After binging on March Madness games this weekend, we’re getting eager to shoot a few hoops ourselves. And given the excitement and eagerness around the Related Classic annual basketball tournament at MiMa this weekend, we have an inkling you’re feeling the same way.
As any pro athlete knows, however, one of the most important elements of performing well is training correctly. In order to get some intel on how the pros prep for a big game, we spoke to Bari Malik – the Director of Performance for the Knicks for three years – who taught us his methods for training professional athletes.
While we may not all be gifted enough to have the same skills as the pros, Malik says that thankfully, his rules are true for everyone, regardless of fitness level.
“Whether you’re the best player on our team, an Olympian, or just an average person playing sports, the information I give is always the same,” he says.
Tip #1: A Massage Goes a Long Way: “Everyone needs to figure out a way to prepare their bodies to move,” Malik says. He recommends trying myofascial releasing – essentially, massaging and applying pressure to specific points on the body in order to warm up the body’s natural processes. Simply take something hard and round like a tennis ball, golf ball, or foam roller, and roll it along the balls of your feet, the back part of your lower legs, the back of your thighs, up to your hip, up to your upper back, your quadraceps on your front side, your hips, and part of your neck. “What that does is it excites the nervous system,” he says, “It sends a signal to the muscle that ‘OK, we’re preparing ourselves to move.'”
Tip #2: Stretch Out: The morning before the big game, Malik says it’s important to get your muscles warmed up with dynamic stretching, or getting “the muscles and the tendons and the joints to actively elongate and contract in a noncompetitive way.” This can mean breaking out your yoga skills; a few of the poses and exercises Malik recommends include downward-facing dog, walking lunges and cobra with your hands raised.
Tip #3: Light Cardio: After you’ve finished your stretching, then you can start getting your heart pumping, with exercises like knee hugs, butt kicks, bounding and light jogging.
Tip #4: Chow Down: Also, what you eat before a big game can also have a major impact on your performance. Malik says to eat 90 minutes before the game (so for the Related Classic, around 10:30 AM), and make sure the foods you eat have complex carbohydrates, i.e. oatmeal, hot cereals and whole wheat bread. Avoid simple carbohydrates like sugary sports bars and gels, which can give you a quick hit of energy, but will burn off fast, leaving you more tired than before.
Tip #5: Stay Hydrated: Basketball is a high-intensity sport, meaning you can lose a lot of water quickly when you play. In addition to drinking water, Malik recommends guzzling a low-sugar sports drink like Gatorade Zero or coconut water to replace lost electrolytes. Whatever you choose should have high levels of potassium, sodium and at least 500 mg of magnesium. Not staying hydrated could lead to an injury the next day, or at the very least a cramp or a strain. Drink your beverage of choice 30 minutes before the game.
Tip #6: Don’t Skip the Cool Down: “Skipping the cool-down period is something I always see and that is a big, big, big mistake,” Malik says. In other words, just because the game is over, doesn’t mean your work is done. Take time to stretch and flush out any lactic acid that has built up in your muscles during your high-intensity workout. That means stretching, doing inverting sitting (sitting with your legs up against a wall), or even taking a light jog or bike ride for 5-10 minutes.
And – “if you really want to be like a super, elite athlete” – Malik says to go home, fill your tub with ice water, and sit in it for five minutes. That’s what the pros in the Knicks do after every game, and as unpleasant as it is, Malik says it is the best way to cool your body down after a big game. “That’s hard core,” he says.