Basketball is a sport in which periods of high intensity activity (e.g., sprinting and jumping) are interspersed with periods of low intensity activity (12). McInnes et al. (12) found that the physiological load imposed on male basketball players during competition resulted in an average heart rate of 165 b·min−1 and that approximately 65% of total time (75% of in play time) the heart rate was greater than 85% of its maximum.
The movements that basketball players make during a game are complex and differ in terms of intensity, distance, and duration. For example, players may perform consecutive jumps, rapidly change movement direction, vary accelerations, use counterattacks (short sprints), and undertake very intense short defensive slides (4). To cope with these demands, basketball players use both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems (11,17). Hence typical basketball performance will include a single short (5–6seconds) sprint where adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is resynthesized predominantly from anaerobic sources (phosphocreatine [PCr] degradation and glycolysis) with a small (<10%) contribution from aerobic metabolism. During recovery, oxygen uptake (
) remains elevated to restore homeostasis through processes such as the replenishment of tissue oxygen stores, the resynthesis of PCr, the metabolism of lactate, and the removal of accumulated intracellular inorganic phosphate (Pi). If these recovery periods are relatively short,
remains elevated during subsequent sprints, and the aerobic contribution to ATP resynthesis increases (9,16).
Basketball players typically run between 6,000 and 7,500 m during the 40 minutes of game time (1,7,8). Abdelkrim et al. (1,3) found that high intensity activities accounted for 16.1 ± 1.4% of the game and lasted 1.8 ± 0.1 seconds on average. Similarly, movements of moderate intensity accounted for 28.1 ± 2.3% of playing time and lasted 2.1 ± 0.2 seconds on average. 25.8 ± 1.5% of time was spent in low-intensity activities lasting 1.9 ± 0.1 seconds and players “rested,” i.e., recovery periods of walking or standing, for about 30% of playing time. The same authors established that players' heart rates exceeded 95% of their maximum for 19.3 ± 3.5% of playing time and between 85 and 95% of maximum for 56.0 ± 6.3% of playing time.
Intermittent graded shuttle run performance and the associated physiological measurements taken during this test have been shown to relate well to performance variables in basketball (5,17). For example, shuttle run performance related well to mean sprint time during a game (5). Consequently, basketball training includes evaluating and developing the functional abilities typically measured and reported in these scientific studies. However, to the authors' knowledge, there has been no research investigating these functional abilities for female basketball players. There is also evidence that different basketball positions are associated with different morphological and physiological characteristics in men's basketball (2,13,15) although this has not been shown for women's basketball.
Experimental Approach to the Problem
The aim of this study was therefore to provide typical physiological parameters, measured while performing a shuttle run test, for elite (international level) women basketball players. A secondary aim was to assess whether differences in physiological profiles exist between playing positions on the assumption that each basketball position would have a specific energy requirement due to the uniqueness of the role.
Twenty-four elite women basketball players, playing for the senior national teams of Slovenia (n = 12) and Serbia (n = 12) participated in the study (mean ± SD: age 25.4 ± 3.4 years, body height 181.0 ± 8.8 cm, and body mass 73.5 ± 3.4 kg). The teams' coaches determined the playing positions of the players as 8 guards (mean ± SD: age 25.5 ± 3.1 years, body height 171.4 ± 6.2 cm, and body mass 63.1 ± 7.2 kg), 8 forwards (mean ± SD: age 25.0 ± 3.1 years, body height 181.3 ± 2.1 cm, and body mass 73.1 ± 3.8 kg), and 8 centers (mean ± SD: age 25.6 ± 4.2 years, body height 190.2 ± 3.4 cm, and body mass 84.3 ± 14.3 kg). None of the participants had been injured 6 months before the initial testing or during the training program. Nutritional supplements were not included in their diets and participants were not taking exogenous anabolic-androgenic steroids or other drugs that might have affected their physical performance. The study was approved by the Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Sport, University of Ljubljana according to the Helsinki Declaration. Participants were fully informed about the experiment and signed a consent form and were aware that they could withdraw from the study at any time.
Basic anthropometric parameters (stature and body mass) were measured within the study protocol. To prevent unnecessary fatigue accumulation, players and coaches were instructed to avoid intense exercise for a 24-hour period before each testing session. Immediately, before testing participants performed a standard 25-minute warm-up consisting of 10 minutes of light running, 10 minutes of dynamic stretching, and 5 × 30 m of running exercises. During testing, the air temperature ranged from 24 to 26° C. Testing always commenced at 10 AM and was completed by 1 PM.
After the 25-minute warm-up protocol, shuttle run performance was tested using the 30-15 intermittent fitness test, as previously described (6), in an indoor sports complex. Thus 30-second shuttle runs were interspersed with 15-second passive recovery periods where the velocity was set at 8 km·h−1 for the first 30-second run and increased by 0.5 km·h−1 for each successive stage (well-trained players could start the test at 10 or 12 km·h−1 to save time). Players were required to run back and forth between 2 lines set 40 m apart at a pace governed by prerecorded beeps. This allowed the players to adjust their running speed when they entered 3-m zones in the middle and at both ends of the track. During the 15-second recovery period, players walked toward the closest line (either the middle or 1end of the track) depending on where their previous run had stopped. This was the starting point for the next run stage. Players were instructed to complete as many stages as possible, and the test ended when a player could no longer maintain the required running speed or when they were unable to reach a 3-m zone in accordance to the audio signal on 3 consecutive occasions.
Physiological parameters were collected using a portable gas analyzer K4 b2 (COSMED Srl, Italy). This device is light in weight (about 0.8 kg), small and provided values for oxygen consumption (
), carbon dioxide production (
), and pulmonary ventilation (VE) breath by breath. The device also enabled to derivation of other variables, respiratory quotient (RQ) and oxygen pulse as the
vs. HR ratio. All physiological parameters (measured and calculated) were compared between playing positions at each running velocity during the test and at maximal values.
Arterialized blood samples (20 μL) were collected from the earlobe 1 minute after the completion of the last run stage and analyzed for blood lactate concentration using a Kodak Ektachrome analyzer (Kodak, USA). Heart rates were measured using Polar S-610 heart rate frequency meters (Polar Electro, Kempele, Finland). The data were recorded in 5-second intervals with the data processed using the original software program provided with the instrument. All measurements for each team were performed in 1 day and took place during the second half of the preparation period for the European Championships.
The Statistical Package for the Social Sciences SPSS (v18.0; SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA) was used for all statistical analysis. Descriptive statistics were calculated for all experimental data, and the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test used to test whether the data were normally distributed. Differences between playing positions were determinated using 1-way univariate analysis of variance and when significant differences found, a post hoc Tukey's test was used to determine which group means differed from each other. Statistical significance was set at p ≤ 0.05.
Kolmogorov-Smirnov tests found that the data were normally distributed. No significant differences (p > 0.05) were found for running speed, maximal heart frequency, and blood lactate concentrations between playing positions (Table 1). There were no significant differences between positions at any running velocity or at maximal running velocities for single subject for any of the physiologic parameters measured (Figures 1–7) (Table 2).
This study provided physiological parameters for 2 teams of elite female basketball players and found no between playing position (forwards, guards, and centers) differences. This is in contrast with previous basketball studies (2,13,15) that have found differences in physiological parameters in relation to playing positions for men. One explanation for the apparent gender difference is that the females in this study exhibited relatively small differences in height and weight between the different positions in comparison with those previously found for males. The morphological status (primarily body weight) influences the absolute values of
peak, VTpeak, and VEpeak and the trends for these values were in line with the average size for the playing position although no significant differences were found. However, the relative
values (to weight) are a much better indicator of physiological abilities in comparison with the absolute values (14).
It was hypothesized that the game demands in terms of work are different between the different playing positions, and this would result in physiological differences between the playing positions. For example, forwards and guards are thought to be more mobile than centers both in defense and attack (3), predicting that guards and forwards would have higher relative values of maximal oxygen than centers. Although the average values followed this logic, the nonsignificant statistical finding suggests both caution in the validity of the hypothesis in terms of women's basketball and questions the sensitivity of the statistical procedures to determine worthwhile differences in elite sport. The most plausible explanation, however, is that the sample in this study was not truly representative of the typical spread in physiological characteristics for the different playing positions.
Several studies (1,10) have suggested that anaerobic capacity and other functional abilities of basketball players such as vertical jump, speed, agility, and acceleration are better predictors of success compared with aerobic capacity. For example, Hoffman et al. (10) found that anaerobic power and endurance were better predictors of a player's capabilities in comparison with aerobic power. Lactate concentration 1-minute posttest and RQpeak during the test were measures used in this study to estimate the contribution of anaerobic processes to overall energy expenditure during last stages of the test and at maximal velocities. Again no significant differences were found between playing position because, it seems, that players within each position had different fitness levels. This is clearly of interest to the coaches who could decide to improve the fitness levels of underperforming players or use high fitness level players in different playing roles as a surprise tactical ploy.
To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to have measured the energetic contribution for elite female basketball players in relation to their playing position. Hence, little was known about their aerobic or anaerobic capacity and how these contribute to success in female basketball. Although it is a limitation of this study that anaerobic performance and other functional abilities (agility, jump ability, acceleration, explosivity, and others) were not measured, this study has been the first to attempt to understand the physiological characteristics of female basketball players using the Graded Shuttle Run Test. Clearly, it is not possible to be certain that there are no differences in the physiological parameters measured in this study between the different playing positions due to our relatively small sample size. However, these results provide values for physiological parameters between elite female basketball guards, forwards, and centers and are useful values for comparison purposes.
The elite female basketball players in this study exhibited a range of values for aerobic and anaerobic performance that did not perfectly align with their height and weight and was not indicative of position-specific profiles. This was thought to be a consequence of a relatively small sample but provides interesting information for coaches who could decide to focus on increasing the fitness levels of some players or even using very fit players in different roles as a tactical ploy. Other physiological parameters, e.g., anaerobic capacity, vertical jump, and peak sprint speed, may account for differences in basketball performance, particularly interpositional, and should be measured in future studies.
These findings on the functional abilities of elite female basketball players can be used for both basketball theory and practice and will facilitate the generation of model values, which can assist basketball coaches in their training methods.
This study was conducted within the framework of the research program “Kinesiology of Monostructural, Polystructural, and Conventional Sports” led by Dr. Milan Čoh. The authors would like to thank the Basketball Federations of Slovenia and Serbia for their cooperation and the basketball players and their coaches for participating in the study.
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