Caitlin Clark put on 8 pounds of muscle to 'take her game to the next level.' Here's how she did it, according to the trainer who helped her.
- Caitlin Clark is the biggest show in college hoops and a favorite to win National Player of the Year.
- The Iowa Hawkeyes star devoted her off-season to strength training, and she's reaping the benefits on the court.
Caitlin Clark usually has the highest basketball IQ of anyone on the court. She's often the fastest player in any given game. And you'd be hard-pressed to find an opponent with a smoother shot.
But just as Superman had Kryptonite and Achilles had his heel, the Iowa Hawkeyes star had a considerable weakness on the basketball court: her strength — or lack thereof.
"Obviously she's a one-of-a-kind basketball player, but the thing is, she's not a one-of-a-kind person in the weight room," Iowa's associate strength and conditioning coach Lindsay Alexander told Insider. "She has this very high skill set in basketball, but her physical development could really be improved."
As she burst into the national spotlight in her very first season with the Hawkeyes — to the tune of 26.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 7.0 assists per game in 2020-21 — Clark's opponents started to take notice. And by her sophomore year, she was feeling the repercussions of the opposition's desperate efforts to slow her down.
"That hindered me at points last year; people were physical with me," Clark told Haley Jones on the "Sometimes I Hoop" podcast. "That was probably the No. 1 thing on the scouting report, like, 'Be physical with her. Get up in her grill, hold her jersey, tug on her arms.'"
"And that's just not something the ref's gonna call every time," she added.
Clark made up her mind that she 'wanted to get stronger,' and she enlisted Alexander to help her do it.
For much of her collegiate career, the consensus All-American hasn't been able to spend a full off-season making the most of her resources on campus.
The summer before her debut season, pandemic restrictions prevented Clark and her teammates from hitting the weight room with the frequency and consistency necessary to see significant results. Then, ahead of her sophomore year, the 6-foot point guard shipped off to Hungary to help the US women's national under-19 basketball team win gold at the 2021 U-19 World Cup.
"This past summer of 2022 was the first summer where we actually had a full summer of training," Alexander said. "And she's made strides over the year, but this is really where she made that biggest jump, because she was able to really dedicate the full summer to training."
But showing up alone wouldn't have been enough. She had to buy into the mission, and by her own account, she "took the weight room super seriously."
"I think she really did that this past summer, and realized that that's what's gonna take her game to the next level," Alexander said.
Alexander, who also works with Iowa's women's gymnastics team, insists that Clark's routine in the weight room involves "nothing surprising." Sprints, squats, jumps, dead lifts, lunges, single-leg work, and ankle stability exercises — "all the normal things that people do" — are part of the regimen that helped her put on eight pounds of muscle before the season began.
Some days are more intense than others, and while Alexander "can't prevent injuries," she takes painstaking care to help players avoid and mitigate them. She and the staff around her are able to monitor players' fatigue levels by measuring their jumps on a force plate every week throughout the season, then compare "specifically how fast and how high they jump" during any single test to their 60-day average.
If there's a considerable drop in performance, Alexander can tell that the player is fatigued and may need a lighter workload for the day or the week. If a player's results are consistent, perhaps that's the best time to push them harder in the weight room.
Alexander will be the first to tell you that "nothing that we're doing is a secret" and that "there's no special exercise" she can point to in Clark's transformation. In fact, she'll insist that her work with the National Player of the Year is "really not about what exercises we're doing" at all.
A 'holistic training approach' has been 'the key to success' on Clark's path to newfound strength
Alexander and Clark's focus in the weight room was, and continues to be, increasing "her ability to lift more weight as time goes on." But an even more important component to the superstar's progress is ensuring that they coordinate her training across the staff — with the team's registered dietician, Hawkeyes head coach Lisa Bluder, and others
"That's really the key to success, as far as basketball coaches and myself, is that we're working with the same athlete and we gotta make sure that we're sequencing everything together," Alexander said. "That's really the important part."
The final piece of the puzzle for Clark or any other player, Alexander says, is their commitment to doing their "best every single day." That's in the weight room, yes, but also in the moments when no one's watching.
"You can have the best training and the best basketball coach and all these things, but if you're not sleeping and taking care of your body appropriately, then it doesn't really matter," Alexander said. "[Clark] takes ownership of her sleep and, I mean, she's still a college kid, but good sleep and pretty good on the nutrition front.
"I think that has helped her really get to see the success from her training," she added, "because she's doing the other things as well."
After working with Alexander to push herself in the weight room, Clark has been able to 'see the results' on the court
Clark had little room for improvement after a dazzling 2021-22 season in which she led the entire country in both points and assists per game. But somehow, Iowa's sensation has seemingly become an even more lethal weapon in her junior year.
Though Alexander would never take credit for that success, she and Clark have discussed how her "progress over the last year or so that has really helped her" during gameplay.
"I think that's really showed throughout conference play especially, but obviously earlier in the year too," Clark told Jones. "I feel like I'm staying on my feet more when I'm finishing around the rim, I'm able to absorb a lot more contact, things like that."
"So I think it's definitely paid off," she added.
Alexander cited similar areas of improvement, and says it all boils down to becoming "a more durable athlete." The fact that Clark has been motivated to make the changes necessary to do so, despite performing at such a high level in the first place, the trainer says, is "just a testament to her and her commitment to her game."
Clark has averaged 27.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 8.6 assists per game this year, while leading her Hawkeyes to a second consecutive Big 10 Tournament title and a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. She's been March Madness' biggest star — man or woman — thanks to her ridiculously deep shooting range and unparalleled ability to rack up triple-doubles.
But even as she acknowledges Clark's success on the season — and that their work together in the weight room aided in that success — Alexander is less focused on celebrating those wins than on what comes next.
"It's been a good year for her," Alexander said, "And, you know, we still have more progress to make."
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