Mo Williams when he was a guard for the Utah Jazz/Photo by Melissa Majchrzak
Even if you’re not a big fan of basketball, you can still learn a lot from pro NBA players—not from the way they play, but from how they warm up and train.
NBA players warm up thoroughly before every practice AND every conditioning session. Their warm-up, like their physical conditioning, is the product of team strength and conditioning coaches such as Mark McKown, currently in his 16th season with the Utah Jazz.
McKown is known for training players to perform several actions at once, working the body as it’s actually used during a basketball game—and by other athletes in other sports. A basketball player may be running down the court while also twisting his hips to dodge traffic and flexing his arms to receive the ball.
McGown’s unique exercises can also work for you, even if you’re not active. He says, “You need good core mobility, whether you’re an athlete or not, simply to function efficiently.”
McKown suggests that those who aren’t in shape can start by dribbling a basketball while running or walking. “We do dribble drills to warm up. But if you don’t have adequate skills, you may not be able to move fast enough to elevate your heart rate,” he says. A good warm-up should get the heart going, even if briefly.
If you’re active, or an athlete, try a drill McGown uses with his players. “Handle the ball while doing crunches,” McKown says. “We do that while laying on the floor, with knees flexed. We dribble the ball while doing crunches; 20 crunches while dribbling the ball with one hand, then 20 more while dribbling with the other hand.”
McGown suggests an exercise that is a variation of the well-known Mikan Drill, named after legendary player George Mikan. “Pass the ball between your legs, which makes you flex your knees and flex at the waist,” he says. “Take a longer stride than usual, step forward with the right leg while holding the ball in the left hand. Pass the ball between your legs to the right hand, then bring it around while stepping forward with the left leg, then pass the ball from the right hand to the left hand between the legs. Go from one end of the court to the other, or one side of the court to the other side.”
NBA players and most other serious athletes also work on their vertical jump. “It’s a good indicator of lower-body vertical power,” McKown says. It’s also an excellent exercise for skiers and snowboarders, because the same muscle sequence—and power—is used while making turns.
Here’s a great way to practice and improve your vertical jump. First, stand close to a wall, reach up as high as possible and touch the wall. Note the spot or hold a pencil and make a mark to show the top of your reach. Do this in a place where it’s OK to leave chalk fingerprints, and where they won’t be disturbed. If using a wall in your home, tape paper over the area you’ll be touching.
Next, get a contrasting color of chalk and rub it over your fingertips. Squat down with your spine straight up and down, and prepare to jump up.
The point of a vertical jump is to push hard off the floor with your feet, and let the force of that acceleration move up through your body. As you jump up, sequentially drive your calves, thighs, hips, core, back, shoulders, arms and hands upward. Feel the acceleration as it moves up. Touch chalked fingertips to the wall at the peak of the jump.
Practice the vertical jump two to four times a week. You’ll notice the chalk marks keep getting higher. You’ll be building lower- body speed and strength. Speed and strength in combination is known as power. Hey, isn’t that something you want?