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The Sport Digest - ISSN: 1558-6448

Basketball Conditioning

When I entered high school, people persuaded me to run cross-country during the fall. The cross-country coach convinced me of its ability to prepare me for basketball try- outs. During the season, I heard a myth that running cross-country actually made you slower in basketball. My coach said it was a myth and nothing but foolishness.

As I have learned, there is some truth to the myth and some fallacy to my coach’s beliefs. Cross-country training does not adequately prepare an athlete for basketball. Distance running and basketball use different muscle fibers and different energy systems.

One must use training techniques specific to the sport to elicit the best results. Distance running is not a mode of training specific to basketball, though many basketball coaches implement long distance, steady state running as the basis of their off-season conditioning. This training has little transfer to the basketball court, which involves quick bursts of energy, not steady state running.

Basketball is an anaerobic sport requiring a high percentage of fast-twitch, Type II muscle fiber. Distance running is aerobic and requires Type I or slow-twitch muscle fiber. In terms of muscle fiber characteristics and its specificity to basketball —- basketball requires high force production (Type IIb) and high power output (Type IIa and Type IIb). While basketball is a running sport, the running occurs in short, powerful bursts with quick starts and stops and also involves continual jumping and landing. Distance running fails to train the Type IIa or Type IIb fibers for quick, explosive movements.

While distance running relies almost exclusively on aerobic metabolism, basketball’s metabolic demands are met through the phosphagen system and anaerobic glycolysis. The phosphagen system provides energy for fast and powerful movements, as in a full court sprint, a quick change of direction cut or a maximum jump for a rebound. As intense exercise extends beyond 10 seconds, anaerobic gylcolysis provides the body’s energy. In an up-tempo game, with few breaks and sustained maximum output; gylcolysis supplies the energy. One characteristic of glycolysis is lactate acid build up; therefore, a basketball player must train his/her system to tolerate higher levels of lactate acid in the blood. Distance running fails to train this metabolic system because it uses primarily aerobic metabolism and does not produce significant amounts of blood lactate.

No single energy system provides all the energy for a specific exercise. “Interg ating the two metabolic demands is also a vital training need because many athletes must be able to perform under fatiguing conditions in competition. Nevertheless, each metabolic component needs to be trained individually for optimal results, and then both need to be combined in sport-related training,” (Baechele, 143).

Pre-season basketball workouts should incorporate resistance training, interval training, agility training and plyometrics in order to train fast twitch muscle fiber and the phosphagen and anaerobic glycolysis metabolic systems. To prepare a pre-season workout, the coach must evaluate his team and the individual conditioning needs of his players and then prepare a schedule working backward from the first game or first day or practice.

In a six to eight week period from the beginning of school until the first practice/game, the coach must insure players are physically prepared for basketball. One idea is to utilize a periodization program; breaking the eight-week mesocycle into two- week microcycles.

The first microcycle focuses on anaerobic endurance. The athletes need a base level of aerobic conditioning; hopefully the athletes maintain this throughout the year, even during active rest periods. If the athletes are de-conditioned or lack a sufficient aerobic base, start by building the base with slower intervals with less recovery time. If athletes have a sufficient base, begin focusing on aerobic endurance through sprint intervals. The athletes run 300m sprints at 90% of full speed with a 1:3 work to rest ratio. Run 2000m per session, or roughly six sprints. The athletes run two to three times per week; lower the work to rest ratio to 1:2 in the final workouts.

During the second microcycle, the focus shifts to speed endurance. The athletes run 150m sprints, starting with a 1:3 work to rest ratio and finishing with a 1:2 ratio. The athletes run 1500-2000m per workout.

During the third microcycle, shift the focus to speed development. Thee workouts can take place on the track or on he court. On the track, run 40-60m sprints with a 1:3 work to rest ratio. Run 8-12 sprints per workout. If working on the floor, incorporate a series of line drills or 17s (sideline to sideline).

In the final microcycle, incorporate on the floor short sprints like up-backs (baseline to baseline) with basketball specific agility drills like the T-Drill and plyometric drills like depth jumps. In the final cycle, the two metabolic demands meet the sport-related training on the court and other exercises (plyometrics or agility drills) demand a great deal of specificity.


Baechle, Thomas and Earle, Roger. (2000). Essentials of Strength and Conditioning.

Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. (pp. 17-20, 83-88).

Grabow, Mark. Personal correspondence, 2003.