A Testing Battery for the Assessment of Fitness in Basketball Athletes

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Introduction

Strength and conditioning professionals strive to make accurate measurements; these measurements are an important aspect of testing (1). Testing deals with a detailed examination of the characteristics and properties of an athlete and is considered as an essential component of fitness testing before an athlete enters into a strength and conditioning program/season (2, 3). Testing allows for the monitoring of players throughout a season or program that enables both coaches and sports scientists the ability to objectively assess an athlete’s training status, physical strengths and performance capabilities (3). For coaches, utilising the objective data that is captured by strength and conditioning professionals brings greater information, allowing the coach to develop an athlete’s competitive skills and physiological characteristics to accomplish key goals.

Re-administration of the same test battery should be conducted throughout training phases to assess progress and make program alterations where needed. Re-testing athletes not only allows for greater assessment of how an athlete is performing, but also allows for the programme to be monitored with the programme’s efficacy being a guide for strength and conditioning officials to adjust for a more efficient and economical gaol achievement (4, 5). Throughout  the in-season phase, testing should be conducted a minimum of 2 days outside of competition to prevent fatigue affecting either the result of the testing or the performance in competition of the athlete/s (5, 6).

This article strives to provide strength and conditioning professionals with evidence-based information to effectively implement a testing battery specifically for the sport of basketball in both field and lab based tasks. Recommended tests and sequencing of such a programme will be outlined for implementation.

Aerobic

Basketball games last up to 48 minutes in length with increased time in tied game situations. During this time period it has been found that players travel up to 5 kilometres during a game (7, 8). This distance however does not reflect the length of efforts and intensity of activity bouts by athletes. Research has shown that during games approximately 34% of time spent is playing, with players walking approximately 57% of game time and standing stationary for 9% (8). Due to these physiological requirements basketball requires both the anaerobic and aerobic metabolic systems.

Several field tests for aerobic capacity have been developed that require subjects to either cover a maximal distance in a set time or a set distance in the fastest time possible. These tests are maximal from the beginning and require a high degree of motivation and knowledge of pacing to achieve a reliable result (3). Due to the significance of pacing skills, relying on athletes to utilise this ability is unreliable and can create unwarranted results depending on an athlete’s familiarisation on pacing.
However, beep tests have been created that remove the need for athletes to self-pace. These tests consist of a 20 m shuttle run with an intermittent recovery period between runs. There are two variations of the intermittent recovery shuttle run test; the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery (YYIR) or the Yo-Yo Intermittent Endurance (YYIE), these tasks vary based on the recovery period, with the YYIR allows 10 seconds of recovery whilst the YYIE allows for a 5 second period between shuttle runs (9, 10).
The Yo-Yo tests are designed to assess an athlete’s capacity to exercise intensely and intermittently over a long period of time. These tests stress the phosphagen and glycolytic energy systems (9, 10), which in terms of the time, length and combination of different movements (running, walking, and standing) provides an appropriate representation of a basketball match.

Anaerobic

Basketball is considered an intermittent high-intensity sport that requires mainly anaerobic metabolism (11). Research has shown that the anaerobic contribution in basketball has mainly stemmed from the transition from offense and defence as well as technical movements (i.e. jumping, shooting, passing) (11, 12).
The running anaerobic sprint test (RAST) is a protocol used in basketball and field sports to evaluate the anaerobic power and the fatigue index.  

The RAST test requires athletes to undertake 6 repetitions of a 35 m sprint with a recovery period of 10 seconds between efforts. The athletes are required to complete the 35 m at maximum pace, with strength and conditioning officials determining velocity ((m/s) Distance/Time), acceleration ((m/s2) Velocity/Time), force ((Kg*m*-2) Weight*Acceleration) and power ((Watts) Force*Speed) from each sprint repetition (12).

Previous research has shown that RAST tests completed on elite basketball athletes has determined that anaerobic performance was greater when compared with other studies with intermediate teams or physically active subjects (13). This finding also works in conjunction with players from elite teams show to have an average value of aerobic capacity (14). These findings may be due to teams with many elite athletes will be able to utilise substitutions more frequently and allow for greater recovery and fewer long periods on court, comparted to teams with a lower number of elite athletes, resulting in more time on court and less frequent substitutions.

Agility

Agility has previously been defined as the ability to change direction rapidly, without losing balance, using a combination of strength, power, and neuromuscular coordination (15). This definition has been argued due to the term ‘agility’ being applied to a broad range of sport contexts and from the understanding of what trainable components may enhance agility (16). Authors have proposed a new definition that describes agility as a rapid whole-body movement with change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus (16).
The influence of a stimulus on an athlete’s movement and movement responses incorporate sports specific scenarios. Rarely in sports does an athlete move their body without the influence of the environment or circumstance they are encountering. Sports such as rugby, football, soccer, reactive-agility mostly consists of non-stop running scenarios (i.e. zig-zag running), whereas in other sports (i.e. tennis, handball, basketball) athletes often perform stop-and-go reactive-agility patterns (17).
Research has found that during a game, a basketball player will have 1,000 changes of movement patterns, with those changes occurring on average every 2 seconds (18). Efforts of basketball players generally last for very small periods of play, ranging from 2 second activities to up to 20 seconds (18).
The agility task proposed for testing is that of the Lane Agility Test (LAT) (outlined in Figure 1), a fitness test that is conducted by the National Basketball Association in the draft combine that is a test of speed, body control and the ability to change direction (19).
It must be stated that the LAT agility test is known as a pre-planned agility test or change of direction speed test (CODS), that is the athlete, knows where they are going and what they are doing in regards to body direction changes. However, in most sports, majority team sports, a change in direction is generally produced in response to a stimulus, such as another player’s actions (opponent and teammate), because of this, agility is also influenced by a player’s perceptual and decision making skills (12).
Research has established that this specific basketball agility test has both a strong intra-session reliability and inter-session reliability with results supporting the LAT as a valid and reliable measurement of closed agility (20).

 
Figure 1. Lane Agility Test
http://www.topendsports.com/testing/tests/agility-lane.html

Due to reactive agility tests being relatively new in regards to testing, there are very few reactive tests that can transfer from other sports and have a strong correlation to basketball, they have not been suggested in this battery until a valid and reliable agility testing method has been developed.

The addition of a ball will significantly alter the athlete’s ability to perform an agility task, and thus, it is recommended that speed and agility testing, with and without the ball, should be assessed. However, strength and conditioning professionals should remember that the reliability of a test using a ball can be doubted. This doubt stems from the apparatus and it’s response with the environment, such as, the contact of the ball with the ground and the air pressure inside the ball (5). Strength and conditioning officials strive for sports specific testing, implementing a ball into agility and speed drills allows for greater specificity of testing.

Speed

A basketball court is approximately 29 meters in length, due to this fact, there is no point in testing a basketball athlete’s running speed in a distance much greater than this due to being unrealistic in a game of basketball.
As stated previously efforts in basketball plays generally last from 2 seconds up to 20 seconds in length (18). For an athlete to reach top speed for a maximal sprint test this will unlikely occur in the length of a basketball court from a stationary start. This suggests that testing for maximal velocity is much more achievable by utilising a flying/rolling start during timing (15).
Measuring an athlete’s first 5-10 meter time from a stationary start is a valid and reliable test to measure acceleration (5, 15). For basketball a number of different testing protocols have been administered to analyse maximal speed involving distances between 5 to 30 meters (21, 22). Studies have found that athlete’s speed was not based upon what position they played in the sport; rather an individual’s physiological characteristics were the determining factors (23).

For testing, incorporating acceleration measurements into maximal speed sprint tests will increase efficiency, which can be completed by recording the split times of each athlete at the 10 m and at the end of the sprint (24). It is suggested using a total distance of 20 (3/4 of a basketball court) or 30 meters is preferable due to this being the approximate distance of a basketball court, a distance that players will generally cover at a quick pace during games. Between each sprint there should be a minimum of 5 minutes between subsequent sprints with a total of 3 repetitions for the task (24). Utilising a flying start should be a major goal due to sport specific testing; this can be incorporated via measuring the time taken between the 10 and 30 meter mark (5). 

Strength

Basketball requires a repetition of powerful movements such as running, sprinting, jumping and shooting. Measures of an athlete’s ability to generate power have a positive correlation with performance (25). Due to this correlation it is imperative that a player’s speed, power generation and reactive strength Stretch-Shortening-Cycle) are determined.
 
The most frequently reported strength testing measure in literature for basketball is the 1 Repetition Maximum test (1-RM). For lower body the back squat is recommended and the bench press for upper body strength (26, 27). These two tests are recommended as they contain high specificity to game situations, even though basketball contains a high predominance of leg musculature due to the running and jumping aspects, athletes must be strong enough to ‘push-off’ off players and manoeuvre through ‘screens’, which requires a strong upper body. 
For subjects, the bench press and back squat are not complex movement patterns and allow majority of athletes to be technically competent to complete these tasks . 

The following procedures are recommended for the back-squat and the bench-press (28); Preparation for the back squat begins with subjects in an upright standing position, with the loaded bar on the shoulders. Subjects then descend until the thigh is parallel to the ground before they fully extend upward without assistance. Athlete’s undergoing the bench-press task begin lying supine on a bench with their arms fully extended, with the loaded bar then being lowered towards the chest before pressing to full extension without assistance (29).

Power

An athlete’s ability to be ‘powerful’ is determined by their ability to exert the highest possible force (30). Research has shown that there is a very strong correlation between 1 repetition maximum (1-RM) squat relative to body mass and countermovement jump (CMJ) peak power, velocity and height (31).

The CMJ and the 1-RM power clean exercises have been chosen for the measurements of power. Power in relation to strength and conditioning can be broken into two different categories; Speed-Strength and Strength-Speed (32). Speed-Strength refers to an athlete’s ability to move a weight (themselves or other object) at the fastest velocity possible (33), for this the Counter-Movement Jump will be the supporting task for assessment . Strength-Speed refers to an athlete’s ability to move a heavier weight as fast as possible, with athlete’s producing an optimal force in a shorter timeframe (33), for this assessment the subjects will complete a 1-RM power clean. This task however is complex and should only be undertaken if the athlete has an appropriate technical competency to complete the task safely.

Reactive Strength

Reactive strength can be assessed with equipment such as contact/jump mats and force plates. For a less expensive method calculating a subject’s Reactive Strength Index (RSI) (Height Jump/Ground Contact Time) from a drop jump (DJ) at various heights will provide an excellent indication of an athlete’s ability to generate force via their Stretch-Shortening-Cycle (SSC) (32). The heights for the drop jump can increase in 15 centimetre (cm) increments from 30cm to 75cm in height (33). The scores determined from this assessment can be compared to those scores found in the CMJ to assess the efficiency of an athlete’s SSC mechanics (33). An athlete who has a higher CMJ jump compared to their DJ is determined to have a low RSI and may require plyometric training to increase this component.

Body Composition

The most common method of field-testing athletes and their body composition is that of the skinfold assessment to determine an individual’s body fat percentage (BF%). This technique is determined as a valid tool due to the high correlation (0.789) to that of hydrostatic weighing in a lab based assessment (34). Due to time and logistical constraints of testing, the skinfold assessment will be chosen. The key determinant of validity for such assessment is that of the investigator, a well-trained and highly reliable investigator will produce a much more valid test outcome.
As outlined in Table 1, the seven site skinfold assessment is the most accurate and reliable indication of an individual’s BF%. However, with error values being very similar (only 0.1% increase in error for females for the 3-site), utilising the 3-site method would be logical due to time constraints.

 

Position

Vertical Height (cm)

Weight (Kg)

Body Fat %

Wingspan (cm)

Guard

189.6

90.4

7.57

201.3

Forwards

201

105.6

9.05

214.3

Centers

210.8

112.1

9.8

219.4

Table 1: Average anthropometrics of draftees and free agents in the NBA 1997-2012.
Unpublished data, 15 year average of Combine results posted on NBA.com (1997-2012, N=4196), compiled by the analytics team for the San Antonio Spurs

Table 2: Skinfold Sites and their associated error for body fat percentage determination

Method

Sites

% Error Male

% Error Female

7 – Site

Chest, Midaxillary, Subscapular, Abdomen, Suprailiac, Thigh

3.5

3.8

3- Site

M: Chest, Abdomen, Thigh. W: Triceps, Suprailiac, Thigh

3.5

3.9

3 – Site

M: Chest, Triceps, Subscapular.
W: Triceps, Suprailiac, Abdominal

3.6

3.9

Sequencing

Ordering of tests and incorporating appropriate rest periods ensures greater reliability during the test battery (35). This reliability is derived by allowing each test subject to fully recover from any fatigue that may occur during testing processes that could distort results. Tasks that require skilful or form focusing movements should be conducted prior to tasks that are fatigue inducing.
The National Strength and Conditioning Association propose the following testing sequence (36); Resting and non-fatiguing testing (resting heart rate, body composition. Flexibility and jump tests), agility testing, power and strength, sprints, muscular endurance, anaerobic capacity and aerobic capacity tests.

Proposed Testing Battery

Strength and conditioning professionals should strive to utilise the most specific, valid, and reliable tests across all data collection sessions.
For the assessment of aerobic capacity, the YYIR test provides suitability in all facets. The Running Anaerobic Sprint Test will be utilised as the anaerobic capacity test. As mentioned earlier linear speed can incorporate both acceleration and maximal velocity. This test should be conducted over a 30 m length with times taken at 10 m (acceleration) and the end. Maximal speed will be proposed as the time between the 10 and 30 m distance as the first 10 m will be incorporated as a flying/rolling start for greater specificity.

Agility testing will incorporate, the Lane-agility test (basketball specific agility test), further agility tasks may be included by strength and conditioning professionals to assess different movement patterns.
Gym-based testing should consist of the 1RM power clean and CMJ for Power assessment, whilst strength testing will be conducted via a 1RM back squat and bench press for lower and upper body respectively. The DJ will be utilised as a determinant of reactive strength at various heights to calculate an athlete’s RSI. The testing day should be initiated with anthropometric assessments.

Following the NSCA’s recommendations of testing order (36), the most appropriate order of tests for data collection would be as follows:
 

Test

Rest (minutes)

Sets

Anthropometry – (Height and Weight)

1

1

Agility – (Lane Agility Test)

5

2

Power – (Counter Movement Jump)

5

3

Power – (1-RM Power Clean)

5

3

Reactive Strength Index –  (Drop Jump)

5

2 per height (30cm, 45cm, 60cm, 75cm)

Strength – (Upper body) (1-RM Bench Press)

5

3

Strength – (Lower body) (1-RM Back Squat)

5

3

Speed – (Linear Speed)

5

3

Anaerobic Capacity – (Running Anaerobic Sprint Test)

Minimum of 8

1

Aerobic Capacity – (YYIR)

n/a

1


Efficiency can be increased by completing the gym tasks prior to moving to field tasks.

Rest Periods:

The consideration for rest periods between tests and sets was made in accordance with the restoration time of key metabolic substrates. Hultman et al (36). has suggested that approximately 70% ATP restoration occurs at roughly 30s, after 3–5 minutes of recovery, there is a complete resynthesis of ATP. In addition, it has been reported that approximately 84% of PCr stores are restored in 2 minutes of recovery, 89% in 4 minutes, and 100% in 8 minutes.

In-Season Modification to Testing

Due to time/location constraints placed upon teams during in season competition, it is ideal for strength and conditioning professionals to have a streamlined and strategic fitness test battery to implement and to be able to monitor regularly. Many tasks can be quite time consuming or fatiguing for officials to conduct regularly throughout the season (BF%, aerobic capacity tests). High correlations amongst the CMJ, 1RM squat, speed and agility allow strength and conditioning officials to streamline testing into only conducting CMJ measurement (31). Changes in the CMJ are indicative of changes in the others. 1-RM testing can be cut down into utilising percentage conversion tables to calculate a theoretical 1-RM based on training loads for back squat, bench press and power clean.

Conclusion

As a Strength and Conditioning official, it is essential to administer a time-efficient, valid and reliable fitness test that contains high-content validity. This article has outlined a series of tests that can be implemented and carried out specific to the sport of basketball. These tests can be completed with minimal equipment and administered on a basketball court to increase specificity. The test battery proposed can be carried out within one day and has the ability to be implemented throughout the season as part of a periodized plan. The results from such testing battery’s allows strength and conditioning professionals to implement a more efficient and effective program design for goal achievement.    
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