To say that Steph Curry of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors has had an incredible season is an understatement. The 27-year-old point guard led his squad to the league’s best regular season record, earned the league MVP award, and has the top-selling jersey. Now, his team is one win away from its first NBA championship. Curry’s statistics are terrific, but it’s his play which is mesmerizing. He moves on a dime to evade defenders, routinely dribbles behind his back and between multiple opponents, and most notably, he can shoot lights out. He has the quickest release ever recorded, taking him a mere 0.4 seconds to get his shot off. Curry holds the records for most three-pointers made in a regular season and in a post-season.
Plagued by Ankle Injuries
Today, the slim six-foot-three-inch Curry doesn’t have a problem competing with – and embarrassing – larger athletes with his skills. Not long ago, however, he was struggling mightily with lingering ankle problems. From 2010-2012, Curry sprained the same ankle 10 times and underwent ankle surgery to repair torn ligaments twice. A mere three years before this MVP season, Curry missed over 50 games due to his ankle injuries. Curry’s ankles weren’t seen as the weapons that help him shift, dodge, and cross over: they were dubbed “paper mâché,” “taffy,” and “tissue paper” by NBA insiders and ESPN talking heads.
Enter a Rehab Genius
Keke Lyles joined the Warriors as the team’s director of athletic performance in the summer of 2012. Lyles is a rehab and prehab expert who is well-known for his astute ability to identify the root causes of movement dysfunctions and for his extensive use of biometrics to monitor athletes. Lyles is creative and relentless at finding ways to make some of the top athletes in the world perform better. Often, the techniques he employs are unconventional. For example, Lyles had Warriors veteran Andre Iguodala wear a Jawbone wristband to track his sleep, remove his TV from his bedroom, and store his cellphone in his bathroom at night time, all to improve his quality of sleep.
Finding Curry’s Hidden Weakness
When Lyles joined the Warriors’ staff, Curry had repeatedly but unsuccessfully worked on strengthening his ankles to prevent future injuries. Curry was in the midst of battling his debilitating ankle issues with no resolution in sight. Lyles evaluated Curry’s movement and looked well beyond his ankles. He had Curry perform numerous poses and movements to identify the root cause of his ankle problems. Lyles’ concluded that Curry had a weak core. In particular, Curry’s hips and glutes needed strengthening. Curry was putting too much pressure on his ankles because his core was not providing the stability needed for him to make all the quick and creative moves on the court.
Strengthening the Core
In a March blog, I wrote, “The core is a facilitator. It controls the force of other muscles in our bodies. To use a basketball analogy, the core is the point guard, ‘dishing off’ to the other muscles, such as the quads, biceps, and pectorals, to ensure they perform their duties.” There’s no better example of the core’s ability to repair and prevent injury than Curry’s experience with Lyles. Lyles had Curry focus on improving his balance and strengthening his core. Curry began a core-focused regimen, with emphasis on developing his hips and glutes. He became a lot stronger than he looks. Now, Curry deadlifts 400 pounds, the second most on his team, despite being one of the lightest players. Curry’s play didn’t look any different to most of us, but in reality it changed significantly. Lyles said, “[Before] Steph really liked to use his ankles to control everything, but now he's using his hips instead.”
Fast forward to this season. Curry missed only two games and wowed basketball fans worldwide. Curry’s dramatic improvement was noticed by experts across the league. ESPN NBA analyst Tom Haberstroh said, “Core power is the secret that unlocks Curry's magic… Now, as Curry weaves through defenders, he's not counting on his ankle to provide all the stability – instead the larger muscles of his core are doing a lot of the work to hold his leg in place.” Tonight, Curry will lead his Warriors against LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers in a closeout game in the NBA finals. If the Warriors win, they will be NBA champs. What a difference the core makes.
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