Lake Wales, Florida is a trap. A place where guns, drugs and crime prevail over jobs, college degrees and opportunity. A place where children watch family members try to obtain a life outside of the city's suffocating grip only to fail. Considering all that can confine a man within this city's boundaries, the rare escape is even more impressive.
God blessed the child that can hold his own. These powerful words-inked across Amare Stoudemire's chest-sum up his experience in Lake Wales. When he was 12, he lost his father to a heart attack and shortly thereafter saw his mother sent to jail. But as this child was forced to become a man, his strength grew inside and out. His blessings of physical power, mental courage and overall fortitude helped him get through life's most painful situations.
Being virtually parentless in a small, dark town wasn't Amare's only struggle. The local preacher, to whom Amare's mother entrusted him, was arrested. Shady AAU coaches and other hangers-on constantly looked to benefit from his basketball potential. In search of the perfect fit and a stable household, Amare transferred through six high schools, only to be deemed ineligible for his junior season by transfer rules.
After shaking the rust off from his inactive junior year, Amare used his senior season at Cypress Creek High School to prove his worth to NBA scouts. And after eight GMs balked at the 6'10", 250-pound man-child with a troubled past, the Phoenix Suns took him as the ninth overall selection in the 2002 Draft, officially signaling his escape from The Trap.
Amare's rookie season was nothing short of historic; he became the first ever straight-from-high school pick to win NBA Rookie of the Year Award. He used the next two seasons to polish his raw and powerful game. In 2004-05, Amare achieved All-Star status and tallied 26 ppg. He topped off his season averaging 37 points in the Western Conference Finals against Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs. Things were looking good for Amare, who was positioned as the favorite for 2005-06 League MVP. In the words of Shaq himself after he faced Amare and the Suns, "I've seen the future of the NBA, and his name is Amare Stoudemire."
The future was put on hold though, as Amare faced yet another struggle. The knee soreness he experienced in the off-season severely increased during preseason. Doctors determined that Amare needed microfracture surgery to repair damaged cartilage in his knee. The process consists of drilling several small holes in the bone around the knee joint, causing bone marrow and blood to seep out, form a clot and release cartilage-building cells. The clot will eventually become firm repair tissue to replace the damaged cartilage. Recovering from microfracture surgery is an extensive four- to six-month process, which many professional athletes fail to conquer. However, Amare's youth and determination, combined with the fact that his knee suffered no additional damage, have created a positive outlook for his return.
The child who held his own is back at it as a man trying to re-conquer a sport. "When I got hurt, I knew I had to remain positive," Amare says. "I became even more determined and went into attack mode. I know Im going to come back stronger than ever, and, as a team, we will accomplish our ultimate goal. Just wait and see."
Across the Suns' workout board, Amare has scribbled some borrowed words from his inspiration, Tupac Shakur. Take it as a message-or a warning-but nevertheless, take it: "Expect me like you expect Jesus to come back. I'm coming."
Helping Amare ready his body for its return to dominance is Phoenix Suns Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Erik Phillips.
Amare on Phillips: "Erik and his program have helped me in the past, and will have me ready to come back. I got stronger and more explosive out on the court when I first started working with him."
Although Amare credits Phillips for his strength increases, he deserves some props himself. Phillips says that Amare was in tremendous shape heading into this season because of the hard work he did in the off-season. "After losing the Western Conference Finals, he was so hungry that he was willing to do anything to achieve his ultimate goal, and that's why this injury is such a shame. You'll see how hard he has been working once he gets back."
The training Amare used in high school is completely different from that which Phillips employs. "I started working out my junior year with the typical high school mentality of trying to bench as much as possible," Amare says. "Now I realize the important things I have to do to make me better on the court, like the flexibility and balance work I do with Erik."
Unfortunately, the mentality Amare refers to is common among b-ballers, according to Phillips. "I see a lot of guys who like to sit down on the leg extension machine and just pump away. That is ineffective for improving performance, and it creates strength imbalances. Even guys who have done the important stuff correctly, like core work, might have strength, but don't know how to use it."
There lies the beauty of Phillips' program. It develops proper muscle balance, corrects kinetic chain imbalances (how muscles work in conjunction with one another) and establishes optimum multidirectional body control through a combination of corrective exercises, flexibility work, stabilization and functional strength training. The result? A body that works better.
In discussing goals he specifically set for Amare, Phillips says, "When we first started, I was nervous about doing anything that would get in the way of his natural gifts. He is a freak of nature. I've never seen a player this powerful before."
Phillips supplements Amare's God-given ability with upper body and core strength work. This helps him handle the banging from opposing centers, who are often bigger, and maintain his rep as a quick, explosive offensive threat.
What does an NBA superstar do in the weight room 10 weeks out from serious knee surgery?
Everything he can.
After completing daily corrective exercises and rehabilitation work with head athletic trainer Aaron Nelson and assistant Mike Elliott, Amare enters the Suns' weight room, removes his oversized t-shirt, pops his man Tupac into the CD player and prepares for the workout Phillips has for him that day.
Phillips modifies some of Amares off-season workouts to create post-rehab lifts that focus on upper-body strength-avoiding stress on the newly repaired knee. However, Phillips includes exercises where Amare stands and balances on one leg. He says, "Single-leg exercises are great rehabilitation work for his knee. All of the muscles around the joint strengthen because they have to stabilize his bodyweight throughout the set."
A few sets into the workout, Amare takes a break from mouthing the lyrics booming overhead and grins as he looks down at his suddenly swollen physique. He says, "I tend to get big really fast. I have to be careful not to lift too much weight or I'll blow up. My brother is about my height. He lifts a lot and is 320 pounds-all muscle.
Agreeing, Phillips says, "Because he can't do a lot of running, we were a little worried about him getting too big and heavy. He weighed 253 last year, and he's been able to stay between 255 and 258 since his injury. We have done a pretty good job of keeping him light so he'll stay quick and explosive when he gets back on the court."
Consequently, instead of building size, Amare's workouts are geared toward developing functional strength in conjunction with stabilization strength. Amare accomplishes this by fatiguing a muscle group with a strength exercise, then performing a stabilizing exercise with the same muscle group. He completes each exercise once, then repeats the routine.
Check out what "the future" has been doing to get court-ready, and of course, why hes doing it.
Corrective Exercise Training
With the help of the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), Phillips evaluates each player three times a year-preseason, midseason and postseason-using the NASM Body Map. The test consists of two movements-a squat with arms overhead and a single-leg squat with hands on hips-while photos are taken from various angles. Phillips examines the images to determine weaknesses in posture, movement, strength, flexibility and overall athleticism, and then creates a personalized program to correct them.
"Although corrective work doesn't take much time to complete-only about 15 minutes-it's probably one of the most beneficial things we do around here," Phillips says. "One of our main goals is to keep these guys healthy and feeling good throughout the 82-game regular season, playoffs and off-season workouts. This corrective work has allowed us to be successful with that."
The corrective exercises rectify muscle imbalances, recondition injuries, prepare the body for training, prevent training overload, enhance adaptation, and improve the body's work capacity and stabilization strength. If these terms sound foreign to you, think about it this way: these exercises help you get the most out of your body by making it more receptive to training and work more efficiently.
Amare's Body Map
Squat with arms overhead
Feet turn out. .....................................Weak abductors, tight adductors
Knees move outward. ........................Weak abductors, tight adductors
Excessive forward lean . .....................Tight hip flexors, weak glutes/erectors
Single-leg squat with hands on hips
Knee moves inward (R, L) .................Tight adductors
Leans over grounded leg (R, L) ..........Lack of hip stabilization
Phillips designed the following corrective work specifically for Amare. However, because these deficiencies are common among basketball players, the routine can benefit all. Complete the exercises before every game, practice or training as a warm-up.
For all foam roller exercises, roll slowly over specified region for 30-60 seconds until you identify a tender area. Hold roller on tender spot for an additional 30 seconds before continuing.
Purpose: Loosen soft tissue; decrease soreness within muscles
Sit on ground, and place foam roller between your right calf and floor. Slowly roll it up and down muscle. Repeat with other leg.
Lie on your right side supporting your body with your right arm. Place foam roller between floor and outside of right thigh. Move left leg to front of your body and place that foot flat on ground. Starting at hip, slowly roll between hip and knee. Repeat for opposite side.
Lie on your stomach using your elbows as support. Situate right leg out to side. Place foam roller under and perpendicular to inside of right thigh. Slowly roll from groin to inside of knee. Don't allow your lower back to hyperextend. Repeat with other leg.
Static Stretching Exercises
Bring each stretch to slight point of tension, and hold for 30 seconds. Make sure to perform every stretch on both sides.
Purpose: Improve functional flexibility of hips, hamstrings, glutes and calves
Slant Board Calf Stretch
Begin with left foot in front of right on slant board; keep right leg straight. Lean forward, keeping right heel flat, until you feel tension in that calf. Don't allow foot to collapse inward.
Lie on your back. Bend right leg and cross it over left leg, which should remain straight. Place left hand on outside of right knee and slowly pull right leg towards left shoulder until you feel slight tension in your glute.
Kneeling Flexor Stretch
Begin by kneeling on right knee and bending left leg at a 90-degree angle with foot flat on ground. Tighten glute of right leg and rotate pelvis under while maintaining upright posture.
Progression 1: While maintaining pelvic position, raise right arm up and over to elongate the spine.
Progression 2: Slowly rotate torso backward.
Standing Hamstring Stretch
Place right foot on an elevated surface in front of you. Angle it toward left leg, and tilt pelvis forward. Maintain pelvic position while slowly leaning forward until you feel slight tension in your right hamstring. Repeat with left leg.
Perform 2 sets of 15 reps for each exercise. Make sure to train both legs on directional and single-leg exercises.
Purpose: Eliminate muscle imbalances by strengthening glutes, core, abductors and adductors
Lateral Tube Walking
With elastic tubing around both ankles, stand with toes straight ahead, knees over feet and hands on hips. Draw abdomen in and step to right while maintaining upright posture. Don't rock your upper body when stepping. Step again with left foot, bringing your feet back to shoulder-width distance. Repeat for 15 steps.
Standing Hip Abduction
Wrap elastic tubing around lower right leg and stationary object. Stand with left leg closer to stationary object. Move right leg outward, pause for two seconds and return leg to starting position.
Standing Hip Adduction
Wrap elastic tubing around lower right leg and stationary object. Stand with right leg closer to object. Move right leg forward and over left leg, pause for two seconds and return leg to starting position.
Stability Ball Squat
Place stability ball between mid-back and wall. With control, squat down keeping your knees aligned over your second and third toes. To return, activate glutes and stand upright until hips and knees are straight.
Stability Ball Bridge with Abduction
Place elastic tubing around both knees, and lie with upper back on stability ball. While keeping your feet flat and knees pointed straight ahead at shoulder-width, rise into bridge position. Apply pressure into tubing, draw abdomen in, activate glutes and lift pelvis up as far as possible without arching low back. Hold bridge for two seconds, then slowly lower to start position.
Single-Leg Balance Reach
Assume single-leg stance. While keeping balancing leg slightly bent and hip in line with knee, draw abs in and tighten glutes. With opposite leg straight, extend it back at a 45-degree angle, tightening glute, quad and calf. Stabilize for two seconds and bring foot back toward opposite foot.
Push-up with Rotation
• Perform push-up. At top of movement, rotate body into side-plank position with one arm on ground and other extended toward ceiling
• Slowly rotate back to top of push-up position
• Perform push-up and repeat rotation to opposite side
Form Matters: "Do not allow your hips to dip when you rotate into the side position.
Keep your hips high and your whole body rigid—especially your core—so your body forms a straight line. Your ankles, knees, hips, lumbar spine and shoulders should all be in the same plane."
Why he does it: "This motion requires a tremendous amount of shoulder stabilization.
When you get to the top of the rotation, the bottom shoulder is supporting and balancing a great deal of body weight, and your core has to work to keep your body rigid and in line."
Push-up on Bosu Ball
• Assume push-up position with hands holding outside of upside-down Bosu ball
• Perform push-up
Form Matters: "Keep your core tight to remain stable. your body in a straight line."
Why he does it: "Just like the push-up with rotation, this exercise strengthens the chest while working core strength and shoulder stability. I have Amare replace the Push-up with Rotation with the Bosu the second time through. The Bosu's unstable surface forces his whole upper body—core included—to work to maintain balance."
Single-Arm, Single-Leg Cable Row
• Assume single-leg stance with opposite leg bent and thigh at hip level. Hold handle with hand opposite balancing leg
• Pull cable until hand is at chest
• Return cable to starting position with control
Form Matters: "Don't rock back as you pull the cable. Keep your core tight and body balanced on each rep. Make sure your balancing leg lines up with the rest of your body— directly underneath your corresponding hip and shoulder. Don't allow your upper body to lean toward the side of the balancing leg to compensate for the instability."
Why he does it: "This is great for developing balance and stability while working the back muscles. When Amare is on one foot with the other leg elevated, his glutes, hips, core and all the muscles around his ankle work hard to provide a stable base."
Seated Dumbbell Curl to Shoulder Press
• Sit on bench holding dumbbells at sides
• Perform dumbbell curl until weights are at shoulder level
• Rotate palms so they face away and perform overhead shoulder press
• Lower dumbbells through same motion with control
Form Matters: "Keep your core tight and don't arch your back during the overhead press."
Why he does it: "This exercise incorporates two movements into one, which allows you to train multiple muscles in less time. The curl portion works the biceps, the transition works the rotator cuffs and the overhead press works the deltoids and traps."
Stability Ball Shoulder Combo
• Lie with stomach on stability ball and light dumbbells in hands
• Keeping arms straight, raise dumbbells to front, side and rear for one complete repetition
Form Matters: "Move the dumbbells with control. Don't swing them with momentum
created by the stability ball. Flex your glutes and abs to provide a stable base, or you'll end up falling all over the place."
Why he does it: "This combination works all ranges of motion of the shoulder joint; it strengthens the anterior (front), medial (side) and posterior (rear) delts. Your upper back muscles, including the rhomboids, are strengthened as well. The stability ball works core stabilization."
Tricep Extension with Curl Bar
• Lie with back on bench holding curl bar over chest with straight arms
• Without changing position of upper arms, lower bar to top of forehead
• Raise bar back to start position
Form Matters: "Do not allow your elbows to get wider than shoulder width when
lowering or raising the bar. Keep your feet flat on the floor and knees at hip width."
Why he does it: "This is a strengthening exercise for the triceps"
Single-Leg Tricep Pushdown with Basketball Grip
• Assume single-leg stance in front of cable pushdown with opposite foot just off ground
• Keeping elbows tight to ribcage, push cable down until arms are straight
• Allow arms to return to start position with control
Form matters: "Keep your elbows pinned to your side for the whole set. The upper arms shouldn't move at all.
Make sure your balancing leg is lined up with the rest of your body— directly underneath your corresponding hip and shoulder. Don't lean your upper body toward the side of the balancing leg to compensate for the instability."
Why he does it: "This exercise strengthens the triceps while working balance and stability. The muscles around your ankle and knee of the balancing leg have to work to maintain balance throughout the exercise. The basketball grip gets our guys used to gripping the ball—making it more basketball-specific."
Stability Ball Crunch with Med Ball Toss
• Sit on stability ball facing partner who's holding med ball
• As he tosses ball to you, catch it and perform crunch
• At top of crunch, throw ball to partner with chest pass
Form matters: "Keep your core tight to absorb the force of the throw and to prevent the stability ball from going all over the place."
Why he does it: "Because I throw the med ball to all different locations, reaction and stabilization are challenged. Amare has to react to the ball, catch it, stabilize and then perform a controlled crunch."
Stability Ball Crunch and Twist with Med Ball
• Sit on stability ball facing partner who's holding med ball
• As he tosses med ball to you, catch it, twist to right, twist to left and then perform crunch
• At top of crunch, throw ball back to partner with chest pass
Form matters: "When you twist to the right, twist until you can touch your right elbow to the stability ball and vice versa twisting to the left."
Why he does it: "This also works reaction and stabilization, but adds rotational core strength since you twist in each direction."
Stability Ball Bridge with Adduction
• Place upper back on stability ball with med ball between your knees
• Rise up into bridge position by flexing glutes, creating a straight line from knees to shoulders
• Lower with control
Form matters: "Focus on flexing your glutes and applying force to the med ball between your knees. Keep your stomach drawn in and knees and toes hip-width apart and pointing straight ahead."
Why he does it: "The bridge position is a great way to strengthen the glutes and upper hamstrings—the body's most powerful muscles used in jumping and explosive movements. Forcing Amare to squeeze the med ball between his knees works his adductors."
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