Carter spent last season with the Sacramento Kings, and even when they didn’t show interest in bringing him back, that didn’t discourage him from playing another season. That confidence in his ability to keep up with guys half his age comes from his dedication to fitness and a strategic training plan that’s shifted and adapted year after year.
“You have to be willing to try new things,” Carter told Men’s Journal. “You have to listen to your body and understand when to slow things down.”
While the Hawks roster is a young one, the team wanted the experience and leadership Carter can bring to the locker room. He’ll have a thing or two to show them after 1,400 career NBA games.
Men’s Journal caught up with Carter earlier in the summer while promoting Verizon Up, the rewards program which gives customers the ability to experience once-in-a-lifetime moments (like a dunk clinic with Carter), to speak about what it’s like to be the oldest guy in the league, training after 40, and how the NBA has changed over the years.
How have things changed since you came into the league in 1998?
The biggest difference with training is all the new technology and the access players have to it. You can track so much—and the equipment and programs are so much better. Back in the day, you’d just go into the gym, pick up some weights, and hit the track. It worked for me then. Now, I have to be smart with how I do things since I’ve gotten older.
What’s your offseason training routine like?
After the season ends, it’s important for me to stay balanced and maintain my weight, keeping myself active even though we aren’t playing games. I used to play more pickup basketball over the summer when I was younger, but now I have to save some of that wear and tear for the real thing. In the summer I’ll do some light weightlifting, biking, and golfing in the Florida heat to help keep my weight right. I’ll start to do more as the season gets closer. I have a home court and a gym I built that I still use. Some days I’ll hit the gym twice just to maintain. I have a locker room in there. I have everything you’d need—two benches, all your typical weights, and a hot and cold tub. I thought it was better to invest in that instead of certain other material things.
What are some ways you’ve adjusted your training since hitting 40?
I stretch so much more now than earlier in my career. Staying loose and flexible helps keep my body strong and in shape to make it through the season. As I’ve played for different teams and worked with different trainers, I’ve incorporated a lot of different workouts and taken what works for me and put it into a routine. I have an everyday stretching routine, and one for when we play back-to-back games, which isn’t as intense. It hits the same points, but it’s scaled down. That’s important for keeping me fresh.
Do you have a pre-game meal routine?
I’m a big pasta guy. I try and mix it up with chicken or another protein in there, but I don’t do any fish on game days. Pasta helps give me energy, because I want to have enough energy to burn throughout the course of a game. I can feel the difference when I don’t do it, and you can feel it in the middle of the game when you need that extra energy to push through and it’s not there.
What’s the best advice you’ve received in your career?
Over the years I’ve learned a lot from veterans I’ve played with, like Dell Curry, Antonio Davis, and PJ Brown. Those guys always talked about stretching to me, and doing it before I go to bed, even for a short amount of time. Sometimes it may not seem like a lot, but the more you do it, you can stretch a little farther, a little more, and helps keep you healthy and flexible for the long-term.
Do you have any post-game rituals?
I sometimes like to lift weights after games; it’s just something that works for me. Whether I play big minutes or not, for me, doing that after games helps me stay at the peak level I need to compete against these 20-something-year-old guys. It’s worked for me. I do it at home usually, since it’s not always easy to get into the gym on the road.
How have you been able to play in the NBA for so long?
The stretching is one reason I’ve been able to play this long. On game days, I get to the arena pretty early, since I need more time to get my body and engine running like I need it. My pre-game stretching routine and shooting routine helps me get ready for games, and I try and do that the same way no matter how I’m feeling. But I love the game—that’s where it comes from.