What is fitness for basketball?

Fitness is a generic term that simply means the ability of a person to complete a particular task. In the case of basketball players, this means the ability to perform in the final quarter of a game at, or near, the same level they performed at the start of the game.

Basketball is played on a relatively small court (28m x 15m) and is now played in 10 minute quarters. A game takes approximately 1½ hours.

Five players play on the court (per team) at any one time and unlimited substitutions are allowed, providing that a player does not have five fouls or have been otherwise disqualified.

Teams are allowed a certain number of timeouts, which allow a 1 minute break in play. There is also considerable opportunity during the game for active rest as well as passive rest during breaks in play (which are often very short ; for example, when a foul is called etc.), time-outs, substitutions and during breaks between quarters.

The game of basketball consists of a series of explosive movements (e.g. jumping for a rebound, sprinting the length of the court, making a quick step to get past a defender or to stop a person getting past). Each of these “maximal effort” activities typically takes 5-10 seconds. General play
consists of almost constant activity – although often at a less than maximal effort. Play phases (in between breaks) would rarely last more than 3 minutes, although the break may only be a short time (e.g. a player may get a 10 second break while a foul is signalled to the bench).

Although there are different playing positions, each have similar energy demands. All players must be able to “get up and down the floor” and equally must be able to defend a player, beat their player to the ball and rebound the ball.

Accordingly, basketball players do need a good “aerobic” conditioning, however, this should not be developed at the expense of being able to move quickly and explosively.

Basic Tips to Improve BASKETBALL FITNESS

Coaches of young players should incorporate activities that will help their athletes improve their level of fitness.

Coaches should keep in mind that:

  • Long, equal paced, runs are not particularly useful for basketball athletes. Instead, aerobic fitness should be developed using “interval” training, where maximal efforts are combined within longer duration workouts.
  • Use on court activities that replicate game conditions or movements to develop “fitness” for basketball, such as full court lay-up activities, offence / defence activities that require 2-3 minutes of effort without a break.
  • Include rebounding and other explosive movements in every training session.
  • Use breaks in practice that replicate the type of breaks in a game – 1 minute for a time out, 2 minutes at the end of the 1st and 3rd quarters or whatever the local rules are.

To develop fitness, coaches may need to conduct a separate practice session (focussed on fitness) or give athletes activities to do on their own.

Many coaches recommend that players do fitness work “off their feet”, for example riding a bike or swimming in order to rest the player’s legs.

Such activities will benefit basketball (even though they do not include any basketball movements) provided that the player is working at the correct level of intensity.

A good way for players to check this is to take their heart rate during the activity, which can be done by counting their pulse for 10 seconds and then multiplying by 6 to get their “per minute” heart rate.

The player should aim to have their heart rate at 65-86% of their maximum heart rate, which for teenagers will be approximately between 140-180 beats per minute. 14

Checking the heart rate is important, particularly when doing activities such as cycling where the player continues to move even though making no effort (gliding).

Maximum heart rate can be approximated as 220 minus the player’s age.