Dad Bod

Why Basketball Is One Of The Best Cardio Workouts For Men

It's not just about the great workout from dribbling, jumping, and running up and down the court. It's about hanging out with the guys, too.

Originally Published: 
An older man shooting a basketball on an outdoor court.
Thomas Barwick/Getty

Scientists suspect playing sports is better for men’s health than a gym workout. After all, sports generally combine cardiovascular and strength exercises. Also, sports are a physical and social activity men are more likely to continue into old age. But sports can be hard to choose from — some require a higher level of skill, others can lead to injury, and many are difficult for men to find in their communities. However, when considering the physical benefits, injury probability, and overall access, basketball is probably the best sport for dads.

“Team sports are top of the list for the average man because they allow you to give your workout your all, while occasionally taking off the pressure thanks to your teammates,” explains personal trainer Caleb Backe. “With this in mind, basketball is a largely inclusive team sport aimed at both the professional and amateur.”

A full court game of basketball burns about 747 calories per hour, whereas a half-court game burns 558 calories. Simply shooting hoops can burn up to 300 calories. Why is the game so effective at burning calories? It’s designed that way.

Basketball is such an effective workout because it combines cardiovascular exercise with plyometrics, also known as “jump training,” which is a high-intensity leg workout that combines stretching and strength training through repetitive jumping. Having to change direction quickly, set picks, lean on and box-out opponents provide additional strength training. For arms, dribbling and passing provide a workout.

But the main reason basketball is such a great workout is the pacing of the sport: Running up and down the court, with short breaks in activity, is natural high-intensity interval training. And interval training has been found to help people burn more calories, build muscle and endurance in a shorter period of time while increasing their metabolic rate long after exercise.

That said, chiropractor Dr. Thanu Jeyapalan argues that basketball can be too brutal on many men’s knees after their early thirties. He recommends boxing as an alternative.

“Boxing burns calories like none other and has been found to be relatively safe. Hanging up a bag can be a great way to work out for those with knee problems,” Jeyapalan says.

The main downside of boxing is that even when it’s with an opponent as opposed to a bag in the basement, it doesn’t provide the same opportunities for teamwork that basketball does. That’s exactly what reduces men’s risk of getting hurt while playing it, Backe notes. When guys know their limits and start feeling them strained, they can pull back in a game accordingly and let their buddies pick up the slack.

“Your risk of injury is limited because you’re sharing the workout with your teammates,” Backe says.

It’s not only about the workout. Team sports, in general, are great for men’s psychological health. They provide an important outlet for men to get out of the house, release stress, and bond with other men — healthy things guys have fewer opportunities for after they have kids. Softball, soccer and many other sports will suffice, but it’s more a matter of finding a sport to play regularly and enjoy. More often than not, men can find a basketball court and, as long as they’re willing to get occasionally dunked on, people of varying skill levels willing to play.

“In terms of accessibility and inclusiveness, basketball can be played by paraplegics and the rules are simple enough to be understood by most,” Backe says. “Pretty much any average man looking for a workout can succeed at basketball.”

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