Fitness Tests for Basketball Players

Basketball players have unique body types. They are larger than their peers in other sports and have longer limbs. The skills performed because the sport and culture of basketball are high in both volume and intensity when considering the amount of minutes played. The length of the practice and competition schedule, aerobic fitness are critical to the longevity of these athletes.

As a rule of thumb, the greater an athlete’s bodyweight the more susceptible to fatigue. This rings especially true in basketball, where athletes have more mass than most other sports. Whenever a player strikes the ground while running on the court, landing from a jump, or falling from contact, they experience higher ground reaction forces than other athletes. This is because gravity has a more significant effect on them due to their mass.

A well-developed aerobic system will help minimize the fatigue generated by a heavier body and allow the muscles to spare and recycle energy. So how do we assess and improve the aerobic system in these athletes so that they can reap these benefits and experience long-term success in their sport? We use the old school Beep Test in a “new school” way.

Why Use the Beep Test

Performing the Beep Test is the best method for producing fitness in basketball players for the following reasons:

  1. Unlike the cycle ergometry, the Beep Test requires that the athlete carry their bodyweight. This helps to monitor trends in aerobic fitness as an athlete’s weight fluctuates throughout their career.
  2. Unlike ergometer testing performed on a treadmill, the Beep Test subjects athletes to change-of-direction forces that increase in frequency and intensity as the athlete begins to fatigue, simulating the last half of a game situation.
  3. For adults, the test correlates to within 92% accuracy of an ergonomic VO2 Max Test when carried out correctly¹
  4. Beep Test scores can be directly correlated to VO2 max scores depending on the athlete. It, therefore, accounts for the individual differences and allows for more effective comparisons between athletes.
  5. The reason for the test stoppage can reveal the need for specific programming interventions. For example, an athlete might stop because their calves give out during the test. This allows you to identify and strengthen weaker muscle groups.
  6. The test can be performed on the same surface on which the athlete plays. This is important, as different surfaces tax our muscles in different ways.
  7. The test is time-efficient, accurate, free, non-invasive, and athletes can be tested in groups.

Performing the Beep Test earlier in the Off-Season can provide the clues necessary to design an effective, individualized program to help athletes achieve their fitness goals. To perform the Beep Test (also called the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test), a metronome is set. The athlete runs from one line to another at the sound of a beep. The two lines are either twenty or fifteen meters apart. The test begins at 8.5km/hr (Level 1) and increases every minute up to 18km/hr (Level 20). The test, therefore, becomes more difficult the longer it continues.

The test ends when an athlete either quits or fails to reach the line two consecutive times before the beep. Each Beep Test level correlates to a certain fitness level, measured in “VO2 Max” which means “voluntary maximal oxygen uptake.” In other words, it is a measure of how much oxygen the muscle cells can use at a given time.

Measuring the Beep Test

Here is a chart for basketball players to determine the optimal levels to achieve with the Beep Test based on age, sex, and position:

Guards should be at the higher end of a given range, followed by Forwards and Centers.

The numbers used in this chart are adapted from the Leger Bouche Shuttle Run and the work of Yves Nadeau. Nadeau was the former Short Track coach in Canada and has had a very successful career. He attributes much of his success to this system for developing the aerobic system.²

But it isn’t just about avoiding fatigue through a single game. Fatigue also accumulates over the competitive year. We are considering that the aerobic system provides most of our energy. At the same time, at rest, the more developed it is, the greater the recovery during periods of rest (off-days and light practices).

After the Beep Test

Heart Rate Recovery (HRR) refers to the amount of time it takes the heart rate to return to resting levels after high-intensity exercise. From his experience, Nadeau noted that elite levels of heart rate recovery fall between 40 and 50 beats per minute. After experimentation, it seems like an HRR of 40 beats in sixty seconds is a challenging but practical goal to aim for. Record their heart rate when the test ends, then again at 60s post-test, and then again at 120s post-test. During this time, allow the athlete to walk around. Please don’t assume that an athlete who scores low on the test itself will also score low on the HRR. This is not always the case!

Remember to record the reason why the athlete ended the test, as this can be a helpful clue toward improving their fitness. This is one of the reasons that the Beep Test is so good at identifying individual issues that impede fitness.

Basketball is a sport interspersed with relatively brief rest periods compared to the work periods. Several minutes or more can pass before there is a break in play. Even then, the breaks are brief. There isn’t a lot of time to lower the heart rate. The better that an athlete can capitalize on these short rests, the more they will delay the build-up of fatigue. The next piece will discuss programming strategies for those who score low on the Beep Test and the Heart Rate Recovery.

Happy training.


1. Mayorga-Vega, Daniel; et al. Criterion-Related Validity of the 20-M Shuttle Run Test for Estimating Cardiorespiratory Fitness: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 2015

2. Nadeau, Yves. Delaying the Fatigue Threshold. 2019 (Presentation)

3. Marinković, Dragan. Pavlović, Slobodan. THE DIFFERENCES IN AEROBIC CAPACITY OF BASKETBALL PLAYERS IN DIFFERENT PLAYING POSITIONS. Physical Education and Sport Vol. 11. 2013

4. Crisp, Alex Harley; et al. Time to Exhaustion at VO2Max Velocity in Basketball and Soccer Athletes. Journal of Exercise Physiology. 2013

5. Sallet, P., D. Perrier, J.M. Ferret, V. Vitelli, and

G. Baverel. Physiological differences in professional basketball players as a function of playing position and level of play. J. Sports Med. Phys. Fit. 2005


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