How to train for basketball, part 1: Needs Analysis

By Saltus Admin

Basketball Needs Analysis

Before creating any strength & conditioning program, first one must conduct a needs analysis to determine what physical characteristics are required in the sport.  Basketball is classified as an intermittent team sport (ITS), and requires periods of activity that span across varying intensities, distances and durations (McInnes, Carlson, Jones and McKenna, 1995).  For example, a typical basketball play sequence may involve any combination of activities on the intensity spectrum, from explosive jumping, bursts of acceleration, sharp changes of direction, and quick lateral movements, down to lower level activities such as jogging, walking or standing.  As a result, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact proportion of energy system contributions as the range of activity levels dictates that all three of the body’s energy systems are used to varying degrees.  For example, Abdelkrim, El Fazaa and Jalila (2007) conducted a comprehensive time-motion analysis study and found that elite basketball players change actions once every two seconds, which illuminates the complexity, variability, and intermittent nature of the sport.  The authors found that “approximately 41%, 5.3% and 22% of live time were spent competing in ‘‘specific movements’’, sprinting and low to moderate-intensity running, respectively, whereas 29.9% was spent standing still and walking” (p. 70). In spite of this complexity, the following section will attempt to highlight the relative importance of the body’s energy systems on basketball performance.

The Oxidative System

Basketball requires a large aerobic contribution from the body’s oxidative energy system in order to be able to play for the entire duration of the game and to delay fatigue as players accumulate mileage during game play.  The oxidative system is primarily responsible for exercise durations greater than two minutes.  While slow to initiate relative to anaerobic systems, the oxidative system is primarily fueled by fats and provides the highest amount of sustainable energy during exercise.  The oxidative system’s aerobic power is primarily measured via maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max), which is the maximum amount of oxygen the body can utilize at once, typically expressed in liters per minute (L/min). VO2 max is generally affected by the body’s ability to deliver and extract oxygen.  Sub-factors that contribute to oxygen delivery and extraction include cardiac output, stroke volume, mitochondrial density, capillary density, hemoglobin content, plasma volume, and blood volume.  The development of these physiological adaptations via aerobic exercise will result in increased cardiovascular fitness, and may lead to increased performance and recovery in basketball players.

Aerobic Contributions in Basketball

At the high school varsity and collegiate levels, the total live game-play time (LT) totals 40-minutes of stoppage time (i.e. two 20-minute halves, or four 10-minute quarters, depending on league rules).  However, with the addition of stoppages in play, timeouts, and intermissions, total play time (TT), the time required to complete an entire collegiate game, may take 1.5-2 hours.  Throughout this timeframe, time-motion analysis has demonstrated that basketball players can run between 6 to 7.5 kilometers per game (Strumbelj, Vuckovic, Jakovljevic, Milanovic, James and Erculk, 2014).   Furthermore, McInnes et al (1995) found that the average heart rate during an elite U-19 basketball game was 165 beats per minute (BPM), and players’ heart rates were greater than 85% of their maximums for over 75% of live game play, and 65% of total time.  Interestingly, while there are clear tactical and style-of-play differences between playing positions, the cardiovascular demands remain similar in spite of this; Strumbelj et al (2014) noted that there were no significant differences between guards, forwards, and centres with regards to cardiovascular fitness measures, which suggests that aerobic power is equally important for all positions. These proportions of aerobic intensity further illustrate the clear contribution and importance of cardiovascular fitness in basketball.

Interestingly, Hoffman, Epstein, Einbinder and Weinstein (1999) found that there was an insignificant relationship in basketball players between aerobic capacity and the ability to recover from high intensity exercise.  Furthermore, Castanga, Chaouachi, Rampinini, Chamari and Impellizzeri (2009) concluded that a VO2 max of 50 ml-kg/min was a sufficient aerobic capacity level for regional level basketball players.  These findings illustrate that aerobic training has diminishing returns and may not further improve basketball performance if it is over-emphasized.

Anaerobic Systems: Phosphagen and Glycolytic Systems

High-intensity anaerobic activity lasting 0-15 seconds is powered primarily via the phosphagen anaerobic pathway (alactic), which is responsible for explosive, high force/power movements such as sprinting, jumping, and cutting.  As high intensity activity exceeds 15 seconds, energy production switches to the glycolytic system (lactic), which powers high intensity efforts lasting up to approximately two minutes before the oxidative system becomes the primary contributor of energy.

The types of anaerobic qualities are numerous, including maximum strength, power, speed, agility, and repeated sprint ability.  Maximum strength and power can be affected by factors such as muscle cross-sectional area, muscle fiber type distribution, motor unit recruitment, neuromuscular synchronization and movement economy.  Moreover, speed, agility and jumping ability may require pre-requisite levels of strength and power, but may also rely on additional qualities such as the elasticity of muscles, tendons and ligaments, and minimization of the amortization period between eccentric and concentric muscle actions, thereby increasing the ability to utilize the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) for performance enhancement. The development of these physiological adaptations via anaerobic exercise will result in increased levels of power, strength and speed, leading to increased explosiveness and performance in basketball players.

Anaerobic Contributions in Basketball

In contrast to the overall contributions and importance of the oxidative system, anaerobic qualities are equally, and perhaps more, important determinants of performance in basketball.  The dimensions of a basketball court are relatively small at 94×24 feet.  This means the maximum uni-directional distance a player will run in a given play is approximately 30 meters, though in typical game play the acceleration distances may be much shorter, depending on the player’s position and the tactical context of the game scenario.  Further, Abdelkrim and colleagues (2007) postulate that modern rule changes have encouraged games to be played at higher intensities.  For example, with shot-clock and ball-advancement durations being reduced from 30 to 24 seconds, and 10 to 8 seconds, respectively, tactical play has shifted away from patient, methodical offensive schemes to an attacking, up-tempo game play that promotes urgency and creativity (Abdelkrim et al, 2007).

Supportively, these authors found that players performed an average of 44 jumps per game, and Hoffman, Tenenbaum, Maresh, and Kreamer (1996) concluded that playing time in collegiate basketball was strongly predicted by measures of anaerobic capacity, such as jumping, sprinting, and change of direction (COD) ability.  As a result, the development of alactic qualities must be the primary goal of effective basketball strength & conditioning programs once an adequate aerobic foundation has been established.

Position-Specific Considerations: Perimeters

Perimeter players, also sometimes referred to as wings, are the smallest, quickest, and most skilled players on the court (Ostojic, Mazic, and Dikic, 2006).  The guard positions are subdivided into two categories, point guards and shooting guards.  The primary responsibility of point guards include handling the ball, dictating the pace of the game, organizing and running offensive tactics, and distributing the ball to teammates for scoring opportunities.  Shooting guards, as their name implies, have a large offensive role and their primary responsibility is scoring, whether by perimeter shooting or slashing and driving to the basket.  Small forwards, in contrast, are perhaps the game’s most versatile player.  They must be skilled and fast enough to attack and defend on the perimeter and run the floor in transition, while also big and strong enough to battle physically in the paint while they guard and rebound against opposing post players.

Due to their offensive styles of play and the corresponding responsibility of defending opposing wings, perimeter players require a multitude of anaerobic qualities such as acceleration, sprinting, agility, and jumping.  Time-motion analysis has shown that perimeter players participate in high intensity activities more often than posts and are also in a static position for only 28% of total playing time (Miller and Barlett, 1994).  Moreover, Ostojic et al (2006) found that vertical jump scores were higher amongst perimeter players when compared to post players.  Similarly, Latin, Berg, and Baechele (1994) found that guards had the best vertical jump, speed, and strength to weight ratio, and mile run times.

These points illustrate a high requirement of anaerobic markers to improve explosive movements such as jumping, cutting, accelerating and sprinting after a baseline of aerobic qualities have been established to support the overall volume of work.

Position-Specific Considerations: Posts

Anthropometrically, post players are taller, heavier, and stronger than perimeter players and have a higher body fat percentage (Abdelkrim et al, 2010).   In terms of physiological performance measures, Latin et al (1994) found that centres had the poorest levels of speed, agility and cardiovascular fitness.  These differences are likely due to the tactical responsibilities of post players. Both offensively and defensively, posts typically play near the rim and the low-block area, and tactical play involves reading and watching plays unfold from a distance.  Offensively, post players establish position near the rim and wait for entry passes from the perimeter players, and shoot in close proximity to the basket.  Defensively, post players generally stand near the basket to block or alter the shots of opponents, and lateral movements are more positional in nature (i.e. defensive rotations) and are confined within a small area near the basket.

Due to these tactical requirements, time-motion analysis has shown that centres engage in fewer high-intensity plays than guards or forwards (Abdelkrim et al, 2010), and may only be in motion during 33% of game play (Miller and Barlett, 1994).  This relative lack of motion (and in turn, caloric expenditure) may provide an explanation for the higher body fat and lower fitness levels seen in post players.

In contrast to the lack of mobility requirements, post players necessitate higher levels of absolute strength in both the upper body and lower body, as they need to sustain high force isometric contractions when setting screens, fighting for position, defending opposing post-players and boxing out for rebounds (Abdelkrim et al, 2010).  Post players also may travel a longer distance in transition compared to perimeter players; perimeter players typically run from three-point line to three-point line (~50 feet) during changes of possession, whereas posts typically run from rim-to-rim (~94 feet), which indicates that aerobic fitness is still a concern for posts.  It is noteworthy that while higher body fat percentages might assist post players with establishing low-block position and presence, lower body fat percentages are also helpful with improving movement economy and power-to-weight ratio, which will increase the athletes ability to accelerate, sprint, and jump, while also decreasing energy expenditure by limiting the need to carry excess, non-functional mass (i.e. adipose tissue).

These findings illustrate that post players require high levels of both anaerobic and aerobic qualities, and coaches must determine what is optimal in terms of striking balance between size, strength, mobility, and cardiovascular fitness.  In general, however, post players will have a diminished emphasis on acceleration, sprint ability, agility and lateral quickness, and a heightened emphasis of size and absolute strength on top of adequate cardiovascular endurance.

Conclusion

In conclusion, effective periodization and program design is a multi-stage process.  Firstly, a needs analysis of the sport must be conducted in order to determine which physiological characteristics are required for success.  In the case of basketball, regardless of position, it is evident at emphasis should be placed on explosive alactic anaerobic qualities after an adequate foundation of aerobic fitness has been established.