Basketball Strength with Bodyweight Exercises for Middle Schoolers
Are you a one sport middle schooler, basketball? If so, you are at a higher risk of injury due to physiological disparities created by playing basketball and/or burnout. A resistance training program will help counter muscular imbalances created by playing only one sport, break up the monotony of playing basketball “all of the time,” and develop a broader range of skills than those aided by basketball. As a middle schooler, you are at a physically developmental stage where playing only one sport can be detrimental to your skill development. The good news is that you don’t have to play multiple sports to get the needed skill development, prevent injury or prevent burnout.
It has been documented through research that middle school aged children can benefit in many ways from a safe, well-designed resistance training program. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) all support strength training for kids (as early as 6-years-old) if proper exercise technique, safety, and constant supervision are employed at all times.
From general fitness to enhancing skill development to improving one’s play on the basketball court, much can be accomplished when things are done correctly in the weight room. The following list includes some of the benefits of resistance training that can be realized by middle school basketball players.
- Injury prevention – A stronger more flexible muscle or joint is more difficult to injure than a weaker one.
- Rehab – An increase in strength, range of motion, and blood flow are key elements in rehabilitating an injury.
- Prepares you for the season-long grind – A strong well-conditioned body is better suited for the physical challenges that accompany a basketball season.
- Produces power needed to explode off the floor – The ability to move forward, backward and laterally and to jump is enhanced by an explosive strength that can be developed in the weight room.
- Generates a functional strength needed to execute certain basketball and childhood development skills/moves – Any time strength is applied to a certain movement (functionally), the movement becomes more effective.
- Prevents burnout – A resistance training program acts as a supplemental and alternative workout program to basketball training. This provides a “diversion” from the occasional tediousness that can occur with playing basketball every day.
- Improved self-esteem, confidence, and self-image – Nothing strengthens self-worth and confidence more than an increase in strength, fitness, and an improvement in self-image that occurs from a resistance training program.
- Improves body composition – The muscle mass generated by a resistance training program is calorically more expensive than body fat which requires very few calories for its maintenance.
- You feel better – An increase in energy and well-being are common benefits to having spent quality time in the weight room.
- Improves flexibility – Training a muscle throughout its full range of motion will increase the range of motion of the joint(s) that that muscle affects.
- Enhances overall athleticism – Any time you can run faster, jump higher, or move quicker on the court, an improvement in athleticism has occurred. So much of this begins with a resistance training program in the weight room.
- Keeps morale high – Watching your game improve because of time spent in the weight room can add to your confidence and have you pushing for more out of your workouts.
Unfortunately, throughout American middle school weight training rooms, boys and girls are performing resistance training programs that are directed by well-intended middle school coaches with the hope of elevating their player’s game to a higher level. Most coaches have been educated in a particular academic discipline such as history, math, or science. They have also had college course-work in coaching a variety of sports at the middle school level, but very few college education/teaching degrees provide the future coach with the resistance training education and experience needed to provide a safe and effective program, especially right out of school. As a result, these weight rooms have become a very dangerous place and often non-productive for young, underdeveloped, adolescent bodies.
The middle school years should be a time when students can develop a sound strength foundation for future resistance training programs and not feel intimidated once they reach the high school weight room. It is also a time to develop a working knowledge of how his/her body functions while performing resistance training exercises. It is not a time to get hurt or discouraged because of a poorly run program. Few, if any, middle school weight rooms employ “strength” coaches that meet the qualifications needed to demonstrate a working knowledge of resistance training’s effects on adolescent physiology. Every weight training room should have a professionally certified strength coach (i.e. Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist – CSCS) with several years of experience employed to train each basketball player to his or her specific needs with an individualized program, and to provide supervision, correct exercise technique, and sufficient rest and recovery periods to optimize the training experience. An undergraduate or graduate degree in the field of exercise science, kinesiology, or the like, would also be helpful. This may be a problem, however, with school district budgets, but in the long run it would be much less expensive than a lawsuit.
Here are a few exercises that your middle school resistance training program may be utilizing that you would best be wary of:
- Front/Back Barbell Squats – The compressive forces placed on the lower back of a novice adolescent lifter can lead to serious injuries. Also, barbell squats can lead to other injuries if the individual performing them has a longer or shorter torso length in relationship to his/her femur (upper leg) bones. Inefficient torso to femur ratios can places various forces on the knee and back due to excessive hip flexion (bending over too much at the waist with very little bend at the knee).
- Olympic Lifts (Snatch, Clean and Jerk, or any version of these lifts) – These lifts are sports, not exercises. These lifts have over thirty coaching points each and are extremely advanced movements; not just something a coach demonstrates once or twice, and the athlete emulates it. My takeaway from attending a USA Weightlifting Club Coach 1 certification program is that each lift requires a significant amount of time and training to master proper technique for maximal performance. For example, the Chinese government travels the country in search of the next great Olympic lifters at the age of 9-years of age. This is identified by bodily lever lengths that are optimal for lifting, i.e. short arms and legs which provide for a greater amount of mechanical advantage, muscle biopsies, blood tests, etc. Once identified, they are taken to one of the country’s training facilities where the kids train for 10 years on technique alone with nothing more than a broomstick.
- Plyometric Exercises without a Prerequisite Strength Training Program
- Medicine Ball Chest Pass – This is a fantastic basketball exercise in that it is explosive and focus’ on acceleration, not deceleration. Without a certain amount of strength developed prior to performing this exercise, injury is likely to occur.
- Broad Jumps – Another great exercise if quadricep strength and knee stability are sufficient to handle the stress of landing with repeated jumps necessary to form a set.
- Barbell Squat Jumps – NEVER, EVER do these! These are a sure way to ruin your back for years to come, regardless of how long you have been training.
We all know that performing resistance training exercises will improve the strength needed to become a better basketball player. The question is, “Are you able to transfer that ‘weight room’ strength to a more functional form of movement on the basketball court?” The functionality and specificity of bodyweight exercises help act as a segue to bridge that gap. This is done by increasing your strength and flexibility throughout the full range of motion that is created by the exercise.
Bodyweight exercises were what was around long before gyms, weight machines, and dumbbells. These types of workouts help set a foundation for future resistance training programs by initiating neuromuscular activation and adaptation and a metabolic response necessary for sufficient resistance training affect. This is brought about by utilizing low-intensity, modifiable, compound body movements, i.e. bodyweight exercises. (Intensity is defined by the amount of resistance applied to an exercise). These exercises are more functional than resistance training machines and, therefore, more applicable to your basketball game. I have created the 30-Day Workout Challenge (bodyweight exercises for middle schoolers) to help “prime the pump” for my program, Middle School Basketball Training Program (10-12-month resistance training program for middle schoolers). Both programs provide a safe and effective strength building program for the middle schooler and will prepare you for future resistance training programs that you will encounter during your basketball playing days.
Although the 30-Day Workout Challenge adequately serves as a pre-requisite to a weight room resistance training program and plyometric exercises/program, it can also be used throughout your training “life” by changing your routine up so that your program doesn’t grow stale. Because a bodyweight program is capable of generating tremendous results that can be translated on to the basketball court, it is perfectly fine as a stand-alone program as well. Bodyweight workouts provide a “pre-entry” to the weight room, when a team resistance training program will be used, by helping set a foundation of strength and fitness prior to a potentially more intense weight room experience. Exercises that utilize only your bodyweight are safer, can be basketball-specific (depending on the exercise), convenient and easy to modify, do not necessitate a spotter, work the entire body, can be performed almost anywhere and at any time, require less information to get started, and are free. They can also be much less intimidating than a full-on resistance training program when you are just starting out. There are a multitude of jumping exercises from which to choose and bodyweight movements that actively engage the core that make this type of equipment-free training great for your basketball game.
Although the following exercises do NOT comprise a complete workout, each one of them should be included in all basketball related workout programs. Make sure that sufficient leg strength is present to handle the repeated stresses for all of the following jumping exercises. So, without further ado, here are my Top 10 Bodyweight Exercises for basketball players:
- 1-Leg Deadlift – This lower back, glute, and hamstring exercise is terrific for developing strength, balance, and stabilization.
- Plank Up-Downs – A close relative to the push-up, plank up-downs help develop core and triceps strength.
- Bear Crawls – A great full-body exercise that engages multiple muscle groups at once.
- Broad Jumps – A basketball-specific exercise that can help increase the explosive power needed to “get off the floor.”
- 1-Leg Hops – Builds unilateral leg strength and stability that assists in improving balance leaping off one leg.
- Straight Leg Calf Jumps – Strengthens ankle and lower leg strength needed to help prevent ankle injuries and assists in increasing your vertical jump.
- Leg Sequence (bodyweight squats, jump squats, alternating lunges, jump lunges) – An excellent group of exercises that trains explosive effort when fatigued; a common occurrence in the game of basketball.
- Burpee with Vertical Jump – A fantastic full-body exercise that requires a maximal effort vertical jump.
- Jump Squats – One of the most basketball-specific exercises known to man.
- Push-ups – The gold standard for basketball training in that it strengthens the core and the entire upper body.
Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to assist male and female youth basketball players in enhancing his or her strength, balance, stability, and power for the game of basketball. With any physical training program injury is a risk. It is imperative that the information within this article be adhered to as stated for maximum results and a reduction in that risk of injury. Consult with your licensed physician or healthcare provider before beginning any training program for his or her professional advice regarding your program of choice and your involvement in it. Train smart and hard and most of all, HAVE FUN!
Rusty Gregory, MS, CSCS is the coauthor of Living Wheat-Free for Dummies (Wiley Publishing). He received his B.S. (Commercial and Industrial Fitness) in 1989 from Texas Tech University and his M.S. (Kinesiology) in 1991 from the University of Michigan. In 1991, he began his personal training business in Austin, Texas, and became a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). In 1995, he opened Forte Personal Fitness, a private personal fitness studio where he trains athletes from a multitude of sports and people of all ages, health backgrounds, and physical limitations.