What separates a "great" NBA player from one who's just "average" is a matter of degrees—a few more shots made at the right time, a couple of extra rebounds each game, or a little more durability during the long season.When he jumped to the NBA after a single season of college ball (at UCLA), Kevin Love didn't want to be average. He wanted to be great. So he sought out ways he could outwork, outsmart and outlast his competition. "I always try to find something that's going to separate me from other guys," Love says.
Love thought yoga might be a difference maker for him, so perhaps it was a fortunate coincidence that just down the road from where he went to school was a former pro basketball player turned yoga instructor named Kent Katich, whose client list included a bevy of NBA stars. Love walked into Katich's "Yoga Court" studio years ago, and the two have worked together ever since. Today, yoga is a huge part of Love's training regimen, and he credits the practice for a number of improvements in both his game and his life.
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"I lost some weight and I became a lot more limber," Love says. But yoga's benefits are not just physical. Love adds, "It lets me assess not only how my body feels, but where my mind is. It helps me escape all the stresses and pressures of daily life."
As his yoga practice grew, Love began incorporating it into his daily life in smaller doses. During the off-season, he performs hour-long yoga workouts with Katich two to three times a week; but he also does a few minutes a day here and there whenever he feels the need. "You can really do [yoga] anywhere," Love says. "I do it before I get on planes or after I get off planes when we're traveling. I'll do a bit when I wake up in the morning, or before I go to bed."
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Katich encourages these short sessions, and he works with Love to ensure his yoga moves complement the other demands being placed on his body. "Kevin isn't a yogi. He's a basketball player," Katich says. "But he's integrated it into everything. The yoga has made the weight training better, and that's made the basketball better, and the basketball's made the yoga better, and he has unified them all."
Love also found that yoga helped him notice weaknesses and trouble spots. "You quickly find where your body's weaknesses are when you try to go through and hold different poses," he says.
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Katich agrees that the knowledge gained from yoga helps athletes notice and address issues before they become injuries. He says, "Yoga gets you in tune with your body. It gives you a day-to-day analysis of what's feeling good—and what's not. When a warning sign starts to pop up, if you pause for a moment to assess it, you can address it before it becomes a problem."
Kevin Love's 5-Move Yoga Routine for Beginners
Love's off-season work includes long challenging sessions ("It just might be my hardest workout," he says). Yet Katich believes you can reap huge rewards by performing just five moves—like the routine below, which Love performs regularly.
The following moves address important muscles in the legs, hips and back—common trouble areas for basketball players and many other athletes.
Spend a few minutes per day performing this sequence, focusing on proper form. Remember to be patient with yourself and enjoy the process of improvement. "Yoga can be really tough, and you can always get better at it." Love says. "That's what makes it so fun."
Downward Facing Dog
Kevin Love (right) and Kent Katich (left) perform Downward Facing Dog pose.
Begin on all fours. Pull your hips back and up toward the ceiling while keeping your hands planted firmly on the floor. Tuck your head in as you move. "This is a whole body pose that works your hands, shoulders, calves, lower back, feet—everything, really," Katich says.
Kevin Love (right) performs a lunge under the guidance of trainer Kent Katich.
From Downward Facing Dog, step your right foot up inside your right hand. Bend your right knee over your ankle so your thigh is parallel to the floor. Align your fingertips with your toes, roll your shoulder blades back and look straight ahead. Hold the pose, then switch to the other foot. Katich: "This targets your hip flexors, which are key for running and taking pressure off your lower back."
Kevin Love (right) performs Triangle pose, while Katich assists.
From Lunge, point your back foot away from your body at a 90-degree angle and straighten your front (right) leg. Reach forward with your right hand. Bend at the hips and lower your hand to your right foot or calf. Raise your left hand straight into the air and turn your head to look at your raised hand. Hold the pose, then switch sides. "This targets your obliques [muscles at the sides of your abdomen] and elongates your spine. It also stretches your lumbar and hamstrings," Katich says.
Kevin Love performs Tree pose.
From Triangle, bring your feet together so you're in a standing position. Press your left heel into the floor and lift your right leg. Place your right foot on the inside of your left leg, either above or below the knee, but never on the knee. Place your hands together in front of your heart. If possible, lift your arms above your head. Hold the pose, then switch legs. Katich says, "This targets those small muscles and proprioceptors, so it helps improve your balance."
Katich (left) demonstrates Reclining Pigeon pose for Kevin Love.
From Tree pose, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Cross your right ankle over your left knee. Flex your right foot, pointing your toes back toward your shin. Interlace your fingers behind your left thigh and pull your left knee toward your chest. You should feel tension in your outer right hip. Keeping your head and shoulders flat, take slow, deep breaths, mentally sending your inhales to the area where you feel the sensation. Hold the pose, then switch sides. Katich says, "This targets your hip joint, glutes and piriformis muscle."
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