Mike Mancias has been called LeBron James's "top secret" advantage, as the trainer has worked with James since the beginning of his career. Mancias shares many of the principles he uses with LeBron, including his 5 pillars of health: strength and conditioning, sports medicine, nutrition, recovery, and mental preparation.
Mike Mancias always knew that he wanted to work with the NBA. In and after college, he interned in a training capacity with a variety of teams and with the NBA summer league. That summer, he ended up meeting with the head trainer of the Cavaliers and then getting a gig with Cleveland. That was LeBron James’s first pre-season in the NBA.
“At this point, I had no idea who LeBron James was,” Mancias says. “I saw something about this kid on the cover SI. Way back then, if someone asked me his name, I couldn’t tell you. I was just a young guy from Texas trying to make it in the NBA.”
Mancias ended up getting a job as a full-time assistant trainer with the Cavs, where his relationship with LeBron grew. “My whole goal was to make it to the NBA and work in the professional ranks—never to be a personal athletic trainer,” he says.
But that’s what happened. When the two realized that their principles, work ethic, and passions were in sync, Mancias paired up with LeBron—so that Mancias became responsible for everything body- and health-related: Training, food, recovery, and more.
“I’m lucky that he’s a strong-willed individual,” Mancias says. “What he cherishes is parallel with what I do. You never really work if you love what you’re doing.”
In addition to his legendary NBA career, LeBron has also fortified his reputation—through legend, through social media—as a GOAT when it comes to the care and keeping of his body. Here, Mancias shares some of their driving principles for what helps make LeBron LeBron, and how Mike stays fit despite his busy, travel-filled schedule.
LeBron's 5 Pillars
To ensure top performance and longevity, the body can’t just survive the rigors of an NBA season. It must conquer them. And to do so, it’s not just about one charactertic that makes up an elite athlete’s body. For Mancias, it’s about ensuring that all five elements that go into LeBron’s wellness are working. They are:
- Strength and conditioning: The ability to be strong, go hard, and last longer.
- Sports medicine and athletic training: Stretching, ankle-taping, soft-tissue maintenance through the whole body.
- Nutrition: Not only what LeBron is taking in before and after games, but also how he’s hydrating through the day.
- Recovery: “What are we doing today—and what are we doing now—to perform even better tomorrow?”
- Mental preparation: How does anything outside of basketball have an effect on what he does on the court?
One of Mancias’ main jobs is to always look ahead—short-term and long-term. Everything that they do keeps both ranges of goals in mind. “We’re all about longevity number 1—and how we can prepare,” Mancias says.
“We always have to be cognizant of that, like we’re about to embark on three games in four nights or four games in six nights or whatever,” he says, “finding the right balance.” That focus needs to consider the five pillars that hold up the LeBron anatomical and biological throne.
“At the end of the day, he’s gifted with a combination of athletic ability, IQ, and a strong will,” Mancias says. That makes it easier to handle the strength and conditioning.
At this point in LeBron’s career, Mancias makes sure that they don’t overdo it in the weight room. For conditioning, there’s nothing better for basketball than basketball. Off-season, Mancias watches to make sure he doesn’t overdo it so that LeBron has enough in the tank for the season—especially if he’s playing 40 minutes a game. For additional conditioning—and to ease the strain on the legs—LeBron loves the VersaClimber, and they also do pool workouts (swimming and treading water).
For strength, Mancias focuses on core and balance. Plyometrics not so much. “He knows how to jump,” Mancias says.
“We realize it all starts in the core. Everything we do is core-based,” he says. “There’s a saying that you can’t fire a cannon from a canoe. If your core isn’t strong enough, your legs will not be able to perform well.”
To do so, LeBron likes planks, pushups, jackknifes, and prone cobras on or off the physio ball, as well as anything with single or staggered legs to emphasize the core. For mobility, he likes dynamic movements (think bear crawls and variations).
Choose Habits Over Variety
At this point, Mancias thinks in tweaks—not whole-sale changes in programs or plans.
“We’ve had some pretty good success in the past in what we’re doing, and he’s a creature of habit,” he says, “so we’re not going to stray too far.” Instead, Mancias will try to see where he can fine-tune moves and actions to adjust to things that he may be seeing or LeBron may be feeling.
“If he landed a particular way after a dunk or jump shot, I might see compensation patterns. Maybe the right leg is a little sore, so we have to look at what the left leg is doing. You have to keep the body in balance,” Mancias says.
LeBron's Pre-Game Ritual
LeBron’s pre-game habits help him physically—and maintain an edge, Mancias says. Three things that LeBron does:
- Nap: “He’s taking a nap on game day, not because he wants a nap, but because it’s part of the performance. Ultimately, it helps him perform better and give him the energy he needs in the second half.”
- Workout Warmup: These pre-game workouts have scaled back in terms of lifting heavy weight, but they’ve being doing them since 2007. Now, they focus on moderate weight and mobility—to help warm up the muscle and joints.
- Eat. A nice combo of protein and carbs (maybe protein and a pasta a couple hours before a game). And they’re always monitoring hydration.
- Extra Fuel: Before warmups, LeBron will take Ladder Energy to help supply his body with nutrients needed for the combination of intensity and endurance during an NBA game.
The Recovery Protocol
The first 30 minutes after a game are also key to getting him ready for the next one, Mancias says. So that will include a combo of an ice bath, stretching, and proper nutrition—which includes Ladder Plant Protein immediately after he walks off the court. And then he’ll have a bigger meal a bit later after he leaves the arena.
Efficiency Over Time
Being the keeper of LeBron’s body means he doesn’t have much time for himself, especially when they’re on the road. So his own workouts have become super-efficient: lots of circuit training—no more than 25 or 30 minutes—with bodyweight moves or dumbbells. He tries to combine push-pull movements with his upper body with legs and core.
Mancias, who will be 42 at the end of the year, focuses on nutrition. Two years ago, he tried eating vegan and sticks with it 99 percent of the time. When he tried it, he felt great—and noticed that he wasn’t sluggish, even after the long flights and brutal travel and schedule of an NBA season.
“There’s no way I can do my job being in charge of his health if my health deteriorates,” Mancias says. “As I get old, I’ve got to make sure I stay young.”