Many attempts have been made to characterize the physiological responses during participation in team sports and the physiological profile of team sport players. Although the literature is abundant on soccer (32) and rugby union (7), little is known about other team sports, such as basketball, although it is practiced by increasing numbers of people worldwide (25). Although basketball players need a good aerobic capacity to recover from intense actions, most authors agree that basketball relies predominantly on anaerobic metabolism (5,9,25). Indeed, a large number of jumps and high-intensity runs and relatively high average blood lactate values have been reported in men and women players during competition (between 5.7 and 6.8 mmol/L−1) (24,28).
Recent studies have shown that the metabolic load experienced during a basketball game varies according to playing position (28). In particular, significantly higher blood lactate levels and average heart rate (HR) values have been recorded in guards compared with forwards and centers in women players of national and international levels (28). This observation suggests that players' physiological characteristics differ according to their role on the court, and therefore specific development of the qualities needed by each playing position should be encouraged by coaches. Although this is partly achieved in simulated game situations experienced by players during practice sessions, current physical fitness training programs followed by college and professional players do not discriminate among guards, forward, and centers (19). The inclusion of individualized physical fitness sessions would specifically develop the skills required by each playing position and improve players' physical performance during competition. This could decrease the number of turnovers or wrong choices resulting from fatigue at the end of a game and could positively affect the game outcome.
The development of such training sessions requires a precise knowledge of the physiological qualities associated with each playing position. In this context, few studies have addressed this question in women basketball players. Their main results did not show any significant effect of playing position on lower- and upper-body strength assessed by the peak torques of the knee extensors and chest pass performance, respectively (11,30). In contrast, anaerobic power measured by the 30-second Wingate anaerobic test (WAnT) shows that guards attained the highest relative peak and mean powers, followed by forwards and centers, all these differences being significant (p < 0.05) (18). Explosive power of the lower limb estimated from vertical jump performances shows contrasting results between studies. Some authors did not find any difference in vertical jump height between positions (1,11,27), whereas others reported significantly better performances in guards and forwards compared with centers (20,30,31). However, when explosive power was calculated from jump height, centers reached significantly better performances compared to guards (27). The effects of playing position on speed depend on the distance considered, with guards being faster than forwards and centers in the suicide run (11) and guards being faster than centers in the line drill test (30). In contrast, no significant difference across playing positions has been found for the 20-m sprint, but only 1 study has considered that distance (11). Agility performance was significantly better in guards compared with forwards and centers in a study on female players (11), but no significant difference between playing position was observed in male players (20,31). These contradictory results or lack of studies highlight the need for further investigations in this area. In addition, all the aforementioned studies have been undertaken before the changes in the rules of the game introduced by FIBA (International Basketball Federation) in 2000, including a decreased attack time from 30 to 24 seconds and less time to cross the halfway line (from 10 to 8 seconds). Ben Abdelkrim et al. (3) showed in a recent study that the new rules have had different consequences for each playing position, the main modification being a higher game intensity experienced by guards. These recent changes must also been taken into account when studying the physiological fitness of each playing position.
Therefore, the aim of the present study was to investigate the effects of playing position on strength, power, speed, and agility performances of women basketball players competing under the new rules of the game. It was hypothesized that (a) upper- and lower-body strength would be similar across playing positions; (b) anaerobic power measured by the WAnT would be greater in guards, followed by forwards and then centers, but centers would reach a higher explosive power assessed by vertical jump height, compared to guards; and (c) speed performances would be similar across positions for 20 m, but guards would be faster than forwards and centers in the suicide run and agility test.
Experimental Approach to the Problem
The experimental protocol of this study was elaborated to investigate the effect of playing position on strength, power, speed, and agility. These qualities are believed to be major determinants of anaerobic fitness in basketball and have been widely studied in the literature (5,11,13,18,20,30). A wide range of tests has been administered to produce a detailed analysis of the players' physiological profile; they were selected for their relevance to the efforts experienced in basketball and their use in scientific studies on basketball players. Therefore, upper-body strength was assessed by the basketball chest pass; lower-body strength by the torques of knee extensors developed on an isokinetic dynamometer; anaerobic power by the 30-second WAnT; explosive power by the vertical jump power; speed by the 20-m sprint and suicide run; and agility by the agility T-test. The significant differences among the 3 groups of players will allow identification of the qualities that are required for specific playing positions in modern basketball and that should be developed in individualized conditioning programs.
Thirty women basketball players from 4 top-ranking teams of the English National League Division II volunteered to participate in this study. All the players have competed at a national level within the last 3 years either in England or in other European countries. Testing took place in November during the first phase of the championship. At the time of the experiment, players were involved in three 120-min basketball practice sessions and 1 game per week. They were equally divided into 3 groups according to playing position. The criteria used were similar to those from previous studies (1,18,20,31). Guards referred to playing positions 1 and 2 (point guard and shooting guard), forwards included playing positions 3 and 4 (shooting forward and power forward), and centers consisted of those playing position 5 only (center). All the subjects were informed in detail of the experimental procedures and volunteered to take part in this study after signing a written consent. Moreover, this study was approved by the local Ethics Committee (University Research Ethics Committee, London Metropolitan University, England, United Kingdom).
Each subject completed 8 different tests performed on 3 separate occasions. The period between the first and the last test did not exceed 2 weeks so as to avoid any change in the physical fitness of the subjects during the testing period. The tests included the 30-second WAnT, isokinetic testing of the knee extensors, 2 types of jump tests, a 20-m sprint, the agility T-test, a suicide run, and a basketball chest pass. The 3 testing sessions were presented in a random order.
The first session was dedicated to anthropometric measurements of the subjects and the 30-second WAnT test. This test was chosen because its validity and reliability have been well established (2). In addition, it has been widely administered in scientific studies on many sports, in particular basketball (12,13,18). On arrival to the laboratory, the subjects' height (cm), body mass (kg), and body fat content (%) were measured. Body fat content was assessed by bioelectrical impedance using the Tanita BC 418 MA Segmental Body Composition Analyzer (Tanita Corporation, Tokyo, Japan). The 30-second WAnT was then conducted on a cycle ergometer (Monarch 864, Sweden). After a 5-minute standardized warm-up on the cycle ergometer, the subjects were asked to pedal for 30 seconds at maximal speed against a constant load equivalent to 0.075 kg per kg of body mass (15). Subjects were not allowed to stand up during the test and were encouraged to produce a maximal effort throughout the test duration. The following variables were calculated: The peak power (determined as the highest value generated in 1 second), mean power (determined as the average power during the 30 seconds of testing), and a fatigue index (calculated as the lowest power generated in 1 second divided by the peak power).
During the second experimental session, also taking place in the laboratory, an isokinetic dynamometer (Cybex Norm, Phoenix Healthcare, Nottingham, United Kingdom) was used to determine the peak torque of the knee extensors on the subjects' dominant limb. Isokinetic testing has been widely used in the past few years to assess anaerobic power of team sport players (7,32), including basketball (8,30,34). It shows a good validity, as evidenced by significant correlations with field performances and its ability to discriminate between different performance levels (36). In addition, the peak torque measurement by a similar device has shown good test-retest reliability (from 0.82 to 0.91) (21). The dominant limb was defined as the leg that the player would use to kick a ball, as it has been determined in previous studies (34). The subjects were positioned on the chair with the knee and hip joints at a 90-degree angle, while their thighs and trunk were secured by straps. Before starting the test, subjects were allowed as many practice trials as they needed. Then, peak torque (Nm) during leg extension was measured at 2 velocities: 60 degrees/s−1 and 180 degrees/s−1. Three to 5 maximal trials were allowed for each velocity and the best was recorded. The 2 velocities were presented in a random order and a 2-minute recovery was allowed between the tests.
The third session was performed in the sports hall during a practice session. It consisted of 5 field tests presented in a random order. The tests are described as follows.
Jump tests are widely used by basketball coaches because they are easy to set and simple to interpret (25). In addition, a study of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I male basketball players has shown that the strongest correlation between playing time and performances in several field tests of anaerobic fitness was observed for jump height (r = −0.68, p < 0.05) (14). In the present study, 2 types of jumps were conducted: The vertical jump (VJ) and the single-leg jump (SLJ). The VJ is the most common jump test reported in scientific studies on basketball, and it was previously used in the comparison of anaerobic fitness according to playing position (11,18). In contrast, the SLJ rarely has been used in basketball, but its relevance for fitness testing could be justified by the similar movement coordination involved in this jump and in the lay-up shot. The subjects started the VJ in a standing position with both feet together. From this stationary position, they were asked to take 1 step backward with 1 foot and then to bring both feet together before jumping as high as possible. The jumping height (cm) measured in this test was then converted to power (kg/s−1) using the Lewis nomogram (9). The SLJ involved a 3-stride run-up, after which the subjects took off from their preferred leg. Arm swing was allowed for these 2 tests. The jumps were conducted on a rubber-coated contact mat connected to a digital timer (Ergojump, Globus Inc, Treviso, Italy). The flight time was used to calculate the change in the height of the body's center of gravity (4). The subjects performed 3 attempts for each type of jump separated by at least 30 seconds of recovery, and the best was recorded. Both jump tests are characterized by a very good test-retest reliability (coefficients of variation of 3.0% and 3.93%, respectively, for VJ and SLJ) (22,37).
A 20-m sprint, starting in a stationary position, was performed on the basketball court and time was recorded by photocells (Wireless speedtrap2, Brower timing systems, Draper, Utah, United States) placed at the start and finish line. Subjects were allowed 3 trials, and the best performance was recorded. This distance has been chosen because it is slightly shorter than the length of a basketball court and to allow comparison with the only study done on the effects of playing position in female players. The 20-m sprint test has demonstrated high levels of reliability in physically active men (correlation coefficient of 0.91 between test and retest) and does not need any practice session beforehand (26). Performance of this test was also significantly correlated to playing time in NCAA Division I male basketball players (r = −0.62) (14).
Widely used by coaches and scientists (10,16), the agility T-test is an appropriate agility test for basketball because it uses most of the basic movements performed during a game. Indeed, the subjects were asked to sprint from a standing point in a straight line to a cone placed 9 m away. Then they had to side shuffle to their left without crossing their feet to another cone placed 4.5 m away. After touching this cone, they side shuffled to their right to a third cone placed 9 m away, side shuffled back to the middle cone, and ran backward to where they had started (29). The fastest of 3 attempts was recorded.
The suicide run is a test commonly used in basketball to assess the anaerobic capacity of the players (12,25). Anaerobic capacity reflects the efficiency of the glycolytic system and refers to efforts between 30 and 90 seconds, in contrast to anaerobic power, which is assessed in tests of a few seconds duration only (jumps, sprints, peak torque, etc.). The subjects were asked to run continuously for 143.3 m at maximum speed with several changes of direction. They started from a standing position behind the baseline and ran at maximal speed to 4 different lines: The near free-throw line (5.8 m), the half-court line (14 m), far free-throw line (22.2 m), and far baseline (28 m). As they arrived at each line, they sprinted back to the original baseline (6). Two players performed the test at the same time to encourage them to go as fast as possible and avoid any pacing strategy.
Basketball Chest Pass
The basketball chest pass test was chosen because it is the most convenient way for coaches to assess the players' upper-body strength during practice sessions. In addition, it has been used in a recent study comparing different playing positions in women basketball players (11). The subjects were seated with their head, back, and buttocks against a wall. Their legs were resting straight horizontally on the floor in front of their body. They were asked to push the ball or medicine ball in the horizontal direction as far as possible using a 2-handed chest pass. Several trials were allowed so the players could become familiar with the gesture; then the best of 3 attempts was recorded.
The mean and standard deviation values for each test were calculated for the whole group and each subgroup (guards, forwards, and centers). A test for homogeneity of variance was applied to the data for each group for all comparisons and revealed no significant difference. Therefore, a 1-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted to test for mean differences in the anaerobic performances by playing position. If significant mean differences were found, Scheffe post hoc analyses were used to determine the playing positions that differ significantly.
For all the tests involving several trials (20-m sprint, jumps, agility T-test, and chest pass), test-retest reliability was assessed using intraclass correlation coefficients (ICC). For all the statistical analyses, the level of significance was set at p < 0.05.
For all the tests involving several trials, statistical analyses showed ICCs higher than 0.90 (0.94 for 20-m sprint, 0.96 for agility T-test, 0.95 for VJ and SLJ, and 0.92 for chest pass), indicating a good reliability.
Table 1 shows the physical characteristics and performances in the field tests of the subjects. As expected, centers were significantly taller and heavier than forwards and guards, and forwards were significantly taller than guards (p < 0.05). No significant effect of playing position was observed on the subjects' age and body fat percentage, although centers had higher body fat levels compared with guards and forwards (p > 0.05). A significant effect of playing position is reported in Table 1 on the performances in several but not all the field tests. Indeed, although no significant difference was observed in VJ among the 3 groups, guards achieved a significantly greater jump height in the SLJ compared with forwards (+15.2%) and centers (+21.8%, p < 0.05). In addition, when jumping height was converted to power in VJ, significantly better performances were observed in centers compared to guards (Table 1, p < 0.05). Results also showed that guards were significantly faster than centers in the agility T-test (+6.4%) and the suicide run (+7.5%); in addition, a significant difference was shown between guards and forwards in the time to complete the suicide run, guards being faster by 7.1% (p < 0.05). In contrast with these results, no significant effect of playing position was observed on the 20-m sprint performance or the basketball chest pass (Table 1, p > 0.05).
The performances achieved by the 3 groups of players in the 30-second WAnT are summarized in Figure 1. No significant difference between playing positions was reported on the peak power and mean power expressed in absolute values (peak power values of 558.3 ± 100.5, 572.5 ± 79.9, and 625.4 ± 107.7 W and mean power values of 445.3 ± 71.3, 436.8 ± 57.3, and 482.5 ± 101.6 W for guards, forwards, and centers, respectively, p > 0.05). However, guards were characterized by significantly higher peak power and mean power expressed relative to body weight compared to centers (peak power values of 9.5 ± 0.6 vs. 8.4 ± 0.3 W/kg−1 and mean power values of 7.6 ± 0.6 vs. 6.5 ± 0.6 W/kg−1 for guards and centers, respectively, p < 0.05). The fatigue index calculated from this test was fairly similar among playing positions (values of 63.0%, 53,4%, and 56.9% for guards, forwards, and centers, respectively, p > 0.05).
Statistical analyses showed a significant effect of playing position on the peak torques of the knee extensors as measured by the isokinetic dynamometer. As shown in Figure 2, relative peak torques of the knee extensors were significantly higher for forwards compared to centers in both of the angular velocities tested (166.0 ± 20.8%BW [% body weight] vs. 135.9 ± 29.6%BW at 60 degrees/s−1 and 154.0 ± 14.3%BW vs. 126.1 ± 12.6%BW at 180 degrees/s−1, respectively for forwards and centers, p < 0.05). A significant difference was also reported between guards and centers at 60 degrees/s−1 (162.4 ± 22.1%BW vs. 135.9 ± 29.6%BW, respectively, for guards and centers, p < 0.05). It is interesting to note that when expressed in absolute values, no significant effect of playing position was observed on this variable (peak torques values of 100.9 ± 9.2, 109.6 ± 12.0, and 103.3 ± 16.9 Nm, respectively, for guards, forwards, and centers at 60 degrees/s−1 and 88.7 ± 8.8, 98.1 ± 15.9, and 95.0 ± 9.5 Nm, respectively, for guards, forwards, and centers at 180 degrees/s−1, p > 0.05).
The main results of this study indicated a significant effect of playing position on the anaerobic fitness of women basketball players. The differences were mostly observed between guards and centers, with guards overall jumping higher and developing higher relative strength and power of the lower limb than centers (p < 0.05). These observations could allow coaches and athletes to discriminate which skills are specific to each playing position and should be practiced individually during physical fitness sessions.
Several studies have described the anthropometric characteristics of women basketball players (1,11,18,30) and the results of this study agree with previous findings. Indeed, centers were significantly taller and heavier than forwards, who were significantly taller than guards, as it has been previously found (1,11,30). The centers of this study were characterized by higher body fat compared to the other playing positions, even if the difference was not significant (p = 0.08). Higher body fat levels for centers compared to guards have been observed in previous studies (18,20,27), and Ostojic et al. (27) suggested that it might be related to the skills required for these different positions. Indeed, more body fat could be advantageous for centers, who experience a lot of physical contacts, whereas a lighter frame could help the guards to carry the ball and move faster and with more agility (27).
The results of the present study show some differences in the anaerobic fitness of the players according to their role on the court. Data obtained during the WAnT showed significantly higher relative peak and mean powers in guards compared to centers (differences of 13% and 16.9% for peak and mean power, respectively). Therefore, our first hypothesis was partly accepted. Significant differences among the 3 playing positions have been found in Division 1-A women basketball players in the United States (peak power values of 10.18, 9.44, and 8.29 W/kg−1, respectively, for guards, forwards, and centers; mean power values of 7.71, 7.05, and 6.29 W/kg−1, respectively, for guards, forwards, and centers) (18). The performances obtained in the present study are similar to the results of LaMonte et al. (18). These authors suggested that the differences in the relative power produced by guards, forwards, and centers could be explained by metabolic, neurological, or biomechanical adaptations related to the requirement of these playing positions (18). In favor of this hypothesis, data from several game analyses in men and women players of national and international level revealed a significantly greater number of high-intensity activities (sprints, jumps) in guards and forwards compared with centers and significantly higher blood lactate levels in guards compared to centers (3,28). However, it has also been argued that the load limitations imposed by the Wingate test could prevent taller and heavier subjects from expressing their real peak power (23). In this context the relevance of the WAnT test for basketball has already been questioned (major differences in locomotion modes and contraction patterns between cycling and basketball) (33), and further research needs to be done to strengthen these results.
A laboratory test commonly used to assess lower-body strength of basketball players is the isokinetic testing of the knee extensors. Although no significant difference across playing positions was shown in the absolute peak torque developed by the knee extensors, results show that forwards achieved significantly better performances expressed relative to body weight than centers at 60 degrees/s−1 (+22.2%) and 180 degrees/s−1 (+22.1%), and guards developed a significantly higher relative peak torque than centers at 60 degrees/s−1 only (19.5%). Therefore the first part of our second hypothesis was rejected. Comparable testing has been undertaken in only 1 other study and the authors did not find any significant effect of playing position on the maximal torque of the knee extensors and knee flexors exerted at 60 and 120 degrees/s−1, whether expressed in absolute or relative units (30). However, Latin et al. (20) reported a significantly greater anaerobic power in forwards compared to centers, as measured by the 1-repetition maximum (1-RM) performance for the squat test, which is similar to our results. These authors suggested that the highest power of forwards relies on the types of movement undertaken on the court. In favor of this hypothesis, Trninic and Dizdar (35) performed an evaluation of the specific actions needed by each playing position and revealed that the main actions required by the forward position-dribble penetration, offense without the ball, and efficiency of screening-were highly dependent on anaerobic power.
The tests described so far were laboratory-based assessments and included nonweight-bearing activities. The relevance of this type of assessment could be questioned because the movements performed in these tests are somewhat restricted compared to the actions common in basketball. It is therefore important to include tests performed in the field because they involve movements similar to the ones experienced by players in competition.
The most common field tests used by coaches and scientists to describe the anaerobic fitness of basketball players are jump tests. In the present study, no significant difference among guards, forwards, and centers was observed in VJ performance (p > 0.05). Contrasting results have been observed in the literature on the effect of playing position on jump performance. Smith and Thomas (30) found a significant difference between point guards and power forwards in the VJ, whereas Bale (1) and Hoare (11) reported no significant difference in jumping height across playing positions. The present study is therefore in accordance with these latter investigations. An argument in favor of similar jumping abilities between guards and centers is the need to jump in each position, as was highlighted by Hoare (11). In their evaluation of the specific actions needed by each playing position, Trninic and Dizdar (35) also suggested the importance of jumping ability in all the positions, specifically outside jump shots in guards and small forwards and inside jump shots and rebounding in power forwards and centers. When jumping height was converted to power, significant differences were reported between playing positions, with the centers characterized by a significantly better performance compared to guards. This is in accordance with the last part of our second hypothesis. The highest power output in centers during the VJ has previously been reported in male basketball players (20,27) and is linked to their large body mass.
Of note, our results show a significant effect of playing position on jump height when the take-off was made on one foot, with the guards jumping higher than forwards (+15.2%) and centers (+21.8%, p < 0.05, Table 1). This result could be explained partly by the specific movements executed by the different types of players. Indeed, during a basketball game, guards are more likely to jump on 1 foot because they perform more lay-ups than the centers. In contrast, the forwards and centers may not achieve a good performance on this jump, not because of a lack of power in the lower limb, but because of a lack of coordination. This result suggests that SLJ might be chosen in the players' selection process or physical conditioning sessions principally in guards because it reproduces the movements that they perform during games. In contrast, jumps with take-off on 2 feet should be preferred to test forwards and centers. Alternatively, SLJ could be used in all playing positions to improve players' coordination.
Results of the present study showed that guards ran faster in the 20-m sprint compared with forwards and centers, although these differences were not significant (p > 0.05, Table 1). The first part of our third hypothesis was therefore accepted. Only 1 study investigated the effect of playing position on sprint performance in women basketball players and found a significant difference in 20-m sprint time between guards and forwards only (11). In addition, no significant difference between playing position was reported in the same study in male players (11). These authors suggested that despite their size and weight, centers are as fast as smaller players. The lack of significant effect of playing position on sprint performance in the present study could also be explained by the fact that the distance chosen was too long. Indeed, video analyses of competitions have shown that the high-intensity runs performed by players of national level lasted on average 1.7 seconds, which roughly corresponds to distances of 10-m or shorter (24). As a consequence, sprint tests over shorter distances might be more appropriate to administer in practice sessions.
Differences in sprint times between playing positions seem to be more consistent for longer distances. These distances reflect more anaerobic capacity than anaerobic power. In the present study, guards ran significantly faster than forwards (+7.1%) and centers (+7.5%) during the suicide run, in accordance with the last part of our third hypothesis. Previous studies also reported significant differences in suicide run time between guards and power forwards in women players (difference of 4.5%) (11) and guards and centers in male players (difference of 4.2%) (11). These findings support the hypothesis of greater anaerobic capacity of guards compared to centers and suggest that the suicide run should be used specifically for guards in physical conditioning sessions and less frequently for the 2 other playing positions that do not rely on this type of physiological stress to the same degree.
The specificity of speed testing in basketball should also take into account the fact that during a game, sprints are not only performed forward, but also backward and during side shuffle movements. Results of the present study showed that guards were significantly faster than centers in the agility T-test (difference of 6.9%). Therefore the last part of our third hypothesis was partly accepted. Previous investigations also reported a better agility in guards compared to centers in women (difference of 7.3%) (11) and men (differences from 6.2% to 7.2%). A better agility in guards than centers was expected because of positional requirements. Indeed, guards are shorter and are the major carriers of the ball during the game (11). A high level of defensive pressure is also required in this position and guards usually perform side shuffles over longer distances than centers (35). Therefore, agility is a key determinant of physical fitness for guards and must be implemented in selection programs and practice sessions for this particular playing position.
The assessment of the strength of the upper limb of our women basketball players did not show any significant difference among the 3 playing positions. Similar results have been observed previously for the basketball chest pass in women (11) and for the 1-RM bench press in men (20). These results suggest that guards and centers have similar upper-body strength, which may be unexpected because some authors have suggested that some playing positions, such as power forward or center, would require higher upper-body strength (25). Further studies involving similar tests need to be performed to clarify these characteristics.
This study provides evidence for the benefits of physical fitness training by playing position. It shows that guards should focus on strength development of the lower limb, anaerobic capacity (i.e., sprint of 30-90 seconds duration), single-leg jump, and the different movements involved in the agility T-test. Strength and power training of the lower limb should be predominantly developed in forwards and explosive power in centers. In contrast, speed over short distances and strength development of lower body and upper body during nonweight-bearing activities could be performed simultaneously by all playing positions because no difference was reported among guards, forwards, and centers in the absolute power reached on the WAnT or the peak torques produced in isokinetic strength tests.
The authors gratefully acknowledge all the players for their participation in this study and Nicholas Kamilieris for his cooperation during the training sessions.
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