In the 1980s, when I first started taking some of the world’s best athletes into the pool, my long-time companion Wilt Chamberlain had elbow surgery by Frank Jobe, M.D. to repair a triceps tendon he had torn playing racquetball. Wilt wanted to speed healing and we had learned that pool workouts certainly seemed to do that. Thus I took Wilt into his home Jacuzzi to let him bend and straighten his elbow in the buoyancy of water. (See photo.)
Dr. Jobe did a high tibial osteotomy on Wilt’s knee some years later. Right away I began giving Wilt my full pool program three to four times a week. We did deep-water running, walking and jacks to keep his high level of cardiovascular fitness without any impact to his knee. Stretches and range of motion exercises for the knee soon had it moving smoothly. As the knee healed we could do shallow water running and jumping exercises with a flotation belt. That way he could jump up and the belt and water could catch him on his landing so the repaired knee didn’t have to work nearly as hard as it would have to do if he were jumping on land. Over the next months, we got him back to playing tennis and paddle tennis.
After Robert Klapper, M.D. performed arthroscopic surgery on Wilt’s left hip in 1994, we returned to the pool for forward, backward, and sideways walking – a lot of it so that he could relearn a walking pattern without a limp. We did the deep-water interval training, the shallow water running and the plyometric jumping exercises. What Wiltie loved best, though, was the kicking series. He loved it! We started doing each of the six kicks for thirty seconds, then 45 seconds, then a minute. Over the next month we built up to doing two minutes for each of the six kicks, increasing the speed and force for the last minute of each one. That was a tough workout all in itself.
So when Emeka Okafor, center for the New Orleans Hornets, came to Los Angeles in the summer of 2009 to cross train in the off-season, I made sure we spent quality time on the kicking series. Turned out he loved it, too. We built up to one minute of each kick, doing the last thirty seconds at high intensity, high speed. He really worked it! Here’s what he said: “That kicking series of yours is……MONEY!!”
Besides the kicking series, I had him do Wiltie Spins, a move created by Wilt during his hip rehabilitation. “If you use this exercise,” he said, “you have to name it after me.” And so I did.
Below is the NBA Centers’ Kicking Series. To do it, first put on a flotation belt such as a Wet Sweat Belt or a Wave Belt. With exercises 5 and 6, you can add resistance pieces to your ankles or feet to create more resistance for extra strengthening.
1. Front Flutter Kick
Hold the side of the pool and let your legs float out straight behind you. Begin small fast kicks with straight legs. If anything hurts, keep your feel below the surface of the water. If you feel good doing this, break the surface and kick away.
2. Slap Kick
Keep holding the side of the pool with your legs out straight behind you. Bend your one knee as much as you can so your knee lifts out of the water. Slap the top of that foot against the surface of the water and lift the other foot as far as you can. If this hurts anything, keep your feet below the surface of the water.
3. Back Flutter Kick
Turn your back to the pool wall and brace yourself with your arms on the edge. Lift your hips and legs and begin shallow fast kicks with straight legs.
Bend your knees and kick in a bicycling movement. For an easy version, keep the knees below the surface of the water. For the advanced version, lift your knees as close to your chest as possible, raise the foot well out of the water, and pull the heel close to the buttocks at the end of each cycle.
5. Straight-Leg Deep Kick
Straighten both knees s you lift one leg to the water’s surface and push the other leg toward the pool bottom. Moving with strength, switch and reswitch the leg positions.
Sit on a step or rest your back against the pool wall as you hold onto the side of the pool. Extend both legs straight out in front of you and open them sideways. Cross one leg over the top of the other, open them, then continue crossing and opening your legs, alternating the leg on top. Use as much force in opening your legs as in closing them.
Lynda Huey, M.S., founder of CompletePT and Huey’s Athletic Network, is a former athlete and coach whose own injuries led her into the water to find fitness and healing. She was educated at San Jose State University where she starred on the track and field team during its golden years.