Train Like An Athlete: Damian Lillard

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Take a look behind the scenes at Damian Lillard’s offseason workout routine.

The internet is a fantastic resource for fitness and exercise. Youtube, in particular, is really good. Reading about an exercise or a workout is one thing, but seeing it in action (with video and cueing) makes it much easier to follow along and learn what to do properly.

And just as fitness and proper exercise routines have gained popularity among the general population over the past decade, the same can be said for professional athletes. They are training harder and smarter than ever before, and thanks to the internet we have access to a vast amount of their routines, programs, and tips.

The NBA’s Portland Trailblazers are one of the most exciting teams in basketball, thanks in large part to their tireless and scrappy point guard and leader, Damian Lillard. Lillard was drafted sixth overall at the 2012 NBA Draft – he was arguably the most talented player available, but teams were a bit scared off because of where he went to school (Weber State, far from an NCAA powerhouse).

Lillard has made an immediate impact at the NBA level, thanks in large part to his tireless work ethic – on the court and in the gym. And he released a four-part video series last summer highlighting a lot of that hard work.

Every person on earth would benefit from training like an athlete (instead of a bodybuilder). Professional athletes will train at a much higher intensity and with significantly more volume than the average person, but the exercises and principles should be very similar – train functional movements, build a safe and strong base before progressing, and make sure to set aside ample time for recovery so the body doesn’t break down.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the work Lillard did off of the court last summer.

The above clip is Episode 1 of an awesome four part series Lillard produced last summer. It follows him through the offseason as he prepares for the NBA draft.

Here are the rest of the parts:

Obviously we can’t pull an incredible amount of information from the workout and fitness clips from the videos above, but there is enough to get an idea of how Lillard trains (and how you can incorporate some of it into your training program).

Here’s Lillard’s pre-draft workout:

In addition to his incredible work ethic, Lillard has the nutrition dialed in, too.

“I don’t drink. There’s a lot of stuff I didn’t do,” he said. “I just didn’t have that fun experience that some people probably have in college just because I chose to do something else. But I’d do the same thing all over again.”

He trained out of ASTI (Advanced Sports Training Institute) in Oakland, California (his home town). Here`s a look at the facility there:

 

 Lillard`s trainer there was Anthony Eggleton. Eggleton explains a lot of the details behind his exercise selection throughout the four-part video series.

Let`s take a closer look at some of the exercises:

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Band-resisted bench press

This is a great exercise for building power (and in turn, size and strength). On a lift like this, you don`t need (and you can`t) go as heavy as you would with a classic bench press. This variation makes the pressing movement a much more explosive movement – the further away the weight gets from your body, the more resistance tha bands apply.

Band-resisted exercises are great for building functional power that can translate over to any sport or activity. A guy like Lillard (and most people) don`t need to be benching a ton of weight to build a strong and powerful upper body. Here`s a good read on how to set up a band-resisted bench (use a spotter if you aren`t comfortable with the movement and/or are new to it).

Implementation

Power/strength movements like this are best kept at the beginning of a workout for maximal muscular recruitment. And it is best to keep the reps low (below six).

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Conditioning

Conditioning is vital to any athlete, especially an NBA point guard who plays 35+ minutes a night. Not everybody has access to an uphill beach (incredibly difficult terrain to run on), but hill sprints/runs in general are a great – and pretty safe – way to improve your power and conditioning. Here’s a good primer on sprints from Eric Cressey.

People often get hurt when they overstride; they’ll pull the hamstrings on the front leg. Sprinting uphill doesn’t really allow you to overstride, though, and it’s also good because you go up with each step, but don’t come down quite as much. Ground reaction forces are much lower, so this is a great option for easing into top-speed sprinting. (great studies here and here, for those interested).

While it’s more ideal to do uphill sprinting outside, it is okay to do this on a treadmill. After all, you’re just trying to lose your spare tire or be a little better in beer league softball, not go to the Olympics.

Conditioning, intervals, whatever you want to call it – the clip of Lillard training (and his post-training fatigue) is a great example of how hard they should be. It doesn’t count if you go on the elliptical or the treadmill and do some jogging mixed in with running. Well, technically, something is better than nothing, but true conditioning work should be a kick in the pants.

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Here’s another good read on sprinting from John Romaniello.

Implementation

Conditioning can be done whenever is convenient – on “off” days from weight lifting, or after weight lifting sessions. It isn’t advisable to do conditioning first, as you will be fatigued before touching a weight.

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Renegade row

I love this exercise – it works essentially everything in the body, and the translation over to sports is fantastic. What it does – challenges the core while you are alternating single-arm dumbbell rows. Your upper body needs to stabilize, your hips need to stabilize, and you need to recruit your posterior chain to pull the weight up (while the other side stabilizes your body).

As Lillard shows above, start with your feet wide as it allows you to keep your hips and torso square to the ground (a key to this movement). You don’t need to go really heavy on this one (30-40 pounds for strong dudes, and aim for 5-10 reps per arm).

Implementation

This is essentially a really difficult plank variation (your core will be screaming – in a good way). Consider it a core exercise and put it in at the end of your weight session.

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Turkish get-up

Lillard’s form isn’t perfect during this TGU, but it is pretty good. This is a very complex exercise, and I’d recommend learning it from a trainer first. Mike Robertson provides a great step-by-step breakdown of the movement here.

In this one simple drill you get a whole host of fantastic benefits, such as: 

  • Core strength and stability
  • T-spine mobility
  • Hip mobility
  • Hip extension (glute) strength
  • Gleno-humeral (shoulder) stability
  • Body awareness and proprioception

A great full-body exercise for conditioning, stability, strength, and more. You will struggle with even light weight at the beginning – keep the ego at the door for this exercise.

Implementation

You can work on technique for this lift at the beginning of a session – it’s best done early on, as it requires a lot of physical/mental capacity.

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Windshield wipers

This exercise has a lot of names. Essentially, you keep your torso as still as possible while dropping your legs together to each side. This is a phenomenal exercise for core strength/stability. Here’s a step-by-step guide for it.

Implementation

As with most core/abdominal exercises, put this at the end of your strength/weight session. Aim for 5-10 reps per side, and one or two sets.

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Hard work trumps all.

I think what struck me most about Lillard from these videos was his incredible work ethic. Obviously his talent level is through-the-roof, but he was shooting around (with physical contact as seen above) for hours after brutal conditioning/weight sessions. That builds an incredible level of physical resolve, but more importantly, mental toughness. Knowing you can execute while tired is one crucial key to being good at sports (regardless of your level).

As soon as you feel fatigued, most people find that their talent level drops and their decision-making ability vanishes, too. If you can learn to push yourself through these fatigue barriers, playing your sport or activity will seem so much easier. This is also why working with a trainer is a great idea – it is incredibly hard/impossible to push yourself as hard as you need to on a consistent basis.

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