Basketball Conditioning: Upper Body Strength Applications Before, During and After Practice

Basketball Conditioning: Upper Body Strength Applications Before, During and After Practice

By Dan Hutchison, MS, ATC, CSCS

Upper body strength for basketball athletes is essential for power and endurance applications on the court.  All aspects of the front, back and lateral shoulder complex are involved in offense (shooting, passing, dribbling) and defense (rebounding, post moves, defensive position, blocking shots) situations.  At the developmental level (i.e., high school and middle school), many times basketball athletes have minimal opportunities to enhance strength and power in the weight room setting, or are negated weight room space and time to out-of-season sports like football or baseball.  During practice, conditioning can and should involve upper body strengthening to enhance both power and stamina.  Resistance cord and body weight applications allow a multitude of movements to develop all aspects of the shoulders, chest and back muscles.

Basketball relies heavily on the ability to transition from a defensive movement to an offensive position, from linear motion to a change of direction, and from a power/explosive motion to an endurance type situation.  Similar to current fitness trends, by combining resistance applications with body weight movements, challenge both the muscular system and the metabolic (energy) systems.  Speed-endurance, as well as strength-endurance, are constantly being challenged during basketball movements.  The addition of simple movements during practice allow athletes the opportunity to continue to ‘build’ these speed-endurance and strength-endurance qualities.


Variable resistance cords allow athletes to understand the various movement patterns involved in both life and athletics.  We never push, pull or lift an object the same way every time….we push high or low, we pull at various angles, we press overhead, we lift objects from very low depths, and we do multiple tasks with one arm or one leg.  All of these variations can be performed with resistance cords at different resistances, angles, positions, and speeds.  Speed is an interesting component when using resistance cords especially for basketball players.  By timing the drill, athletes are forced to move the cord/band at higher intensities, which not only challenges the muscle system, but also the energy systems.  The deceleration components of variable resistance challenge body awareness, body control, and promote total body stability.  Loading and intensities can be manipulated easily, safely and consistently, so no two days/practices are the same.  This versatility gives the coach numerous options to strengthen all areas of the upper body, and be more specific for positions, i.e., post players, point guards, forwards.

The below exercises (see pictures) offer some options for basketball training applications using variable loading, as well as some training circuits to consider during practice.

  • Chest Press (Double-arm and Single-arm)
    • The chest press stimulates the muscles of the chest, front shoulder and triceps. Strengthening these areas promote an increased range for shooting the basketball, as well as increased strength for passing, defensive play and rebounding.

  • Shoulder Press (Double-arm and Single-arm)
    • The shoulder press (sometimes refereed to as the Military Press) involves pressing the cords over the head. This exercise stimulates the front and lateral shoulder, which assist in shooting and rebounding.

  • Pulling or Rowing (Double-arm and Single-arm / High or Low anchoring point)
    • Pulling or rowing exercises stimulate the muscles of the back (posterior) shoulder, upper back, and biceps. Pulling exercises assist in stabilizing the shoulder which can assist in basketball related drills, as well as reducing the chance of injury if the athlete falls on an outstretched arm.

  • Rotational / Core Exercises
    • Stimulating the muscles surrounding the mid-section (abdominal area/low back area) assist in stabilizing the entire body during athletic movement. Standing rotations, diagonal lift and chop movements, as well as anti-rotational movements (bracing), give coaches and athletes numerous options for strengthening the ‘core’ during practice.

  • Example Practice Circuit:
    • Tri-Plex: For repetitions (Reps) or Time
      • Chest Press
      • Dribbling Drill
      • Squat Jump
    • Tri-Plex:
      • Resistance Cord Pulls/Rows
      • Defensive shuffle drill
      • Passing Drill
    • Quad-Plex:
      • Dribbling Drill
      • Shoulder Press
      • Rebounding Drill
      • Resistance Cord Rotations (Right/Left)

In summary, using various loading angles, positions, repetitions, times, and sequences offer coaches a unique ‘conditioning’ session that emphasizes strength, endurance, and skill-specific characteristics, as well as challenging balance and body awareness qualities.  Set-up and progressions are easy to work into practice on a regular basis, and keep athletes strong while working endurance capacities into fundamental development patterns.


“NBA Power Conditioning”, National Basketball Conditioning Coaches Association (NBCCA).  Human Kinetics, 1997.

Schelling, X., & Torres-Ronda, L. (2013). Conditioning for basketball: Quality and quantity of training. Strength & Conditioning Journal35(6), 89-94.

Schelling, X., & Torres-Ronda, L. (2016). An integrative approach to strength and neuromuscular power training for basketball. Strength & Conditioning Journal38(3), 72-80.