One-On-One With Alex McKechnie - Part Two
December 8, 2011
Before the start of training camp, Jay Satur sat down with the new members of the Raptors' coaching staff to discuss an unusual start to the 2011-12 season and their plans for getting started in Toronto. Here's part two of Jay's interview with director of sports science Alex McKechnie, who discusses his role with the Raptors, the importance of core strength and then challenges ahead with a shortened season.
JS: The Raptors lost their share of man-games to injury last season and some of those players commented on learning the importance of core strength a little too late -- namely AFTER being injured. Why is core strength so important for NBA players?
AM: Well first of all, core strength is something that's been near and dear to me for many, many years. I developed a system of exercising that's now effectively recognized for the stabilization of pelvic and spinal injuries and spinal dysfunction, which really means you're strengthening the core. I think conceptually, the average person may think the core is abdominals and the glutes and these different muscle groups, but core strength is really about the ability to integrate movement. It's an energy storage system that allows you to transfer energy from one point to another. It allows you to transfer power. So it's about the ability to establish core strength and the ability to establish stabilization before primary movement. Basketball is played in the upright posture incorporating predictable and unpredictable movements. A lot of people deal with core strength with lying down; doing sit-ups and various different things, but our concept of core strength is to establish strength and stability in the erect posture. When you're dealing with the size of the levers we deal with in basketball players, it's more important to have that primary stabilization. We're dealing with the fact that there's a lot of jumping -- it's not the jumping that the problem, it's the landing -- and it's the ability to control the opposing force couples to control gravity.
So it's important from a preventative standpoint. In other words, if you can get stabilization before primary movement then you eliminate a lot of the insidious-type onsets of injuries. That’s key and it's our goal here to integrate these programs into primary weight training programs. Core strength is about being able to control normal neutral posture. Everybody has what's called a default posture, which means you default into different positions. Basketball players have a specific default posture. So the idea is re-educate and control these players and bring them to a neutral posture and build endurance. This will establish that stabilization first.
JS: You've created a tool specifically designed to build core strength, can you describe how that works?
AM: It’s called the Core-X System, which is just a system of elastics that follows the body's natural movement patterns. We create the exercises along the body's normal, functional diagonal patterns of movement. We're looking to create and establish balance, power and create ground force reaction, which gives us the ability to control neutral posture and generate power through the ground. That's the key to the Core-X System. It's a lot of work, but it assists the athlete in maintaining the neutral posture.
Neutral posture and core strength is endurance-based; it's not power-based, which simply means that you have to work in the neutral position for a long period of time in order to sustain a normal postures. So reps and sets don't work. You work to failure at all times, so failure in a neutral position, then you reset and start again. Failure after maybe five, 10, 15 seconds. So you reset and start again until you build it up to 30 seconds, to a minute, a minute-and-a-half, two minutes sometimes. The idea is to maintain and build that baseline of endurance and sustain it. Endurance work allows us to control the neutral postures, which will benefit our players both in the weight room and in the latter stages of games.
JS: Will this system be one of your teaching tools here?
AM: Yes. Every player will have that. Each player will have what we call a "prehab bag" in their locker, which will include a foam roller, an Acuball, [which is a pressure ball], a stretching strap and a Core-X system. Each player will be versed in these areas, we'll teach them over the course of the year. This can't happen overnight. It's establishing a culture and a process. So each player will have their own system in their locker that they can work with at any time.
JS: You're coming here after several seasons with a veteran Lakers team. Are there any advantages to working with a younger group of players here in Toronto?
AM: I think there's a massive upside to it. That's the beauty of it. I think you've got to compare apples to apples and oranges and oranges and I think veterans come in with a very different set of values. Veteran players know the importance of rest, conditioning, nutrition and have a very professional approach to their job. It becomes a culture. The most important thing we can teach these players is accountability. You have to be accountable. I look forward to that challenge.
JS: With younger players, is their less of that "re-training" involved? Maybe fewer bad habits to break?
AM: The interesting thing about good athletes is that they'll perform in spite of problems. There are only 450 players playing in the NBA worldwide. They're all pretty good athletes. I think you have to realize that and accept that. These are really great athletes and they're going to perform in spite of problems. The ideal thing is to identify things that are potential problems and work back from that. That is our role.
JS: How have you seen your field evolve over the course of your time working with athletes?
AM: I think first of all, the athlete's much more aware of what's out there, which is kind of interesting. Every athlete comes to camp fit. They're not using a training camp to get fit. There are lots of tools out there now that can aid and assist us. Again, it’s about identifying what works for the individual athlete. There are imaging techniques and tracking technology that will measure distance, speed, power, force. It’s being able to extrapolate the information and structure it for the individuals involved.