Power of the Pushup

ORLANDO – The fitness industry won’t like this much. All the manufacturers of exercise equipment and those who earn their living as personal trainers won’t want it getting out that Arnie Kander seems to have struck upon a workout regimen that’s at last succeeded in adding bulk and strength to Austin Daye’s frame – and it’s nothing more than the simple pushup.

Or, perhaps, the not-so-simple pushup.

Kander has taken the pushup and built an entire exercise program around it for Daye. In some, Daye will slide one hand on a towel out away from his body while doing the traditional pushup motion with the other hand, then reverse the process. In others, he’ll have to engage in a certain range of activities leading to a pushup.

At the core of it, though, is a progression of pushups that Kander has used selectively for players for 20 years. It goes like this: 10 pushups and hold the position for 10 seconds, followed by eight pushups and hold for eight seconds, continuing through six, four, two and one, then starting over and going from one back through 10 – and then repeating the whole thing. To complete the cycle requires 124 pushups and 124 seconds of holding the position.

The idea sprang from a conference Kander attended years ago on aikido, in the martial arts family, where the focus was “about the ability to hold these incredible, strong positions for a long period of time. It develops not only physical strength, but mental strength,” he said. The concept, as it applies to basketball, is that the sport requires movement but then the ability to hold your ground while jostling with your opponent.

The pushup, Kander says, is terrific for developing spinal strength, the improvement of which, he believes, is essential for Daye.

Kander, in all his years with the Pistons, has had one player successfully complete the circuit: Dennis Rodman. By the end of the summer, Austin Daye will be the second.

“I’m going to get there,” Daye told me this week. “I told him I would. I promised him.”

Nobody can keep up with Daye so far. It’s developed into a team activity with seven or eight regular participants taking part. Kander has Daye do different pushup drills on different days, but on game days – after the morning shootaround – he has him do the 10-to-1, 1-to-10 progression while seven or eight others take part, including Lawrence Frank.

“I’ve been trying to get everyone to do it,” Daye said. “I don’t want to be the only one suffering. It’s kind of funny when I see L getting blood-red in his face. It’s cool, having everyone around.”

“It’s critical,” Frank said of the strength Daye has been able to gain as the season has unfolded, the type of thing players normally focus on during the off-season. “Austin has put a lot of time in. Before and after every practice, every shootaround. He’s committed to try to get himself stronger and that’s going to be critical for his development.”

Daye lost weight during his time in Russia while the NBA lockout dragged on. He needed a driver to get around, so sometimes he’d skip meals to avoid the hassle. Since the season started, he’s gained 12 pounds, up to 208, the highest Kander has seen him at, though Daye says he once hit 210 coming into training camp. There’s no question in Kander’s mind that the pushup regimen is behind the weight – and commensurate strength – gain.

“His body is very unique,” Kander said. “I went away from the very traditional approach. Most people would say Austin’s got to be in the weight room. By focusing on one particular movement, pushups work hips, thighs, your legs have to support your spine, your arms, your chest, your shoulders. Your legs have to be strong – they can’t unlock.

“My concept with him has been consistent stress on his body to get adaptive response. You’d think you’d have to do a lot of different things to get it accomplished, and I’ve tried that – trust me. A thousand different things. He’s had personal trainers, strength coaches and his body hasn’t changed a whole lot. This is the first time I’ve actually seen – when he got in the game the other day – I was like, ‘He’s got some shoulders on him now. He’s got a chest.’ He ran and posted up a little and he didn’t get pushed off the block.”

Daye’s strength was on display a few weeks ago at the morning shootaround before the Pistons played at Cleveland. A number of players and Pistons assistants took turns trying to hit the bottom of the video scoreboard that hangs above the court at Quicken Loans Arena with a weighted basketball used in workouts. Assistant coach Roy Rogers fell short several times and took some ribbing from players, Daye among them. When Rogers challenged Daye to hit it – saying he’d walk back to the team hotel if he could – Daye walked to center court, grabbed the ball and nailed the scoreboard on the first try.

Kander beamed.

“It meant a lot,” he said. “I knew it, too. I knew what Austin was capable of doing. Austin didn’t even bend his legs; he just snapped the ball up there. It was like a proud father watching his son.”

The season has been largely disappointing for Daye, who began it in Frank’s rotation but suffered a prolonged shooting slump that eventually cost him his spot as Tayshaun Prince’s backup. A uniquely gifted offensive player with a variety of shot-making skills, Daye’s calling card – his jump shot – has betrayed him this season. It rattled him to the point of affecting his confidence and other areas of his game, but he’s impressed Kander and the coaching staff by remaining vigilant in his work ethic and believes his diligence eventually will pay dividends.

“I’m happy,” he said. “I’m feeling good right now. I’m not letting anything affect me – just going out and doing my job and being happy about it.”