I had the incredible opportunity to interview Manny Romero, the Head Athletic Trainer for the Sacramento Kings. Today’s post concludes our interview with Manny, who along with the rest of the Kings training staff, is ramping the players up for the upcoming season starting in October.
SCS: That would be a great resource, if there were a trainer helping the layperson with their balance issues and body alignment.
MR: That’s key. We spend so much money on medications like Advil and going to the doctor after you are hurt. If we could catch things before, that would be better. That’s the paradigm shift in the professional realm. Athletic trainers used to be seen as someone to help the athlete once the athlete is injured. But now we think let’s get these athletes before they are injured. It’s beneficial and more efficient to prevent an injury than treat an injury after the fact, and it helps everybody – the athlete, the organization, the fans who get to see their athlete, and the NBA. It’s a win-win situation.
The Kings were 2nd last year in the least number of games missed due to injury. Previous to that we were 6th and 8th respectively. We don’t attribute that all to the sports medicine staff because there are a lot of things that go into that, but we are in the right direction with the things we are doing here.
SCS: I love compound exercises like squats versus isolation exercises such as the biceps curl. If you do compound exercises, will that get the body in greater alignment because you need to use the entire body to do the exercise?
MR: Well, if you have poor alignment to start with, and you are not trained to do the proper movement and then you add weight, that will increase your risk of injury. So if your squat pattern has a valgus load on your knee (ie knees cave in), no matter how small that is, adding weight to that exercise will increase your risk.
But if you have the proper squat mechanisms and you add weight, then that is beneficial. You always want to start with your bodyweight and then move up from there.
I’ve seen a lot of weekend warrior guys who used to work out and play football back in the day. They’ve been gone from the weight room for 10 years, and they think, hey I used to do a 250 lb squat, I can do it again, not even realizing they have a different body and a different movement pattern. Then they add the weight to the exercise and get hurt.
Manny stretches out Sacramento Kings player Ray McCallum before a game during the 2013 NBA Summer League. (Photo courtesy of The Sacramento Bee & Hector Amezcua)
SCS: Now there is a fine line between doing the optimal amount of training to get in the best shape that you can, versus being over-trained. How do you assess that to protect your players?
MR: Recovery is huge in professional sports. So the strength coach monitors most of that through heart rate or through minutes logged on the court. And we will alter what they do in the weight room or from an exercise standpoint depending on the amount of stress the athlete has put on in practice or a game.
We are in contact with the head coach as well in terms of scaling down the practice if the athletes are getting run down. It’s as easy as saying we’ve had 3 games in 4 nights, maybe we should have a day off here, or if we had a back-to-back, we’ll just work on skills like shooting instead of running up and down the court. Or maybe we’ll get in the weight room and do some corrective work, some foam rolls, some balance and core stability work that is not too taxing but is still beneficial for the athlete.
SCS: You must coordinate with so many people. Now pain is so subjective and some athletes must have a super high pain threshold. So who decides if the athlete continues to play, if they feel like they can do it, but you’re thinking it’s not looking too good?
MR: It’s definitely a collaborative decision. We take into consideration what the athlete is telling us, but ultimately it’s the team doctor’s decision, even if the player thinks he can go.
For the most part, all coaches at this level understand. The athletes are almost an investment. If they play them when the athlete is not ready, then we lose them, which is not a benefit to anybody.
SCS: It seems like a tough decision between the short-term gain and wanting a star player to perhaps win that game, versus wanting that player to have a long-term career.
MR: What we can do is educate them and build that trust. And I think we’ve done a good job of that, and letting them know we always have their best interest at heart. Once you can relay that to the athlete, they understand. It’s a team effort. If a star player is out, the rest of the athletes pick up the slack. It might give an opportunity to someone who is sitting on the bench to come out and shine. And then when the athlete who is injured returns, we have an even better team.
SCS: Now as we’ve talked about the importance of recovery, the main elements that help with recovery are sleep, nutrition, and ice water immersion from what I have read. Are there any other elements that you focus on to promote recovery?
MR: Yes, there is cold chamber that these guys get into. It’s new technology that’s been around for a few years, and has been in Europe for a while. From what the research has shown, it is beneficial to help with recovery, improve immune system, and an overall feeling of rejuvenation, especially post-practice.
Meeting Sacramento Kings Center DeMarcus Cousins at the Training Facility
SCS: So, they go inside and sit in a cold chamber?
MR: It’s a stand up chamber and they walk around, almost like a sauna. It gets to -166 F, and the athletes walk around with surgical masks that cover their face and ears. They also cover their hands and feet, and walk around for 1 ½ to 3 minutes.
SCS: It must be painfully cold in there.
MR: From what I’ve heard, it’s like walking outside out in the cold snow and getting the paper in shorts. It’s cutting edge stuff. It’s like an ice bath on steroids.
Nutrition is also huge in recovery. That is taken care of more by our strength coach. They have recovery shakes, getting protein into them right after the game or practice. The Gatorade product is pretty good with that. They have Gatorade Prime, a complex carbohydrate drink before practice, a Gatorade during the game, and a post-recovery drink with protein after the game that is easy to drink.
SCS: So are they on specific diets to help with their nutrition and their protein?
MR: That’s another thing we have. We have an outside nutritionist that comes in and talks with everyone pre-season, and then the strength coach is the liaison between the nutritionist and the athletes. And so if we think they need more, then we’ll get a 1-on-1 session during the year for the athlete.
A lot of athletes know they are a corporation and that they need to take care of themselves. We’ve even gone as far as finding a personal chef for the athletes, and they’ll cook for them. They are at the tax bracket where they can do that. Some athletes run with that. You can tell when the athlete is doing all the right things when they are fit.
SCS: Do you recommend any other fitness tools that our readers could purchase other than foam rollers?
Yes, the physio balls are great for core stability exercises, even just to sit on to get you balanced. We use them. And a good set of dumbbells that you can do an array of different exercises with and be in a functional position when you are using them.
It’s not like a fixed weight machine that if you were put in it and you had a movement impairment, this machine would increase your movement impairment. You can do lunge and foot patterns, cardio, running, a lot of it you can do with your own body weight.
SCS: What is the single best piece of advice for our readers who want to continue working out and stay healthy?
MR: If at all possible, to seek out a fitness professional. That is key to start. Get a medical clearance first. A lot of gyms provide fitness professionals at no cost or low cost. Get evaluated, assessed, and screened, and start with corrective exercises as a base, a foundation. I think that’s key to preventing an injury.
A lot of the trainers at gyms like 24 Hour Fitness are becoming certified through the National Academy of Sports Medicine as Corrective Exercise Specialists and Performance Exercise Specialists. Those are 2 good certifications. If the regular person can seek out those professionals, they can identify movement patterns, muscle imbalances and give corrective exercises.
If you can’t go to a fitness professional, be aware of your movement patterns. I always tell my athletes that if a movement hurts, don’t do it. Your body is telling you that whatever you are doing is causing you pain, so move away from that.
SCS: Thank you so much for your time, Manny. It has been an awesome opportunity speaking with you. ♦