When it comes to training for athletic performance, athletes know just what muscles need to be made stronger and which muscles they can afford to leave out of the exhausting workout regime. It’s the reasons sprinters have incredibly strong glutes, knowing that so much of their explosive speed is derived from the glute muscles. Basketball players then, tend to focus on a range of muscles, but the biceps? They don’t get a huge look in. Sure it’s not like you’ve got NBA stars taking to the courts with scrawny arms, but the thought of solely training biceps in the hope of becoming a better player…it’s just not done.
It’s surprising then, that bicep curls were something of a staple in NBA star (and to some, the undisputed GOAT of basketball) Michael Jordan’s workout routine. It goes without saying, MJ is not like other professional athletes. As anyone who has seen The Last Dance will know, he never was one to rest on his skills. There was no arrogance, simply an unwavering work ethic that saw him push himself to the limits, stay on the practice court later than any of his teammates or opponents, and demand absolute perfection from his colleagues. Jordan pushed others to be the best version of themselves, and he expected the same for himself.
When it comes to his performance, the man responsible for keeping MJ in top shape was his trainer, Tim Grover. Now, in a new book called Winning, Grover is spilling the secrets behind Jordan’s performance on court and the physique that saw him dominate the game. As it turns out, Jordan’s desire to work on his biceps did have nothing to do with his performance, but rather the look he presented to opponents.
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“When I was training MJ, the Bulls’ strength coach asked why I had him doing bicep curls,” said Grover. “The theory was biceps were just for show and didn’t really make someone a better basketball player, and that was probably true. But we were going for that 0.0001 per cent, which included the intimidation factor of his biggest, stronger, more dominantly physique. What’s the first thing you see on a basketball player when he takes off his warm-ups? Those arms. Details matter.”
For Jordan, it all came down to what he could do to be more imposing on the court. Sure he had the skills to back himself, but when you’re stepping foot on the court, if you can intimidate an opponent early, you’ve already won.
In the book, Grover also details a suprirrisng revelation about Jordan’s diet. “Back in the eighties and nineties, the nutrition prescription for athletes was carbs, carbs, more carbs. Everyone was eating rice and pasta for fuel, but that wasn’t working for MJ. Aside from feeling bloated, he was playing so hard that it just wasn’t enough for him,” said Grover.
“When the team was playing at home, he was eating at 3:30pm in order to get to the stadium by 6pm. So he was starving by the 7:30pm game time, and by the fourth quarter he could feel his energy decreasing. So we added a steak to his pre-game meal.”
Grover adds, “We had to devise a new plan for Michael, based on his body chemistry and schedule, his playing minutes, and the massive amount of energy he expended on the court. The steak slowed down the digestion of everything else he was eating – the starches, vegetables, etc – and kept his blood sugar consistent so he had more energy throughout the entire game.”