Strength Training With Kevin Durant | STACK

Strength Training With Kevin Durant

February 1, 2009 | Featured in the January/February 2009 Issue

The Oklahoma City Thunder haven’t won many games this season. And our visit with the upstart team took place the day after an especially crushing defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies, in a game during which the Thunder flexed a substantial lead throughout only to lose in the waning minutes of play. 

We expected to be met with gloom and doom at the team’s temporary practice facility, a converted roller rink with corner walls and concession stand still intact. But no moping was evident. In fact, it seemed like the team’s psyche was upbeat and positive—enough so that we were tempted to ask the players if they knew they were sporting the NBA’s worst record.

Luckily, before asking such a question, everything became clear. This team is full of life and hope in the form of one huge, ever-intensifying bright spot: Kevin Durant.

“I truly see great things ahead for us,” Kevin says, explaining his team’s unexpected attitude. “We work so hard, and guys believe in each other. If we continue to do that, I think the future looks bright for us. We all have a feeling that good times are ahead of us. It’s tough that we aren’t winning as much as we want, but we’ll keep working. This has been my dream since I was six years old. I know there is a long road ahead.”

After spending time with the Thunder and watching the ’07-’08 NBA Rookie of the Year attack a workout, it was easy to believe in Kevin and his team.

“Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.” At least according to Kevin’s godfather, who sat him down to write this inspirational tagline 300 times on a sheet of paper when Kevin was 10. And the lesson survived. “This NBA life might be a little hectic,” Kevin says with a smile. “You might have a good game and think it’s going to be like that for the rest of the year, but it’s not. That taught me to always make sure that no matter how good I get, I continue to work hard and keep getting better.”

Until his godfather’s repetitive drill, Kevin got by on being the tallest kid on the court and beating everyone down the floor for lay-ups. “I played center,” he says, “And I was like a deer running up and down the floor. Since then, I’ve tried to become more of an athletic player and play above the rim. Once I started working hard and developing those skills, I became more of an athlete.”

Kevin’s hard work shaped him into a lanky, dominant force on the AAU circuit and for basketball powerhouse Oak Hill Academy. “That’s how I got known and began to get noticed by college coaches,” he recalls. “I got better and became known as a guy who was 6’10” and could dribble and shoot the basketball.” However, it wasn’t until Kevin met the first of three very important training influences that he really began to develop.

The First Step
Enter Alan Stein, strength and conditioning coach at Montrose Christian. “I met Alan when I was a junior at Oak Hill Academy,” Kevin says. “He worked with a lot of the elite basketball players in our area, and he told me that I needed to work out with him. I did it one day, and it was tough, but I continued to do it and get better.” Watch video about Kevin Durant's high school training.

After their introduction, Stein began driving an hour each day to pick up Kevin, take him to a gym and provide legitimate, structured strength and conditioning sessions. The summer after his junior year, Kevin transferred to Montrose Christian, a program his family thought was better suited to his academic and athletic needs.

Scenery wasn’t the only difference for Kevin when he switched high schools. As Stein worked with the young baller throughout his senior year, Kevin’s body started transforming within weeks. “During our time together, KD put on approximately 25 pounds of muscular bodyweight,” Stein says, “He went from about 180 to 205 by the time he left for college. He drastically increased overall strength in his legs, hips, core and upper body.”

Stein’s goals for Kevin included reducing the occurrence of injury and improving his on-court performance by strengthening his major muscle groups, using different training modalities [e.g., dumbbells, bodyweight, manual resistance, tubing], teaching work ethic and building confidence. It worked. “[Alan] was a very influential person in my life for those two or three years,” Kevin says. “I got a lot bigger, and he helped me on and off the court. I still do the things he tells me to this day.”

A Year To Remember
Kevin’s year of hardcore training was one key to success when he took his game to Texas. Combined with the Longhorns’ perfect environment for improvement, it dramatically accelerated Kevin’s athletic ability, basketball skills and maturity in one short season. “I learned a lot just being around my strength coach and basketball coaches every day,” Kevin says. “They taught me a lot about being a man; I was a long way from home and grew up a lot there. They preached work ethic every day.”

Under the watchful eye of Texas basketball strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright, the second training influence in his life, Kevin got even quicker, stronger, more flexible and bigger. “Todd was a great person for me there,” Kevin says. “He’s one of the reasons I picked Texas. He knows a lot about the body and always made sure we were healthy." Watch video about Kevin Durant's college basketball training.

Wright conducted a functional movement screen on Kevin during his recruiting trip. Immediately, he determined that the best course of action for Kevin was to create a foundation of more mobility in his feet, hips and thoracic spine [from near the belly button to chest level]. “We felt this would be very important for him to stay healthy in the long run and improve his performance,” Wright says. “Kevin still needed to get bigger and stronger, but we first focused on giving him mobility and efficient transfer of energy through his body.”

Once Kevin’s mobility and flexibility were addressed, Wright moved him on to more traditional strength training to build his strength and size. “I became a lot more flexible, which in turn made me more athletic,” Kevin boasts. “When I got there, I was about 200 pounds; by the end of the season, I was about 215. We did a great job of working every day.”

The improvements paid huge dividends throughout one of the most prolific single seasons in college basketball history. As a freshman, Kevin scored double-digits in every game he played, including 20 points or more 30 times and 30 points or more 11 times. He hit 40 percent from behind the arc and averaged 11.1 boards per game—all more than enough to support his decision to jump to the NBA.

Despite all of his accomplishments, Kevin’s less-than-impressive upper-body strength— made famous by basketball analysts who apparently don’t understand the physics or demands of basketball—was exposed during the NBA Pre-Draft Bench test. “A lot of people talked about me not being able to bench press 185, but that didn’t mean much to me, because it didn’t have to do much with basketball,” Kevin says. “And I knew I was getting bigger, stronger and quicker.”

When the people who mattered recognized Kevin’s more important attributes—athletic and basketball ability—they drafted him second overall in the 2007 NBA Draft.

Seamless in Seattle
In his first taste of NBA ball, with the Sonics, Kevin made defenses look silly with 20.3 ppg, shooting a toasty 43 percent from three-point land. His rookie explosion earned him the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. “I’m not real big on awards, but that meant a lot,” Kevin says. “It was a great stepping stone for me. All the great players have won that award, guys like LeBron James and Chris Paul. I’d rather win more games, but being named Rookie of the Year at the highest level of basketball is big time.”

Despite posting amazing numbers and taking home awards, Kevin kept his focus when his team relocated to Oklahoma City. And, with help from Dwight Daub, the Thunder’s director of athletic performance and the third major influence in his training saga, Kevin learned how much more he can get from his body. “I knew I needed to get bigger, stronger, faster and more flexible,” he says. “I did just that, and I know I can bench 185 pounds now for sure! [laughs] Dwight takes a lot of information from the past coaches I’ve worked with and incorporates that into his workouts. He’s very intense. We work hard every day, whether it’s in the weight room or on the court.”

By putting him in unstable environments to challenge his central nervous system, Daub has improved Kevin’s overall strength, balance and proprioception [body awareness in movement], which together translate into making him an even more dominant force on the court. “Obviously, he’s a tremendously gifted athlete and a tremendously gifted basketball player,” Daub says. “The past year and past summer, he’s done a great job as far as improving from when he first came in. The one thing that is evident is when he finishes around the basket. Now, he’s able to keep his feet more ready. Last year, he was always getting knocked to the ground, [ending] up on the floor. He’s improved [on that] because of his strength and balance improvements.”

As the second-year phenom gets closer to NBA All-Star status, he’s still looking to grow. “I want to gain more weight, maybe 10 pounds and keep going from there,” Kevin says. “I want to be bigger to handle the physical pounding of an 82-game season. On the court, I just want to become a better player and help my team win as much as possible.”

Kevin’s current training regimen is similar to what he was doing with Alan Stein at Montrose Christian (check out video of Kevin Durant's in-season strength training). However, Daub has intensified and advanced each exercise to make it more challenging and match Kevin’s recent development. Check out the exercises Kevin uses with Daub to get the Thunder some wins, along with the more basic versions he initially performed with Stein.

Texas Mobility Training
Here are a few exercises Kevin used during his time at Texas to increase flexibility and mobility through his spine, hips and feet.

Thoracic Spine Extension

• Position body inside Tru Stretch Cage or under reachable pull-up bar
• Grab top bar with right hand and stabilize body with left hand on side of structure
• Keeping hips even and without leaning excessively to one side, allow spine to extend into stretch
• Hold for specified duration

Reps/Duration: 2x30 seconds each side

Rotational Med Ball Throws

• Assume athletic stance with wall to left; hold med ball in front
• Rotate right slightly to load right leg and hip
• Explode to left, rotating hips to throw ball at wall as hard as possible
• Repeat for specified reps
• Perform set on opposite side

Sets/Reps: 3x8 each side

Split-Stance Overhead Core Matrix

Forward

• Assume split stance with cable machine behind
• Hold cable attachment above head and lean forward slightly to create stretch through abdominal region
• Shift hips back and drive torso forward until it is parallel to ground
• Return to start position with control and repeat for specified reps
• Perform set with opposite leg forward

Rotational

From Around The Web

• Assume split stance with right leg forward and cable machine behind
• Hold cable attachment above right shoulder and lean forward slightly to create stretch and rotation through abdominal region
• Shift hips back and drive torso forward until it is parallel to ground
• Return to start position with control and repeat for specified reps
• Perform set with left leg forward starting over left shoulder

Lateral

• Assume athletic stance with cable machine to left and hold cable attachment above head
• Shift hips left and drive torso right
• Return to start position with control and repeat for specified reps
• Perform set with cable machine to right

Sets/Reps: 2x10 each variation

1. Med Ball Multi-Planar Lunge on Core Board

• Assume athletic stance holding med ball in front
• Keeping shoulders facing straight ahead, step forward and 45 degrees left onto Core Board with right leg
• Lower into crossover lunge position until back knee is just above floor
• Drive back off right heel into start position
• Perform lunge straight ahead onto Core Board with right leg; return to start position
• Perform lunge forward and 45 degrees right onto Core Board with right leg, return to start position
• Repeat sequence for specified reps
• Perform set with left leg

Sets/Reps: 2-4x9-12 each leg [3-4 lunges in each position]
Coaching Points: Keep lunging knee behind toes // Draw stomach in throughout set // Keep shoulders straight ahead, not in direction you’re stepping
Daub: I keep my hand on Kevin’s knee to make sure there is no [forward] shifting, which can put undue stress on the [knee]. We do a lot of multi-planar movements to place him in a very difficult situation as far as his knee, hip and back alignment is concerned. This trains him to pull himself out of a position like that when he gets knocked off balance in a game. It’s all about strengthening within the different planes that he’s going to be involved with in basketball. This trains the true core—rather than just doing an ab exercise like a sit-up.

Basic Med Ball Multi-Planar Lunge

Perform same exercise without the Core Boards

Stein: This is used to vary the normal front-to-back range of motion as well as strengthen the muscles of the groin and hips.

2. Three-Way Med Ball Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift on Airex Pad

• Standing on one leg on Airex Pad, hold med ball in front
• Keeping back flat, shoulder blades together and balancing leg slightly bent, fold at waist and bring med ball toward one of three cones set up in front of you
• Return to start position; perform movement to each of the other two cones
• Repeat for specified reps
• Perform set on opposite leg

Sets/Reps: 2-4x5-7 each leg
Coaching Points: Keep back flat // Don’t allow knee to shift forward // Keep back leg straight behind you
Daub: This isolates the hamstring and glute because of the stabilization factor. It’s also a tremendous exercise for ankle stabilization when you introduce the Airex Pad.

Basic Med Ball Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

Perform exercise with foot on flat ground.

Stein: This strengthens the [back] side of the body and works the stabilizing muscles, tendons and ligaments of the ankle, knee and hip.

3. Single-Leg Dumbbell Curl-to-Press

• Balance on one leg, holding dumbbells at sides with palms facing forward
• Curl dumbbells to shoulders, then press them straight overhead as you rotate palms to face out
• Slowly lower dumbbells to start position through same movement pattern
• Repeat for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 3x4-6-8 [switch legs halfway through each set]
Coaching Points: Keep balancing knee slightly bent // Don’t swing dumbbells // Don’t overarch back during press
Daub: This is great for single-leg proprioception and balance. It is a combo lift because it’s a Bicep Curl associated with a Shoulder Press. Combo exercises allow us to get our training done in less time and also to put Kevin in a position where he has to stabilize with his core to go through the different movements.

Basic Dumbbell Overhead Press

Perform Press with dumbbells while standing on both feet

Stein: This strengthens the shoulders and core. I prefer to use the standing position to involve all of the body’s stabilizing muscles.

4. Inverted Row on Physioball with TRX Straps

• Hold onto straps, then place heels on top of physioball, making sure body is in straight line
• Keeping body rigid, pull body up until chest is even with hands
• Lower with control until arms are straight
• Repeat for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 3-4x6-10
Coaching Points: Equally distribute weight with feet on ball // Keep body straight with no sag in hips // Get full extension with arms at bottom of movement
Daub: The ball adds another dimension that makes it more difficult. It becomes a core exercise because he has to stabilize his entire body in a straight line, and he is still getting the rowing effect of the exercise.

Basic Inverted Row

Perform exercise holding onto barbell with feet on ground

Stein: This strengthens the posterior side of the body and is a nice alternative for players who have difficulty doing standard pull-ups.

5. Walking Dumbbell Push-Up-to-Row

• Assume push-up position with light dumbbells in hands and legs slightly wider than hip width
• Walk left dumbbell forward a few inches, then right dumbbell while dragging legs forward
• Perform push-up
• Perform row with left arm, then right
• Repeat sequence [walk, walk, push-up, row, row] for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 2-4x3-8 [entire sequence constitutes one rep]
Coaching Points: Keep opposite arm locked out during row // Keep body in straight line // Keep feet wide to help balance
Daub: This is a tremendous combination exercise that trains the entire upper body. You use your shoulders, lats, chest and core for stabilization. The reps depend on the strength level of the athlete. It’s not easy!

Basic Dumbbell Row From Push-Up Position

Perform rows in alternating fashion without walking the dumbbells forward or performing push-ups.
Stein: This is a tremendous exercise when you have limited equipment. It strengthens all muscles of the upper body.


Related Exercises

Inverted Row on Physioball with TRX Straps
Med Ball Multi-Planar Lunge on Core Board
Rotational Med Ball Throws
Single-Leg Dumbbell Curl-to-Press
Split-Stance Overhead Core Matrix
Thoracic Spine Extension
Three-Way Med Ball Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift on Airex Pad
Walking Dumbbell Push-Up-to-Row
Josh Staph
- Josh Staph is the Senior Vice President, Content at STACK Media and joined the company shortly after it was founded in 2005. He graduated from...
Josh Staph
- Josh Staph is the Senior Vice President, Content at STACK Media and joined the company shortly after it was founded in 2005. He graduated from...