Up Your Game for NBA Finals

The NBA Finals begin tonight!  If watching the Heat and the Mavericks is putting you in the mood to improve your game, check out these basketball exercises that are sure to take your b-ball skills to the next level: Overview Lots of basketball players are in shape to play the game, but some players seem to have an extra gear that allows them to outrun a defense, out-jump a rebounder or outlast an opponent late in the game when fatigue sets in. If you want that extra level of conditioning that makes the difference on the court, be prepared to pay for it in sweat using some simple but effective exercises. Strong Legs and Quick Feet Running stadium stairs at a local stadium, track or gym has been a staple of athletic training for years, and for good reason. Running stadium stairs -- touching every step, and alternating between running forward, backward and laterally -- improves lower-body strength and builds endurance in the legs and lungs. Just as importantly, by touching every step of the stairs, an athlete simulates the small, quick steps that translate onto the basketball court, where he must chop his feet on defense or make sharp, quick cuts on offense. Get Strong with the Basketball Push-ups are another staple of strength and conditioning programs, but by adding a basketball into the exercise, basketball players can add a sport-specific element into this classic move. Instead of performing a normal push-up with both hands on the ground, place one hand on top of a basketball and perform sets of 10 to 15 reps, then repeat on the opposite side. By unbalancing the push-up position to one side with the added height of the basketball, the athlete is forced to use muscles on each side of the body independently -- great for developing strength in her weaker hand. The basketball push-up will also improve hand strength necessary for strong ball-handling, passing and catching. Jumping Higher and Faster While a lofty vertical leap is an asset to any basketball player, the game often requires players to jump high in the air multiple times, such as when players battle for rebounds, close out on shooters or shoot multiple shots. That's why players must have a second and third jump as strong as their first, which they can develop using backboard or net touches. To perform the exercise, stand under a backboard and set the backboard or net as your target, depending on ability. Jump off two feet with knees slightly bent and arms reaching vertically toward your target. Repeat this jump as many times as possible for one minute and count each touch to measure your progress. Perform two or three sets of this exercise during your workout twice a week and watch your vertical leap grow. Adding Extra Agility An added boost of agility through the core muscles, hips, legs and feet can make a big impact on a player's game on both ends of the court. In any agility drill, a player should be forced to change directions and change speeds, such as in the zig-zag drill. Begin the drill by standing underneath the basket and sliding along the baseline in a defensive stance to the corner. Then sprint diagonally to the free-throw line and slide laterally again to the sideline. Repeat the diagonal sprint to the half-court line, slide once more to the sideline, then back-pedal to the baseline. Run the drill on both sides of the court to equally improve lateral movement and agility in both directions. To read the entire article by Andrew Reiner and for more references, visit Livestrong.com.