Cutting-edge medical and training technology help Magic players reach their potential

High-Tech Training

Cutting-edge medical and training technology help Magic players reach their potential

By Scott Walin

Adonal Foyle considers himself to be "the consummate guinea pig" in a high-tech Magic world.

That's because Magic Athletic Development Specialist Joe Rogowski sees a willing player in Foyle who understands the method behind his madness of implementing the most cutting-edge medical and training technology. And it can be maddening at times, like the time Rogowski introduced Magic players to the cold vest concept -- a sort of sleeveless jacket designed to reduce an athlete's heat stress.

Uhh, try again, Joe.

"Some things will work, some things don't," Rogowski said, never the least bit discouraged in his quest to find what he calls the "latest, greatest" in technological advances that ultimately might make the difference in a game.

"If it gets us two extra points in a game, many times that is the difference between a win and a loss," Rogowski said. "If it helps a guy from getting injured or keeps our guys fresh and helps them recover, great.

"Any advantage you can find in this league, you need to take it."

While working to better the outcome of a game certainly is a bonus, the greatest advantage technology brings the Magic is detection of something far more serious than a victory: heart disease. All NBA players are required by the league to undergo heart screening to detect abnormalities that require treatment or possibly inactivity.

Toronto's Nathan Jawai, for example, has yet to play a game this year after a preseason screening picked up a heart abnormality. Same with New York's Eddy Curry.

And the tragic 1993 passing of Boston's Reggie Lewis still resonates with today's players who are glad to have the detection process in place.

"It is not true that young people can't die of a heart attack," Foyle said. "We've debunked that myth. It's important when you have so much money invested in athletes that you try to do the absolute best for them.

"There has to be more stepping up to another level of saying we can't be guessing anymore. We have to be certain and we have to be vigilant. I just see this as a natural evolution of the way the sport is going."

Magic players are fortunate that their screening reaches a whole new level thanks to state-of-the-art equipment and processes. Rogowski is constantly seeking ideas and input from other NBA teams, as well as those in football and basketball. He also has built relationships with the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs where he saw cold vests used by long-distance runners.

Rogowski operates with full support from the Magic organization to utilize whatever assets he can find to assist players. And his efforts don't go unappreciated.

"I think Joe cares a lot about us not just as athletes but as people," center Dwight Howard said. "He cares about longevity, seeing us in the long run being able to do the things that we can do now.
"There have been a lot of heart problems in the league and by doing all the tests we do and Joe trying to prevent things from happening and making sure we're fit, I'm really happy to see that and I'm proud to have Joe as my trainer."

The Magic have created a cardiac/physiology lab at the team's training facility that is the envy of many local heart physicians. Players now have the convenience of getting arguably the most thorough heart exam around right at their practice court. The equipment includes wireless electrocardiogram and three-dimensional images of each player's heart.

"Before it was a simple cardiac stress test," Rogowski said. "We've added components to give us more information that I use throughout the course of the year to monitor the guys to see where they are at."
Further testing -- what's called a gas analysis -- is used in conjunction with cardiac testing to give the attending doctor and Rogowski a greater medical profile of each player. This analysis, for example, can determine a player's maximum heart rate as well as his heart rate recovery after strenuous exercise.

This data can pinpoint exactly when a Magic player begins to become fatigued or tip them off to abnormalities.

"I would say the equipment we have outdoes some of your best cardiac hospitals," Rogowski said. "I've had several doctors come by who were pretty impressed. That's the big thing: we have some very, very unique pieces of equipment that we are able to test these guys with and get important data that we can use and analyze them every way possible. In this environment, every little piece of information helps."

The testing even occurs when players are on the court practicing. Along with the standard basketball gear, Magic players wear heart rate belts under their jerseys. A small antenna attached to a courtside laptop picks up each player's BPM, or beats per minute, giving an immediate report on a player's heart activity. Initial data recorded during the preseason is used as a baseline to which later tests can be compared.

Rogowski slips off what first appears to be a watch from his wrist. And while it does tell the time, it also tells so much more. It's really a personalized medical computer that has all baseline data specific to that player. It records every effort being made by that player, as well as calories burned. So Rogowski can help each player figure if the effort they gave that day met the required goal. If not, players will head to the treadmill after a workout to fulfill what is needed for them to maintain game conditioning.

"We have the numbers set up on a scale of one to five with five being the hardest workout of your life and one meaning the easiest," Rogowski said. "So obviously, the higher up you get, the better workout you're getting. This computer takes in the numbers and compares.

"Is it the end all, be all? No, but if it's one little thing that helps a guy focus a little bit better toward his conditioning, that's a major thing. It gives him quantitative numbers to work with instead of just saying, 'Yeah, I feel in shape,' now they have exact numbers that they know."

And it even aids players recovering from injury. When Tony Battie lost some time in the preseason with a finger injury, Rogowski could make sure he was working to his maximum level.

"I would say 'Tony, give me a 3.0. I don't care what you do but as soon as you get up to a 3.0, you're done,' " Rogowski said. "He would go from one thing to the next to get his heart rate up and keep pushing himself. I'm never one to say 'go run for an hour' because someone could run for an hour at four miles an hour. Some guys would rather go for 15 minutes and run as fast as they can. That 15 minutes will give you a higher training effect than if you ran for an hour at four miles an hour. It gives guys the flexibility that they can make it as long as they want on themselves or as short as they want."

Even the way players lift weights has its own technological aspect. Rogowski seeks what he calls a power output of each exercise by using a power analyzer. This is a portable unit that attaches to any dumbbell or bar in the weightroom. A computer screen gives feedback as to the amount of force that was generated during a lift.

"We're training them to be explosive basketball players," Rogowski said. "What you find a lot of times when athletes work out in the weight room is they lift too slowly. That's fine if their sport is not explosive but because these guys are explosive, they have to add that element of speed to what they do.

"It's not always the guy who can jump the highest who wins; it's the guy who can jump the quickest and get to the ball who wins. For example, Dwight Howard is one of the quickest, most explosive players in the league. Guys like Mickael Pietrus elevate really fast. So in the weight room, we want to replicate that through training."

Foyle, a 12-year NBA veteran, has never seen this level of commitment to making sure players have every technological advantage at their disposal.

"What is fascinating about sports in general, but particularly the Magic organization, is this willingness to go the extra length to figure out how to optimize guys' ability," Foyle said. "They have been trying lots of different things: testing how much food you eat to how your body functions at its optimum level to what the best time to lift and rest are. They really see the need to go the extra mile through science. It's amazing.

"Sports used to be about lacing up your shoes and you go play and elbow a few people and then call it a day. Now, they're tracking everything in your body, how to replace salt, how to make your body recover, how to find what your optimal level of functioning is, how you can best lose weight. Each athlete is different and I think that has been the emergence of trying to figure out where each athlete's optimal level of functioning is and what mechanism makes it go one way or the other. It's fascinating."