If you were among the millions who watched the Golden State Warriors win it all at the 2015 NBA finals, then you know the athletic aptitude required to pull off such a feat. While Stephen Curry and other top-performing athletes certainly have natural talent to work with, they also have an arsenal of tools that help enhance their skills and keep them strong. Here are some easy, doable tips from pro athletes that you can use to look, feel, and perform your best every day, no matter what your baseline.
1. Start with a dynamic warm-up.
Before tackling a high-intensity workout, five-time World Series champion Derek Jeter starts with calisthenics including jumping jacks, arm circles, pushups, lunges, and squats to warm up his muscles. While you may not need a lengthy cool-down post-workout, warm-ups are non-negotiable, because they help prevent injury, enhance performance, and can even stave off soreness. Ease into every fitness session with a few minutes of dynamic moves like Jeter’s.
2. Consider rest and recovery as important as the rest of your training.
Three-time MLB All-Star and two-time MLB Home Run Champion Jose Bautista has to take every measure necessary to preserve his strength, and one crucial component of his training is rest. “My muscles get sore the next day if I don’t eat enough protein or drink enough water. Recovery time has a lot to do with diet,” he says.
3. Spend time fine-tuning your coordination.
In his off-season workouts, Warriors point guard and 2015 MVP Steph Curry concentrates on “neuromuscular overload,” according to his trainer, Brandon Payne. This means the basketball star focuses intensely on perfecting his trademark dexterity, performing complex exercises that challenge his coordination. One exercise consists of Curry tossing a tennis ball in the air, dribbling a basketball behind his back, and then catching the tennis ball before it hits the floor.
4. Pay attention to what your body is telling you.
San Francisco Giants pitcher and 2014 World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner knows a thing or two about tuning into his body’s signals. While he goes all out on the field, he also knows when to scale back his effort. “I’m always trying to listen to my body and adjust to what it’s telling me. I feel like I work pretty hard and I can listen to my body and make adjustments,” MadBum says.
5. Do what you can when you can.
Olympic hockey player Richard Alexander believes in squeezing in training sessions whenever possible, even if it means settling for a condensed workout. “Don’t put exercise off till later,” he says. “The longer you leave it, the greater the chance that something may come up or distract you. And if you can’t do the full workout, do what you can…five press-ups or sit-ups a day before bed is an extra 1,825 a year.”
6. Take the time to slow down.
It can be tempting to train nonstop if you’re trying to get stronger, faster, or more fit. But 2010 Olympic moguls skier Heather McPhie says she experienced an unexpected payoff from slowing down. “During our last training camp, I took 10 minutes each day to center myself,” she says. “I set a timer and did nothing. It helped me observe things, like tightness in my right shoulder, that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.”
7. Prioritize quality over quantity.
Racing through a workout may seem efficient, but it’s never a good — or safe — idea to sacrifice proper form. Two-time skeleton Olympian Katie Uhlaender believes it’s actually much more efficient to do each rep right. “You’ll get better results and ward off injury by doing fewer reps correctly than by doing a bunch with poor form,” she says.
8. Stay hydrated
Cleveland Cavaliers small forward and two-time NBA champion LeBron James knows staying hydrated is crucial for optimal energy and performance. “It sounds so simple, but I am a big believer in water,” he says. “I start the day with two big glasses, and pretty much drink it until I go to bed.”
9. Keep your core strong
A strong core can keep you stable in just about any athletic venture. “I do a 10-minute ab workout that [boxer] Manny Pacquiao invented — you can find it on YouTube,” four-time Olympic medal gymnast Shawn Johnson says. “It’s about 20 different versions of crunches, and you do 25 seconds of each nonstop. It’s brutal, but it really works!”
10. Get as much sleep as you need
A good night’s sleep is essential to good health and enhanced athletic performance. Shoot for the recommended seven to nine hours every night, or try not setting an alarm on vacation to see how much sleep your body naturally needs. You might also consider napping if you’re able to squeeze in a short midday sleep session and you find it leaves you feeling refreshed. “If you nap every game day, all those hours add up and it allows you to get through the season better,” says NBA all-star point guard Steve Nash. “I want to improve at that, so by the end of the year, I feel better.”
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