In 1989, no championship rings yet decorated the fingers of Chicago Bulls shooting guard Michael Jordan. He was in his fifth year as a pro and able to pour in 30 to 40 points most games, but the Bulls hadn’t been able to get past the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference postseason. Personal trainer Tim Grover saw an article on Jordan’s frustrations with the physical, strong play of the Pistons and contacted the Bulls’ team physician, leading to his being hired to train Jordan in 1989. Added strength in his upper body, core and legs helped Jordan propel the Bulls to six championships from 1991 to 1998.
Grover’s workout for Jordan focused on core strength, on the theory that a solid core is essential to helping an athlete run faster, jump higher and reach his athletic potential. While athletes and gym goers typically presume that core training means abs strengthening via crunches, these can neglect your oblique and erector muscles, Grover told “Stack” magazine. Strengthening all the core muscles increases athletic performance and helps you to avoid injury.
Balance and Resistance Work
Jordan’s workout included the anterior reach on one leg, involving extending the arms forward and extending the nonplant leg straight back. His Airness worked on squats on an unstable object, such as a balance board, holding the squat with his thighs parallel to the ground. Walkouts required bending at the waist and walking forward on the hands with the legs straight until the body was fully extended and then walking the hands back to the feet. Jordan is also shown in a rare video on Stack.com performing dumbbell and bench presses, as well as biceps curls with an EZ bar. Grover suggests extra attention to the shoulders and legs for basketball players, including deadlifts, squats and power cleans, as well as good mornings -- forward bends performed with an unweighted bar on the shoulders.
Jordan had to do pushups on medicine balls and medicine ball situps, holding the medicine ball above his chest with both hands throughout the entire motion of the situp. He also did 6-inch leg raises that involved lying on his back and raising his straightened legs off the floor, holding the position for two to three seconds and returning to the starting position.
The core workouts occurred twice a week and involved two to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions. On other days, Jordan worked for an hour on agility, quick repetitions and light weight lifting as part of an early morning workout plan, beginning by 8 a.m. and lasting for one hour. He completed his strength workouts before going to the Berto Center in Deerfield, Illinois, for the Bulls’ two-hour practice beginning at 11 a.m.
Teammates, including Scottie Pippen, began to join the morning strength and agility sessions. Jordan’s chef would cook the players breakfast afterward, and thus they became known as the Breakfast Club. The results were especially clear at the foul line, where Bulls players displayed some of the most developed biceps and deltoids in the NBA, and in the scoreline, as the team became capable not only of defeating the rival Pistons and Celtics with superior strength but also besting the Western Conference champs in the NBA Finals.