You might recognise him from 2019’s Love Island – which helped catapult his social media following into the millions and land him a new clothing range with Everlast – but Ovie Soko’s day job is as a professional basketball player.
The 30-year-old Londoner enjoyed a successful college career Stateside, before spells in France, Greece, Spain, and England, and a recent return across the Channel for a successful stint with Le Mans Sarthe in the French top division. But now Soko is on the move again, having signed a deal with Shiga Lakestars in Japan.
Just before he flew out to join up with his new teammates, Soko talked Men’s Fitness through his fitness priorities, what it takes to play ball, and why everyone interested in exercise – particularly if they play sport – should make strength and stability central to their training.
In the off-season, I typically would do at least two sessions per day: Monday through to Friday, giving myself the weekend to recover.
One of those sessions will be with my physical trainer and the second one will be more skill-based, around basketball-specific training.
With my PT, we like to mix it up. In the first half of the off-season we’ll do a lot more heavier lifting to build up my strength, a lot more power and generally heavier weights work. The soreness, the DOMS after that is real!
However, when we do transfer to more plyo-based workouts as I get closer to playing it’s more about speed, agility, quickness and transforming that strength into power.
You’ve got to have that strength base first, but as we move through the off-season we start to limit rest times to build up the cardio fitness.
Basketball is such an explosive sport that you really want to give high amounts of effort over short bursts.
It would be stuff that’s consistent across most sports, so we go heavy on the legs and glutes. As in most sports, in basketball the stronger your base is the better you’re going to be. If your base isn’t strong you’re not going to be able to move your weight efficiently.
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I head out to Japan to play for the next two years, so we’re wrapping up this off-season, which has been really good.
As the years have gone by, my trainer, Perry at PMB Fitness, and I have learned what works for my body. Learning about your body and finding the perfect balance that works for you is always going to bring the best results.
For basketball, every country has its strengths and differences.
France is a much more athletic league, but not as technical as Spain, which has – I would say – the best balance in Europe outside the NBA in terms of athleticism and tactical prowess.
The NBA is the ‘Premiership’ of basketball: those are the big boys. Personally, I did very well last year in France, because my athletic ability has always been a natural strength of mine.
To succeed, you need hand-eye coordination, foot speed and agility. Balance is also essential – and that’s across every sport.
You can’t generate power if you’re off balance, it’s just not possible.
Balance is something I work on all the time. It’s a staple. I had ankle surgery a couple of years ago and getting back my balance and stability is something I have to constantly work on now.
Balance is all based on very small muscles twitching and firing almost simultaneously, very quickly to keep your base stable. That then allows you to make faster, sharper movements.
I use a BOSU Balance Trainer and do really simple drills: balance on one leg, balance on the other, touch your toes, move your other leg around, balance with your eyes closed, block your ears and so on. Play around with it to make it as challenging as possible.
A typical workout I do every morning when I’m coming into the beginning of off-season is this:
- 50 press-ups
- 50 sit-ups
- 10 bodyweight squats
- 10 squat jumps
- 10 BOSU calf raises
- 10 BOSU toe touches
- 10 BOSU single-leg around the worlds
(Repeat x 4)
That’s a very good baseline workout, and all you need is your bodyweight. It’s a minimal-rest thing, because it also works on endurance. When I can feel myself getting back to a good level of fitness, I’ll go back-to-back, but at the beginning I will take rest between sets.
The goal is not to kill yourself: the goal is to get progressively stronger every time you train.
The mental aspect is something I overlooked for a huge majority of my career.
You don’t understand how key it is to be calm. Your mind has to be still. I’m much bigger on meditation now, and because I have a naturally busy mind I find if I get up early, and use those first 30 minutes to set the tone and channel my energy, it really helps me mentally.
I’m having much clearer thoughts now, and that translates into playing. When you’re in the moment and focusing on the here and now, nothing else seems to matter.
The new Ovie x Everlast basketball range is available now at sportsdirect.com/everlast/ovie-everlast-collection and in store at Sports Direct.
Interview: Isaac Williams