The ultimate cross-training activity?

Play ball: is basketball the ultimate cross-training activity?
Play ball: is basketball the ultimate cross-training activity?

Dribbling. Layups. Shooting. Dodging. Stopping and starting. It's no wonder basketball is so exhilarating. And exhausting. "Basketball really is 'the cradle to the grave' sport," says Jayne Arlett, a sports podiatrist and fellow of the Australian Academy of Podiatric Sports
Medicine and Sports Medicine Australia. She has worked with professional basketball teams in Australia, the US and atthe Olympics. "It doesn't matter what your ability or agility is, it's a great sport for all ages, and sexes," she says.

Arlett says basketball players, along with soccer and AFL players, score the best in her preseason tests in all-round strength, fitness and flexibility. "Basketball involves running, jumping, twisting, turning, and reaching with arms," she says. "It's the ultimate cross-training activity."

What happens when you play

Basketball involves short, sharp bursts of interval training, which is when your heart rate goes up and down in bursts. "It's very beneficial from a health perspective, more so than walking where your heart rate stays the same," she says. Interval training is a great way to shift kilos, increase brain power and improve your heart health.

Along with running and netball, basketball is a load-bearing exercise, which means it's good for your joints. It's also a great way to help protect against the brittle bone disease osteoporosis, which affects about 1 million Australians. Osteoporosis Australia says basketball is highly osteogenic, which means it's one of the best workouts you can do to build bone.

"It's an impact sport, particularly for women to help build bone density. It's also ideal for youths ... to decrease their risk of osteoporosis," she says.

A study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, found that young men, aged between 19 and 25, who did four hours or more of weight-bearing exercises each week were likely to be protected from osteoporosis later in life. It's believed that while bone fractures don't typically occur until after the age of 50, bone tissue loss can begin from as early as age 25.

Preventing injury

Research shows that 34 per cent of all injuries in basketball are orofacial injuries, caused by collisions or falls. "The game places demands on the body and when your body becomes fatigued,the skills required become more difficult resulting in poor form and potential injury," says physiotherapist Jason Smith. "The constant jolting, impact on the joints from jumping and landing and weight loading commonly leads to 'overuse' injuries, in addition to injuries from falling or contact with other players."

To prevent injury, it is important to stretch before and after playing. "Persistent use of the same muscle groups can result in overtraining, insufficient rest and habitual shortening of muscle groups," he says. "The repetitive motion of bending and jumping puts strain on the hamstrings, quadriceps, calf muscle group and stabilisers of the lower back. Stretching before and after a game will help to restore normal muscle length to otherwise shortened and fatigued muscles. Stretching also helps prevent strain and imposition on otherwise normal alignment of the spine."

Getting involved

"Sports make up a fabric of society," Arlett says. "Team sports bring camaraderie and you learn so many valuable skills on the court. You learn to be a leader, how to fail, how to deal with emotions and how to develop a competitive nature."

Studies have shown teenagers who play team sports are less likely to smoke, drink, be violent, bully others or have weight problems. "These are qualities we want within our society - it's so important to get kids involved as early as possible," Arlett says.

This story The ultimate cross-training activity? first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.