What training drills are best to improve basketball fitness? Well to answer that question we need to stop and look at the fitness components of basketball. In one sense, some may say the best way to get fit for basketball is to play basketball. You can counter this argument though with two ideas:
1. Basketball has repeat movements that can lead to musculo-skeletal imbalances. Basketball also has common injuries that come up so if you want to have a long basketball career you need to look to reduce the risks of overuse injury and joint injuries. A well-constructed strength and conditioning program will address these issues.
2. Playing basketball will not always specifically overload some energy systems or movements and stimulate fitness adaptation, vertical jump height and strength gains.
In developing a fitness program for basketball we need to ask what components of fitness are used. Then we need to assess the individual player to ascertain which areas of fitness need to be addressed to benefit their basketball game.
WHAT ARE THE FITNESS DEMANDS OF BASKETBALL?
Analysis of basketball games shows us that walking, jogging, running, sprinting-striding and shuffling account for 38, 8, 7, 4 and 17% of game time respectively (Abdelkrim, 2007). This reflects the intermittent nature of basketball.
During a basketball game a player may cover 6-7.5 km and for over 75% of time the heart will be working at 85% of its maximum rate (McInnes et al 1995, Strumbelj et al 2014). Furthermore 22% of the distance covered will be performing sideways footwork and slides.
So, from research and observation we know that basketball requires intermittent, high intensity sprinting and change of direction. Hence a basketball fitness program should focus on developing speed endurance: anaerobic activity with repeated efforts that are less than 30 seconds. There’s no need for long slow running training.
Speed and Agility
Not a surprise, but development of speed and agility is crucial for basketball fitness. Nevertheless, looking at the research can shed some light on the specific fitness requirements of basketball and shape the speed and agility drills that are then used in training.
Over a basketball game, on average there is one high intensity effort every 21 seconds (Conte et al 2015). These high intensity efforts last, on average, 1.7 seconds each and occur 105 times in a basketball game. And, of course, a lot of these efforts will require hard decelerations and yielding (or eccentric) strength.
So with these requirements in mind speed and agility drills for basketball should focus on maximum sprint efforts over maximal distances of 25 m and majority over 1- 5 m.
Strength and Power
Perhaps the most expected requirement of a basketball fitness program: the development of vertical jump height. Typically, depending on position you can expect to see 40-50 jumps per game (Hoffman et al 1996). Although vertical jump height is the obvious requirement in basketball power is also important when initiating quick changes of direction.
Power is the ability to produce a given force in the shortest time possible. Therefore, the ability to develop strength underpins power improvement.
As a rough guide, to develop power you typically want to be doing 4-6 sets of 3-6 repetitions. In contrast, to develop strength you may do 3-5 sets with repetitions ranging from 3-8 with higher weights. The front squat or back squat are foundational exercises for lower body strength development.
Core strength and Injury Prevention
Typically, in a basketball game there are 8 body impacts per minute, add on to this the landing forces and changes direction and it is no surprise that ankle sprains account for about 25% of injuries (Carlos et al 2016; Hertel et al 2007). For these reasons, knee derangement and ligament injuries are also common. Some research suggests injuries peak in the first 2 months of a basketball season, highlighting the need to implement an effective preseason injury prevention training program (Kofotolis and Kellis, 2007).
To help prevent knee and ankle injury in basketball a good program should include:
• Dynamic core stability
• Train good landing mechanics on single and double leg
• Work on good hamstring and Gluteus Medius capacity
Individual needs to consider
Individuals will have their own specific needs dependent on position player, injury history, training history, movement screening, the coach/player’s goals, current fitness needs, maturation, and time available to train.
WHERE TO NOW?
So we started out with the question: What training drills are best to improve basketball fitness? And we’ve answered the question by taking some time to work out the fitness component needs of basketball. You may wish to consider the best way to structure your training across the year now.
Abdelkrim et al (2007); Time-motion analysis and physiological data of elite under-19-year-old basketball players during competition. Br J Sports Med. 2007 Feb;41(2):69-75.
McInnes et al (1995); The physiological load imposed on basketball players during competition. J Sports Sci. 1995 Oct;13(5):387-97.
Conte et al (2015); Time-Motion Analysis of Italian Elite Women’s Basketball Games: Individual and Team Analyses. J Strength & Cond Res 2015 29(1):144-50.
Carlos et al (2016); Physical and physiological demands of experienced male basketball players during a competitive game. J Strength & Cond Res 2016.
Kofotolis and Kellis (2007); Ankle sprain injuries: a 2-year prospective cohort study in female Greek professional basketball players. J Athl Train. 2007 Jul-Sep;42(3):388-94.