The New York Liberty star shares how a severe ankle injury changed her perspective.
Sabrina Ionescu has always been a standout. For proof, just take one look at her stats from her four-year career as a point guard for the University of Oregon Ducks. But the 24-year-old New York Liberty guard isn’t one to rest on her laurels. Instead, she aims to push her limits and zero in on untapped areas that can take her to the next level.
“[If] you want to be better and do better, it starts in the weight room,” Ionescu said in an exclusive interview with Tonal, noting that she spends five days a week lifting. For her, strength training lays the foundation for a healthy season, a critical focus after her professional career got off to a rocky start.
Back in 2020, the promising talent and No. 1 overall pick that year suffered a severe ankle sprain three games into her rookie season and played in an unhealthy state much of her sophomore run. Since then, Ionescu has been working hard to set herself up for success as the clock winds down to the start of her third season with the Liberty.
That started with an evolved training philosophy. “It really changed when I got hurt,” she said. “Before, I was just doing the general lifts, the normal lifts that our strength coach would put together. Once I got hurt two years ago, I really had to change my entire outlook on lifting. I learned a lot about the body, and I’m still learning every day, but it’s completely changed my whole knowledge of how valuable it is to be strong.”
To get there, she doesn’t throw around random weight in the gym just for the sake of doing so. Strategically-programmed exercises like isometric holds, glute activation, calf strengthening, and ankle and core stability moves—which she called “foundational strength”—have been game-changers for her.
She also focuses on sleep and nutrition. Ionescu opts for a clean diet, leaning into fish and away from inflammatory foods, and she drinks a lot of water. “It’s all connected to your performance on the court and being the best you can be so you’re really winning every single day,” she said.
If winning means putting points on the board, Ionescu has done it. She is the youngest player and the first New York Liberty player to record a triple-double, and she has also sunk the game-winning shot in pro showdowns. But for Ionescu, winning is more about being her best self. She often asks herself: Did I do my best? Did I try my best? If the answers to these questions are yes, then she knows she has improved.
This lesson has been a poignant one for the transcendent player, showing her that it takes more than just skill on the court to be at the top. “For so long, I never experienced a really serious injury, so I was just able to lace up my shoes and go play,” she explained. “Honestly, until I got hurt, I felt great, and then I realized you have to warm up; you have to activate your muscles; you have to make sure everything’s warm before going out there and exercising and putting your body through strenuous efforts.”
To that end, Ionescu now spends 15 to 20 minutes priming her body through core, hip, quad, glute, and hamstring activations before she even dribbles the ball. Her recovery efforts—a new addition to her regimen since her injury—are equally demanding. Now Ionescu spends an hour or two recouping, using compression therapy, percussive massage therapy, ice, and heat.
Though the expectations are likely high for the Liberty opener on May 7, Ionescu is focused on staying present—simply trying to “be where [her] feet are,” she said. “There are so many things going on, so many distractions, but I think just being grateful and in the moment is really valuable.”