Steph Curry’s Hack for Controlling His Heart Rate

The Golden State superstar runs laps around the league for a reason

Steph Curry running calmly after the basketball.
In the middle of games, Curry's heart rate is lower than the average American's while sitting on a couch
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Steph Curry had yet another absurd season in 2022-23, especially considering that he’s 34. The four-time NBA champion posted 29.4 points per game and a three-point percentage of of 42.7%.

But there’s one stat about the Golden State superstar that deserves more attention: his “miles run per game.” Curry averages more than 2.5 miles in a given game, which accrues over four quarters of constant movement. Making open shots is impressive enough — but Curry has to get open to begin with, and that takes extra effort when you’re double (or even triple) teamed half the time.

In recent years, Curry’s peers throughout the league have stressed that his conditioning is perhaps more impressive than his shooting. If Curry ever takes a break during an offensive set, it’s usually a deke — as his defender cashes in on a second’s deep breath, he springs back into motion and calls for the ball.

Fellow Warrior Gary Payton, Jr. has likened Curry’s fitness to a different sport entirely: “I kind of think of him as a soccer player that just goes through the 48 minutes and runs out there on the pitch and is just going. He doesn’t stop moving. He creates so much attention and he wears guys and defenses down. It’s ridiculous…his conditioning and how he takes care of his body, it’s ridiculous.”

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Steph Curry’s Heart Rate Hack

How does Curry do it? Dedicated heart rate training. Buried in a sprawling 2021 ESPN Magazine profile (pegged to the season that Curry broke Ray Allen’s all-time three-point record), is a bit of cardiovascular lore. Curry evidently has the ability to “coax his heart rate below 80 during one 90-second timeout.” That is absolutely crazy because 80 bmp is the median of the average resting heart rate range. It’s what American adults are supposed to shoot for when they’re sitting around doing nothing.

But Curry has two things going for him: (a) he’s in fantastic shape and (b) he’s highly attuned to his breath. He hones both in training sessions that other players have described as “just too much.” In “Full Court Star,” for instance, a timed drill that Curry runs with his trainer Brandon Payne, Curry charts a manic race course back and forth across the length of the court. He has to make eight of 10 three-pointers in 55 seconds or less. Here’s what it looks like.

Once other players finish this drill, they throw up. Once Curry finishes it, he lies on his back so Payne can place a heavy sandbag just below his ribcage. The technique overloads Curry’s diaphragm, forcing him to take in more oxygen from each breath and slow his entire system down.

How to Try It Yourself

This sort of training is applicable to any sort of athletic pursuit: hoops, cycling, pickleball, you name it. You don’t have to bury yourself in sandbags, but when you’re truly gassed — be it mid-interval or at the end of a workout — make a point to put one hand on your chest and another on your belly, and take deep, controlled breaths. The practice will decelerate your heart rate in kind, and acclimatize yourself to the intensity.

We’re talking about a real, physiological impact here, of the sort that will put your conditioning through the roof. But this practice will almost certainly yield psychological benefits, too. Ever notice how relaxed Curry is as he plays? He maintains an amused, borderline-lackadaisical visage throughout the biggest moments. (One thrown mouthpiece in 2016, aside.) Along with Roger Federer, he’s an excellent example of sprezzatura, or the art of making difficult things look easy. It all starts with heart rate.

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