Fit For Life Features

Lakers Welcome Back Steve Blake
By: Joe Fann

There is nothing more frustrating for an athlete than to be sidelined with an injury. That frustration is magnified when the injury is completely out of the player’s control. Such was the case with Steve Blake, the Lakers sixth man and leader off the bench.

Blake suffered an injury to the ribs in the Lakers 99-83 victory against the Phoenix Suns on January 10th. The injury was aggravated the very next night against the Utah Jazz. What was considered a day-to-day injury ended up costing Blake the next 13 games.

For most injuries, the rehab process can start right away. Steve Blake wasn’t so lucky.

“Depending on your injury, it’s all about what you can do while you’re injured. If you can continue to run or ride a bike to stay in shape while you heal, then that can really help,” Blake explained. “Unfortunately for myself, I couldn’t do anything for two weeks so it really took a lot of my conditioning away. It just made it a little more difficult to come back and be right on point.”

Blake was used to sitting on the bench for tip-off, but staying there the entire game was a new experience, one no athlete likes getting used to.

“It’s extremely hard. Like most guys, you want to do something. If your wrist hurts you can do some leg weights. If your ankle hurts you can still lift and work your upper body,” Blake said. “Unfortunately, my injury was right in the middle and they didn’t want me doing anything. It’s very tough to watch and not be able to participate at any capacity.”

The weeks passed and Blake was eventually able to begin his rehab activities. Blake explained that it’s important to be able to make progress everyday depending on the amount of pain a player is in in. He started with limiting himself to running on a treadmill, but was able to progress to running on the hardwood floor, and eventually was cleared to continue basketball related activities.

Blake had the benefit of receiving treatment from the Lakers’ legendary athletic trainer Gary Vitti and his staff.

“The key is to have a good trainer or doctor that can put you on a program. You need someone that knows how much you can do and at what weights to not push it too fast or too slow,” Blake said.

The rehab process doesn’t end once you step back onto the floor. Like many players returning from injury, Blake is still working on getting his conditioning back to the level it was at before he was sidelined.

“After the first two minutes of my first game back it felt like my arms were carrying 25-pound weights around,” Blake said. “It was tough. My legs were tired. It just takes some getting used to how you react to the fatigue again. I wasn’t 100%, but I was good enough to be able to contribute.”

And contribute he has. Even without being at 100%, the Lakers have already been enjoying the positive impact of having Steve Blake back in their lineup. The Lakers started 6-2 upon Blake’s return, where Blake averaged 4.6 assists and even scored a season-high 17 points in a win against Portland at STAPLES Center. The minutes he provides off the bench are crucial for a Lakers team who played without a true backup point guard in Blake’s absence.

Injuries are always frustrating for any athlete, but regardless of the physical shape that a player is in, staying healthy always includes some degree of luck. It’s a degree of luck that Blake understands very well.

“There are things you can do in the weight room to strengthen your muscles and become more flexible. That’s kind of up to you, which I think can help, but you can’t control landing on another guys foot and twisting your ankle,” Blake said. “I couldn’t control smashing into some guy and fracturing my rib. A lot of that has to do with being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but you just have to deal with it.”

Now that Blake is back on the floor and injury free, what is his key to staying healthy from here on out?

Blake responded with a laugh, “Just pray about it and get lucky.”

Catching Up With Head Physical Therapist Judy Seto
By Amanda Ellis

Consulting the team for over 15 years, Judy Seto has taken on a more permanent role this season as Head Physical Therapist for the Los Angeles Lakers.

“It has certainly been a transition,” Seto explained of her journey from consultant to full-timer, “but it’s familiar because I had been working with the Lakers a great deal in the past.”

It is Seto’s familiarity and long-time dedication to the team that makes her such an integral and welcomed addition to the Lakers full-time staff. With a bachelor’s degree from UCLA in Kinesiology and Psychology, a master’s degree from Stanford University in physical therapy and a doctorate from Temple, Seto provides a more holistic approach to medicine, stressing both the physical and psychological aspects of recovery.

“You have to incorporate psychology too as part of the program,” said Seto. “You can’t go on a trip without knowing how to get from point A to point B; we help the players navigate that road.”

The recovery process can be that of set backs and delays if not properly managed. Because of this, Seto considers not only the injury but also the individual when treating the players.

“A lot of times injuries are pretty straight forward but the psychological aspect plays a big role in how people recover. How people view their injury and how they view their own progress matters significantly,” Seto said. “People that are more positive generally recover better.”

With that in mind, Seto puts recovery into perspective in terms of a series of goals or milestones, in hopes of getting the player to focus on the positive side of the healing process.

Setting goals or mapping out the recovery process also stands to discourage players from testing out their injuries before being fully healed.

“One thing I remember Mitch Kupchak telling me a long time ago was that he wants a player on the court when they are supposed to get back on the court, not a day too soon or a day too late,” she explained. “With an injury, if you test it when you shouldn’t, it may not hurt today but it might hurt tomorrow. “

This season in particular, Seto’s well-rounded approach to care has proved vital, with the biggest concern being overuse in a shortened season.

“The biggest challenge in this compressed season is that there are less rest days,” she said. “So we have to make sure we are staying on top of injuries. It’s a fine balance, organizing a schedule so that they are not getting tired by doing too much, but at the same time making sure the players are not fatiguing because they aren’t doing enough.”

Seto also stresses the importance of varying each players program based on their position, and after practice, she suggests icing, stretching and staying hydrated as important measures for staying healthy.

Working behind the scenes, Seto’s efforts allow some of the world’s most beloved athletes to perform to their highest potential. And, with the hopes of taking home a championship at the end of the season, Seto and the rest of the training staff are committed to helping the Lakers achieve that dream.

“It’s funny because, for us, it’s those little things,” Seto said “When you see a player get better, figure out a way to avoid certain injuries or make sure they are as effective as they can be, it’s really exciting. That’s the most rewarding part of the job.”

Getting to Know Strength and Conditioning Coach Tim DiFrancesco
By Trevor Wong

Currently in his first season as Los Angeles Lakers strength and conditioning coach, Tim DiFrancesco always aspired to work in this type of field.

"Growing up as an athlete and being interested in the human body and science, it was a natural fit to get into it," DiFrancesco said. "I had my fair share of injuries and I had my fair share of people who helped me get better from them and get stronger. I really wanted to be able to do that for other people."

Prior to joining the Lakers, DiFrancesco spent two full seasons with the NBA Development League's Bakersfield Jam. Before working with the Jam, he co-founded TD Athletes Edge, LLC in 2007, helping athletes and clients of all levels achieve their maximum performance through performance training.

Prior to the start of the NBA season, the Lakers hired DiFrancesco, who was beginning his third year with the Jam. With a condensed training camp, he was faced with properly readying the players for the upcoming season in a short period of time.

"My job was less about 'Let's get these guys in shape,' and more about improving their strength and conditioning at an appropriate pace while avoiding overuse and injuries," said DiFrancesco. "My job is to help the players stay healthy and maintain court time during the season, whether it's going through dynamic warm-ups, pre-practice or pre-game routines or recovery-type workouts."

Typically, teams go through about a month of training camp in the offseason; this year teams had two weeks to prepare for the regular season that was set to begin on Christmas day.

With such a quick turnaround, the condensed, 66-game schedule features more games played in short periods of time. The Lakers already played their only back-to-back-to-back stretch and they will also play 18 back-to-back sets. Their schedule also features three stretches of four games in five nights and eight stretches of three games in four nights. For a Lakers roster laden with veterans, taking care of the body becomes even more crucial.

"Everything is at a premium," DiFrancesco said of the compacted schedule. "We have less time to recover from injuries and everything is crunched and condensed. Around-the-clock rehab and strength and conditioning work become more vital than ever before."

The long layoff in the offseason plus the short period of time to prepare for the season doesn't necessarily equate to injuries; however, the most common type of injury associated with a schedule like this can be found in the feet and lower half of the body, according to DiFrancesco.

"You're probably looking at Achilles' issues, foot issues and pain," he said. "Helping an athlete become 'bulletproof' around their frame is really important. Strong, but mobile hips are very important because if those areas are not falling in line with each other, then you're looking at more stress below in the knees, ankles and the Achilles."

DiFrancesco explains the core is the essential part of the body that communicates with the hips and the upper body. All three need to be in sync, or be in communication with one another. That, at its core, is essential for maintaining health and putting the players in the best position to avoid injury.

"For me, my biggest thing is being able to pick out how well the core is communicating with the hips and to see how the core is communicating with the upper body," he said of trying to avoid the overuse of muscles. "That is essentially, fundamentally what sport is. The strength of the body is equally important to how well different body parts communicate."

Though the season has just started, DiFrancesco has been busy, trying to monitor the various injuries that have befallen some of the players, while constructing nutrition programs and observing their eating habits. But the jump from the D-League to the professional ranks has been a seamless transition in large part because of longtime athletic trainer Gary Vitti, according to DiFrancesco. His love for the job and being around the Lakers organization, in his eyes, cannot be matched and the experience he has had so far is rewarding.

"It's a cool thing to be in the NBA, but when it's the Lakers, it's a little bit different," he said. "This organization is arguably the greatest franchise of all time, and there's a reason for that. I really get to spend my time doing stuff that I love to do, developing quality strength and conditioning programs for high-level athletes, and that's the most fun thing."

The Los Angeles Lakers work to educate the community about the importance of physical fitness and nutrition in an effort to help fight child obesity and encourage all fans to be fit for life.

The Lakers Fit for Life Webpage will provide you with various resources to get you started with your commitment to lead a happy, healthy and active lifestyle. Make sure to visit periodically for new fitness tips, healthy recipes, exclusive player editorials, photos, videos and more.

Check out features from the 2010-11 season.
Check out features from the 2009-10 season.