Do you still care about vertical?

Lithuania is truly country of basketball. “Second religion” some might say. We have so many athletes, not to mention all the coaches…

are on every corner!

However, even though Lithuania is referred as “basketball country” why do we have only 2 current NBA players? According to FIBA we are 5th in Europe (2019m.) and only Spain, France and Serbia is ahead of us. And yes, they all have more basketball players that currently play in the NBA. “What about other countries?” reader might ask. So Croatia has 6 players, Serbia — 5, Germany — 5, Turkey — 5, Greece — 4, Italy — 3 and our lovely brothers (Latvia) — 2.

I do agree that it is stupid to compare expertise of basketball and amount of players in the NBA and there probably is no correlation between two. However, I still want to ask ourselves “what are the differences?”. Do they have better coaching traditions? Are basketball practices different? Are they physically better? "What are the reasons?" I keep asking myself.

It seems that we do have room for improvement but I do not expertise to judge technical/tactical factors on basketball court. Therefore, I will talk mostly about physical preparation for basketball in weight room. Thus, coaches please let's check whether we have calibrated our “guns” towards the target (or at least towards the right direction).

First of all, let’s check few workouts’ examples: Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Druant. If we still want more — check Instagram of: p3sportscience, Todd Wright (76ers); Eichbra (Nuggets); tdathletesedge (former Larkers coach); bdoostrength (Celtics) and many others just don’t be lazy too look for.

And stop staying “if only I would know what NBA stars are doing…” Enough. Just go and google it — they exercise, sleep and eat.

So, before we start I have to tell you two things:

1. I hate generalizing because there is many ways to achieve the goal and moreover everyone is individual.

2. I love generalizing because it forces me to think what is really important.

So how do we calibrate our “guns”?

1. Warm up (roll, stretch, activate)

It does not really matter whether you are going to ski, run or bike — you need a warm up. Especially if you are going to compete. Let’s do not delve into the details but just check do we perform these activities in the most of our warm ups.

  • Foam rolling;

  • Static stretching (ankles, hips etc.)

  • Mobility exercises (WGSE, rib roll, deep squat etc.)

  • Stability exercises (crawling, push-ups, plank variations etc.)

  • Activation (jumps, change of direction etc.)

  • Injury prevention exercises (all above mention IF performed consistently and with good technique)

I do agree that all the exercises have their own progressions and regressions, moreover, everyone is individual. I would definitely include breathing in the warm-up but it is whole, another very broad topic (to my mind). However, if in the most of the warm-ups we will have mentioned factors — probably we will not only prepare ourselves for upcoming event but it will have long-lasting effect.

“Simple exercises such as squat variations, single leg work, dead-lift and upper body push&pull will be the most common in athletes’ strength training regime” says the coach.

You don’t know how to perform weight lifting exercises? Then do not perform. Don’t know how to perform conventional deadlift? Then don’t do. You are not sure how to back squat? Then don’t back squat. Or go to Balticmove on Youtube and check the general guidelines.

Good exercise with poor technique might be worse than inappropriate exercise with good technique.

Lithuanian strength and conditioning guru, initiator of physical preparation in the Lithuania, Aleksandras Kosauskas puts it even more simple “in basketball you have to do well two things: run and shoot”.

Thus, I can not give you all the exercises that professionals perform, therefore, I will provide 5 that I have learned from coaches who are working in the NBA.

2.1.Incline dumbbell press

- The movement of arms is similar to the shooting in basketball movement; — Middle version between vertical and horizontal press; *Home edition: if strong enough — push-ups with elevated feet; if not — regular push-ups.

2.2.Split squat

- Variations of this movement are involved in each acceleration and deceleration; — A lot of work for knee stabilizers (whole body as well) ; — Mobility, stability and strength exercise; * Home edition: same movement with progression to lunge.

2.3.Inverted row

- One of the best exercises for back (personal opinion); — Counterbalance for your favorite exercise — bench press; * Home edition: YTW holds and chin ups.

2.4.Trap-bar deadlift

- Back chain exercise; — More involved with acceleration ability than with jump (you have to work on both); * Home edition: single-leg deadlift and hip lift variations.


- I don’t need to say — definitely improves your vertical; — Multidirectional and with different combinations; — Concentrate on quality not quantity (particularly important).

3. First — get strong (C. Schlesinger — Phoenix Suns team strength and conditioning coach).

Basketball athletes are often judged by their vertical, however, that is only one side of the coin.

Most people think that jumping is the most important but is it? Let’s take an example: your jumping ability is “a cannon” (powerful) and your body is a tiny boat. Imagine you if you put that cannon in the boat and would try to shoot out of it? The boat might sustain the power of the cannon once or twice but eventually it would break.

The same is with power exercises — do not focus only on them. We need higher degree of focus, as well as strength in order to absorb the landing but we rarely speak about it. In physics there is very famous 3rd Newton’s law: for every action there is equal and opposite reaction.

This analogy perfectly fits with the jump. We produce force to the floor in order to jump, however, during the landing the floor is “producing” force. It is not a secret that floor is usually harder than our connective tissue (bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments). Therefore, unfortunately we break, not the floor…

The higher you jump — the stronger you have to be to absorb the force.

Heavy exercises strengthen the connective tissue. Moreover, they improve our muscles capabilities that act as an armor, e.g., in collisions (remember the 3rd Newton law).

Take home messages:

1. “Do not rely only on the preparation season to prepare yourself ” — Dr. Marcus Elliott. Work smart and consistently.

2. If you care only about vertical — you are missing the point. The best ability is availability.

Regardless of this article we will still care about vertical. But please, train smart.


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