There are three primary energy systems that can be trained for basketball:

  • Aerobic,
  • Lactic, and
  • Alactic.

These systems can then be further broken down into two categories each of power and capacity. In this instance, power refers to the absolute performance measure for that energy system when completing a standalone effort. Capacity refers to the ability to repeat that effort on numerous occasions whilst minimising performance decline.

Alactic System:

The alactic system is anaerobic (without oxygen) and supplies the primary energy for the first 10-15 seconds of exercise. For example, sprinting the length of the court or jumping for a rebound draw primarily upon the alactic system.

Many of the physical demands of basketball draw upon “alactic energy” and training for this capacity requires short, intermittent bursts of maximal activity with medium to long recovery periods. By manipulating the work to rest ratios and the time length of work specific components can be targeted.

Ratios of 1:8 with efforts of less than 7 seconds and low reps (5-10) place a significant stress on the alactic power system while more reps (8-15) with a shorter ratio to 1:6 and using efforts of 4-10 seconds promotes training of the alactic capacity system.

As a practical example, having athletes jump to touch the backboard, land and immediately jump again for 6 seconds and then resting for 40 seconds before repeating 8 times is training the alactic capacity system.

Lactic Acid System:

The production of lactic acid is a by-product of the body producing energy anaerobically. The aim of lactic acid system training is to improve the body’s ability to metabolize and remove lactic acid. As lactic acid builds up, athletes will feel a “burn” in their muscles and it restricts the muscle’s ability to work. Accordingly, the more efficiently an athlete is able to remove lactic acid and its by-products will increase the duration the body can work at maximal intensity.

To target training towards lactic acid capacity requires a work to recovery ratio of 1:3 ensuring a build-up of lactic acid in the system. The recovery period is not stopping altogether, it is continuing movement but a less than maximum effort. A larger recovery of 1:4 as seen in lactic acid power training allows greater lactic acid removal.

During capacity training, efforts will range from 6-30 seconds and recovery must be completed at 50-70% intensity. It should be noted that lactic acid system training places a significant stress on the bodies systems and as such should be used carefully and generally less than the other types of energy system training.

As a practical example a player can undertake “Temp” runs (not an all-out effort) over 200m and have a walk back as recovery.

Aerobic System:

Traditionally, training the aerobic system involved numerous hours of jogging (or other activity), which is time consuming and resulted in large wear and tear on the body and is not recommended for basketball players. This type of training can also result in reducing the player’s speed (as the number of fast twitch fibres decrease), which is clearly not optimal for basketball.

Aerobic interval training has a much greater crossover to basketball performance and allows for a greater intensity of efforts. Simply, interval training could include sprinting, and then jogging, sprinting again etc.

Coaches can assess their athletes, maximal aerobic speed using the Yo Yo Intermittent Recovery test and therefore target training specifically to each athlete. Another test is the 12 minute test – to determine how far an athlete can run in 12 minutes.

Training at a %Maximal Aerobic Speed (MAS) at or slightly above maximum with an active recovery (50-70% MAS) will train the aerobic capacity with a work to active recovery ratio of 1:1. Efforts in capacity training will range from 15-30 seconds with high duration (e.g. sprinting) followed by 15-30 seconds at 50-70% of effort (e.g. jogging) – in total going for >15reps and a duration of at least 10 minutes.

To train aerobic power %MAS is again above maximum but passive rest is allowed with a work to rest ratio of 1:1 employed. Aerobic power sessions typically require 10-15 seconds work for between 8-16 reps [6].

Game Based Conditioning:

Small sided games (e.g. 3x3) and game based conditioning has been validated by recent research as being effective for its demands on skill as well as endurance. It is essential however that this type of training is carefully designed to evoke the desired training effect.

It can be difficult to consistently achieve and maintain the required intensity resulting in a poor or zero training effect during prolonged drills. Often athletes will also have the ability to “hide” in these type of sessions and it has been proposed that better players who possess more natural skill are not required to move as much as lesser skilled athletes and therefore do not achieve the desired training volume or intensity. There is an almost endless variety of activities available to the coach, and precise and planned variations can maximise training efficiency while minimising unnecessary stresses.