Skill Training vs Strength Training – Which Comes First?

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This is a new style of article. Actually, it’s not even an article.

This is an email conversation that I had with Coach JC Smith, a local basketball coach. When Coach JC reached out to me, I also included Josh Petchel in the response. Josh has been training athletes in Phoenix, AZ, and I reach out to him periodically for advice.

I found that our responses to Coach JC’s question were worth sharing. Enjoy!

–Enter Coach JC– 


I’ve been trying to find information to determine if lifting or training should happen before or after developing basketball specific skills? Maybe this is personal preference, but it would be nice to get some concrete evidence. There’s very little if any research on the sites I am looking at, even through NIH research engines.

Maybe we can combine resources for this?

I know my preference is to lift/train after I shoot or work on skill acquisition.

Any thoughts?

–From Me to Coach JC and Josh–

What up guys. First, the intro.

JC – I’ve included my buddy Josh Petchel in this response. Josh and I interned together at EXOS in Dallas, and our training philosophies are similar. He’s been doing big things out in Phoenix with the athletes he’s been training out there. I’m very interested in what his experience says on this topic.


Josh – Coach JC is a local basketball coach. He runs private skill sessions, and has very high level and succinct training regimens. I love the way he trains. Furthermore, he has an academic background in Exercise. He and I collaborated with his basketball athletes last fall. I would run his kids through warm-ups, plyometric, and movement training, and then he would run the skill session after. It’s rare to find a coach that has the desire and awareness to improve the physical capacities AND the skill set of his athletes the way Coach JC does.


Back to the question…


This is something that can be argued from both sides. For the sake of my response, I’m going to assume that there will be separate skill-specific practices that do not include weights or performance training. Assuming that, and assuming that the joint sessions will occur in addition to the skill-only training sessions, there are some concepts that I like to follow.


The general rule of thumb is to tackle the biggest priority first. For example, if the athletes/team needs to work on their shooting, then the skill segment should come first. If the athletes need to gain strength, then the lift should come first.


As you saw in our workouts last fall, the athletes performed at a lower skill level with you during the workouts that I first trained or conditioned them.


I have built a mental picture for myself that goes as following:


Let’s say each athlete has 10 “Units” of “Focus” to spend in each workout. It’s our job to decide where to use those units. A plyometric segment may require “1 unit,” a movement segment may require “2 Units,” and a conditioning, skill acquisition, or weight training segment may require “3 or 4 Units,” etc. To build a balanced athlete, your workouts must shift emphasis and adjust the “Expenditure” of the “Units” over the course of a training period. 


From what I’ve seen and how I usually train, I typically will lift first. It can be argued that fatigue from the lift will create a scenario that closely reflects competition. Also, this sequence gives the athlete an opportunity to immediately translate the movements they practiced in the lift to the court. This immediate correlation is important.


That being said, it’s also necessary for athletes to enter skill sessions fresh. If you consider a scenario when an athlete is constantly going to a shooting workout after bench pressing, it’s easy to assume their shooting mechanics will never develop properly.


Lots to consider, this is a great question. Looking forward to see if Josh has any insight as well. I will look into my research sources and see if I can find any hard tested evidence.


–From Josh to JC and Me–


Levi and JC,


I would agree with Levi’s concept of “units” per session and that athletes can only handle so much physical and mental stimulus.


Similar to the breakdown of ‘units’ I would also look at individual athletes (or the team as a whole) and determine which area (movement, strength, conditioning, skill, etc.) needs the most work. This can determine the emphasis for the entire season, week, or individual training sessions.


I think it’s great you are both working together to find what works best for your athletes rather than digging your heels into your respective professional roles. I think we would all agree that simply playing basketball is the best way to make a better basketball player. This is why skill coaches are so important. Equally, working with a solid strength coach will increase mobility and strength – which contributes to overall athleticism – also creating a better basketball player. There is a need for both areas of expertise.


Now, as a strength coach I admit I am biased, but like I said, even I believe that at the end of the day the quickest way become better at basketball is to just play. In my opinion, I believe that should come first if the both skill work and strength work are going to be done on the same day.


There is an exception to this if you are going to work on certain movement patterns at a low volume. In essence, these segments should be basketball practice without a ball (think lateral movement training for defense).


I also think that in general weightlifting or conditioning should be done after the skill session. Plyometrics should be performed at extremely low volumes (Levi – minimal ground contacts) because they are already getting an incredible stimulus on the nervous system during their normal skill practices.


Here are a couple quick things I would also consider:


-Kids are going to enjoy playing basketball more than spending time in the weight room or training floor. Compliance and ‘buying in’ is crucial to getting the most out of your athletes.


-Basketball is very reactive. If the athletes are less fatigued they will compete at a higher level AND be more resistant to injury.


-Working on skills in a fatigued state may create more bad habits. Again, go back to the unit breakdown. If the athlete only has 1 unit left to use but the skill requires 3 units, then there will be compensation.


Levi, here are a couple of things for you specifically:


– These athletes are going to get an aerobic and anaerobic training effect from practice. There is no better “sport specific” conditioning then playing your sport. If you have conditioning planned after practice but you can see that they are already smoked, you may want to consider working on some low intensity mobility drills or soft tissue work instead.


-If you have a lift planned after practice but you see they are smoked, maybe change your primary lift to a less intensive exercise. For example, modify barbell front squats to goblet squats or kettlebell front squats. The athletes will still benefit from the modified exercise, and they won’t risk overtraining or injury. My top priority for my athletes is always to stay healthy and feel good.


-I could be wrong, but I would assume you personally play basketball AFTER your lift for the conditioning effects. This would make sense for you because you have an advanced understanding of your body. You are stronger (I hope!) than the athletes you work with, and you can tell if you need to back off the training. While this may work for an experienced athlete, keep in mind that younger athletes don’t have the same body awareness. You may have to regulate that for them.




First, I feel the need to defend myself about Josh’s strength jab! Haha!

This is a real-life look into the world of performance coaches in today’s industry. I thought this was unique and useful for young performance coaches (or skill coaches such as JC) to remotely “pick the brains” of  performance coaches currently deep in the trenches. I respect Josh’s perspectives and I know that he works incredibly hard on his craft. He’s an “Athlete First” type of coach that always looks at his training from the perspective of his guys. This is valuable, and a great expansion on my response.

Hope you enjoyed this!


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