June 26, 2020 10 min read
With three NBA championships under his belt, four NBA MVP awards, two Olympic gold medals, including the all-time record for playoff points—among a list of other achievements—Lebron James has cemented his position as an absolute juggernaut on the basketball court.
His popularity and position as one of the greatest basketball players of all time have made him into a cultural force as well. Throughout his career, he’s been touted as not only one of the world’s most influential athletes but also as one of the world’s most influential people, full stop.
And just try to talk about Cleveland without bringing up James at least once.
He left high school and went right into the NBA as one of the most-hyped prospects ever—but he’s more than backed up this hype throughout his career. Steadily improving some of his weak points as his career progressed—namely, his clutch performance and playoff defensive level (otherwise known as “Playoff Lebron”) - his fitness level and skill have kept up with his reputation even as he reaches his mid-30s.
But even if you throw enough bricks to build a house, you too can utilize at least some of the principles which back James’ maintenance as a peak physical specimen.
When we think of King James, we think of speed and explosive power. The man can move. And when he moves, you better not be in between him and where he wants to get to.
Not only that, but he’s got to have enough endurance for his power to last an entire game. Taking these things into account, his workouts seem both self-explanatory while also surprisingly “basic” for such a non-basic athlete.
The workout below was shared by Stan Kellers, the strength and conditioning coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s a superset-rich regime that’ll get your heart racing no matter who you are. With these supersets, rest time is minimized to as little as possible in between exercises, and rest time between supersets is minimized to 45 seconds.
An intense routine like this makes it more obvious why and how James dominates on the court as a walking bucket.
The workout example below is done over a 4-day split, from Monday to Friday with Wednesday as a rest day. James begins every workout with stretching, a few minutes of cardio, and some core exercises in order to warm himself up and loosen up.
When doing the supersets, make sure to do each one 3 times with a 45-second break in between, before moving onto the next one. Altogether, this will give you 6 supersets per workout to work with.
Push-ups: The classic push up is a strength training staples, familiar to anyone who’s ever done any training at all. However, its simplicity hides some important points. We’ve all seen very bad push-ups, and no one wants to be that guy, so make sure to do them and do them well.
That means treating them more as a mobile plank than anything else. You want full-body tension as you go through the movements, especially in your core and posterior chain. Furthermore, make sure that your arms aren’t too far out from your body. When you come down, your elbows should be pointing at an angle, backward. For this superset, do as many reps as you can before moving on to….
Pull-ups: The pull up is the yin to the push up’s yang. Another gym-class classic, the pull up is a challenging full-body exercise that does wonders for your upper body and core, while also improving your posture. Not only is it easy to do with very little equipment, but it also aggressively trains your back.
A strong back is essential for protecting your shoulders from injury (especially if you’re regularly dunking) and it also helps you to get the most out of other upper body exercises. Although worthwhile, pull-ups are challenging due to the necessary range of mobility in the shoulder, and also there’s the fact that you’re trying to lift a large percentage of your bodyweight. To polish off this superset, aim for 10 reps.
Dumbbell snatch: A unilateral movement, the dumbbell snatch is a great way to even out any side imbalances that might exist with your muscles. Unlike with a barbell, each side is moving separately and therefore has to keep up with its own strength rather than relying on the stronger side to compensate. Furthermore, when compared to the barbell snatch, the dumbbell snatch generates a greater amount of reaction force while also increasing the speed at which these forces hit the body.
The exercise is also a triple extension movement—meaning your hips, knees, and ankles are all meant to extend at the same time. Paired with the usage of dumbbells, this creates an exercise that simulates a powerful jumping movement that trains the necessary explosiveness for the King to maintain his crown. Aim for 5 reps of these with each arm.
Single-arm cable row: Another great unilateral movement that strengthens each side separately and avoids imbalances, the single-arm cable row is a great way to strengthen the back. It specifically engages the lats, traps, rhomboids, and rear delts—along with the biceps to a lesser degree. Furthermore, you’ll also feel it in your core.
The use of a cable provides constant tension throughout the movement, even during peak contraction, which is terrific when it comes down to building strength and muscle mass. Just make sure to keep your torso completely erect throughout the movement. For this superset, do 10 reps with each arm.
Dumbbell squat: A variation on the traditional squat, the dumbbell squat has all of the same benefits along with a few others that make it a perfect inclusion in this workout routine. Like the workouts before it, using dumbbells instead of a barbell will force your weaker side to keep up without your stronger side having to compensate.
There’s also the benefit of increased stability, increased muscular strength (especially in those muscles that are most important for jumping), and it requires minimal space and equipment. It’s also great for beginners since it removes the weight load from the upper back, which can make it easier on your back and prevent you from tipping forwards too much. For this exercise do 8 to 12 reps before moving onto the second part of the first superset.
Swiss-ball hip raise and leg curl: Another terrific workout for your glutes do enough of these and you’ll be flying through the air. Well, maybe not flying, but you should see a big improvement. Furthermore, this exercise also engages your hamstrings—a good combo since these muscles work together very often anyway. The swiss ball also allows for a range of motion that’s more natural than the one you’d find with a machine.
Specifically, your hamstrings will be engaged in the hip raise portion of the movement through to the leg curl, while your glutes will be activated throughout trying to stabilize your body. The hip raise is also a good way to target the gluteus medius, which is often underdeveloped. An underdeveloped gluteus medius can lead to instability in the lower body—something that anyone trying to get on the path of King James needs to avoid. Do 12 reps of these.
Dumbbell step up: The emphasis with the step up is on the quads. These muscles don’t get much use in level running or walking, which is why it’s important to train them, especially if you’re on the level of James. Furthermore, building the quads helps protect the knee against injuries—something that’s extremely important when playing high-level sports, since any injury can seriously set not only yourself back, but also your entire team.
Your glutes and hamstrings will also see some activation with this exercise, along with improving your stability and core strength. We’re not sure how high James has his step-ups set for, but standing at 6’9’’, we’re sure that it’s more than your average person could handle. As with many of the other exercises, this movement also has the benefit of being unilateral. Do 10 reps with each leg before moving onto the next exercise.
Single-leg standing dumbbell calf raise: An isolation exercise, the single-leg standing dumbbell calf raise focuses on your gastrocnemius and soleus muscles in your lower leg. It differs slightly from other movements in this routine since it’s an isolation exercise. It’s a great way to develop not only size but also strength in the lower leg.
Just keep in mind not to lock out your knee and hold for one second at the bottom of the movement. Holding for a moment will dissipate any of the elastic energy stored in your Achilles tendon, making the beginning of the movement more difficult and preventing you from cheating. Finish off the second day with 12 reps with each leg.
Now it's time to rest for a day.
Dumbbell incline bench press: This movement targets the upper part of the chest, otherwise known as the clavicular head of the pecs. It’s important to place some focus on this area since it’s usually unengaged for the most part in many traditional chest exercises, such as the bench press and chest fly.
Furthermore, the dumbbell incline bench press also hits the front part of your delts. It’s a functional exercise since it easily translates to a number of pushing and pulling motions you use in everyday life, and on the court. Do 10 reps of these for each of the 3 supersets.
Lat pulldown: The lat pulldown is a terrific back exercise that places an emphasis on your lats. A major benefit of this movement, especially when paired with the other exercises on this day, is that it places almost exclusive emphasis on your lats. This allows your biceps and triceps to get off relatively easy, allowing you to save that energy for other lifts in your routine.
A strong back will help with proper posture and will help in every day pulling movements. Not to mention that if you’re regularly dunking and slamming balls into nets, you need strong lats so you can hang off the rim without pulling anything. Aim for 10 reps of the lat pulldown in each superset.
Single-arm dumbbell shoulder press: Not only does a shoulder press increase the strength of the shoulders, but it’ll also be great for your core stability. This is compounded by the fact that you’ll be doing these one arm at a time. With the load all on one side of your body, your core will have to work overtime in order to keep your torso straight—if you care at all about form (which you should).
A unilateral movement as well, this exercise will correct any imbalances. The usage of dumbbells instead of a barbell, for example, places a greater emphasis on the front delts. It’s easy to see how an overhead pushing motion will help your dunk, layup…probably every single type of basketball shot. Do 6 to 8 reps with each arm.
Single-arm neutral grip dumbbell row and rotation: While the name of the exercise is wordy, the movement itself is relatively simple—and effective. It activates your lats, biceps, lower back, rhomboids, traps, and triceps. The single-arm nature of it emphasizes the unilateral-ness, and the neutral grip serves to further emphasize the middle-back.
With the added flair of rotation, your lats will also be feeling the burn, along with your core in order to stabilize your body. It’s recommended to do 10 reps on each side.
Single-leg squat: If you’ve paid attention to fitness for any amount of time, chances are you’ve heard of the single-leg squat. Simple in name only, this movement has you squatting down on a single leg—much like its name suggests. Your hips range of motion will be developed, along with your hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, and calves.
But perhaps more importantly, this is a great core workout. If you’ve done one of these before, you know how important core strength becomes when trying to balance yourself. And ramping up the challenge is easy—either do them weighted or just go into a deeper squat. Aim for 5 reps for each leg.
Single leg swiss ball leg curl: This exercise is pretty much the same as the swiss-ball hip raise and leg curl from Day 2 of this workout routine, but with some obvious twists.
For one, it’s done with a single leg, allowing you to focus on that unilateral movement and strengthen your weaker side. Furthermore, the hip raise is taken out of the equation. For this movement, aim for 10 reps per leg.
Dumbbell side lunge: This exercise adds an often-ignored dimension in lower body exercises—going laterally. This movement engages the inner and outer thighs, helping to strengthen and tone them. Furthermore, your quads, hamstrings, and glutes will also be actively engaged throughout the movement.
If you’re jumping, landing, and shooting in so many different ways and variations, it’s important to keep your range of motion maximized when it comes to your legs. Furthermore, this is also a great way to increase your stability, especially when it comes down to the hip joint. Do 10 reps in each direction for each of the 3 supersets.
Unstable jump rope: The jump rope already has a million benefits, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. Not only is it great when it comes to conditioning, but it’ll also challenge your lower body muscles and improve your stability and agility. For someone like James, who needs to do his best to stay on his feet, the jump rope is a great way to train that.
Add in the unstable part of the exercise—James uses a stretching matt—and you have a recipe for a concrete base. Especially when it comes to strengthening your ankles, the unstable jump rope will be a fantastic way for you to keep on your feet, even in the thick of a game. James jump ropes for 45 seconds during each superset.
Hopefully, this has given you a solid glimpse behind the scenes in the life of King James. And more importantly, following in his footsteps almost looks doable if you’ve got the right recipe and enough drive.
And don’t forget the food, either. His diet, much like his workouts, focuses on the basics. Clean eating, whole foods, and limiting junk food. While he’s dabbled with the ketogenic diet in the past in order to lose some pounds. Mindfulness of what he puts in his body, and enough of it to fuel his insane levels of athletic exertion.
And as always, don’t forget to consume enough protein, rest enough to let your body heal, and train regularly. Lastly, don’t forget: even if you might have a horrible aim, with enough speed and power you can just deliver the ball to the net.