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How Many Miles Does a Basketball Player Run in a Game?

Publish Date: 30.06.2024
Fact checked by: Emily Carter

Basketball is one of the most cardio intensive sports on Earth. The game is fast paced, quick, and takes a lot of running back-and-forth. That’s why athletes need to be in great shape to play it, and why so many people use it as a way to get in shape all around the world.

The sport works all of the body’s muscles and is physically demanding on several levels. That’s why it’s so tiring. Though players don’t move around as much as dedicated runners do, they still cover quite a lot of distance in both casual and competitive play.

When looking at the question of “how many miles does a basketball player run during a game?”, there isn’t just one single measurement. There are several factors to consider, all of which play a role in how tiring the sport can be.

Average Distance Covered by NBA Players

Basketball is many people’s preferred form of cardio because it allows them to run without thinking about the workout. However, as tiring as it can be due to the constant movement, players don’t run quite as much as they might think.

On average, NBA athletes run anywhere between 2 to 3 miles a game. The hardest working players cover close to three, while bench players and slower big men run 2 (or a bit less than 2) depending on how often they’re on the court.

That spread is important to consider because it shows why guards need to be in top cardio shape compared to other positions. They have to move around quickly and run fast breaks without slowing down. In contrast, centers and forwards don’t need to get up and down in the same way.

Everyone on an NBA roster needs to have a good amount of cardio, but bench players or sixth men also don’t need quite the same amount of stamina at starters. They go in, play hard for a few minutes, and then come back out.

Regardless, NBA cardio is unique in that the athletes aren’t just running. They’re running, then cutting, jumping, playing defense, and putting up shots. That all takes a toll on the body, which means players must be able to score and defend in a range of different ways without tiring out.

Factors Influencing Distance Covered

The above numbers reflect the average distance covered in a single NBA game, but there are many outside factors that change or alter how much a player runs. Position and skill set are important, but they are just one piece of the puzzle.

Another important aspect of in-basketball cardio is the coach and offensive or defensive play style. Faster paced teams have their players run more just based on the nature of the offense, where players on teams that work the clock will naturally run less.

A lot of running in basketball comes from off-ball movement and defensive switches. Players who are in constantly moving offenses or defenses will cover much more ground throughout a game than stationary teams that run offenses like the five wide or stay in man the whole time.

On top of that, score influences total running as well. Close games or high-scoring affairs where the ball is moving up and down the court a lot cause players to move much more compared to complete blowouts where teams may not try as hard or even bench their main starters.

When a team is up by thirty points, they simply aren’t going to try as hard. They might get lazy on defense, not run after a ball, or slow down a fast break. That then causes less cardio, which in turn translates to less miles run throughout the game.

Overtime matters too. The longer a game goes, the more players have to run. Teams who play multiple extra quarters during a season will end up having a higher average run distance than ones who always play four.

Physical and Tactical Impact

Running is central to nearly all sports, which is why being able to handle it is so critical for high level play. Moving up and down the court is something that most people can do, but being able to do it alongside everything else that basketball requires is not easy.

Constant movement takes a large toll on the body, especially for those who are not in top physical shape. Fatigue is a big issue for basketball players at all levels, as getting tired has a negative effect on just about every other part of the game.

When athletes are fresh, they play to their peak potential. As the game goes on, they aren’t as sharp. Shots don’t go in as much, defenders lose a step, and players might lag when trying to chase down a ball or get into position.

On top of that, decision making can drop too. A player who’s tired and at the end of their rope might make a bad pass or throw a turnover they wouldn’t make in the first quarter. Exhaustion may also lead them to miss a key assignment or go to the wrong position.

Such mistakes are another reason why it’s so critical to stay in game shape. Running three miles is a lot of work. Running three miles while also needing to play a game, keep in line with the other team, shoot, score, and defend, is a completely separate beast.

All players need to take their conditioning seriously and work hard on their own. Losing a step or two may not sound like a big deal, but it’s often the difference between winning and losing in a lot of different cases.

Improving Player Endurance and Performance

Looking at the above sections, it’s clear that basketball requires a strong cardio base. Players need to work hard to up how much they can run and improve their general lung capacity. They must keep their body flexible too.

When it comes to getting into basketball shape, there are two aspects all players must juggle. The first is improving endurance. There are several ways to make that happen, and the first is by simply playing more basketball.

The more someone is on the court, the more they run and do all of the things they need to do to increase their fitness level. Practice or scrimmages help build up the exact cardio required for the sport, and they also improve general skill sets in a way that boosts performance.

On top of that, running or jogging outside of the game also helps. There is no better way to increase lung capacity than steady state cardio, which is most commonly by going on runs. Jogging outside is the best in that regard, but treadmills are a good stand in.

Swimming and biking help in that regard too. As with running, both are activities that greatly enhance physical endurance. The more someone gets on the bike or swims laps, the better they’ll be able to run on the court. Anything that increases general heart rate.

Beyond that, your body must be in shape as well. Weight lifting is a good way to increase general strength, especially for big men who take a lot of physical abuse down low. Lifting weights also can increase endurance, especially during long gym sessions.

Something else that often gets overlooked is proper stretching and recovery. Both of those help the body heal and deal with the constant pressure that comes with basketball. It’s easy to get caught up in lifting and running, but nothing prevents injuries better than stretching.

Conclusion

Basketball takes a lot of cardio and endurance to play, but a lot of that comes from the extreme amount of cutting and jumping more than total running. Average NBA players run 2.5 to 3 miles, and casual players likely run less during scrimmages or pickup games.

Though many don’t run as much as they assume while on the court, they still move a lot in a variety of ways. That’s why being in shape is such a critical part of the game, and why endurance backed up by recovery is the best way to play the sport.

No matter how much someone runs for basketball, they need to be in shape in order to keep up with the game. It’s not just about how much you run, it’s about being able to handle whatever the game throws your way.

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