By Sherwin Vasallo

Before I begin this article, I would like all of you to dissect and
note the similarities between the sport of basketball and marathon
running.  Did you find any similarities?  Aside from the fact that each
sport entails ‘running’, there are no similarities between the two
sports.  However, time and time again, I have noticed coaches, strength
coaches, personal trainers and self motivated athletes train for
basketball the exact same way a marathoner would train for their
respective sport!  I’ll be honest with you – it bothers me like you
wouldn’t believe!

Many basketball players and coaches believe that in order to get in shape for basketball, you have to run for miles everyday (except on Sundays).  Moreover, there are no parameters given to these athletes – target heart rate, speed, etc.  So, who knows what kind of intensity the athletes are running at – they just need to get their miles in everyday.Here’s a simple question... Would you practice your jump shot by doing slap shots to the five hole?  Didn’t think so!  So, why would you or anyone run long distance (at a slow, steady pace) to get better at basketball?  Yet, young basketball players continue to be lead down this beaten down road.

Human Physiology

We will look at fibre types within the muscular system.  The muscular system is comprised of 3 types of muscle fibres – fast twitch type II A (Fast oxidative), fast twitch type II B (fast glycolytic), and slow twitch type I (slow oxidative).

The slow twitch fibres are very fatigue resistant.  They generate energy for ATP re-synthesis by means of a long-term system of energy transfer.  They have a low level of ATPase, a slower speed of contraction with less developed glycolytic capacity.  These fibres are needed for activities such as long distance running.

The fast twitch type II A fibres are, as well, fatigue resistant but, not as much as slow twitch fibres.  They have a high capacity for generating ATP via oxidation and can split ATP at a very rapid rate hence, high contraction velocity.  These fibres are needed for sports such as middle distance running. 

Finally, fast twitch type II B fibres are easily fatigued and can split ATP very quickly.  They contain a very high amount of glycogen.  This fibre type is used for short bursts of energy – i.e. Sprinting.

Interestingly, the fast twitch type II A fibres can be converted into slow twitch fibres if the body is trained for slow and steady activities, such as long distance running.  The brilliance of the human body creates an efficient energy system.  If you train your body to become fatigue resistant and slow – your body will make the necessary changes.  Conversely, if you train your body to be more explosive, fast, your body will convert the type II A fibres to type II B.  Once type II A fibres are converted into type I fibres, it can become very difficult for the body to convert those fibres to type II B.  Bottom-line: Don’t train slowly or you will be slow!

You’re probably asking yourself, ‘How then, am I supposed to train my cardiovascular system so that I can run forever on the court?’  Real easy – interval training!  I know all of you have heard about interval training before so, this is not something that I have created or even re-invented.  This is the best method of training the CV system, specific to basketball (energy system, directionality, etc.).  Furthermore, basketball has many gears – 1 – 5 and full stops.  Never will you be running at a steady pace in a straight line for a ‘long’ period of time. 

Interval training can be a fun as well.  Let your creative mind run free when designing your conditioning drills for yourself or your athletes.  You can have your athlete move laterally, linearly or perform a basketball skill, etc.  Just be sure to change the pace/speed, direction (if the area or facility allows for that type of training), or tweak the rest interval.  Make it unpredictable – just like basketball!

I know a lot of you coaches, strength coaches, or athletes reading this article are thinking about how to build up our aerobic base; because without a sound aerobic base we cannot enhance our work capacity!  Do not get me wrong about long distance running, I absolutely believe in building an effective and sound aerobic base.  My only problem is, don’t over do it!  I’ve seen too many CV programs that have long distance running as the primary exercise for conditioning, running up to 6 days a week!  If you are currently on a plan like this – enjoy a year of not being able to beat people to the hoop or playing stifling defence.  Well, on the bright side, you will be able to run at a slow and consistent pace for a longer period of time. 

So, now that I have made you believers in interval training and non-believers in long distance running, I will give you a sample CV basketball program that we will run with our athletes during the off season.

  • 1-2x/week aerobic training; pace 6 min mile for faster athletes, 7 min mile for our slower athletes, no more than 3-4 miles.  We typically give 1x/week but if you athlete needs the extra work, 2 sessions per week may be warranted.

  • 2-3x/week interval training; rest work ratio of 2-3:1, we will usually employ fast running for 10 seconds and full rest (walking) for 20-30 sec.  We will start with 10 sprints and will build up to 20+ reps.  Your post players may not reach this level whereas your perimeter players may exceed this.  Follow this plan for up to 6-8 weeks

So, go ahead and enjoy your new found speed and conditioning.  I don’t think anyone will be keeping up to you. 

Sherwin Vasallo is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Certified Athletic Therapist and a Certified Russian Kettlebell Instructor.  He is the owner and head Strength Coach for Acceleration Performance.  Sherwin is also the head Strength Coach for the University of Winnipeg Wesmen athletic program. He has worked with many clients ranging for the NFL,CFL, Canadian National Basketball team, Professional basketball, University and potential Olympians. For more information on Acceleration Performance please visit

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