Physiological determinants of High Performance in Basketball, how to develop them?

Physiological determinants of High Performance in Basketball, how to develop them?

Basketball is a team sport of intermittent intensity, based on the cyclical repetition of offensive and defensive plays, and frequent changes in movement. Periods of high intensity activity (sprinting and dribbling) are interspersed with periods of low or moderate intensity (jogging, walking or standing). As a result, there are a number of physiological determinants for basketball.

It’s the team sport with more jumps than the rest, even more than volleyball.

OK, we’ve got it. Let’s train!

How train basketball

Want to find out more about basketball, its characteristics, and what supplements to use? Click on this link and have a read of the post.

First concerns about training

Even the best coaches in the world come up against some of the following:

  • How do I prepare my players physically?
  • Is aerobic or anaerobic work more important?
  • How can I find out?
  • Physical work with or without a ball?

Uff… 20 laps of the court for the whole team!

Relax… Don’t worry! Whether you play for fun or professionally, coach a local team or one in the Eurocup, I’m going to explain what the research says about the sport.

Game basketball needs

The goal? For you to figure out the most important areas to work on.

In this way, in future articles I’ll be able to explain how to improve the critical aspects that determine a player’s physical performance.

Before I begin looking at such a complex issue, I’d like to point out that if you’re not used to basketball game analysis, scouting> is a quite dense analysis process, and it’s not ideal having to look through frequency table after frequency table. However, knowing the physiological determinants in basketball is important.

Players are usually presented with visual resources (cards, graphs, and videos), so that they don’t lose track in the analysis. I promise to try to make the article as simple and visual as possible, within the limitations of this type of analysis. Deal?

Let’s get to it!

In order to start right, we’ve prepared a graph of what we’ll be developing later on in a more extensive way. Theories and visual examples will accompany you through all the explanations to make it as exemplary as possible.

Determinants of high performance basketball

Now, to finish this introduction, just one more thing to make clear, related to the main differences between positions:

  • The point guards are less heavy and shorter, they are the ones with more endurance and that tolerate fatigue better; and they jump more too.
  • Centres are the heaviest and tallest, capable of exercising more absolute force.
  • Finally, the small forwards are the most balanced players, an intermediate point between point guards and centres, who need to make the most of the advantages of each one. All-rounders!

Anthropometric Profile of the Basketball Player

Before starting, it’s important to highlight the standard body characteristics of a high performance player.

Because yes, there are ideal standards of height, weight, muscle mass, age… for high performance competitors in different sports. Some variables have more weight or more homogeneity than others, but the further you move away from them the more extraordinary it is that you reach that level.

Anthropometric characteristics

Table I. Anthropometric characteristics that determine performance between divisions. In red is the worst and in green the best. Adapted from Ferioli et al. (2018)

The table above shows the characteristics of average age, height in centimetres, body weight and percentage of body fat of the players of Serie A, A2, B and D of the Italian basketball league.

Performance anthropometries

Figure I. Anthropometric characteristics that determine the performance between 1st and 4th division. Age: the lower the better; Height: the higher the better; Weight: the higher the better; Fat: the lower the better. Adapted from Ferioli et al. (2018)

Right off the bat 😉 we can see there are several significant differences in height and body mass. Also in age, but that is inherent to the level of mastery you require to play in the top category.

The higher you are and the more lean mass you have, the better your performance in basketball. These are the physiological determinants of basketball.

Performance different positions

Table II. Anthropometric characteristics that determine the performance between positions. Red is the worst and green is the best. Adapted from Ferioli et al. (2018)

There are also differences between positions, with the most prominent being:

  • The points guards are 11cm shorter than the short forwards, and 17cm shorter than the pivots!
  • They’re also lighter, weighing 23kg less than centres.

And this is makes sense right? The point guards, for their style of play, need to be lighter players, while a centre needs to be taller.

Let’s not confuse the centre with the ‘5’, which has always been associated with being short, heavy and clunky. It doesn’t work like that in these divisions. A centre would blow your mind with his ball handling skills.

Base center nba differences

The solution?

Height is an independent variable: if you measure 1.90… you’re not going to be a competitive centre, unfortunately. Make sure to improve your ball handling! You position, in case of reach the high performance, it will be base.

Training and following a diet based on your height and aim to reach a body weight close to that of a high performance player. To do this you need to understand:

  • The importance of strength training
  • The necessity of eating right. Basketball players aren’t light. They’re strong and they need to eat. This doesn’t mean getting fat – the fat percentage of players normally ranges between 9 and 14%. Take care with your diet, make sure you eat enough protein and calories every day, but without going overboard.

Physiological Profile of the Basketball Player

Let’s now look at the physical capacity characteristics a player needs to have.

1. Aerobic capacity

The players were subjected to a Mognoni test, perhaps some readers will remember it, or not… It’s a test that is not carried out very much in Spain. Here we use the Coper test more, and surely you know that already, right? Those paying attention in the Physical Education classes 🙂

The Mognoni consists in running for 6 minutes on a treadmill at a constant speed of 13.5km/h.

Aerobic power table

Table III. Aerobic power profile that determines performance between divisions. Red is the worst and green is the best. Adapted from Ferioli et al. (2018)

The first row of values refers to the amount of lactate (mmol/L) accumulated, while the second row refers to the heart rate. Interpreting the data is simple if you know the physiological basis of cardiology, but explaining it is neither simple nor brief, so I will summarise it for you:

  • The heart of professional players is larger.Their cavities have more capacity, so needs to beat less times per minute to reach the same demands (also known as pumping more blood with each beat).
  • The aerobic threshold is higher in professional players; that’s to say, they are able to endure demands for longer without triggering oxygen consumption and therefore increasing energy needs (that’s to say, they are able to maintain more aerobic intensity with less fatigue).

Aerobic power

Figure II. Aerobic capacity profile determining the performance between 1st and 4th division. Lactate: the lower, the better; HR: the lower, the better. Adapted from Ferioli et al. (2018)

As you can see, the ability of a first division player vs a second division player is similar, so the differentiating factor is the skill. On the other hand, physical capacities can be more relevant to reach a high performance point. Once there, they don’t make a big difference as they all have very similar maximum values.

Aerobic power profile

Table IV. Aerobic capacity profile that determines performance between positions. In red is the worst and in green the best. Adapted from Ferioli et al. (2018)

Guess what? The point guards are better adapted cardiorespiratorily than the small forwards, and these in turn than the centres. Again, let’s not get confused, it’s also because the centres weigh 20kg more on average and their muscle tissue has a higher demand for oxygenated blood.

But whatever the case, the point guards are more adapted, and also require it, so they need more work on this capacity.

Max aerobic power

Figure III. Maximum aerobic capacity profile, measuring VO2max relative (Y axis) in BEST test, time (X axis). Extracted from Laltzel et al. (2018)

The maximum oxygen consumption of basketball players is 57.6ml/kg/min. Maximum oxygen consumption is the maximum amount of oxygen a body can use per kilogram per minute.

To give you an idea of how prepared they are physically: the average maximum oxygen consumption of a healthy and active junior hockey player is 54.4ml/kg/min (Latzel, 2017). This means that the average oxygen consumption of a basketball player is 5.88% higher than the average, which in relative terms is a big difference.

Not to mention that their heart stress tolerance is tremendously high. In a maximum test they reached a mean of 202 beats per minute, which in a trained subject is a high heart rate; and a tolerance to 9.1mmol/L lactate, a good adaptation.

Data showing that the physical preparation of a basketball player is hugely demanding. More physiological determinants in basketball.

Physical training basketball


Running, swimming, cycling… or continuous play systems, we need to improve our players’ ability to maintain moderate intensity physical exercise for a long time.

For example, a suitable system could be a classic intensive continuous training session.

30-60′ duration at 130-140 beats per minute

The coach may decide to take the players out for a run or do more lively sessions, with ball handling and role plays. It depends on what you want to complicate in the design, because the players will have a big change in motivation between both manifestations of the same system.

This type of training should be done in preseason.

2. Anaerobic capacity

Anaerobic capacity profile

Table V. Anaerobic capacity profile that determines the performance between divisions. Red is the worst and green the best. Adapted from Ferioli et al. (2018)

anaerobic capacity

Figure IV. Anaerobic capacity profile that determines the performance between 1st and 4th division. Lactate: the lower, the better; H+ the lower, better, HCO3: the higher, the better; FC the lower, the better. Adapted from Ferioli et al. (2018)

The results clearly show that professionals have a much greater ability to control the by-products of anaerobic glycolysis metabolism than players in the 3rd-4th division.

What does this mean?

When we increase the intensity of physical exercise, our body starts to need a lot of energy to be able to satisfy the muscular demands, and for this it activates high density and low capacity energy obtaining systems.

Such as extramitocrondrial glycolysis, which produces energy rapidly from the breakdown of glucose without the presence of oxygen.

Glycolysis process

Figure V. Graphic representation of the glycolysis process (obtaining energy from glucose) in the presence (- intensity) and absence (+ intensity) of oxygen.

This process produces lactate, which is reintegrated back into glucose in the chorionic cycle (we will go on to explain this later), and hydrogenions. The latter are cations that accumulate inside the muscle cells and reduce their pH through biochemical mechanisms that cannot be explained.

Until the muscle fibres lose the ability to contract; and if they don’t, don’t worry about stopping, because…

Do you know that burning sensation you experience when you go to make a defensive balance swinging? That’s the hydrogenions accumulating.

HCO3 concentrations are also lower in 4th division players. This substance is the main buffer in our body. That’s to say, it is the main substance in charge of removing the hydrogenions produced. Less HCO3 = Less resistance to fatigue.

That’s why the players of the 4th division held on 21.74% less than the players of 1st division in a test similar to the previous one.

And in the positions, what do you think? Correct

Anaerobic capacity performance positions

Table VI. Anaerobic capacity profile that determines performance between positions. In red is the worst and in green the best. Adapted from Ferioli et al. (2018)

The point guards have a higher capacity than the small forwards, and the small forwards have a higher capacity than the centres to tolerate anaerobic stresses.

The solution?

Developing this manifestation is complex, as no general recommendation can be given for everyone. And not all athletes will be able to demonstrate the same intensity either.

But even if you laugh at me… if you are players or coaches with a skilled team, in preseason, and after a general preparation to avoid injuries… doing WODs, CrossFit style, which are characterised by being especially hard (Murph, Chelsea, Frank…), are a very interesting option.

Why? Because of the activity profile and the motivation it arouses in the players.

3. Jump

Contrary to what it may seem, professional players do not jump more, but less than 4th division players. Why?

Countermotion jump test

Table VII. Jumping capacity and conditioning factors, which determine the performance between divisions. Red is the worst and green is the best. Adapted from Ferioli et al. (2018)

Basketball jumping capacity

Figure VI. Jumping capacity, and conditioning factors, which determine the performance between 1st and 4th division. hCMJ the higher, the better; PPO rel the higher, the better; PF the higher, the better; PPO Ab the higher, the better; PF Ab the higher, the better. Adapted from Ferioli et al. (2018)

Well it’s not very clear, but seeing that the peak power (PPO) and peak force (PF) is higher. We can infer that simply because they weigh more, they jump less; moreover, they are higher, so it’s possible that they do not require such powerful jumps to reach the balls.

Jump capacity

Table VIII. Jumping capacity and conditioning factors, which determine performance between positions. Red is the worst and green is the best. Adapted from Ferioli et al. (2018)

However, a CMJ (Counter-Movement Jump) of 50cm is outrageous. Think that the average jump height of an active teenager used to explosive training is 35.3 cm (Markovic et al., 2004). Still, they are professional basketball players, so developing their vertical jumping ability is a priority from the beginning of their sports career.

Jump nba basket

The solution?

  • General work: Development of lower body muscle strength (upward speed force curve).
  • Specific work: Development of strength in lower body movement patterns specific to basketball, such as non-rebounding plyometrics (rightmost strength speed curve). It will improve the physiological determinants in basketball.

Basketball power curve

Figure VII. Classic strength-speed curve (Y-axis – X-axis); blue curve shows an improvement of the base force; red curve shows an improvement of the power (ability to exert force at high speed).

  • Specialised work: Development of the reactive capacity of the tendon to resist impacts and to take advantage of the elastic energy accumulated in the stretch-shortening cycle.

Reactive capacity

Figure VIII. When we talk about “reactive capacity”, imagine that your tendons are a spring. The more capacity you have to contract and react, without inhibiting or breaking, the more power you will express in a jump.

Many other variables could be analysed, such as the percentage contribution of the energy systems (in depth), the distances covered in a match, the average heart rate of the matches, the time spent by the players standing, walking, running, jumping; the number of gestures, passes, throws, the decrease of any of these variables with the passing of the match, according to sex, level, position…

There are articles that analyse everything, and maybe one day I’ll talk more extensively about all this, but if I did so in this article it would never end. So we’ll leave it here and I’ll write something soon about how to develop the capabilities I mentioned in the article. How does that sound?

Train hard, eat healthily and rest!I’ll soon be back with more interesting content about basketball.

Bibliographic References:

Review of Physiological Determinants in Basketball

Physiological Profile - 100%

Anthropometric Profile - 100%

Aerobic power - 100%

Anaerobic capacity - 100%

Jump - 100%


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About Alfredo Valdés
Alfredo Valdés
He is a specialist in metabolic physiopathology training and in the biomolecular effects of food and physical exercise.
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