercises I recommend to basketball players and the order I recommend you do them in:

  • Front Squats (or Goblet Squats if working out at home)
  • Barbell or Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Pull-ups
  • Standing Overhead Press
  • Biceps Curls

Skills Training for May-June: On the days you aren’t lifting you will work on your shooting. Warm up with 5-10 minutes of your ball-handling skills, then start your shooting skills workout.

Ball-handling: work on controlling the ball equally well in a stationary dribble with both hands, as well as cross-overs, through your legs, and behind your back, all without looking at the basketball. Additionally, if you have the opportunity, dribble with two balls at a time as much as possible. Then, dribble a ball with one hand while the other hand tosses a tennis ball up and catches it. Once you have perfected those skills, work on more advanced dribbling moves. There are many videos on YouTube for you to pick from.

Shooting: For your shooting workout, you will take 100 jump-shots and 25 free-throws. Have a partner or rebounder help you so you can take your shots without chasing after the ball, and so you get used to shooting after the catch. Your partner can be another player, a parent, or a sibling, they don’t have to be a basketball player to help. A rebounder will also drastically cut down the time it takes to do your workout. Practice your 100 shots from everywhere on the court. You should work on shooting in rhythm, meaning that you step into the shot while receiving the pass. The proper footwork is to step into the shot with the inside foot, which is your left foot first when going right, and your right foot first when going left. When stepping straight into a shot, it is your weak side foot first and your strong side foot that steps second. When you shoot, shoot shots that you would shoot in a game, at game speed, with perfect form. There are many good videos online of good shooting drills you can do by yourself or with a partner, so use those resources. Finish up by shooting 25 free-throws. When you shoot your free-throws, shoot using the same routine every time, and work on shooting with perfect form. By the end of June, you will have practiced dribbling for 4-10 hours, shot 3200 jump shots, and 800 free-throws. NICE WORK! Take that NBA 2Kers!

Strength Training for July-August: During this period we switch from Hypertrophy to Strength Training. In this phase we will still do 3 full-body workouts per week with 3 sets for each exercise, on 3 non-consecutive days. You will still warm-up for lifting with your ball-handling drills. The difference in this workout is that for Squats, Bench Press, and Standing Overhead Press you will increase the weight to something you can only lift 4-6 times with good form, and you will rest for 2 minutes in between sets on those exercises. The Biceps Curls will still be done in the 8-12 rep range, adding weight if you can do 13 reps on set 3. If you can do 12 reps on the 3rd set of Pull-ups (I’d be very impressed) you can add a 4th set. For Squats, Bench-Press and Overhead Standing Press, if you can lift the weight 7 times on the third set, add weight to the bar for your next workout.

Skills Training for July-August: During this period, on all recovery days you will continue to warm-up with ball handling for 5-10 minutes, and then shoot 100 jump-shots and 25 free-throws, always with perfect form.

Strength Training for September-October: During this period we advance to power training. Now that you have built a foundation of strength (I bet you can lift a lot more weight than when you started back in May), we can work on power. Power is the most important element to a basketball player because it allows you to jump higher and explode to the basket faster. You will still do 3 full-body workouts, 3 non-consecutive days per week, with 3 sets per exercise, but now, when you do 4-6 reps of Squats, Bench Press, and Standing Overhead Press, you will immediately also do 5 reps of an explosive exercise with little or no weight and then rest for 2 minutes. You will still do 8-12 reps per set for Pull-ups and Biceps curls and rest for 1 minute. Once you have done your Squats, perform 5 Jump-Squats. After Bench-Press, do 5 Plyometric Push-ups.

After Standing Overhead Press, do 5 Medicine Ball Push Press Throws. You will need to watch video, but these are essentially starting with the medicine ball at chest level, and pushing it straight up over your head as fast and as high as you can. Let it hit the floor, pick it up, and do it again.

Skills Training for September-October: Skills training for this period will remain the same. Warm-up with 5-10 minutes of dribbling, and then take 100 jump-shots and 25 free-throws with a partner. By the end of October, you will have dribbled the ball between 14-25 hours, taken almost 10,000 jump-shots, and 2,400 free-throws. YOU ARE OFFICIALLY A BALLER!!!

Strength, Agility, and Conditioning for November: During this period we stop strength training and start agility training and conditioning, because the season is almost here! Perform these on the same 3 non-consecutive days that you were strength training. Since we’re preparing to play basketball, the agility drill I would recommend is actually an agility test that basketball coaches use. It’s called the Lane Agility Test, and I recommend that you search for a video of it before you get started. First, warm-up by dribbling for 5-10 minutes. To perform the drill, you start at the left elbow of the free-throw line. This is the start/finish line. As quickly as you can, sprint down the lane line to the baseline, laterally shuffle (slide) to the right along the baseline to the opposite lane line, backpedal up to the free-throw line, and laterally shuffle left to the corner you started from. Then, immediately reverse direction and go around the lane in the opposite direction until you get back to the start/finish line. That is one rep. Do a total of 3 reps. Make sure you face towards the baseline the whole time and do them as quickly as possible. Rest until you are ready in between reps, as this is not a conditioning exercise.

After your agility training, you will do your conditioning work. For conditioning, we will use HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training. You should already be in pretty good condition if you’ve been playing AAU or Summer League, so this will get you ready for try-outs, which you are now going to blow away with all the practicing you’ve been doing! Start on one baseline, sprint the length of the court to the other baseline, turn and sprint back. That is one rep. Do one set of four reps (that’s 4 laps up and back) each workout for the first week. For the second week, add a second set of four reps, but rest for 40 seconds in between the sets. Add another set of 4 reps each week until you are doing 8 sets maximum with 40 seconds rest between sets. When tryouts start, you’ll be ready!

Skills Training for November: Skills training for this period will remain the same. Warm-up with 5-10 minutes of dribbling, and then take 100 jump-shots and 25 free-throws with a partner. Final totals by the end of November: 16-30 hours dribbling along with 12,000 jump-shots and 3,000 free-throws. You’ll be a better shooter, a better athlete, and ready to go for the season! You’ll also be the worst NBA 2k player of all your friends. Congratulations!

About the Author

Brett Cavalieri, CSCS, is a basketball coach at Westbrook High School in Westbrook, CT.  He has coached boys and girls of all ages at the Rec., Travel, AAU, and High School levels.  He is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist from the Nation Strength and Conditioning Association.  He believes that sports teach the lifelong lesson of how to be a good teammate and create a love of exercise, improving health.

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