Amar'e Bounces Back

Dec 12 / Build Muscle

"It was painful," the Phoenix Suns forward says. "When you're in a competitive mode, you're so ready go back out there."

When he finally hit the gym in August, Stoudemire had less than 2 months to build himself up before training camp. Here's how he did it, and how you can rebound from any fitness setback.

1 Go slowly
"You have to return gradually," says Stoudemire. When he played too soon after knee surgery in 2006, soreness sent him back to rehab. If you're in pain, don't push it, says Mike Boyle, A.T.C., the owner of Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning. Increase weights, reps, or cardio time by no more than 10 percent each training session.

2 Eat right
Stoudemire cut back on fat and carbs during his inactivity so he wouldn't gain much weight. As he returned to the gym, he steadily ate more. "Your body needs carbs to fuel exercise, and protein to prevent muscle breakdown," says Alan Aragon, M.S., a nutritionist in Westlake Village, California. To fuel your comeback, add a scoop of whey protein powder to a 24- to 32-ounce blend of equal parts water and fruit juice. Sip 5 ounces of this mix every 15 to 20 minutes during your workout, Aragon says.

3 Shake it up
Stoudemire's quads and core were weak, so he built them by holding weights while poised on unsteady surfaces. Instability trains the small muscles that keep your body balanced, Boyle says. Two ways to work the small muscles: Do pushups on a Bosu ball (round side facing down). For your lower body, try squats and lunges on a soft surface. (We like the Airex pad.)

4 Perfect your form
"Before the NBA, I'd never heard of correct form," Stoudemire says. "Now I lift exactly how my trainer tells me to." That's especially important after an injury, because bad form can damage a weakened body, says Mike Robertson, C.S.C.S. Do moves in front of a mirror so you can check your form.

5 Find a pool
"When you return from a long layoff, full-weight activity can cause painful setbacks," says Robertson. That's why Stoudemire would use the pool before starting his lifting routine. Water reduces joint and muscle stress, and improves mobility. He began every pool session by marching in place, bringing his legs high every step. Then he'd do 5 to 10 laps, using a freestyle stroke.