An occasional series to feature the behind-the-scenes work of some unsung NBA staffers. The “Day in the Life” project was conceived by Michael H. Goldberg, longtime executive director of the National Basketball Coaches Association (NBCA) who passed away in January 2017.
Orlando Magic strength & conditioning coach
NBA.com: Like a lot of folks we’ve talked with in this series, there isn’t necessarily a “typical” work day. At the very least, their days differ by game day vs. practice day, with other differences between home day vs. road day. Yours too?
Bill Burgos: Absolutely. We get a lot of our work done on practice days. If practice is at 11 a.m., I’m usually at work by 7. I look at my notes for what I have planned for a guy, what’s the agenda for this guy, what happened the previous night? Then I take into consideration notes from the trainer for injuries or anything that happened to the guy from the [most recent] game, in case I have to make adjustments to the workout.
I’ll spend about an hour on that, including the adjustments. My assistant [Daniel Erickson] and I will set up the weight room so it makes logistical sense, where it’s a smooth transition from one thing to the next and we’re not all over the place. Then we’ll have a meeting with the whole athletic training staff. That lasts from 30 to 45 minutes. After that, we go into the gym and the guys start floating in.
NBA.com: Actually, that “floating in” might mislead some readers. Your team has pretty specific schedules for players. And I know your military background -- a total of 13 years in the Army and Air Force, with time in Afghanistan (2002) and Iraq (2003) -- makes you pretty disciplined. [Bergos was born in Weisbaden, West Germany, while his father William was serving in the Army, and his grandfather Victory fought in the Korean War.]
BB: We start on time. When your team has a lot of young guys like ours has had, you want to give them a structure that they’ll stick with as they get older. With this coaching staff, guys have their prescribed times when they do their skills work, so they’ll come to me in waves. We’ll do movement prep, which basically means exercises that identify their weaknesses. By doing corrective exercises, it improves their symmetry so, when they go into their full workouts, they’re in a balanced state. Then we go into strength movements, whether it’s a primary strength, secondary strength, power -- whatever it is that day for that guy.
All the coaches I’ve worked with, they all have been very supportive. [Frank] Vogel told them all, “This is an important piece to the puzzle.” I’ve never gotten a vibe from a coach saying, “We don’t need to do this.”
NBA.com: This goes back a while, but when I covered the University of Kentucky basketball team 35 year ago, it was said that the Wildcats had more guys who bench-pressed 300 pounds than the school’s football team had. I’ve got to figure, all these years later, people in your jobs aren’t as focused on brute force.
BB: The way I individualize a program, I look at a player’s training history. Some guys are not big lifters, and I’ll take that into consideration. I’ll look at limitations on what they can and can’t do, and at their positions. All the guys will go through baseline testing. That’s where I find out if they’re a slow mover or a fast mover, if they have some type of power deficit. Then I can get an idea for what type of program they need. If a guy is very explosive and powerful, I’ll focus more on strength. If it’s a real strong guy, I’ll focus on power to balance him out.
NBA.com: So you make a distinction between “strength” and “power?”
BB: We do. If you jump up and down, when you come down, you’ve got to have strength to withstand that powerful load.
NBA.com: A lot of us will see players in postgame locker rooms who -- if they didn’t play much or at all that night -- go off to use a stationary bike, a treadmill or something like that. The Magic too?
BB: For me it’s anyone who plays less than 20 minutes does prescribed conditioning. Usually we’ll try to get it in right before practice. I give guys the option to do it after the game, before practice the following day or after practice. Sometimes guys have family with them at games. Here in Orlando, restaurants close early so they’re trying to get out in time to go eat. In New York, there wasn’t enough [gym] space for everybody when I was there with the Knicks [from 2011-13].
NBA.com: I’m guessing the workouts are different home vs. road, just because of limited facilities.
BB: I try to do all their primary lifts at home because it’s easier there. On the road, sometimes the hotels aren’t set up for it. So I try to do secondary lifts out there -- dumbbells, core stuff, stuff that’s more functional. That’s not as strenuous on the body as what we’d do at home. There’s a lot of recovery, because we’re doing so much traveling and moving around. When we do the [road] lifts, we do it so we’re not losing what we gain and at the same time, we’re getting some work in. As far as the conditioning, when we’re on the road we can’t do it after the game because we have a set time to get to the bus and leave on the plane.
NBA.com: How vital is a player’s strength and conditioning work to his game? Will it show up on the floor if a guy isn’t doing what he’s supposed to? And how much can an average player boost his game if he is dedicated to lifting and other exercises?
BB: I’ll put it this way: Our two main goals in the weight room are power and body composition. If a guy is heavier than [he should be], he has to exert more force, more power to overcome inertia. There’s more stress and more load placed on the body. Over time, it’s harder for him to recover. He can get fatigued, which increases the risk of injury. That’s why body composition is so important. You can jump, but if you’re 10 pounds heavier, you’ve got to jump harder. You’ve got to work harder. And you face chronic wear and tear.
NBA.com: So how much of a typical workout is about strength, how much is about conditioning?
BB: If it’s a bench player, it’ll be 50/50. If it’s a high-minutes guy, I’ll say it’s more like 90/10. They’ll get a little conditioning in, but you don’t want them to get so much it breaks them down.
NBA.com: How much of a priority do coaches put on guys’ workouts?
BB: All the coaches I’ve worked with -- [Stan] Van Gundy, [Mike] D’Antoni, [Mike] Woodson, Jacque Vaughn, Scott Skiles and of course [current Magic coach Frank] Vogel -- they all have been very supportive. Vogel told them all, “This is an important piece to the puzzle.” I’ve never gotten a vibe from a coach saying, “We don’t need to do this.”
NBA.com: Why is it that we have more knowledge than ever and more basketball staff dedicated to roles such as yours, yet we’re constantly seeing or at least talking about injuries. If the preparation is better, shouldn’t the injuries go down?
BB: We [Burgos, 42, is president of The National Basketball Strength and Conditioning Association] were discussing this in terms of AAU basketball and the league getting younger. A lot of these young guys, they have poor training habits. Maybe they haven’t lifted and when they got to the league, they weren’t as strong as they should have been. And now the whole league is flipped. I remember when teams had a couple young guys and the rest were older guys. Now it’s the other way around and you have these young guys who have played way more games than before. The intensity is even higher. And it’s hard to find time for these guys to lift because their minutes are so high. ... It’s hard to develop them during the season -- that’s the biggest challenge, especially with a high-minutes guy. That’s why the offseason is so important.
NBA.com: Are you like some teams that travel to wherever the players are in the offseason to aid in their workouts?
BB: I go everywhere. Wherever a guy’s at, I go to. Last year I went to Montenegro for two weeks, then back for another 10 days. I went to Croatia. The idea is to give them an offseason plan, then check up on them early enough so if there are any issues -- if they’re not lifting or they’re not where they should be -- I’m able to catch it early enough. You don’t want to find out when the season’s about to start. When guys are all over the place we’ll try to get them in one location, just to create some variety in the program. “Hey, let’s go to L.A, guys. I’ll set something up.” We’ve gone to L.A. for 14 days. Guys like it, it builds camaraderie.
NBA.com: How was it that you chose this as your career?
BB: I had a family and, after 13 years in the military, I knew I wanted to go to college and get involved in pro sports somehow. I didn’t know what -- at first I wanted to be an physician’s assistant and then an orthopedic surgeon. In college [at Austin Peay University] I became a student athletic trainer and learned about strength and conditioning. I’m bilingual so one of my professors said, “Hey, you should try baseball.” I got in real quick -- I was with the Pittsburgh Pirates. From there, I met up with Joe Rogowski [the former strength coach for the Magic, now working with the National Basketball Players Association]. Joe brought me in as an intern. I went to the Knicks for two years, and when Joe went to Houston [in 2013], Orlando called me up.
NBA.com: Have you had some especially enthusiastic workout guys?
BB: I have a thing every year I call “Iron Magic,” where I test the guys, and whoever accumulates the most points, they get bragging rights. They get “Iron Magic” [status] for the year, they get a nameplate up and they get a custom-made boxer’s belt. This year, it was Mario Hezonja. The last three years it was Victor Oladipo. Since I’ve been here, everybody lifts. But if I gave them a ranking, Mario is a 1, Damjan [Rudez] is a 1. The foreign players are pretty good. Everyone’s different. Some guys know it’s important so they do it. Some guys want to do it.
NBA.com: How was Dwight Howard?
BB: I’ll put it like this: We had a hand dynamometer, where you squeeze it and it tells you how strong you are. I think ours went up to 100. His was always 100-plus. He was always a challenge to prescribe what amount of weight he needed to lift. He was so strong, so no matter what weight, it was always “too light.” He was that strong.
NBA.com: Players and coaches have the scoreboard to tell them when they’ve had a good day or a bad day. What about you?
BB: My high is when everybody does exactly what I have planned. The reason I say that is, I travel with textbooks, I’m always constantly thinking, “What’s next, what’s the 6-to-8 week program I want to set up?” So when it’s like boom-boom-boom, where guys go from warmups to stretching to buying into exactly what I’m saying, that for me is a good day.
It took me a while to get everybody to speak the same language -- a workout program is based on a specific language. So when these guys speak the language, I know they’ve fully bought into it. They make fun of my warmup, but then you find out they use it for their kids’ camps.
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