What any athlete can learn from a NBA performance specialist
Training NBA players is an entirely different proposition than working out the average athlete—the bodies are different, the goals are different and the time available to commit to fitness is different. But if you ask Mubarak Malik, the director of player performance for the New York Knicks, the basic principles are the same. While Malik—or “Bar,” for short—designs specific regimens that to each player’s body type, injury history and playing style, he maintains that anyone looking to live a healthy lifestyle must be dedicated and disciplined, even outside of the gym.
“He’s one of the best strength coaches in the NBA,” says Knicks center Kyle O’Quinn. “He studies from the different techniques around the world. He’s so knowledgeable, and he tailors every program to the player, and that’s the best way to do it.”
Even if you’re not built like a basketball player, Malik can help. We caught up with him at SWERVE Fitness, a team-inspired indoor cycling studio in New York City, to find out the best ways for any athlete to stay committed to a routine and see slam-dunk results.
Daniel Rapaport: You work with world-class athletes. What are the principles that you try and instill in them than can be applied to the everyday athlete?
Mubarak Malik: Discipline. Once you set yourself up to do something and you want to be successful at that, you have to do things the right way. Eating the right way, sleeping the right way, setting up your social life to help you reach your goals. It’s the same for elite athletes. Discipline, commitment, camaraderie.
DR: How important is being a part of a team when it comes to fitness?
MM: It’s a brotherhood. When you’re having a bad day, you have someone that’s relying on you. That gets you up and gets you through it. To see them going through the same struggles to get through a goal, that’s the best feeling in the world. You’re working toward the same thing, you’re challenging each other through it.
DR: You’re trigger point therapy certified. How have you used that to help Knicks players?
MM: The only way you can get into small muscle areas is to use a lacrosse ball, or something dense, to get inside these smaller fibers. The trigger points are most often on the bottom part of the feet, the hips, the calves, the shoulders and lower back. In basketball, because it’s a game of running and cutting, the hips and hip flexors are the tightest muscles that can create back discomfort that can trickle down to their feet. We try to utilize trigger point therapy to alleviate pain in their hips to keep back and core nice and supple and strong, so they can stabilize and transmit force at any moment.
DR: That sounds like it can benefit anyone.
MM: Anyone. My mom has one. We all stand up against gravity, so hips are areas that we need to loosen. You can use a trigger point ball or lacrosse ball or even a golf ball to take pressure off your lower back.
DR: You’re also Russian Kettlebell certified. Tell me about that.
MM: It’s an ironcast bell that’s weighted down. The weight is always coming down. If you do something the wrong way, everything will tighten up when you swing it, the bell will pull you down and you’ll hurt your lower back or hips. There’s a specific way to do it for each person that takes hours of training. But when you get it right, it’s awesome. It’s the only exercise that allows you to work on flexibility, power, strength and stability.
DR: You were with the Pirates before the Knicks. How was training baseball players different than training basketball players?
MM: Baseball players come into the league with three years of college experience. These guys have been on a program for three years, while basketball players come out after one year. And even when they do get drafted, baseball players go through multiple minor league levels. With basketball, you’re hitting the ground running at 19 years old. You have to educate them much more.
DR: You like to workout alongside the Knicks players. How important is that for the fitness instructor to do the workout alongside the athlete?
MM: It’s huge. It builds accountability. When people are training hard, they want to see their instructor going through it just like they are. It builds rapport and confidence.
If you’re searching for a quick but effective workout, Malik suggests trying out this high-intensity session: Set a clock for 20 minutes and do five reps of each exercise on the minute or try a descending ladder, completing 10 reps, then 9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 of each for the set time.
1. Stand holding a light kettlebell by the horns close to your chest. This will be your starting position.
2. Squat down between your legs until your hamstrings are on your calves. Keep chest up and head up and your back straight.
3. At the bottom positon, pause and use your elbows to push knees out. Return to the starting position, and repeat for 10-20 repetitions.
1. Start with your hands and feet on the ground with your body in a straight line in a regular push-up position. Bending at the elbows, lower your chest to the ground and then push yourself back up.
2. Next, lift your left hand off ground and rotate all your weight onto your right hand. Rotate until the side of your body is parallel with the floor. Feet can rotate as well.
3. Both arms should be extended so that your body resembles the form of a “T”. Rotate your body back to push up position.
4. Follow steps through again but this time rotate all your weight onto left hand instead of your right. Alternate hands after each push-up and repeat steps for desired amount of reps.
1. Stand on one leg with your leg bent at the knee. Jump sideways as far as you can and land on your opposite leg.
2. As soon as you land, jump back sideways to your starting foot. Continue back and forth for desired amount of reps.
Side Plank with Rotation
1. Lie down with your left side on an exercise mat. Place your feet together on top of each other. Next, prop yourself up on your left side elbow and forearm.
2. Begin exercise by raising your hips so that your body forms a straight line from ankles to your shoulders. Raise your right arm so that it is perpendicular to the floor.
3. Now reach under with your right hand and twist so that your chest becomes parallel to the floor. Pause, then twist back to starting position.