What Vince Carter Taught Me About Training

Former LA Lakers Strength Coach Sean Light Prepares the team for an NBA Game

I remember being in the weight room at Staples Center in LA. 

I was basically in a dream. 

I was having a conversation about golf with Vince Carter.

This dude is hanging on a poster back at my childhood home.

All I kept thinking about was the 360 windmill...the elbow dunk and all of his high flying acrobatics that I used to watch on SportsCenter as a kid.

At the time of this conversation, he was old by NBA standards. 40-years-old is a rare sighting in "The Association." 

He had recently been featured on ESPN for his superhuman ability to still be able to do some pretty impressive dunks.

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Strength coaches and Sports Medicine professionals marveled at his longevity. The poster boy for performance and injury prevention.

And here he was, nearly 20 years after being drafted, still going through his routine in the weight room.

We asked him, "Vince, what got you so committed to the weight room."

He said, "My rookie year in Toronto, Charles Oakley was my vet (a lot of times in the NBA, veteran players are tasked with looking after the rookies) and from the first day he dragged me into the weight room and instilled in me the importance of working out and I just never stopped."

It was a pretty cool moment to hear this coming from Vince Carter. 

As a Strength and Conditioning Coach, you couldn't get a bigger endorsement for your industry.

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But as I watched him move about the weight room, I noticed something.

He was stiff.

His dorsiflexion wasn't limited...it was NON-EXISTENT.

I knew some other NBA studs with the same profile.

One of the coolest experiences about working as an NBA Strength Coach is getting to be in the weight room as the whole league comes through. 

In LA, we didn't have a visitor's weight room so we all shared the same weight room before games.

I would be in there watching Kevin Durant do PRI.

I got to see LeBron James' pre-game routine.

I almost hit Blake Griffin in the head with a door as he was doing a plank at little too close to the weight room entrance.

I also got yelled at by NBA vet, Tony Allen for stealing his Airex pad (I have no regrets 😂).

Tony Allen Staring Me Down in Memphis

Tony Allen's reaction after I cowardly returned his Airex pad!

Most of these guys moved with the same stiffness.

What I found most interesting is how this is something that we are constantly trying to correct in the fitness industry 🤔. 

Mobility and flexibility are HUGE sectors of our world but this made me wonder how important it was if it was so clear that the best movers and performers on the face of this earth "struggle" with it.

Here's what I think...

To perform at that level, you need to be explosive. 

The more "mobile" you are, the less elastic energy you will produce in your muscles.

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Remember back to Exercise Science 101. Muscles are like rubber bands, when they get stretched, they create elastic energy and assist in the ensuing concentric action.

This is also the reason for the famous stretch-shortening-cycle. 

The reason it becomes much harder to bench press when you pause the bar just above your chest is because you remove the elastic energy and the stretch-shortening-cycle.

More stiffness, likely means more elastic force production leading to higher levels of explosiveness. 

But what about injury prevention?

I do believe that too much stiffness can create a higher vulnerability towards injury.

I do believe that NBA players are unicorns that you can't really compare the rest of the world too. 

But I also believe that mobility/flexibility are far less important than you think.

The thought I hope that you take into the weight room with you is "how do I balance mobility with elastic energy?"

What is the best balance?

There is no single answer.

Each person is going to be different.

But the constant tango of trying to make that balance right, will likely lead you to a more effective finished product.

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Strength and Conditioning, Personal Trainer, Exercise Science