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Strength Training with Dwight Howard


“I have always wanted to stand out and separate myself from everybody else. I have achieved that and everything else because of God and hard work.” -Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard was once skinny and doubted.
As a seventh-grade point guard for Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy, Dwight was often overshadowed by players at larger schools in the hotbed of A-Town prep basketball. “I was really skinny and went to a smaller Christian school. No one thought I’d ever make it out or do anything with my basketball career,” he recalls. “I kept my trust and faith in God. He told me that if I kept him first in my life, he’d take care of the rest.”

Not much changed for Dwight his eighth-grade season. Despite his claims, nobody believed that the 5’10” skinny kid could throw it down. That is, until he gathered his friends on the basketball court and said, “Watch this!” Dwight drove toward the hoop, elevated and dunked the ball in front of everyone, offering a glimpse of the kind of ability that was growing inside him. Still, by his own account, “It was like a Reggie Miller dunk. I didn’t move the rim or the backboard, and the net didn’t even shake. I was still happy about it, though.”

Dwight Howard grew up fast.
Once Dwight entered high school, he began growing into the freakish form we know today. He made varsity immediately and was moved to power forward, due in large part to the fact that he sprouted seven inches in one year to hit 6’9”. Throughout this growth spurt and position change, Dwight maintained the footwork, quickness, elevation and ball control he had as a guard, making him unstoppable against small-school opponents.

As a junior, Dwight led SACA to the Class A State Championship game and finally achieved the recognition his extraordinary ability warranted. “In 11th grade, I started to get NBA scouts coming to my games and workouts,” Dwight recalls. “That felt great, but I tried to stay away from all that so my teammates didn’t think I was above them.”

Dwight may have acted the same, but his game certainly changed. As a senior, he led his team to the state title, averaging 26 points, 18 boards, 8 blocks and 3.5 assists per game. His final high school campaign earned him the Naismith, Morgan Wooten, Gatorade and McDonald’s National Player of the Year awards. For this clean sweep of awards season, Dwight was named Mr. Basketball in the State of Georgia.

The Magic’s choosing him straight out of SACA as the first overall pick in the 2004 Draft was the first of many memorable moments for Dwight. Others include All-Star Games and near 30-30 nights. Now in his fourth season, Dwight is posting stats that are increasingly ridiculous, and he’s on his way to becoming one of the best to ever play the center/power forward position.

An impressive demonstration of Dwight’s athleticism was seen during the ’07 Slam Dunk contest. The sight of a big man throwing down dunks with the dexterity of a little man, the hang time of Michael Jordan and superhuman thunder caught even the most critical dunk enthusiasts off guard. “I was so excited to be in my first dunk contest last year,” Dwight says. “I don’t know why, but I got out there in front of all the people, and it was real. I got nervous at first, but then I got it done.” And for the record, he’s ready to compete in this year’s contest, with dunks that have been ready since last February.

Dwight Howard is 6’11”, 265 pounds.
Watching a 265-pound tower of explosive muscle dance across a weight room in coordinated movements is unsettling. Everything you’ve assumed about the human body is suddenly questioned. Your mind struggles to register what’s in front of you, and you think to yourself: He can’t be that big. He shouldn’t be able to move like that.

But he is, and he can.

The skinny kid from Atlanta is no more, and for Dwight, only the memory remains. But that memory fuels the big man’s desire. “I remember when I used to be really skinny,” Dwight says. “And because of that, I’ve always wanted to have nice arms with big triceps and big biceps. I want to continue to make my chest real big and get my abs nice. This helps me as a basketball player, too; because when I’m like this and in tip-top shape, it helps me avoid injuries. I plan on spending a lot of time in the weight room lifting, so I can play for a very long time.”

Dwight’s inspired time in the weight room has translated into the bigger, stronger body he covets. Although not the best indicator of athletic improvement, Dwight uses the bench press to gauge his progress with weights. Among his more memorable moments was his recent successful attempt at benching 365 at home. “That felt really good,” he says, “because I remember in high school my dad [taking] me to the gym and I couldn’t bench press one plate.”

Enter Joe Rogowski.
Since Dwight doesn’t perform all of his training at home, a lot of credit has to go to Orlando strength coach Joe Rogowski, who joined the Magic two years ago. Since then, Rogowski has laid out a training regimen that’s constantly helping Dwight thicken up and gain power. “Joe has done an excellent job of staying on me about lifting,” Dwight says “I told him I want to be a great player, and we decided that lifting weights is something [to] help me achieve that in the long run. Since he got here, he’s provided me with a schedule that makes sure my body is always on point. A lot of people tell me that I don’t realize how strong I am, but I know that I haven’t come close to my peak strength yet.”

Rogowski never met the skinny Dwight Howard, but he’s more than impressed with the latest version. “Dwight is unique in that he’s got that genetic ability to do pretty much anything we put in front of him.” he says. “He’s naturally strong and naturally gifted in every sense. He’s just a freak when it comes to strength, power and speed. You couldn’t ask for a better physical specimen.”

Dwight gives Rogowski plenty to work with, but his freakishness does pose one problem—a good one. “It’s tough to set goals for a guy like this, because there aren’t any other athletes who are where he is,” Rogowski says. “He has already broken every physical goal imaginable for an NBA player. And as he gets older, he gets more powerful naturally. So we do our best to keep him strong and on the court through injury prevention.”

What next?
How will the dynamic big man, whose favorite on-court activity is blocking shots, amaze us next? Dwight has a pretty good idea of what we will see: “I want to be one of the greatest players to ever play this game. I want our team to be a championship team. Last year, we made it to the first round of the playoffs. In the future, I know that our team can be, and will be, a championship team.”

The opportunity to become one of the best big men in NBA history sits before Dwight. Based on how he handles other opportunities, things could get ugly for the rest of the league. Just listen as Dwight explains how he takes advantage of an open lane: “When I see an opening to the rim, I think whether anybody else is going to jump first, and that makes me want to jump even higher. I just want to dunk it as hard as I can and rip down the whole goal.”

Dwight Howard was once skinny and doubted.

Dwight’s Strength Training
Dwight craves heavy weight, so once a week he and Rogowski head to the Magic weight room to perform the following heavy lifts. “This training is a pure strength and power workout,” Rogowski says. “Sometimes Dwight likes to meathead out and lift a lot of weight and get strong. I let him know that lifting these heavy weights is good for his strength and psyche, but we need to counterbalance it with some stability, balance or proprioception exercises, which we do once or twice a week.”

Use Dwight’s three preferred lifts to feed the meathead within.

Bench Press
• Lie with back on bench, gripping bar slightly wider than shoulder width
• Keeping lower back on bench and elbows tight to sides, slowly lower bar until it touches chest
• Drive bar up until arms are straight
• Repeat for specified reps
Coaching Points: Keep core activated and don’t arch back
Sets/Reps: 1×10, 1×8, 1×6, 1×4, 1×2 (increase weight each set)
Rogowski: The bench press is about total upper-body power and strength. Dwight uses this pyramid rep scheme to build endurance, strength, and, most importantly for his position, the power of his fast twitch muscle fibers. In basketball, we’re not trying to overdo it with weight, especially in season. That’s why we don’t do maxes with one rep. The last set of two reps is generally a weight Dwight can handle comfortably while still stressing his muscles.

Lat Pulldown
• Sit on Lat Pulldown machine and grip bar overhead, slightly wider than shoulder width
• Without rocking back, pull bar down in front until it almost touches upper chest
• Allow bar to rise back to start position until arms are straight
• Repeat for specified reps
Sets/Reps: 2-4×10-12
Rogowski: This is one of the main rebounding exercises Dwight does. When you’re getting close to 20 boards a game, you have to be strong with your upper body, pulling down. This also counterbalances any chest exercises we do that day. We always like a 1:1 relationship with chest-to-back work. We really work on good posture and balanced strength with our guys so we can avoid any shoulder injuries.

Leg Press
• Assume position on Leg Press machine with feet slightly wider than hips
• Lower weight sled with control until knees are bent 90 degrees
• Drive weight up by extending legs to start position
• Repeat for specified reps
Sets/Reps: 3-4×6-8
Rogowski: We like to do multi-joint exercises when possible, and this is a great one for the lower body. It gets all the muscles around your hips, knees and ankles stronger. We generally go heavier on this, because it is a safer exercise. You’re not putting the back at risk, like other exercises do, such as the squat, [which makes] taller players’ backs go into hyperextension. For someone like Dwight, who already has back hyperextension, we try to stay away from that. We keep the reps low since we go heavy on this.

The Perfect Push-Up
Even when he’s at home, Dwight is getting better. “I do a ton of push-ups at my house,” he says. “Perfect push-ups.” Dwight’s referring to a new training tool that uses rotating handles to create a more natural push up motion. You’ve most likely seen the commercial by now.

Dwight integrates his push-ups into video game sessions. For example, when he’s playing a boxing game (his favorite), Dwight does a set every time he knocks someone out. Role-playing game? Every time he dies, he pumps out as many push-ups as possible.

Leave it to Dwight to go beyond the norm. Instead of doing sets of standard push-ups, he uses some of the more difficult positions with the equipment. Check out his favorites below.

Reverse Grip Push-Up
Perform push-ups with hands rotated on handles, so that palms face forward

Sets/reps: 3×15-20
Dwight: I really feel this in my biceps.

Squat with Push-Up
From standing position, squat down and place handles on floor in front of you. Kick feet back and assume push-up position. Lower body while rotating hands to face each other; then drive up and rotate hands back to start position. Jump feet to hands and stand up. Repeat.
Sets/reps: 3×15-20
Dwight: This is great cardio and works my whole body.

Josh Staph
Josh Staph is a feature writer for Stack Magazine, providing performance and training info for athletes.

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