Sports performance: Will weight training negatively impact my basketball shot?

By Dr. John R. Mishock

Today’s elite-level basketball player needs high-level athleticism with elite-level skills in shooting, ball handling, and passing. When I was growing up, it was a common belief that lifting weights would make you too bulky and tight, negatively impacting your shooting form and accuracy. Some basketball coaches and trainers still hold on to this dogma. I will debunk that belief based on science and muscle physiology in this article. I will also review the benefits of sports-specific progressive resistance exercise training to optimize basketball performance, improve athleticism, and prevent injury.

Will weight training negatively affect my basketball shot? 

A common myth is that weight training negatively affects an individual’s basketball shot. Some believe that weight training will create bulky, tight muscle like Arnold Schwarzenegger or “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson; however, this is not true. First off, most athletes will have difficulty putting on significant muscle. Secondly, strength gains happen slowly over months to years. In the first six weeks of training, there is minimal hypertrophy (growth) in the muscle. The changes in strength are neurological, aka a motor learning effect in lifting weights. Following six weeks there can be hypertrophy of the muscle providing there is; good genetics (fast-twitch muscle optimal for hypertrophy), natural hormones (growth hormone, insulin growth factor, testosterone) that enhance muscle growth, high amounts of protein (1.6 g per lb.) to optimize protein synthesis (muscle building process), adequate amounts of calories to support the energy needs for weight gain. Even with all of this, the most an athlete will gain is 1-2 lbs. of muscle per month. (Kogure et al. J Strength & Cond)The only way an athlete can gain more muscle than 1-2 lbs. per month is by using harmful, illegal synthetic drugs, such as anabolic steroids. The use of steroids is certainly not appropriate for any athlete wanting to enhance muscle for sports performance. With proper functional sports-specific progressive resistance training, this 1 – 2 lbs. of muscle gain would be over the whole body, not one given region. The type of muscle the athlete would gain would be lean muscle, not bulky muscle seen commonly in bodybuilders.

The optimal exercise prescription would be sports-specific functional progressive resistance exercise vs. bodybuilding exercises. Bodybuilding exercises focus on isolated body movements (i.e., one joint body movement, the biceps). This exercise creates strength and hypertrophy in a specific muscle group with no concern for function or sports-specific movement patterns. However, sports-specific functional exercise trains multiple joints simultaneously in specific movement patterns that create strength and power relative to the individual’s sport. (Emery et al. Br J Sports Med, 2002)

This shift first started in physical therapy and rehabilitation as a way to not only rehab injury but to enhance sports performance and function. Functional exercise training is based on the principle of specific adaptation to an imposed demand. (SAID principle). Simply put, the SAID principle means that our body will respond specifically to how we train. So, train specifically to the demands of the sport!

For example, a basketball player who performs isolated bicep curl exercises (typical bodybuilding exercise) will have limited cross-over benefits to basketball. On the other hand, medicine ball rotational exercises in a specific pattern relative to the baseball swing will cause specific adaptive changes to enhance sports performance.

The research indicates that to enhance sports performance, the focus of strength training must be on functionally integrated movement patterns rather than merely isolated activity of individual muscles and joints. (Cook G. Movement: Functional Movement Systems. Aptos, 2010.) 

As long as the athlete is engaged in regular, if not daily, deliberate, focused basketball shooting practice, the strength gains will allow the player to have greater shooting range and an increased ability to finish and shoot through contact.

Can the training program make me a better athlete? 

“Athleticism is defined as the ability to repeatedly perform a range of movements with precision and confidence in various environments, requiring competent motor skills, strength, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination, and endurance.” (Loloyed et al J of Streng and Cond Res, 2016) Many scientific articles support the evidence that adolescents can significantly increase their speed, endurance, strength, agility, quickness, and power above and beyond what growth and maturation will give them with the proper training program.( Faigenbaum wt al. J Strength Cond Res, 2011, Tsolakis et al. J Strength Cond Res, 2007)  

Studies involving basketball, swimming, ice hockey, baseball, softball, tennis, lacrosse, football, and soccer have noted the importance of incorporating resistance exercise into the sports training program to maximize the athletes’ strength and power gains. A well-designed sports-specific functional progressive resistance training program including; resistance, plyometrics, speed, and agility will result in a significant degree of improvement in athletic development and performance. Ultimately, these positive changes will make you a better athlete. (Faigenbaum wt al. J Strength Cond Res, 2011; Santos et al. J Strength Cond Res, 2008)  

Can I gain strength, power, and explosiveness with training?

During adolescence, athletes benefit from the body’s natural hormones (testosterone, insulin growth factor, and growth hormone) released from typical growth and development. When you combine the hormone release with the right training program, the athlete can dramatically change strength, power, endurance, and overall athleticism. Most studies indicate that the young athlete should gain up to 30-74% in strength, endurance, speed, and power after short-term (8-20 weeks) training programs. (Wedderkopp et al. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 2003; Phys; Faigenbaum et al. Precpt Mot Skills, 2007) 

Will sports-specific functional exercise prevent or minimize sports-related injury?

Many sports-related injuries are due to ill-prepared or improperly trained athletes. (Caine et al. Clin J Sports Med 16, 

2016.)  Several research studies have indicated that if the athlete is trained appropriately (conditioning, strengthening, muscle imbalances correction, balance, coordination, and correcting training errors), 50% of injuries could be reduced. ( Chan et al. Concept, 2006, 

Olsen et al. Br Med J, 2011)

Bottom line, sports-specific functional progressive resistance exercise will enhance basketball shooting when complemented with deliberate, focused shooting practice. It will also increase your athleticism and prevent basketball-related injury.

Dr. Mishock is one of only a few clinicians with doctorate level degrees in both physical therapy and chiropractic in the state of Pennsylvania.

He has 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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