How Do NBA Players Gain Muscle Without Lifting Weights?

We’ve all probably heard of the fact that NBA players don’t really lift weights, heck they aren’t advised to. It’s ridiculously unbelievable, to say the least, a complete falsity, to say the most.

Well, we’re here to tell how exactly your favourites gain muscle without the excessive use of weights.

The most important step in building muscle is protein intake- proteins are the constituents of muscles and basketball players ensure that they take a diet rich in protein in order to help muscle gain. What aids this gain is their training program, which consists of workouts like push ups, squats and planks to help build lean tissue. Speed training also helps in decreasing body fat and bringing out muscles.

The importance of diet in muscle gain:

The importance of diet in muscle gain

As mentioned above, diet is a very important part of an NBA player’s life- as it directly impacts, not only their physique, but also their mental health. This all influences their short term and long term performance on court.

Protein is a very important part of their diet, as it forms the base constituent of muscles. In order to properly bulk up, an adequate amount of protein intake is needed, so muscles can recover and regenerate- your muscles may even start to shrink in its absence. Another part of the diet is carbohydrates. These provide the players with calories- which, (you guessed it!) are used to power muscles and fuel the brain.

Both of these are stored in the muscles, ready to be used when needed- however in NBA players, excessive intake of foods may lead to fat storage, which must be avoided at all costs. So, how they ensure they’re building up muscle protein and carbs, without adding to fat stores:

Foods to eat:

The key answer to the question above is: picking out what exactly to eat, making an effort to eat undesirable but potentially beneficial foods.

A typical diet plan may consist of a number of foods and the players should aim for having more than 5 servings of each food in a week (along with other foods), as they’ll make up the bulk of their weekly diet.

Protein foods to be considered are: lean red meat, salmon, omega 3 eggs, low fat plain yogurt and supplemental proteins (e.g shakes etc).

Carbohydrates foods include: spinach, tomatoes, mixed berries, oranges, quinoa, mixed beans and whole oats.

Fat foods range from mixed nuts to avocados and flax seeds and types of oils e.g fish and olive oil (extra virgin).

Hydration is obviously also important, so liquids like green tea and exercise drinks (easily digested carbs and proteins) can be incorporated in the diet.

Increasing Calories:

Unfortunately for NBA players, eating right isn’t the only thing they need to do when it comes to diet for muscle building, they also have to ensure to increase their calorie intake.

This is to ensure their energy usage does not exceed their energy supply (they are constantly active) i.e some stores to build muscles remain after most have been used to provide energy. Often, this means that they have to over eat to exceed their energy demands, so eating even when they’re not hungry.

During periods of muscle gain, this can be done by eating 3 to 4 meals per day and having 2 to 3 “Super Shakes” in between meals. A super shake may consist of: unsweetened milk, a protein supplement, spinach and some fruits.

The relationship between nutrition and body type:

However, nutrition varies from player to player and the type of diet they intake- although same in its essence- is slightly different for each body type. The prevalent three for NBA players are: ectomorphic (naturally thin w/ skinny limbs), mesomorphic (naturally muscular and athletic) and endomorphic (naturally broad and thick).

For protein intake, ectomorphic people should have the lowest (25%) and endomorphic, the highest (35%) i.e the more endomorphic one is, the more protein intake.  To optimize intake, a protein dense food should be given in most meals.

Carbohydrates intake is opposite, with ectomorphic people recommended the highest (55%) and endomorphic, the lowest (25%). Mesomorphic is 40%. Intake of unprocessed carbs (preferably in the morning) and fiber is also recommended.

Fats and carbs are inverse, hence fat intake is highest ex endomorphic people (40%) and lowest for ectomorphic (20%).

Daily strategies to consider:

There are a few guidelines that are followed while doing all this if proper muscle gain is needed:

  • The athletes must be in a positive energy balance when gaining weight i.e if they’re following all the above procedure and still not gaining weight, they might either be: a) training too much or b) eating too less.
  • They make changes in their routines based on progress. Moreover, they’re aware that nutrition and body changes take time.
  • Timing is something that they take utmost care of, moreover eating at regular, well-phased intervals.
  • Stabilizing blood sugar is also important, as it keeps appetite in check and manages energy levels.
  • Breakfast should never be skipped, as that leads to overeating of nutrient-poor foods later on.

Exercise = lifting weights only?

Basketball as a source of exercise

Contrary to popular belief, exercise isn’t just lifting weights and dumbbells. So, no. LeBron did not get that body just by eating healthy, he does exercise except lifting- just in a slightly different way.

Workout plans:

Improving muscle mass and body composition needs the aid of workout too, this mostly happens after consulting a doctor. Many NBA players have individualized workout programs with their certified fitness trainer.

-The first type of workout are strength training workouts that include sport-specific exercises. Players like LeBron perform a mixture of pushups, pullups and cable single arm rows. These exercises help increase strength and build muscle.

-Other functional training exercises are used to condition their bodies, these are usually performed by the help of different equipment e.g tractor tires and sledgehammers. An example is Cory Maggette, who sprints will doing best crawls and a fireman carry.

-Power and speed training drills, not only decrease body fat but also improve stamina and endurance. Types of these include plyometrics such as box jumps and squat jumps and cone drills (using an agility ladder and making cones) e.g Rajon Rondo makes use of these drills to build muscle and increase his vertical leap.

-Managing one’s body weight in order to optimize performance and ability is also very important, hence burning body fat through appropriate workouts is also recommended. This can be combined with motion and stretching exercises to improve flexibility, using exercises like leg swings and arm swings and trunk rotations.

Yes, weights are included sometimes:

Weight training might not be too common in the NBA, however it is useful many of the times and many players do, therefore, make use of it. It has been known for increasing agility and skills of players.

However, experts have recommended that strebhr training is limited to 2 to 3 hours in a week, and recovery time between each must be at least 2 days. It is also important that players do not perform more than 6 sets in a training session or muscle group.

But, lifting can be tricky:

If weight lifting is used by NBA players, there are numerous guidelines to be followed, as it can get tricky and dangerous, both.

All players are advised to lift according to their capabilities, as everyone has their own limits. Excessive lifting can damage muscles instead of aiding gain.

Players should not train for a specific look or for bodybuilding, as this is completely non beneficial- in actuality, harmful, as it destroys strength and speed, while also hindering shooting ability.

Unorganized workout plans and too much use of heavy/traditional weights is not useful at all, different types of lifting need to be used  in order to actually gain muscle.

To prevent all this, hiring a certified professional trainer is always in the best interest of the players.

Looking at the potential harms of lifting, it is only obvious that NBA legend and Hall of Famer, Allen Iverson, said no to weight lifting.

Phases in Weight Training:

There are multiple phases in basketball training, with most of it being role specific.

  1. Early Pre-Season:

This period is mainly based on building foundation strength and muscle size, as well as endurance. The duration is 4 to 6 weeks, with exercises including barbell squats, remaining deadlifts, seated cable rows etc. Players normally do not overwork or lift themselves in this phase.

  1. Mid Pre-Season:

Strength development is the base of this phase, as players are focused on building muscle size, with duration being 4 to 6 weeks and exercises being mainly pull ups and deadlifts.

  1. Late Pre-Season or In Season:

A combination of speed and strength is now developed, by the help of plyometrics, like jumping, bounding, hopping and vertical jumps. Cable push pulls are also deployed. Resting between sets is vital.

  1. In Season:

An alternate of phase 2 and 3 is deployed for maintenance of strength and power.

  1. Off Season:

This is the recovery time for the players.

Recovery nutrition:

Intense training often breaks down the body, therefore recovery nutrition is very important (e.g after games and even workouts) when it comes to gaining and keeping muscle mass.

An article on, states:

“In the 30–60 minutes immediately following exercise, the muscles used during exercise are especially sensitive to amino acids and glucose in the blood and are able to use them for muscle protein synthesis and glycogen restoration, respectively. Eating a meal or drinking a recovery shake during this “window” of time allows the muscle to recover its glycogen stores much more quickly than the same meal eaten 2 or 3 hours after exercise.”

They also lay out the specific carbohydrate (1.0-1.2 per kg body weight) and protein (20 g) amount needed to be taken, in order to recover properly. A point is also made that a balanced meal should be taken about 2 hours after exercise to give the muscles another portion of “fuel” to keep them rejuvenated. It is also very important that the players intake a healthy amount of water for every pound of body weight lost during workout.

Skinny love, a new trend?

The NBA is now moving towards optimizing speed and shooting over any other qualities on court and, it seems, the players have noticed this change and have taken it upon themselves to start a trend of “slimming down”, too.

Many of the largest NBA players have started in on the trend, as everyone is now focused on moving quickly throughout the court,  considering players are now being forced to put up with a very wide range of positions and sizes. An example is Julius Randle, who lost a lot weight in the off season by following an extensive workout and diet plan.

The focus is now combining flexibility and leanness, as NBA players now have to “more like dancers than ever” (source: and use of less popular/orthodox training techniques like yoga and Pilates is now being made, as they can equip them with the qualities being increasingly demanded by the league.

Many of the players have owned up to liking the new forms of training:

“It sounds ridiculous, but I was in a hot sculpting class.” -DeMarcus Cousins

“Soul Cycle is easier on my joints.” -Draymond Green

“This summer, Kyle (Lowry) is spinning, doing Pilates…..and he did a hot sculpting class.”- Joe Abunassar.

The fittest NBA players:

As we’re on the subject of NBA players and muscle gain, here’s a list of the fittest NBA players as of now:

  1. Dwight Howard:

Howard’s presence on this lost may have been a surpise sometime ago (he was notorious for living on soda and candy), but he’s a new and very fit man now. I mean, look at those boulder shoulders!

  1. Giannis Antetokounmpo:

Towering at 6’1″, and known as “The Greek Freak”, Giannis is as fit as they come.

  1. Blake Griffin:

Notorious as one of the big guys of the NBA from the start of his days, Griffin has shown no signs of losing the title and is still as bulky as ever.

  1. LeBron James:

If anyone has watched James’ workouts on Instagram, they won’t be surprised to find the guy on this list. He’s the King after all, and for good reason, considering all the effort he puts into his body and performance.

  1. Kawhi Leonard:

Kawhi was blessed an NBA body, it seems, from his entry into the league. He’s a lean, 6 foot 7 towering mass of muscle.

  1. Aaron Gordon:

Last, but definitely not least, Gordon is only 23, yet is still as fit as many of the veterans- guaranteeing him a bright future in the league.


So, what have we learnt today?

You can believe some (okay, very little) of what you read on the internet.

So, in conclusion: your favorite behemoths, can just be as ripped and successful while not lifting weights, as while doing it.

All it takes is a mixture of extensive nutrition and exercise, a whole lot of resilience and care!