Training Grip Strength For Basketball Players
Among high school and college basketball players there seem to be two mindsets when it comes to strength training in the weight room. For one group, lifting is something they partake in because they want to get stronger so they are able to perform better. For the other group, they either don’t lift at all or they do just enough so as not to get called out.
The Overlooked Element
Regardless of which group an athlete falls into, there is one thing that is often overlooked but must be prioritized if true increases in basketball performance are going to be developed in the weight room. Just as it is vital for athletes to have strong feet for ground-based sports, basketball players, too, must have strong hands in order to get the highest transfer between the weight room and the court.
How the Basketball is Held
In basketball the point of contact between the ball and the player is the hand, specifically the fingertips. Rarely is the whole palm applied to the ball, and even when the ball is being held with both hands the majority of the contact between the skin and leather is through the fingertips and fingers.
This is important to understand due to the fact that this will alter how a basketball player should go about training his or her grip. To put it simply, the grip used when holding a basketball is more along the lines of a pinch grip than a crushing grip. Reason being, when an athlete holds a basketball the thumb is heavily involved, which is not the case at all when squeezing a hand gripper or when gripping a smaller object such as a tennis ball.
Instead of using those two common techniques for increasing grip strength among basketball players, I would look to be using wider objects that open the hand more and force the thumb to play a crucial role in the exercise. My four favorite exercises that meet these criteria are coffee can holds, kettlebell holds, kettlebell catches, and medicine ball work.
Coffee Can Holds
Coffee can holds are performed by holding a coffee can that is weighted down with any type of hardware (screws, buckshot, bee-bees, etc.). Hold the can in one hand for time, choosing an appropriate weight to time ratio for yourself. I wouldn’t suggest catching and throwing this, but simply performing static holds will work wonders. Also, take your current hand size and strength into consideration when choosing what size can to use. Make sure to tape the lid securely shut before performing any exercises with it so as not to lose the contents of the can.
Kettlebell holds are performed by holding on to the bottom side of the bell with one hand for time. If you have the kettlebells that look like medicine balls with handles, don’t waste your time. Use the real kettlebells that are iron and vary in size depending on the mass or weight of the bell.
Like the coffee can holds, kettlebell holds are done for time. Both the kettlebell holds and the coffee can holds are great for building the endurance strength of the hand, something that is vital not only as the game progresses, but also in situations where a defender is putting a lot of pressure on the man with the ball by swatting and poking at the ball, such as after a rebound in traffic or when the ball is in the post.
A more advanced technique of the kettlebell hold is the kettlebell catch. This is performed by starting with the same hand position as the kettlebell hold. From here, you toss the kettlebell in the air, catching it either by the horn or the bell with either the same hand or the opposite hand. If you catch it by the horn, make sure to have your following catch be by the bell.
You will have to use a kettlebell that is the appropriate weight and also has an appropriate-sized bell for your hand. This can be done for time or for repetitions. I would make sure that my athlete can perform kettlebell holds with at least an 18-pound kettlebell for a minimum of 30 seconds before I would attempt a kettlebell catch with them using a 10-pound kettlebell. If you have kettlebells that are lighter than 10 pounds then you can consider progressing them to a catch with that lighter weight before they are able to hold the 18.
Medicine Ball Work
Finally, the absolute best thing a basketball player can do strengthen his or her grip for the sport is, in my opinion, medicine ball work. Medicine balls are incredibly versatile tools that can be bounced, thrown, caught, and come in varying weights and sizes.
Throwing and catching medicine balls will not only strengthen the entire hand, including the joints, ligaments, and tendons, in a sport-specific manner, but it will also train the specific muscle synergies that are developed in basketball while passing and catching the ball in a variety of ways.
Chest passes, bounce passes, and overhead passes off a wall or from a partner are great examples of fundamental moves that can be enhanced with the use of medicine balls. Another exercise that can be performed is the footwork for post moves while holding the medicine ball. Not only will this improve the athlete’s balance, but it will also allow them to develop the grip they will need to make those same strong moves with defenders around.
You can also perform rip-through’s with the medicine ball, focusing on moving the ball through the top and bottom third of your body, alternating your pivot foot between sets. Finally, you can do rebounding drills with the medicine balls, throwing the ball off of the backboard and practicing catching the ball with two hands, chinning it, and landing on two feet with a stable base.
From catching in the low post to rebounding to driving the lane, having an incredibly strong grip on the ball is absolutely vital, and using medicine balls is a must when trying to develop this.
Those are my four favorite basketball-specific grip strength exercises. For more on basketball-specific strength and conditioning, visit http://selfmadefitness.com/ and check out the S.E.L.F. Made Simple training program under the Programs tab!
Get big or die tryin’.
Self Made, Owner
Charlie Cates is a human performance specialist and the owner of Self Made (http://selfmadefitness.com/) in Chicago, IL. He is a Certified Personal Trainer and Performance Enhancement Specialist through NASM and has worked with competitive and everyday athletes of all ages and ability levels, from 9-year-old kids to NFL MVP’s. Athletically, he was a 4-year member of the Williams College men’s basketball team, which made a run to the national championship during his senior year. During this time he also worked intensively with the team’s off-the-court training, helping to develop All-Americans and a National Player of the Year. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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