South Bay Lakers’ strength and conditioning coach emphasizes moving away from the traditional mobility model

By Kari McMahon
Medill Reports

LOS ANGELES — Basketball players are known more for speed than physical power. However, in the heart of El Segundo, California, lies the Lakers training facility containing two gyms filled with a variety of strength equipment where the Lakers’ G League team, the South Bay Lakers, are breaking the stereotype that basketball players aren’t strong with their nontraditional approach to strength and mobility training.

Misha Cavaye, the South Bay Lakers’ strength and conditioning coach for three seasons, provided insight this week into the importance of strength and conditioning in basketball and his unconventional thinking on mobility training.

Misha Cavaye
Misha Cavaye, South Bay Lakers strength and conditioning coach in the Lakers’ gym. (Kari McMahon/MEDILL)

How did you become a strength and conditioning coach in basketball? It is quite an unusual path considering you are originally from London.

I just wanted to play basketball in college. Once I got here, I got to see more of the NBA, I got to see how serious the game was and I was like I definitely want a career in this whether I play or not. My final year I decided to intern with the strength and conditioning department and the love started to take over.

I was lucky to get the ball boy position with the Lakers and that evolved to where I am today. It was a grind to get the job and get myself noticed that I wasn’t just somebody to hand out towels, water and wash clothes.

What is the importance of strength and mobility in basketball and in the G League?

It’s hugely important because it’s so neglected. The game is so ultra-specialized at a young age, playing and practicing is way over-emphasized. They’ve already developed bad habits throughout high school. Once you’re a kid and you’re just owning it, and you can do whatever you want, you know, it’s just hard to instill those really good solid habits.

They’re so weak most of the time, when they come to me. When they are balanced over one leg, that is when injury tends to happen.

South Bay Lakers' Practice
South Bay Lakers practicing dunks at shootaround ahead of Wednesday night’s game. (Kari McMahon/MEDILL)

What mobility movements are you focusing on most with players?

A lot of hip work. A lot of core work. Sore knees because weak hips. Sore back because of that weak core and overextension. That is pretty much what I’m fighting throughout the year as a strength and conditioning coach. They usually get sore backs all the time in-season because even a jump shot involves a lot of back extension.

Do you find there is a reluctance to work on mobility? Why is that?

Mobility is so manipulative. Mobility is influenced by how you think, how you feel. When people think mobility, most people automatically think ‘I need to stretch.’ This is passive, which in theory sounds good if it’s tight, but that’s usually the last thing we need, believe it or not.

We’re tight probably because we are not breathing well. Breathing is highly influential. If you’re breathing is poor, your rib cage is off, your muscles are imbalanced, and you don’t have enough strength to support yourself in a three-dimensional movement. Things are going to tighten up. It’s a safety mechanism, our bodies are built for survival.

Lakers' Gym
Inside the Lakers’ gym facility. (Kari McMahon/Medill)

Is there a focus on Olympic weightlifting in your training? Or do you focus on more traditional strength movements?

With these guys, with their constant jumping and driving off one leg, you want to get some more loading or exploding on the other leg. Olympic lifting doesn’t allow you to do that. It is great, but there’s way more we can do with kettlebells. We’ll do weighted sled runs and then just a lot of different single-leg Romanian deadlift work.

These guys can’t handle the mobility of Olympic lifting, they’re so far from it, you’re going to spend a lot of time forcing them to get into that position. At this level you don’t really want to mess with their bodies and they’re so athletic. You just want to protect them and get them to handle stability.

What methodologies do you recommend for those looking to improve their mobility?

Craig Liebenson, a chiropractor, has been really influential with movement. He pushes his first principles of movement. It’s a lot of functional power movements — squat, lunge, push, pull, carry rather than a bench press, squat, deadlift, and Olympic lifts. The Postural Restoration Institute is a great program for anybody.

Once you learn those biomechanics, you’ll be endlessly creative with your work, what kind of exercises are right for the body, and you’ll know what is not so right for the body because the body has an asymmetrical bias, whether we like it or not. That’s why I like to step away from the traditional exercises and trying to find a way to sort of rebrand and push these new ways of thinking. I do think the traditional model is very outdated and not right for the body and that’s been proven.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Photo at top: South Bay Lakers players stretch at shootaround ahead of Wednesday night’s game. (Kari McMahon/MEDILL)