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Updated February 4, 2021
With the NBA playoffs around the corner, we know what you must be thinking. How in the world does LeBron James (of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and 2nd highest paid athlete) stay in such amazing shape, season after season?
Even though the NBA season is packed with traveling, King James and the team are usually playing games seven days a week—getting a major on-court workout each time. Between running, jumping and plyo-type movements on the basketball court, it’s easy to see why the all-star stays in shape during the NBA season.
But how does King James get in shape to actually play? The secret is in his offseason routine.
Offseason training regimen
During the offseason, James focuses on some hardcore training—for a really hard core. Waking at 5 a.m., James alternates between working out at home on a little-known machine called a Versaclimber and taking spin and Pilates classes. He follows a five-day per week workout regimen. Sometimes he mixes it up by heading to Rise Nation in West Hollywood for some serious Versaclimbing classes.
Pilates we know. Spinning we know. But what is this new Versaclimber trend that’s taking over Hollywood and the NBA star’s training time?
What’s the Versaclimber trend all about?
The Versaclimber replicates the natural motion of climbing. It might sound like a stair climber, but it’s actually way better. The machine doubles as resistance and cardio training, depending on the level you select. Unlike a stair climber, this machine provides a full-body workout and cardio in just 30 minutes—or longer, if you can handle it. Said James, “If I could only have one piece of equipment to train with for the rest of my life, this would be it.” Along with joking that the machine is his girlfriend, he apparently loves it so much he has 3 machines in his houses around the country.
James isn’t the only celebrity known to use the Versaclimber. Celebs like Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Jessica Biel, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston and John Krasinski have used the machine to help get them in peak condition. The Versaclimber has also taken off in pro and college sports as a vital training tool, thanks in part to its impact-free cardio that works the body in a completely functional, natural-movement kind of way. Payton Manning and Mike Trout—and the Cavaliers squad—have or currently use the machine as part of their athletic regimens.
The Versaclimber isn’t a new piece of equipment. It was invented back in 1980 and quickly declined, making it one of the least-used pieces of fitness equipment of its era. The 7 foot, 75 degree vertical rail was not only imposing to the average non-athlete, but the intense workout itself made it tough for anyone but exercisers in peak condition. But over the last few years, it’s come back into the public eye.
Benefits of a Lebron James Versaclimber workout
The Versaclimber provides a quick full-body workout, while also allowing exercisers to work in cardio. The low-impact workout is easy on the knees and joints, and trains all the major muscle groups in a single session. Its contralateral movements build functional strength as users move their opposite arms and legs simultaneously. Mike Mancias, James’ personal trainer, said, “We’ve been doing it for a long, long time, and the reason we do it is to conserve. No pounding on the joints. No wear on his back, his knees, his ankles, all that, his hips. It’s just all non-weight-bearing cardio. It was a godsend, really.”
The manufacturer claims the machine burns 200% more calories than the treadmill. A Men’s Health study showed that Versaclimber classes at Rise Nation burn up to 22.3 calories every minute, or 670 calories in 30 minutes—nearly double that of biking or hitting the treadmill.
The full-body workout allows athletes and other users to work their hamstrings, quads, glutes, lats and grip strength simultaneously. Dr. Dennis Collenello, team doctor for the LA Clippers, said, “The cross-crawl motion with your butt pushed out is exactly the same thing you do as a baby learning to move. So it reinforces natural neuromuscular movement patterns and strengthens your core, making it safe for your joints and great for your back.”
Benefits of Pilates and spinning
Both Pilates and spinning are lauded for their core-strengthening workouts, and as an athlete, the core is vital. For ballers like King James, the power to run, jump, slam dunk and shoot across the court comes from the core.
For athletes, Pilates has the ability to improve overall sports performance. Pilates develops long, lean muscles made for agility, which is a vital component for on-court movement. It can also help develop balance by focusing on small, rarely used muscles. And greater balance helps prevent falls during a game, which often result in injuries.
Another of James’ go-to routines, spinning provides an intense, low-impact workout for the glutes and quads, and can help exercisers burn 600+ calories per hour. One study found that an hour of spinning released chemicals into the blood that indicated the heart was having a great workout. Another study found that even trained athletes improved their fitness levels when engaging in high-intensity spin classes.
Fueling the body for on-court energy
For James, carbs don’t play a major role in his pre-workout fuel-up. James typically focuses on proteins and veggies, with a small serving of carbs for an extra energy boost. Foods like chicken, protein shakes, vegetables, fruit and the occasional pasta dish are what keep him going on the court.
Exercising and eating like James may not make you an NBA star, but it can give you an awesome workout and a way to feel great every day—in the most low-impact way.