Fast and Furious: How Muscle Fiber Type Influences Basketball Performance (Basic)

A unique combination of speed, agility, strength, and power sets professional athletes apart from the rest.  This article focuses on explaining how muscle fiber properties produce this combination in the context of basketball.  It explores muscle fiber type properties and some training implications that can be gleaned from what science knows about these properties.

Muscle fiber types fall into two main categories: slow-twitch (ST) and fast-twitch (FT).  Slow-twitch fibers are also known as type I fibers, and FT fibers have two subcategories: type IIa and type IIx (Baechle and Earle 2008).  Type I fibers have many mitochondria which make them able to contract weakly or mildly for long periods of time at low intensities (MacIntosh et al. 2006).  Type IIx fibers have little mitochondria and function to contract very hard and rapidly for short durations.  Lying between type I and type IIx fibers are type IIa fibers.  These have a moderate amount of mitochondria and contract at intermediate levels for lengths of time that fall between types I and IIx (Plowman and Smith 2008).

It is important for basketball players to have large amounts of FT fibers in their legs, calves, and buttocks.  To sustain these muscles over the course of activity, strongly developed ST core muscles need to be trained as well.  Focusing training on these aspects will allow the athlete to meet the high metabolic and cardiovascular demands required of the sport (McInnes et al. 1995).

Agility training has been shown to increase muscular response times in the quadriceps and gastrocnemius (calves) (Wojtys et al. 1996).  Therefore, a combination of balance training, lateral movement training, and T-drill type exercises are important.  Plyometric exercises (plyos) are important for training in this sport.  Finally, core stabilization and recovery principles must be incorporated to maximize gains.

Learn more about the technical aspects of muscle fibers and their influence on basketball performance.

By: Josh Silvernagel, Graduate Student, Bioengineering, University of Utah
Josh Silvernagel received undergraduate degrees in Exercise Science and Mathematics from Bemidji State University (BSU) in Bemidji, MN.  During his undergraduate studies, he was a four year starter in baseball for the BSU Beavers, where he both pitched and played infield.  In addition to providing sport specific training for ametuer and professional athletes following school, Josh spent two years coaching the sport at both the collegiate and high school levels.  He is currently working on a Ph. D. in Bioengineering at the University of Utah, where he studies cardiac electrophysiology in the CARMA Center.  Josh and his wife, Danielle, are recently married.


Baechle, T. R., and R. W. Earle (Eds.). 2008. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 3rd edition. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL.

MacIntosh, B. R., P. F. Gardiner, and A. J. McComas. 2006. Skeletal Muscle: Form and Function, 2nd edition. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL.

McInnes, S. E., J. S. Carlson, C. J. Jones, and M. J. McKenna. 1995. The physiological load imposed on basketball players during competition. Journal of Sports Sciences 13:387–397.

Plowman, S., and D. Smith. 2008. Exercise Physiology for Health, Fitness, and Performance, 2nd edition. Kippincott Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia, PA.

Wojtys, E. M., L. J. Huston, P. D. Taylor, and S. D. Bastian. 1996. Neuromuscular Adaptations in Isokinetic, Isotonic, and Agility Training Programs. The American Journal of Sports Medicine 24:187–192.


Articles by Josh Silvernagel.

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