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Sports LeBron James on Strength Training for Greatness, Where He Finds Motivation, and His Unconventional Music Choices

The four-time champion talks about his new partnership with Tonal and some of the key components to his training success.  

LeBron James performing a woodchop exercise on Tonal

LeBron James has seen it all—especially when it comes to training. For more than 20 years, the basketball superstar has trained in countless gyms, tested different training methods, tried various exercise machines, and watched fitness fads come and go. 

“I’ll literally try anything if it’s going to improve me, improve my body, improve my game, improve my lifestyle,” he said. “That’s just how crazy I am about it.” 

Over the years, those efforts have garnered plenty of headlines and media coverage, as fans and competitors try to unlock the secrets to one of the world’s greatest athletes. But James knows that the real keys to success are more fundamental than fitness trends.

As part of his new partnership with Tonal, James sat down for an exclusive interview to talk about the key components of his approach to training—including how he treats strength training like a lifestyle, how he jams to Frank Sinatra during workouts, and how he recovers with a Sunday full of football.

On Strength Training: 

Strength training is an important part of many of our lives, but for a four-time champion and MVP, it’s not just what you do—it’s who you are.

“It’s like waking up. It’s like brushing your teeth. It’s like not leaving your phone when you leave the house,” James said. ”It’s been a long time since I’ve woken up, and I didn’t think about doing something as far as strength training or figuring out a way I can improve my body when it comes to just being as great as I can be.” 

That relentless pursuit of improvement is what’s helped James continually evolve his approach to training over the years. Whether he’s working out on his own, with his team, or with his longtime trainer Mike Mancias, James explains that at this stage, he needs to be smart and productive to get the most out of his workouts. 

“You know, I have three kids. That takes a lot of my time. So when it comes to training, I want to get my work done,” James said. ”I want to get the most out of it, and I want to be very efficient.” 

Tonal gives him exactly that kind of workout productivity. “The efficiency of Tonal is second to none when it comes to strength training,” he said. “[It’s] easy in a sense that everything is literally right there. You don’t have to move all across the room to different machines or racking weights—everything is literally right in front of you at an arm’s length.”

On Motivation: 

Finding external motivation to work out is helpful for many, but when asked what drives him to stay focused and put in the work, James responded matter-of-factly: “myself.”

“I’m the first one to get up in my household,” he said. “I put in the work. I challenge myself. I’m on myself every day to be the greatest I can be and reach heights that even I didn’t believe.”

But if the motivation starts from within, James was quick to clarify that it doesn’t stop there.

“When I leave the house, I’m representing my kids, my wife, my mom, my friends, my city, the kids in my I PROMISE program,” he said, adding that it’s a responsibility he takes very seriously. “I just don’t want to let them down. Even when I lose a game, I still don’t want to fail them.” 

Music also helps James get in the zone. While he loves a lot of different genres and artists, he said he listens to hip hop during workouts because the “cadence that a lot of hip-hop artists use when they’re making music, it just puts me in a rhythm of the training that I’m doing.” 

And when Mancias is there, James adds that they like to occasionally slow it down. “Mike will throw on some Frank Sinatra, and we will get down with the Rat Pack,” he said. 

Lebron James performing a biceps curl on Tonal to demonstrate his training

On Recovery:

You don’t make it to a nineteenth season without prioritizing rest and recovery. In order to train as hard as James does, you need to recover harder. The seemingly ageless player reportedly relies on recovery tools such as flexibility training and stretching, protein recovery shakes, a hyperbaric chamber, and daily meditation.

But when it comes to complete rest after a long week of training, he prefers to kick back and relax. 

“I truly hope my rest day falls on a Sunday during football season when I can do absolutely nothing,” he said. “Living on the west coast, I can wake up at 9 o’clock, eat breakfast at 9:30 before the game starts at 10. Then I’m literally there all day, all night.” 

It’s not something that happens very often, but James says this is his perfect Sunday rest day. “[There’s a] smile on my face right now just thinking about it.”

On Achieving Goals: 

When it comes to good advice on overcoming your challenges, James said he’s found that there’s no better teacher than experience. “Everyone has to experience things to learn from [them]. There’s no teacher or book when it comes to preparing yourself for whatever obstacle you want to take—only experience,” he said. “When you experience things, you learn the course you want to take the next time or [what] you should have done differently.” 

When pursuing your own goals, he acknowledged that it’s important to remember that everybody’s journey is different, and the most important thing to do on your own journey—whether that be strength training or simply navigating life—is to stay the course. “Just stick with it,” he said. “No matter if it makes you turn in a direction that’s off course. You can always get back on track if you just stick with it.”

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