With his recent play, 33-year-old LeBron James has ascended to yet another level of basketball greatness. He may soon find himself in a stratosphere without company—some would argue he’s already there.
It wasn’t so long ago that the cruel march of time finally looked to be catching up with King James. As ESPN Senior Writer Brian Windhorst details in this piece, lower-back issues plagued LeBron during the 2015 season. The pain sapped him of much of his trademark explosiveness, and his play reflected that. Facing an injury that threatened to spoil his legacy, James decided to call in a specialist to see how he might overcome the problem. That specialist was Donnie Raimon, a movement analyst out of DBC Fitness in Miami, Florida. After seeing how Raimon was able to help him strengthen the musculature in and around his core to help take stress off his lower back, James hired Raimon to be his full-time biomechanist.
Since then, LeBron’s core strength has become superhuman. Over the last couple years, his workouts have featured some of the most remarkable displays of core strength and stability we’ve ever seen. That trait not only helps him stay healthy and pain-free, but it also allows him to express his explosiveness more efficiently than ever.
“Everything starts and ends with the core. No core no nothing!” James wrote in an Instagram caption last September. During the regular season, he told reporters, “this is the best (he’s) felt in (his) career.” It’s no coincidence that James’s breakthrough to another level of excellence and longevity has coincided with his devotion to building incredible, sustainable core strength.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of LeBron’s most phenomenal displays of core strength caught on camera. We don’t recommend the average athlete utilize these exercises. I know you want to think you’re on the same level as LeBron, but spoiler alert—you’re not. There are plenty of other great core exercises you can use before you work your way up to LeBron’s otherworldly level. But King James needs exercises of this intensity and design to accomplish what he’s aiming to achieve with his body.
You’ll notice many of LeBron’s core exercises make use of the Swiss Ball. The natural instability of the Swiss Ball makes it an excellent tool for building strength and stability throughout the core, which helps train the body to handle the chaotic instabilities present in competition. Raimon warns to make sure the ball is fully inflated, or else the training tool loses much of its effectiveness. Above, in a narrow hallway at the Boston Celtics’ TD Garden, LeBron goes through a short pre-game workout under the supervision of Raimon. The workout caps off at the :28 second mark with LeBron kneeling on top of a Swiss Ball and catching med ball passes from Raimon. Raimon feeds LeBron the ball from a variety of angles to further increase the challenge. You can see LeBron’s core muscles firing like crazy to keep him from falling off the ball, and he remarkably succeeds at that task.
That’s LeBron kneeling on top of a Swiss ball as he holds a Bodyblade-like device in several positions. Kneeling on top of the ball is difficult enough, but the introduction of that device cranks the difficulty way up. LeBron’s core must work overtime to stabilize his body and allow him to keep his balance. By moving the device around to several positions with both hands, LeBron is making sure he’s working to destroy any muscle asymmetries that may exist.
This might be the most insane display of all. James, kneeling on a Swiss Ball, inverts two kettlebells into a bottoms up position, activating an absurd amount of musculature all throughout his body. Then, a smirking Raimon steps into frame to place two smaller kettlebells on top of the ones James is already holding. From there, James’ grimacing face tells you all you need to know about this torturously difficult exercise.
Here you can see James warming up for a game at Madison Square Garden by performing a variety of drills while standing on Waff Mini Elites. Think of these like stability discs on steroids, as even the smallest amount of instability while standing on the Waff Mini Elites can result in your legs shaking like jelly. The fact they make LeBron look like a bit like a baby giraffe should tell you everything you need to know about the challenge these pieces of equipment can offer. But James doesn’t just stand on them—he stands on them while catching basketballs, or balances on top of one leg while his longtime personal trainer Mike Mancias leads him through a sort of Partner-Resisted Pallof Press. If stabilizer muscles all throughout his body—starting at his core—aren’t firing properly, James would fall right off the discs. It’s an interesting way to ensure his body is functioning as intended prior to competition.
There’s plenty more to LeBron’s training than core strength, but it’s clear that developing and maintaining an incredible amount of functional core strength and stability has become of the utmost importance to King James and the team tasked with taking care of his body.