Here's how Nuggets are staying fit during NBA's COVID-19 shutdown

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

It is a Wednesday morning and Felipe Eichenberger and several Nuggets players are about to start a Yoga session with an instructor. Eichenberger, the Nuggets’ head strength and conditioning coach, gathers the essentials. Yoga gear? Check. Yoga mat? Check. And then finally, he loads up a Zoom video conference with the players and the instructor and proceeds with the class.

It’s an atypical approach to fitness training for NBA players, but it’s a sign of the times in the league’s current COVID-19 reality. Eichenberger and Denver Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach Claus Antunes de Souza have to be creative in finding ways to keep the Nuggets fit while they wait through a period of uncertainty for the NBA to resume. It’s a challenge Eichenberger has embraced despite some challenges.

“[The biggest challenge] is not having the guys around me, not being able to control what I usually control,” Eichenberger explained to Nuggets.com in a phone interview. “During the season, you’re around these guys seven days a week. Now, you maybe Facetime them two or three times a week.”

Despite some of the logistical barriers that have emerged while practicing social distancing, Eichenberger has been active in curating individual workout plans for each of the Nuggets’ 14 players. All of the players received workout accessories from the team’s strength and conditioning team and they have customized daily fitness videos sent to them through an app. While it isn’t exactly the Nuggets’ training facility at Pepsi Center, it is cutting edge all things considered.

“It includes things like bodyweight [and conditioning] with a lot of band workouts,” Forward Vlatko Čančar told Nuggets.com of his daily regimen. “There’s actually a lot of workouts you can do without using weight.

He added, “It’s really good because if there’s a certain exercise you don’t know, there’s like a video showing you how it’s done. He just sends the exercise and I haven’t once had to ask them [Eichenberger and Antunes de Souza] how it’s done because everything is just so well explained in it.”

The extensive level of preparation and communication from Eichenberger has gained plenty of plaudits throughout the Nuggets’ organization.

“Felipe [Eichenberger], our head strength coach, is doing a fantastic job of suggesting workouts and catching up with all of these guys,” Team President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly said in an interview with Altitude SR.

“We have, in my opinion, the best strength coach in the NBA in Felipe Eichenberger, who does a tremendous job [and] his assistant coach Claus [Antunes de Souza],” Malone added in a subsequent interview with Altitude.

Through the app, Eichenberger can see which players are performing the exercises and follow up with them during their video conferences to determine how to improve their approach. Sometimes, the intense energy, focus and attention to detail that has made him one of the most respected strength coaches in the league seeps through his calls.

“He’ll make it really, really difficult,” Čančar said jokingly. “If you normally bench like 10 times, he’ll make you do with a band 30 times. I feel like I get way more tired with the bands then I do weightlifting.”

Although the current setup is well-prepared and constructed, Eichenberger admitted it all came through improvisation. He remembered when the initial rumblings and speculation over COVID-19 started to emerge in early March. He started to think of how it might affect the way he and Antunes de Souza would need to alter their strategy to adjust. Without many details, it was a difficult task.

“It was hard to plan. We knew that something was going on. There were rumors everywhere,” Eichenberger said. “We didn’t know how bad it would be…We were playing in Dallas [on March 11] when everything went down, when they shut down the NBA. I planning for the next game [against the Spurs on March 13].”

Initially, the NBA planned on allowing teams to use their facilities in small groups while practicing social distancing. As the pandemic got worse, the league shut down all team facilities to be a part of a nationwide effort to fight the coronavirus. Fortunately, for the Nuggets, Eichenberger thought ahead. 

 “I got ahead of the curve and started ordering bands and [workout] stuff for the guys,” he said.

 

With millions in the country staying in their homes due to quarantine, those workout supplies are becoming increasingly hard to find.  For Eichenberger, the consistent check-ins and group workouts aren’t just about staying fit. With no set timetable on the NBA’s return, he acknowledged there isn’t much sense in being as intense as he would be during the season. Rather, he believes the activities give the Nuggets another way to stay connected in an uncertain time and build morale.

“It’s a way to keep in touch with the guys,” he said. “[The situation] is hard, but the main goal right now is to keep the guys moving. We don’t know when this [the NBA] is going to come back. We don’t know much of what’s going to happen in the future. So, to force the guys to do a lot of things is pretty hard. It’s hard because we don’t have a hard date [of when the NBA is returning]…[For me, it’s like] ‘Hey, [you] did three workouts this week, let’s get four hard workouts this week.’”

For professional athletes who have worked their entire lives to play in the NBA, the routine is vital.

“We have a good group of guys and they are doing that,” Eichenberger said.

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