Was Charles Barkley ‘Right’ About Obama’s Game? A Sports Kinesiologist Weighs In

Ziegler: “Obama, a little light in the behind, affecting his ability to go right.”

On Wednesday evening, Conan O’Brien asked my good friend Charles Barkley about his impression of President Barack Obama’s basketball skills. Charles classified President Obama as a “one handed basketball player” who is only capable of playing to one side of this body. So to see if Charles was correct, I searched for video footage of President Barack Obama exercising and playing basketball. Fortunately, Bryant Gumbel did a special on the soon-to-be President where we see Barack Obama in full glory on the court (see video).

A Couple of Factors Impact the President’s Inability to Go Right

Watching the President (around 0:36), he is definitely a natural lefty, demonstrates confidence in going to his left but shys away from penetrating, dribbling, and even passing when going to the right. A couple of factors contribute to the President’s inability to perform to the right. The most obvious assumption is that the president’s dominant hand is his left hand.

Basketball experts prefer to classify this as someone who likes to go left, but in reality, the President’s physical limitations prevent him from going to his right. One factor contributing to his inability to “go right” is the obvious lack of strength and coordination the President has with his right hand and weakness on his left leg in comparison to Obama’s left arm and right leg. The weaknesses in the President’s left leg starts in his toes and goes all the way up to his hip and lower back. The President’s weak hamstrings contribute to a constant feeling that his quadriceps need stretching. The President’s hamstrings are significantly weaker than his quadriceps muscles (front of the thigh).

Because of that weakness (imbalance), the President’s quadriceps muscles are working significantly harder than they should and contribute to periodic soreness in his patella tendons (on both knees-but more often on his right). Quite often after extended sessions where the President is seated (especially following a period of exercise), President Obama may experience slight back pain and or discomfort in his lower back and neck due to the lower body muscle imbalances I mentioned earlier and weaknesses in his posterior deltoid (back of the shoulder, which is significantly weaker on his right side).

If President Obama wants to prove Charles wrong and improve his game, I’d suggest he apply the following prescription:

My Prescription for Improving President Obama’s Game

Target Areas of Weakness: Both, hamstrings-both but weaker on the left leg, Gastroc/Soleus strengthening on the left leg and stretching on the right leg; upper back and posterior deltoid strengtheninging.

Areas to Stretch: Quadriceps with an emphasis on the right leg. Hip flexors on both legs. Avoid Stretching the back of both shoulders. Stretching these areas will lead to tightness in the chest and more rounding of the President’s shoulders-which will contribute to the appearance of poor posture.

Perform Single Leg Calf Raises (heel lifts) on his left leg (be sure to keep the glute muscles—buttocks—firmly contracted on the left leg. This is best done on a stair well with the toes of his left foot barely on the step and the right foot resting 2-3 steps higher.

Perform Single leg hamstring curls (prone)—2 sets of as many reps as he can on the left and 1 set of as many as he can on the right leg, (the goal is 50-100 repetitions on the left)

Perform Box Step Ups—2-3 sets of 15-20 reps stepping up with the left leg and lifting the right towards the chest. Repeating for only 2 sets of 15-20 reps with the right leg on the box.

Single Arm Dumbbell Shoulder Press. 3 sets of 15-20 reps with the right arm, 1-2 sets of 15-20 reps with the left arm. This will help the improve the President’s neurological issues affecting strength and coordination of his right hand. Sure he could just work on dribbling and passing to the right, but the weaknesses the President make this a slow road to improvement.

If you’ll notice the prescription calls for the President to do more work on his left leg while working to rest the right leg (the opposite of his arms). A more detailed workout would be prescribed if I had reviewed biomechanics data on the President, but none was available. Incidentally, President Obama struggles with golf because of the weaknesses on his left leg. Those weaknesses could have been caused by an injury earlier in his athletic career which still impacts him today, even though he may not realize it.

Interesting aside about 2008 Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee

While we are on the subject of Presidents or Presidential contenders, interestingly enough, in 2007, I spent a few hours with 2008 Republican Presidential candidate, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. While training for the NYC marathon, Governor Huckabee began to experience knee pain. His personal trainer contacted me and suggested I come down to perform a biomechanics assessment on this running mechanics. The analysis showed that the Governor possessed weak ankles on both legs and as a result failed to use his calf muscles when he ran, (a waddling type gait) consistent with someone who is or was previously overweight and inactive for an extended period of time (many years). Even though the Governor had taken up walking and then running, he failed to address one physical limitation, in his years of being overweight.  It became easier to walk without using his ankles, firing the much needed and neglected muscles on the back of his lower leg.

With the right training and exercise, there may be hope for both President Obama and Governor Huckabee yet.

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With over 18 years of experience in health, fitness, and sports performance improvement, Mr. Ziegler has helped some of the world’s best athletes find their groove in baseball, Olympic softball, basketball, football and many other sports. Learn more in About Zig Ziegler, Sports Kinesiologist.

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4 thoughts on “Was Charles Barkley ‘Right’ About Obama’s Game? A Sports Kinesiologist Weighs In

  1. Hi. I would like to know the reason behind your claims that weak hamstrings can lead to patella tendon and low back issues. I guess that you only assume that his hamstrings are weak, because they may long overlengthened based on Obamas hip alignment, II would appreciate a reply, cause it’s something I need to know about, since I’m a physical therapist student.

    • Mark, thanks for your questions. As for this particular one about weak Hamstrings etc causing back pain, let me state that in this particular case (Obama) they are a contributor. Each situation should be handled case by case. In particular, weak hamstrings in comparison to quads contribute to patella issues but only when we evaluate sequence of muscle firing. If the imbalance causes muskie firing out of sequence e the quads (usually one or the other but not both) will cause the quads to overload the patella tendon causing acute inflammation.

      If untreated, chronic pain will persist eventually leafing to a rupture once maximum fatigue with maximal exertion causes an overload contraction. This was the case with Oden and many others. In some cases, improper functioning ankles can contribute to patella/knee issues every joint has a job to due in order. We have to look at each individual as a unique case. Yes it takes longer but it means getting better results for the patient, which may mean we make less money but we do change lives.

  2. I’d actually like to add one more question: The emphasis seems primarily to be on the posterior chain for Obamas training according to your suggestions. If he does have patella tendonitis/tendinosus, the normal recommendation would be to do slow and heavy strength training (squats and leg presses) to strengthen the patella tendon. Are you looking to fix the root of the problem in this case (quad dominance) instead of just healing the patella tendon?

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