Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A plan for playing into your late 30s

Lakers PG Derek Fisher turns 35 in August.

So it's natural to begin asking, "How much longer can he play?" After all, playing in more than 1,000 NBA games takes a toll.

As this article describes, "It usually begins with a few little aches after a game, a pop of joint that never used to do that before, a sore muscle that takes three days to recover instead of just a good night's sleep. It's a slow trickle that seems to run inexorably downstream until one day a guy wakes up and realizes it's time to start planning for life after basketball instead of training camp."

And Fisher did, in fact, start thinking about it. But he wasn't quite ready to hang it up.

"I kept thinking about other great athletes and how they stay at such a high level. Guys like Lance Armstrong," Fisher said. "So I went on a search for a trainer that could help me really think about myself in that light."

His search led him to Tom Vachet, "a Manhattan Beach-based trainer who'd made a name for himself helping hockey players squeeze a few more productive years out of their careers or come back from injuries."

Vachet told Fisher that there was no reason he couldn't play into his late 30s or early 40s if he started training correctly and addressed some of the underlying biomechanical imbalances that were contributing to his accumulating injury toll. That's right, late 30s or early 40s. For an NBA point guard, one of the most physically demanding positions in all of sports.

Two years ago, Vachet proposed that Fisher "work out hard three days a week, then take the rest of the week off to rest and recover. He hasn't missed a game due to injury since. If anything, he seems healthier and more invigorated at the age of 34 than he did at 28 or 29."

Fisher, who's in bed by midnight every night, never runs on the treadmill (using an elliptical machine instead), never lifts dumbbells over 40 pounds, and has a special pre-game warm-up routine.

He also eats maltodextrin gel during games to help maintain his energy levels.

Lakers teammates have fun teasing Fisher about his age, but they also respect him.

"We call him `Oldtimer' or `Old Man' all that stuff," said Farmar, whose locker is next to Fisher's. "But he's all about his business. It's his job and he respects it and loves it. He takes care of his body, gets his rest. He doesn't want to feel like he's any different from anyone else on the team, no matter how old he is."