• ASK THE PROS: 10 Tips From Pro Basketball Trainers

    Images: Getty Images / PhotoAlto / Sandro Di Carlo Darsa

  • 1. Treat your body right

    Marco Nunez, assistant athletic trainer for the Los Angeles Lakers, emphasizes that the player’s body is a tool. Taking care of it helps prevent injuries and primes your body for growth. “The three key tips I tell young athletes: Focus on your diet, never overestimate the importance of stretching and always maintain a proper weightlifting program,” says Nunez.

    Sleep is also integral to this process. “Studies show that fatigue or a lack of sleep contributes immensely to optimal performance and the ability to stay healthy,” says Brian Zettler, assistant athletic trainer to the Utah Jazz, “Other factors such as reaction times and cognitive processes are directly affected by amount of sleep.”

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  • 2. Use periodization to hit your peak at the right time

    If you’re training for a particular event or time of year, plan ahead to help your body reach its full potential when it’s needed most. According to Nunez, the concept of periodization, dividing your training into periods or cycles, is used to help an athlete focus on their weaknesses during the off-season (for example: strength, stamina, biomechanical issues) and then to transition them to working on their game and conditioning during the regular season.

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  • 3. Give your body a rest

    Working out is only part of the equation. “In addition to the training for the sport is the recovery from the sport, and I think that’s just as important,” says Jeff Watkinson, strength and conditioning coach for the Atlanta Hawks. “We’re playing a high number of games. For young guys, the day away is often the best day. If they spend that day on treatment—hydrating, getting massages—they leave feeling better.”

    Casey Smith, the head athletic trainer for the Dallas Mavericks, recommends at least two days a week off for those who engage in high intensity workouts.


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  • 4. Get a few must-have accessories

    Most athletic trainers use various forms of body weight and suspension trainers, medicine balls and multiple-cable type devices with accommodating resistance. Beyond those staples, Watkinson recommends the TRX straps, which help with strength, flexibility and endurance. “You can travel with those, and bring your workout anywhere.

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  • 5. Take care of your feet

    With all the running basketball players do, their kicks are bound to take a toll. “Rarely do you see a player play in the same shoe for the whole season,” says Zettler. “I try to discourage using the same shoe for too long as the integrity of the shoe can be compromised over the length of the season. Optimally you would like to switch it out every two to four weeks with the rigors of their schedule.”

    And just as important as the shoes themselves is what goes inside. “Nearly every player on our team has custom orthotics,” says Watkinson. “Each and every foot loads differently. Some people strike through their heels versus their mid-foot; some load their weight on the outside or inside of their foot. Orthotics keep them consistent, regardless of the shoe they wear.”

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  • 6. Balance is key

    A balanced mixture of cardio and weight training is important. Flexibility and endurance must also be considered. However, according to Zettler, “You find that a lot of the guys receive plenty of cardio during the course of the game and practice schedule. You want to encourage weight training in an effort to maintain their strength and, in turn, prevent injury.” But since everyone gets different amounts of run during the games, “it does require monitoring of each individual athlete, as some will require additional cardio,” he adds.

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  • 7. Utilize new technology to monitor your vitals

    Smith says the Mavericks use electronic tracking to measure “speed, distance, acceleration, gravitational forces, heart rate and total workload,” which is no surprise for a team owned by Mark Cuban. Investing in your own activity tracker or heart rate monitor can give you a better snapshot of your workload and progress.

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  • 8. Mix things up

    Having a set routine can help you stay focused on your goals, but shocking your system by doing something different (think: yoga, kickboxing, cycling) engages muscles you don’t use as often and keeps things exciting. “I have no problem with thinking outside the box when it comes to workouts, as long as it is done correctly,” says Nunez. “Often times, athletes get bored with the same redundant workout and they need something different. A couple of years ago, we had a player that took up boxing during the off-season as a way to improve both his cardio and footwork. I had no issues with his workout, as long as he never got in the ring and actually fought anyone.”

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  • 9. Get a workout buddy to provide manual resistance

    While resistance bands are a common tool used by athletic trainers and athletes, a workout buddy provides not only motivation, but can help you gauge your performance with manual resistance. Nunez says he often prefers this type of resistance to bands. “This allows to better gauge how the athlete is doing.” Try it during side-lying clams to test your hip abductor and glute strength.

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  • 10. Shooter sleeves aren’t just for fashion

    While arm sleeves first gained popularity for their look on the court, athletic trainers see them as useful beyond making a fashion statement. “There is some research that shows that compression enhances muscular coordination,” says Smith. Some arm sleeves do have pads on the elbows, which help prevent injuries. “Some wear it because they are trying to keep their shooting arms warm, similar to baseball pitcher, while others are wearing it for medical reasons such as trying to reduce or prevent swelling in the area from a previous injury,” says Nunez.

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ASK THE PROS: 10 Tips From Pro Basketball Trainers

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The professional basketball regular season is 82 games long, spread out over six months and as all players know, that’s a marathon, not a sprint. Considering that some of the league’s best players compete for up to 38 minutes and run as much as 2.72 miles over the course of one game, staying in shape isn’t just encouraged, it’s required.

Maintaining elite conditioning and a healthy lifestyle is a tough task even for professional athletes, who have help from some of the world’s best athletic trainers. For the average person, getting in shape is one thing, but sustaining that level of fitness can be hard, especially over the course of many weeks, months, and eventually years.

Since nobody knows how to keep athletes motivated, disciplined, and healthy over the long haul more than their athletic trainers, we turned to some of the league’s top fitness experts, the training staffs for the Atlanta Hawks, Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers, and Dallas Mavericks. While each trainer we spoke to has a different philosophy, they all had insider tips on how to maintain mid-season form into the stretch run of the season and beyond.