Guarding Allen Iverson just got scarier. The man with the most explosive crossover in the NBA is muscling up this year, devoting himself to a new weightlifting routine. By focusing on strength, Iverson is adding yet another superior athletic attribute to his already filthy game, bringing it to an almost unfair level. Showing no sign of pity for the rest of the league, AI is positioning himself for the kill-in the form of an NBA Championship.
Although it’s early in the NBA season, you can see a noticeable difference in Allen Iverson as he walks across the Denver Nuggets’ weight room. Is it his slightly thicker shoulders? Maybe. But it could be his newly chiseled arms, too. Truth be told, the big change is the fact that AI is here—in the weight room—working with team strength coach Steve Hess (watch a video of Allen Iverson’s weightlifting routine).
Once criticized in Philly for the way he conducted himself during mandatory practices, AI now knocks out voluntary weightlifting sessions after practice. So why has the 12-year NBA icon decided to stick around and work out after practice? Straight from the Answer himself: “To just get strong. That’s my motivation.”
Iverson is a true athlete, and Hess backs it up. “My man AI is one of the world’s greatest athletes,” he says. For more than a decade of NBA stardom, Iverson built his name and 27.9 ppg career scoring average on incredible talent, confidence, heart and toughness. Much of his talent is God-given; and early athletic success grew his confidence. His last two defining qualities, though, are byproducts of time spent on the streets and football fields of his hometown of Hampton, Va.
In high school, AI was the state’s best quarterback, and he played just as impressively at defensive back. Football’s contact and violence drew Allen to the gridiron and kept basketball a distant second. But as AI’s hoops game developed, Georgetown took notice and offered him the opportunity to play. So Iverson hung up his cleats and brought his love for contact to the hardwood. As it turned out, his heart and toughness ended up defining him as a player—the game’s hardest driving point guard. AI showed no regard for the consequences to his body. And that’s exactly why he and Hess have set out to reshape and strengthen it.
After thousands of points scored, many unsuccessful playoff runs and a weak supporting cast in Philly, AI has found new opportunity in Denver. “It’s been really cool since I got here,” AI says. “It’s been like a fresh start for me.”
Although he’s started new things, Iverson has maintained others—notably his on-court productivity. After joining the Nuggets last season, he averaged almost 25 points and more than seven assists a game. Throw in two steals per contest, and AI shapes up as one of the most prolific point guards in the history of the game.
His impressive numbers and the Nuggets’ resulting success [they made it to the Western Conference finals last year] have AI gleaming. In fact, he lights up when he talks about his new home and strength coach, something that never would’ve happened back in Philly. “I have a lot more excitement with this training and working with Steve,” he says. “I never had a real interest in lifting before, but Steve’s assured me that this is going to help me be a better player and add some years to my career. He knows what he’s doing. From the moment I got here, a lot of the guys were telling me that it would be good for me to work with him.”
Yeah, AI is approaching the later years of his career. But look for this season to be his best to date. Just ask the guy who’s responsible for getting him ready. “That stuff about not being able to teach an old dog new tricks? That’s garbage,” Hess says. “Just watch what happens with my guy. Watch AI with his new muscle as he makes the All-Star team again, and we win the NBA Championship.”
AI’s Muscle Formula
Hess is expecting serious results from AI’s new dedication to his weightlifting routine. “AI has made a commitment to become a beast,” he says. “We’re going to put on five pounds of quality muscle during the season. Right now, he’s 170 pounds and five percent body fat. We’re going to increase his strength and get him up to 175 pounds.”
Given the grueling nature of Iverson’s game—and the long NBA season—balance is a crucial element in Iverson’s routine. “The guy is truly unbelievable. He plays so hard every night,” Hess says. “He’s going to play 44 minutes a night, which adds up. He’s been in the league for 12 years; his [training] program reflects that. It’s very important that we don’t overload him so that we don’t take anything away from his hoops. We want him to progress slowly and stay healthy, so [we reach our] primary goal—making sure that everything is functioning correctly.”
Iverson appreciates and thrives on this health-oriented, gentler approach. “Steve’s not coming in here and trying to kill me every day,” Iverson says “He’s just trying to [give] me the right amount of work to help me as a player. It’s a whole new experience, because I come in here after practice—after being a little burnt out—and he’ll give me a few things to get me better and get me out of here. I don’t care too much about getting really big, but Steve [will] help me get strong and be able to take a lot more punishment.”
Hess has Iverson move quickly through the entire workout to keep the intensity and efficiency high. “We superset everything with AI,” Hess says. “He doesn’t have a lot of time, so I want to make sure everything is firing when he’s in here. We alternate between upper- and lower-body lifts so we can work his entire body each session, three to four times per week.”
AI’s rep scheme of 1×9, 1×13 and 1×16 appears simple at first glance, but Hess has a fairly complex and scientific reason for it. “A lot of times when you use a 10-rep scheme, routine takes the place of thought,” Hess says. “By creating an unusual rep scheme, you are exercising your mind and body. It is imperative to remember that you still need to construct your reps according to the specific body response you want.”
Try AI’s new weightlifting routine, in circuit fashion, after practice (watch a video of Allen Iverson’s weightlifting routine).
Dumbbell Squat on Power Plate
• Assume athletic, hip-width stance on Power Plate, holding dumbbells at sides
• Lower into squat position, then drive back up while Power Plate vibrates at 30Hz
• Repeat for specified reps
Variation: If Power Plate is not available, perform exercise on stable ground
Reps: 1×9, 1×13, 1×16
Benefits: Glute, leg and core strength
Hess: This works AI’s lower body while forcing him to stabilize the weight.
Squat and Pull
• In athletic position with feet hip-width apart and lower back arched in “C” position, stand few feet away from cable pulldown
• Hold rope attachment at high position so arms are straight
• Maintain back position and stabilize through core as you lower into squat and simultaneously pull rope to upper chest
• Rise into start position; repeat for specified reps
Reps: 1×9, 1×13, 1×16
Benefits: Back, posterior delt, core stabilizer, leg and glute strength
Hess: If you bend forward or lose the “C” position in your lower back, you are no longer athletic. This works several different muscle groups in one movement; that’s why it’s such a great exercise.
Crossover Symmetry Posterior Delt
• Assume athletic stance, with lower back in “C” position, facing Crossover Symmetry band hook up
• Hold handles in front with straight arms so bands cross over each other
• Keeping arms straight, quickly bring them back and to high position [overhead in “V”]; return to start position
• Repeat to middle position [shoulder-level] and low position [pointing down in “V”]
• Repeat sequence for specified reps
Variation: If Crossover Symmetry equipment is not available, attach small bands to squat rack
Reps: 1×9, 1×13, 1×16
Benefits: Posterior delt and core stabilizer strength, defensive ability
Hess: It’s important that you do this quickly and stay stable with a good “C” position in your back. This strengthens the posterior delts, but we do it in a standing stabilizing position so we can work on AI’s defense as well.
Alternating Iso Chest Press
• Sit on Iso Chest Press Machine
• Perform six chest presses with both arms
• Perform remainder of reps by alternating one arm at a time
Variation: If Iso Chest Press is not available, perform on incline bench with dumbbells
Reps: 1×9, 1×13, 1×16
Benefits: Single-arm, double-arm and upper-body strength
Hess: This works single- and double-arm movement, just like the game of basketball does. I make sure my man AI is getting full extension on every rep.
Lateral Med Ball Step-up with Resistance
• Assume athletic stance with plyo box to right
• Hold med ball in front and have partner provide bungee resistance from left
• Push off left leg, open right hip toward box and place right foot on top of box
• Explode up onto box using right leg, while simultaneously raising med ball overhead and driving left knee towards chest
• Step down to start position; repeat for specified reps
• Perform set on other side
Reps: 1×9, 1×13, 1×16
Benefits: Improved explosion, balance and stability
Hess: A basketball player’s first three steps are among the most important things, [especially for] a point guard. This exercise not only works on getting AI’s quads, hamstrings and glutes to fire in the correct sequence, it also simulates his holding a basketball, while it works on his stability and balance.
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