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Super Effective Basketball Warmups and Skill Drills

Kyle Greco

March 24, 2021

Ball is life. Okay, maybe not actually. Though if you could play basketball all day, every day, you probably would, right? 

But even the pros know they can’t just step off the street, onto the court, and be fully prepared to play at their best level. Everyone has to warm up first. It’s the only way you can truly get ready for the workout that lies ahead. 

If you think warming up has to be boring, think again. It’s easy to build skill improvement techniques into your pregame or pre-practice routine, making it an essential part of leveling up against your competition. Below, we’ll show you how to warm up before you ball out.

Why Warm Up?

Now, you may be thinking, “do I really have to warm up? I’m not some sort of superior athlete.” And that’s exactly the wrong way to go about it! The truth is, the right warm up could be the difference between making it through the game and pulling a muscle in the first quarter. 

It’s as much a mental thing as it is physical. If you’re playing a game, you need to be ready to perform from the tip-off. Even if it’s just your weekly pickup run, the right warmup can put you in the frame of mind you need to win bragging rights (at least until next week).

You better warm up before attempting this.

At the very least, you have to do something to get your core body temperature elevated enough to not feel stiff. Activities that prime your muscles for the exertion ahead are just better for your health and basketball ability in the short, medium, and long-term.

What to Wear for a Warm Up

Watch any pro basketball team get ready for a game, and you’ll probably notice that they’re not wearing their uniforms. At least, that’s not all they’re wearing.

Every team has a warm up suit. And it isn’t just to look cool, or give us fans something else to buy from the team store. It actually aids the warm up process. It’s simple: the more you wear, the warmer you get. The components that make a warm up suit helps each athlete maintain the right temperature as they go through their pregame routine.

Warm up hoodies allow players to get that core temperature up more efficiently. Shooting shirts give them the flexibility they need to run through shooting drills. And tearaway warm up pants allow breathability while staying warm.  

The Secret About Stretching

If you recall your high school gym class (not that you want to), you’ll probably remember a lot of static stretching. This is, in essence, stretching without much movement. 

Talk about boring. Fortunately, I’m not about to try to convince you to do them.

Because while it’s probably better than nothing for a class of 50 tired teens, it isn’t what you want to make a part of your basketball warmup.

In fact, research indicates that static stretching isn’t all that effective, and may actually be detrimental to performance. While there hasn’t been any demonstrated risk of long-term harm to your muscles, tendons, and ligaments due to static stretching, it will keep you from performing your best in the short-term.

The better alternative is to do dynamic stretching– active moments that take muscles and joints through a full range of motion. Studies have shown that this type of stretching can significantly increase a given muscle’s capacity for work, not to mention improve flexibility. This results in added joint protection, and a decreased risk of injury overall. 

Examples of Dynamic Stretching

– Hip circles

– Arm circles and swings

– Spinal rotations

– Lunge with a twist

– Leg pendulum

Keep in mind, everyone is different. In order to discover the best dynamic stretches for your body’s needs, it’s definitely a good idea to meet with a personal trainer or physical therapist. Both can help you develop an effective dynamic stretching routine to get ready for the game.

The Three Phases of a Good Warm Up

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: there’s probably no one best way to warm up. There isn’t one routine that will turn you from an Average Jane into Diana Taurasi. That said, there are three tenets of any good warm up. They are:

Phase One: Get Warm

The first part is straightforward enough– you want to start to break a sweat. At the same time, you don’t want to do anything too vigorous. It should be just enough to increase your oxygen uptake. Jogging, skipping, and shuffling are all good examples of activities that can elevate your temperature. 

This is also a great time to work on basketball skills at low speeds, ball handling especially. There is an almost endless amount of dribbling drills you can do, and not all of them are created equal. When choosing dribbling drills, remember to focus on the following:

-Dribbling with both your left and right hand

-Dribbling without looking at the ball

-Using the pads of your hand to control the ball

-Being difficult enough that you’ll make some mistakes

Dribbling Drills for Warm Ups:

– Chill Drills: compete different series of dribbling moves on each side of the halfcourt. Don’t do it in an all-out sprint. Instead, focus on body control and getting warm.

– 3-dribble crossover. Dribble the ball as hard as you can three times in one hand before crossing it over in front of your body to the other hand. Repeat this back and forth, attempting to ‘pound’ the ball harder and harder as you go. This can be modified with crossovers behind the back and between the legs.

– Two ball dribbling. This one is simple: dribble two balls at once. Do this while going up and down the court. Dribble both balls at the same time when you first go down, then alternate which hand is dribbling on your way back. 

Phase Two: Get Activated

Once you’re warm, you’re better able to activate your muscles, which is crucial to ensuring peak performance. The best way to do this is by taking your body through a full range of motion, as it prepares your muscles for hard work. 

That’s where your dynamic stretches come in. Because basketball is a sport that requires synergy from your whole body, it’s important to do different stretches that activate each group of muscles.

Once you’ve gone through a circuit of dynamic stretching, it’s a good time to start finding a rhythm for shooting. Because you’re not just here to run up and down the court– you’re playing to get buckets. 

This simple and fun routine from renowned basketball trainer Drew Hanlen is the perfect thing to work on during this middle phase of your warmup.


Between this and your dribbling drills from phase one, you should have a pretty good feel for the ball at this point. That will help you put everything together in phase three.

Phase Three: Get Coordinated

With your muscles primed and nearly ready for action, it’s time to complete some quick-twitch activities to help you get up to the speed of the game. Unlike the previous two phases, you’ll want to go almost as fast as you can, without getting tired. 

Quick-twitch Warmups

-Quick sprints: Short bursts of running as fast as you can. This doesn’t have to be more than a few strides.

Defensive shuffle: move laterally to the left in a defensive pose. Stop, then do the same to the right. Do not cross your feet when moving.

Cannonballs: Jump in one place repeatedly, without rest, lifting your legs up to your chest. The idea is to try to get as much hang time as you can.

You can even incorporate more full-speed basketball moves into this portion of your warm up. Practice driving to the hoop and finishing with a layup. It puts together all of the skills you need to succeed on the court. This is a good example of a quick drill you can do to help get your timing down:

Now that you’re warmed up, you’re ready to dominate! Or, at least not get shown up by your opponent. 

Kyle Greco

About the Author

Kyle Greco is the resident writer at RushOrderTees, where he blends word nerdery with his love for T-shirts. A graduate of The College of New Jersey, he is interested in exploring the intersection of clothing and culture. In his spare time, he makes music, builds guitars, and cooks with his wife. He enjoys hot dogs, sports, and collecting too many hats.