Why Basketball Players Love the Game

It warms our hearts to see women represented in the gym. And for the most part, they’re everywhere—the cardio marchines, the weight room, the pool, the studios—in numbers equal to, if not greater than, men. But there’s one exception: the basketball court.

That’s a problem, since basketball offers an amazing total-body workout. Plus, it’s fun—it’s fast-paced enough to keep you entertained, and you can play it alone or with your friends, depending on your mood. So in honor of the Raptors path to the NBA Finals, we asked pro basketball players and coaches what makes the game so amazing—and what wanna-be ballers need to know before they lace up their high tops.

It’s the Only Workout You Need

“Basketball is a total-body workout: You have the cardio piece from running up and down the court the whole game. You have the plyo stuff, from jumping and changing direction quickly. And you have a strength component, from leaning on someone, setting picks and holding people off.” —Katie Smith, a retired WNBA player who is currently an assistant coach for the New York Liberty

“People don’t like to get on a treadmill and run. But the activity in basketball uses the full body. You’re sprinting, squatting, using your hand-eye coordination. Within the game, there are elements of so many other sports. And it’s continuous—you’re moving on both ends of the floor.” Swin Cash, a player for the New York Liberty who’ll be entering her 15th season in the WNBA, and a studio analyst and the host of Nothing But Knicks on MSG Network.

“Basketball is pretty good for all-around fitness. It tests aerobic and anaerobic capacity, because of the cardio. You’re playing for a long time, but you have quick bursts of sprinting followed by test. In my position especially, my strength is tested—I have to hold my position and box people out and rebound, and deal with strong defensive walls. So that takes core fitness, and back and shoulder strength. Then everything to do with being explosive too—being able to get to the rim quickly and having a quick first step.” —Carolyn Swords, a New York Liberty player entering her sixth season in the WNBA

You Get a Mental Workout Too

I love basketball because it has so many parts. It’s physical, but then there’s the mental piece. You have to think to run plays. There are so many things coming at you at a very fast pace, and you have to react and figure it all out. I love that—it challenges you in so many ways. That’s why it’s so rewarding.” —Smith

Nutrition Is Key

“What works for me is usually low-carb, but it depends on the game schedule. I need to fuel appropriately for competitions, then eat a lot of greens, lots of fruits and vegetables. I try to make sure I’m getting enough protein for strength building. And I eat the best quality foods I can find.” —Swords

“I have a really high metabolism. Others can’t necessarily eat the way I do. You’ve got to know your body. I make sure to have three solid, good meals a day. I love seafood, but I’m not a big meat eater, so I make sure I’m supplementing with protein shakes or almonds or other things I can carry with me. But I also love sweets, so I fit them into my diet too. It’s a balancing act.” —Cash

It’s a Simple Game

“All you need is a ball and a pair of sneakers. Maybe a court, maybe a hoop—but even without that, you can do some ball handling drills.” —Smith

“Some other sports, you need a lot of money to get started. As a young kid, that’s one reason I was drawn to basketball.” —Cash

The Sneaker Game Is Ace

“Everyone has a different philosophy on what style they want to wear. Some people like more low top shoes… I go with higher top shoes, because I play closer to the rim where there are more feet I can trip over, so I like the extra ankle support.” —Swords

Your Team Is Family

“It’s possible to do individual workouts—ball handling and shooting—but even if you have just one other person to do a workout with you, the types of drills you can do multiplies greatly. And it’s helpful to have a teammate there to encourage you through it. They might see something you can do better and offer advice. It’s also a fun way to push yourself and test yourself. The team dynamic is valuable in basketball. You have another set of eyes, and you can use their experience to enhance the workout.” —Swords

But It’s a Solo Sport As Well

“You perfect your skill individually. Players spent a lot of time at the gym, working on ball handling, getting shots up, chasing their own rebounds. That’s what I like, there’s an individual skill set to the game.” —Smith

And, Yes, You Too Can Learn to Jump

“Part of it is just genetics, but plyo stuff can help, like jumping rope. So can strength training, like squats. It’s a combination of strength and explosiveness, to help you get of the ground quicker. So rope ladders can help, box jumps, jump rope…” —Smith

“I’ve always heard, practice doesn’t make perfect, but practice makes for habits. When you’re doing lunges or squats, you’re habituating your muscles so they remember the next time you do it. For jumping, what I used to do was going to a stadium somewhere and running the steps. With the repetitiveness, and since you’re engaging your quads, it gives you a solid base for jumping ability.” —Cash

Original post from Shape Magazine