Denton: Howard Gearing Up in Weight Room

By John DentonSeptember 20, 2010
ORLANDO – It’s after 10 o’clock on a weekday night and while the rest of the NBA is likely home on the couch or partying in the nightclubs, Dwight Howard is hard at work and oozing sweat out of every pore in a tucked-away, nondescript gym.

Rap lyrics fill the air, thumping bass rattles the walls and the Orlando Magic’s superstar center joins right in grunting as he pulls his chiseled, 275-pound body up for those 10th, 11th and 12th pull-ups.

Howard’s nighttime workout sessions come as most are heading to bed and after he’s already drilled on the basketball court with his Magic teammates for two hours earlier in the day.

And these drills – ones that leave Howard’s adidas tank top drenched in sweat and his body needing three Gatorades to replenish the fluids lost – certainly aren’t for the faint of heart. They are the kind of explosive, quick-rep drills that make casual observers sore by just watching. And at times even Howard, arguably the NBA’s strongest and best-conditioned athlete, is left physically exhausted by a workout that looks as though it belongs in a Marines boot camp.

But there’s a method to this madness for Howard, a consensus All-NBA selection last season. The push is there for Howard to climb to even greater heights and launch his star into grander stratospheres. He knows deep down that it’s his leap as a low-post threat that will help the Magic vanquish the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. Do that, Howard said, and the gold ball will be his someday and a championship banner will hang from the sparkling new Amway Center.

So the grueling, twice-a-day workouts that Howard puts himself through a week before training camp starts are a means to an end he that hopes to finally reach this season.

``Everything that I do here, I play mind games with myself,’’ Howard said as sweat beaded on his forehead and massive shoulders. ``Whether it’s in practice, in the weight room or on the court, I play mind games and play like it’s a Game 7 against Miami, Boston or -- I was going to say Cleveland -- or L.A. I try to put the pressure on myself so I can reach that next level. It helps me mentally by doing it that way and my teammates see it and they feed off of it.

``When we’re working out together during the day as a team and they see me taking possessions so serious, it pushes us all to be better,’’ Howard continued.

``When I’m in the weight room and I’m tired, I’m thinking about not giving up because this effort is going to win us a Game 7 someday or take us back to the Finals. Physically I can do it, but the biggest thing is overcoming the challenge mentally.’’

Howard knows he can do it physically because he has a body that might make Adonis blush. His muscles have muscles on top of them, giving him both that quick-twitch explosion and also an awesome amount of power. The mission for Howard is two-fold: Be enough of a rock to take a pounding from 300-and-something-pound Shaquille O’Neal, while also being athletic and agile enough to continue setting records for blocking shots and rebounding the ball.

And the end result is a body that looks as if it’s carved from stone. His bulging shoulders like something out of a Frankenstein flick, while the waist is a narrow 32 inches, giving Howard an imposing V-frame shape.

And he looks like this not because he’s some genetic freak, but instead because he’s put in the work in the weight room. Upon being drafted with the first overall selection in 2004 by the Magic, Howard played at a spindly 240 pounds. He got pushed around too much for his liking and vowed to do something about it.

``I saw my body change and it happened because of me wanting to always be the best and staying in the gym,’’ Howard stressed. ``I was just trying to get better. I hated being pushed around my first two years and I wasn’t going to let that happen anymore. I just made sure I was dedicated coming here every day and no matter how hard the workout was I was going to make it though.’’

And even though Howard has become something of an international phenomenon, shooting movies in Los Angeles and China, recording a kids’ album in New York and traveling to China, Africa and India the past two summers, he always makes it a point to get his workouts in. In China and India, he’s worked on basketball drills at the dimly lit court at U.S. embassy gyms. In Africa last summer he met Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, whom he formed a bond with and picked up post-up tips from. And Howard’s personal trainer, Brian Meyer, has logged up the frequent flyer miles of a pilot what with the way he’s circled the globe working out his star client of the past four years.

``The workouts get harder, but coming to the gym is the fun part for me. I absolutely love working out,’’ Howard said. ``I’m in the gym in the day time working on my game and then at night I’m here. What I do in the summer, besides all of the traveling, I either start my day lifting or shooting.

``Some people out there think that I’m just traveling and that I’ve forgotten what got me to where I am today,’’ Howard continued. ``I know for our team to be successful that myself as the leader of the team I have to be working harder than anybody else. My trainer travels to every place that I go to – Africa, India, China, New York or L.A. He’s always there and we’re in the gym whether it’s 5 o’clock in the morning or midnight. It’s tough sometimes because I do so much stuff in the day and then I still have to lift that night. But I just look at the big picture because we’re trying to win a championship here.’’

The way Howard sees it, he’s chasing that championship when he’s doing those sets of bench-press drills with the wires attached to the bar for added resistance. When he’s on the machine that has him simultaneously pushing with one arm and pulling with the other it’s as if he’s battling Boston’s Kevin Garnett in the post. Those grueling shuffle pushups while having a weighted belt around his waist simulate the pounding Howard takes on the low block on a nightly basis. And those quick-twitch weighted pulls – ones that look like he’s starting a lawnmower – keep Howard agile and simulate the quickness needed to swat a LeBron James or Kobe Bryant shot at the rim.

``Everything that we do is hard because it’s conditioning and pushing and pulling. It’s a kind of workout that not many people are accustomed to but it gets you stronger and you can see results after a week or two of doing it,’’ Howard stressed. ``With these workouts we’re trying to make sure that all of the little muscles in my body are strong. They stabilize all of the big muscles. What we do isn’t for show or trying to make me the world’s strongest man; we’re not in that competition.

Those little muscles are the ones that usually give out first which in turn cause the big muscles to go out. That’s when a lot of guys get injured – when the little muscles gives out in their legs and shoulders.’’

When the Magic got Howard in 2004, they not only got one of the game’s premier post players, but they also got one of the NBA’s most durable and reliable players. In six NBA seasons, Howard has played all 82 games five times and he’s missed just three games in his career. In fact, he could have played in any of those three games, but was held out twice as a precaution and once down the stretch to rest for the playoffs.

His durability, of course, isn’t by accident. No player in the league spends more time in the air dunking, rebounding and swatting shots, yet Howard rarely ever hits the floor. And he doesn’t sprain ankles, strain hamstrings or buckle his knees because of the balance, conditioning and strength exercises he spends hours working on in the offseason.

Joked Howard: ``Well, 100 percent of it is God and the rest of it is me coming in here and being dedicated to my workouts to make sure that my body is right. And a lot of the credit goes to (trainer) Brian (Meyer) for making sure that all of the little muscles in my body are strong.’’

And his game should be plenty strong this season after Howard spent time working with Olajuwon and another Hall of Fame player who asked to remain anonymous. Howard said he’s about to enter this season in the best frame of mind that he’s had in years. Considering all the work that he’s put in on the basketball court and in the weight room, Howard feels as though he’s about to take a test that he already has all the answers to.

``I always look at the big picture. I know the more that I come into the weight room to be stronger and be a better player that it will pay off for us as a team,’’ Howard vowed. ``I might not get those results right away or when I want them, but if you stay with it and stay committed to being the best that you can be, anything can happen.

``I’ve been working on so many things this summer on the court and in the weight room and I know that it’s going to take time for it all to flow like I want it to,’’ he continued. ``I had a great mentor this summer who asked not to be mentioned and his thing was giving me mental challenges. I just keep telling myself that everything I do is building weapons, and with all of that all of the doubt goes away. I’m putting in all of the work and I just tell myself to keep training over and over and over. It might be boring, hard or something that I don’t want to do sometimes, but the hard work will eventually pay off for me and the Magic.’’

John Denton writes for Orlandomagic.com. Submit questions to John’s weekly Question-and-Answer pieces by writing to John at AskJD@orlandomagic.com .