Keys to Success: Strengthening The Core
After he tore the cartilage on the right side of his hip during the 2001 season, Ratliff sought advice from trainer Alex McKechnie. Ratliff credits McKechnie's approach as a key to his full recovery from hip surgery and is a cornerstone of Ratliff's workout program to this day. The McKechnie approach focuses on what is known as core strengthening. Ratliff believes it improves his game and helps to keep him out on the court:
He [McKechnie] worked with Shaq and Kobe and those guys on how they can become better players by having more command of their core ... where if somebody hits you, you have the strength enough to come right back on balance. There's never you falling over or getting in awkward positions, causing you to have injuries. It's you always maintaining a certain balance when you're playing the game.
Instead of weights, Ratliff's core training involves oversized rubber bands called Thera-Bands. He wraps the bands around his upper and lower body to provide gentle, steady resistance. With the bands on, he performs motions that are similar to the things he does on the court. Unlike weights, which usually only provide resistance in one direction, the Thera-Bands create resistance in both push and pull motions. Because the motions are slow and controlled, Thera-Bands also do a better job of exercising entire groups of muscles and tendons, rather than isolating individual muscles. According to Ratliff, "It's like a whole body workout in one movement." With the whole muscular system equally in shape, the body becomes better able to absorb awkward motions and bad landings.
Core strengthening is now a part of the training routines of many NBA teams. In addition to helping prevent injury, it's a perfect fit for Ratliff's approach to the game. Since his defensive tactics depend on his advantages in movement and quickness over bigger players, it makes sense for his training routine to promote agility, balance and control.