Basketball Exercise Training: What is the best way to train to optimize explosive power?

By Dr. John R. Mishock, PT, DPT, DC

In today’s game of basketball, a high-level player must have sprint speed, vertical and horizontal jumping ability, first-step-quickness, explosive change direction movements, physical strength, and balance to endure and compete at the highest level. The player needs to have all of these attributes and be able to perform them more times with less fatigue than their opponent.

Studies regarding the external load (physical demand on the body) in an NCAA basketball game reveal that players run between 2.8 and 4.6 miles, perform up to 1,000 different actions (shuffling, backpedaling, sprinting, change in direction, jumping, walking, etc.), and execute about 45-60 all out jumps. Many games are played at high intensity with full out sprints every 20-30 sec. In competitive games, there can be a 1:1 work to rest ratio, 15-sec work, and 15 sec of recovery. Heart rate during play can range from 170 to 180 beats per minute, representing 85-90% of an individual’s maximum heart rate. (1) Knowing the physical requirements of the game of basketball helps the physical therapist or strength and conditioning coach to create training programs that will have the best transfer to game-specific needs.

Why is it important to train like the game is played?
How an athlete trains is essential to optimizing sports performance and preventing injury. One of the most important physical therapy training theories is the SAID principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand). The SAID principle states that if the body is put under specific stress (physical or mental) of varying intensity and duration, the body will attempt to overcome that stress by adapting specifically to the demand of the stress. The basic tenant of the SAID principle is that the body will adapt specifically to the training at hand. For example, if a basketball player wants to be jump higher or be explosive in first-step quickness, the athlete must train to replicate the specific movement pattern and muscle contraction type of the desired movement. The training must have an intensity and resistance that loads the body beyond its capabilities to have the physical adaptations that lead to increased power, strength, speed, endurance, and resilience to recovery.

Why is power important for a basketball player?
Based on the aforementioned physical demands, one clear need for the basketball player is physical power. The ability to generate power is one of the most important factors that separate a good from a great athlete. In a research article in Sports Health, it was determined that the single best predictor of elite-level athletic status was that individual’s ability to create maximal power. (2) An example of physical power is the basketball player who flies by the defender to the rim for an explosive dunk.

Relative to the athlete, what makes up physical power?
From a physics perspective, an athlete uses his strength to produce a force on himself or an object (bat, ball, ground, person…) causing movement. The movement is defined as work (force x distance). If that work occurs rapidly over a brief period it is then called power (force x distance/time). Simply put, when you put fast and strong together you get power.

Why is physical strength important for the basketball player?
Physical strength is the measure of exertion of force on an object or oneself. To gain power, it is imperative that the athlete first develop a base of strength relative to their body. This is known as absolute strength. When the athlete has optimized their absolute strength, their body is prepared to develop and build power through training.

What is the best way to train to create power?
One of the best ways to create power in an athlete is plyometric exercise. This training technique optimizes power and closely relates to the game of basketball. Plyometrics has the unique ability to; recruit great motor units (greater muscle fibers contracting), improve inter-muscular coordination, increase neurological input to the contracting muscle, and enhances utilization of the stretch-shortening cycle (rubber band effect of the tendons and muscle).

What is plyometric jump training?
Plyometric jump training is a series of exercises in which muscles exert the maximum or near-maximum force in short intervals of time to increase power. Examples of this would be counter-movements jumps, box jumps, and drop jumps.

I can’t jump high or run fast, can I actually improve my ability?
Muscle is made up of both slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle. Slow-twitch muscle is used for endurance activities such as running for long periods. Fast-twitch muscle (types IIa and IIb) is used for explosive activities such as jumping or sprinting. The amount and type of muscle fiber are based on genetics, however, approximately 30% of muscle type can be changed or differentiated based on the specificity of training. (3) Therefore, independent of one’s genetics, there is an opportunity to train and increase fast-twitch muscle allowing you to develop more power. Everyone can improve their ability to run faster or jump higher, the question is how much.

Does plyometric training preferentially train the fast-twitch muscle and why is that important?
The force generated by a muscle depends on the total number of muscle fibers contracting. The amount of muscle fibers contracting is affected by time. The greater the time of contraction the more muscle fibers contract. There is an inverse relationship between force and velocity (force-velocity curve). Simply put, when a muscle increases force, there is a decrease in velocity and vice versa.
Recruitment of muscle fibers follows an orderly pattern or sequence based on the size of the muscle, termed the muscle size principle. Slow-twitch muscle has greater fiber size and uses oxygen (aerobic). Slow-twitch fibers are recruited first and most often at a sub-maximal intensity of effort, such as walking or slow jogging. Fast-twitch muscle has smaller fibers, does not use oxygen (anaerobic), and is used for short explosive bursts of activity. As the intensity of activity increases, the fast-twitch IIa fibers are recruited. This is performed at 30-80% of maximal intensity, such as a low-effort sprint or jump. As the intensity of effort increases beyond 80% or greater, the fast-twitch type IIb fibers are then recruited. Because fast-twitch muscle is anaerobic, it has limited ability to contract for long periods before fatigue sets in.

This is why it is important to have rest periods between sets of exercises.
Keep in mind that all muscle contraction types are used during basketball, however, fast-twitch IIb muscle is used for explosive movements such as sprinting and jumping.

Is there science that demonstrates the efficacy of plyometric jump training?
There are over 32 high-quality randomized controlled studies demonstrating that plyometric jump training improves muscle power, vertical and horizontal jump, linear sprint speed, change-of-direction speed, enhanced balance in basketball, soccer, volleyball, baseball, players. (4) Studies show that through proper training an athlete can gain up to 8-11% in the vertical jump. (5)


John R. Mishock, PT, DPT, DC, is one of only a few clinicians with doctorate level degrees in both physical therapy and chiropractic in the state of Pennsylvania.

He has also authored two books; “Fundamental Training Principles: Essential Knowledge for Building the Elite Athlete”, “The Rubber Arm; Using Science to Increase Pitch Control, Improve Velocity, and Prevent Elbow and Shoulder Injury” both can be bought on Amazon.

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1. Scheiling et al. Conditioning for Basketball: Quality and Quantity of Training. Vol 25, 6, Dec 2013.
2. Lorenz et al., What Performance Characteristics Determine Elite Versus Nonelite Athletes in the Same Sport? Sports Health. 2013 Nov; 5(6): 542–547.
3. Stabenow et al. Strength training in Children and Adolescents: Raising the Bar for Young Athletes? Sports Health, 3; May 2009.
4. Rameriez-Campillo et al. The effects of plyometric jump training on physical fitness attributes in basketball players: A meta-analysis. J of Sport and Health Sci; Dec 2020.)
5. Douglas et al. Eccentric Exercise: Physiological Characteristics and Acute Responses, Sports Medicine 47, 4 2016.

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