Basketball is a fast-moving sport that could take its toll on your body if you don’t prepare for it. So, one of the best things you can do is to learn how to strengthen knees for basketball.
All you need are a pair of dumbbells and a physioball to perform the exercises correctly.
Below we’ll teach you how to do each of these movements, plus other ways to prevent knee injuries. Tap any of the links below to quickly navigate the article:
10 Knee strengthening exercises for basketball players
Doing these exercises a couple of times per week can improve your athletic performance and help in preventing knee injuries:
1) Bodyweight quarter squats
This exercise strengthens the muscles needed to maintain a defensive stance in the game. Since you only need to do it a quarter of the way, you can do more reps or lift heavier weights compared to a full squat.
To do a bodyweight quarter squat, you need to:
- Stand with both feet hip-width apart and flat on the floor.
- Push your hips down and backward, like sitting on an imaginary chair.
- Stop once you reach a 45-degree angle with your knees.
- Lift yourself back again to the starting position.
- Do this for 10 to 12 repetitions.
2) Forward lunges
This exercise develops the muscles for that quick first step to easily blow by defenders with each drive to the basket.
Here’s how to perform a forward lunge:
- Stand with feet hip-width apart.
- Take a big step forward using your right leg.
- Bend down on your knee until your front and back leg are at a 90-degree angle.
- Push with your front foot to raise yourself back to the starting position.
- Do 8 to 10 reps per leg.
3) Lateral lunges
This strengthens your inner thigh muscles for your knee to be in good form during defensive slides and to keep your opponents in check.
Here’s how to do it:
- Stand with your feet flat on the floor.
- Take a big step sideward using your left leg.
- Bend down on your left hip and knee while keeping your other leg straight.
- Push yourself back to the starting position.
- Do 8 to 10 reps per leg.
Pro-tip: Hold a dumbbell on your opposite arm and reach towards your stepping foot to add more challenge.
4) Lateral hops
This is a more explosive version of a lateral lunge. It’ll keep your knee ready for quick cuts and directional changes that happen a lot in a game.
Perform lateral hops by:
- Stand on your right leg with your left foot off the ground.
- Using your right leg, bend down slightly to generate force and hop to your left leg.
- Keep your balance on your left leg for a few seconds and repeat the whole sequence.
- This counts for 1 rep. Do this whole exercise for 12 to 15 reps.
Pro-tip: Hop farther to each side while still maintaining balance to increase the difficulty.
5) Dumbbell deadlift
This targets your hamstrings, which are probably one of the most important knee stabilizers whenever you run up and down the court.
To do this exercise:
- Hold a dumbbell with each hand and stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Keep your upper body straight and your knees slightly bent.
- Lean forward on your hips while you lower the dumbbells in front of your shin.
- Stand up straight by squeezing your butt and pushing through your heels.
- Do this for 10 reps.
6) Glute bridges
Did you know that having weak glutes could lead to poor landing patterns and increase the risk of ACL injuries? (1)
So whether it’s for posting your opponents in the paint or reducing your knee injury risk, always keep your glutes strong by doing bridges. Here’s how:
- Lie face up on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground.
- Push your hips towards the ceiling, squeezing your glutes throughout the motion.
- Hold this for 3 to 5 seconds.
- Lower your hips down without touching the ground.
- Repeat the whole sequence for 10 reps.
Pro tip: Increase the difficulty by doing this exercise while keeping one foot off the floor.
7) Physioball leg curl
This is a more challenging way to work on your hamstrings, glutes, and core muscles which surround your trunk.
You see, having a strong core decreases the impact on your knees. It also keeps your legs in a proper position after landing from a jump which decreases the risk of a knee injury. (2)
To perform this exercise, you need to:
- Lay on your back with your legs extended.
- Place your heels on top of a physioball.
- Lift your hips towards the ceiling and keep your core engaged.
- Bend your knees to pull the physioball closer to you.
- After a brief pause, straighten your knees to return to the starting position.
- Repeat for 6 to 8 reps.
8) Heel lifts
This exercise develops your calf muscles which are one of the muscle groups that stabilize your knee when landing on a single leg. (3)
Here’s a simple way how to do it:
- At the edge of a step, stand on the ball of your foot on one leg.
- Raise your heel as high as you can, pausing for 2 secs at the top.
- Lower your heel until you feel a slight stretch on your calf.
- Repeat the whole sequence for 10 reps for each leg.
Pro-tip: Hold a dumbbell in one hand or wear a loaded backpack to add more weight.
After you’ve mastered slowly moving your weight around, it’s time to improve your landing mechanics and deal with sudden impact. This exercise will help you with exactly that.
Perform snap downs by:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Raise yourself on your toes, legs straight, and arms overhead.
- Aggressively squat and drive your arms down, mimicking a landing pattern.
- Do this for 12 to 15 reps.
10) Pogo jumps
Research shows that doing repeated jumps improves force absorption and jumping ability. (4) It’s also a great exercise to develop your foot muscles, which could further improve your stability during the game.
To do them:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- With your knees slightly bent, quickly bounce on the balls of your feet.
- Don’t let your heels touch the floor in each rep.
- Do this for 20 to 25 reps.
Pro-tip: Bounce side-to-side, front-to-back, or on one leg to make this exercise more challenging.
Exercising can benefit these common basketball knee injuries
Building good consistent exercise habits can help keep the following knee injuries away:
These three dreaded letters mean anterior cruciate ligament, one of the main structures stabilizing your knee. It makes up 64% of all basketball-related knee injuries. (5)
Each of our knee joints contains a couple of menisci to absorb the impact that goes through our legs. However, twisting motions on a bent knee could harm these rubbery soft tissues. (6)
Working on your core, knee stabilizers, and landing form can potentially help reduce the risk of a meniscal tear.
This group of muscles at the back of your knee is at risk for an injury during running and sprinting motions. (7)
To prevent it, it’s important to build your hamstring strength and warm up before each game. (8)
This injury commonly affects athletic adolescents. Here, jumping too much causes the patellar tendon to pull and irritate its connection to your premature shin bone, causing knee pain. (9)
Although it typically goes away on its own, strengthening your quadriceps can help prevent this injury from happening. (9)
Other ways to prevent knee joint injuries from basketball
Playing basketball is inherently risky with all the directional changes and physical contact. But, apart from stretching your knee muscles, using the following strategies may help reduce your likelihood of getting injured:
Wear a knee brace
Research shows that this device can significantly reduce the frequency of knee injuries. (10) But each type of knee brace serves different purposes.
Most knee sleeves provide compression, allow natural knee movements, and even double as an ice/heat pack. So wearing one might be better for post-game recovery.
On the other hand, a kneecap stabilizing brace works can promote stability and could be used during the game.
Learn more: The best knee braces for basketball players.
Work on your balance
Proprioception is our innate ability to sense body position and movement. As such, it also plays an important role in keeping you stable and preventing an injury. (11)
Balancing on one leg is a simple way to keep your knees steady. Here’s how:
- Have a chair with back support nearby.
- Stand on one leg and lift your other leg in front.
- Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds and repeat thrice.
- Grab the chair’s back support each time you think you might fall.
Pro-tip: Keeping your eyes closed or doing tasks like brushing your teeth will make this an even tougher balance exercise.
Get enough sleep
Lack of sleep can lead to more fatigue, poor decision-making, and training errors. That’s why those that get less than 8hrs of sleep are 1.7 times more likely to suffer an injury. (12)
Some of the things you can do to get more sleeping hours include (12):
- Limiting caffeine intake, especially in the afternoon and at night.
- Avoiding unnecessary evening light exposure from technology – ie. TV and smartphones
- Having a consistent bedtime routine, even on weekends.
Consult a physical therapist
You don’t need to be injured or have surgery to justify going to a physical therapist (PT).
PTs are musculoskeletal experts that can assess if you have any movement risks They could then create an exercise program to fix any of your muscle imbalances to avert an injury from happening.
Physical therapy has many fields of specialty. As such, we recommend that you get checked by a PT specializing in either sports or orthopedic cases to get the proper care.
How do I keep my knees healthy for basketball?
To keep your knees healthy for basketball, make sure to train your strength and stamina two or three times per week.
Why do my knees hurt playing basketball?
Your knees may hurt while playing basketball due to poor body conditioning or lack of warmup, for example.
Should I wear a knee brace while playing basketball?
You can wear a knee brace while playing basketball. If you find it too restrictive, choose a compression sleeve.
Our recommendation: The ArmaJoint Knee Sleeve – here’s our review.
Conclusion: How to strengthen your knees for basketball?
Doing consistent traditional bodyweight exercises, like squats and lunges, are key to developing strong knees for basketball.
But to further drive away the risk of an injury, you should also consider wearing a knee brace, improving your balance and sleep habits, as well as consulting a physical therapist.
- Llurda-Almuzara, Luis et al. “Normative data and correlation between dynamic knee valgus and neuromuscular response among healthy active males: a cross-sectional study.” Scientific reports vol. 10,1 17206. 2 Dec. 2020, doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-74177-8
- Guo, Liang et al. “Prediction of the Risk Factors of Knee Injury During Drop-Jump Landing With Core-related Measurements in Amature Basketball Players.” Frontiers in bioengineering and biotechnology vol. 9 738311. 22 Sep. 2021, doi: 10.3389/fbioe.2021.738311
- Maniar, Nirav et al. “Muscle contributions to tibiofemoral shear forces and valgus and rotational joint moments during single leg drop landing.” Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports vol. 30,9 (2020): 1664-1674. DOI: 10.1111/sms.13711
- Makaruk, H et al. “The effects of single versus repeated plyometrics on landing biomechanics and jumping performance in men.” Biology of sport vol. 31,1 (2014): 9-14. doi: 10.5604/20831862.1083273
- Okoroha, K et al. “Management of ACL Injuries in Basketball.” Basketball Sports Medicine and Science, Springer Publishing, 06 October 2020, pp 351–362. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-662-61070-1_30
- Raj MA, Bubnis MA. Knee Meniscal Tears. [Updated 2022 Jul 18]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK431067/
- Poudel B, Pandey S. Hamstring Injury. [Updated 2022 Aug 28]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK558936
- Petersen, J, and P Hölmich. “Evidence-based prevention of hamstring injuries in sport.” British journal of sports medicine vol. 39,6 (2005): 319-23. DOI: 10.1136/bjsm.2005.018549
- Smith JM, Varacallo M. Osgood Schlatter Disease. [Updated 2022 Sep 4]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441995/
- Sitler, M et al. “The efficacy of a prophylactic knee brace to reduce knee injuries in football. A prospective, randomized study at West Point.” The American journal of sports medicine vol. 18,3 (1990): 310-5. DOI: 10.1177/036354659001800315
- Riva, Dario et al. “Proprioceptive Training and Injury Prevention in a Professional Men’s Basketball Team: A Six-Year Prospective Study.” Journal of strength and conditioning research vol. 30,2 (2016): 461-75. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001097
- Copenhaver, Elizabeth A, and Alex B Diamond. “The Value of Sleep on Athletic Performance, Injury, and Recovery in the Young Athlete.” Pediatric annals vol. 46,3 (2017): e106-e111. DOI: 10.3928/19382359-20170221-01