Barbell snatches, squats, bench presses.
These are just a few of the tools Shawn Windle has at his disposal. Head coaches have X's and O's, strength coaches have eccentric movements and Olympic lifts. One sees a powerful post move. The other sees the power cleans done to make that post move stronger.
As the head strength and conditioning coach for the Indiana Pacers, Windle is the man responsible for putting the mettle and the muscle behind coach Frank Vogel's smash-mouth brand of basketball.
"You have to have the right guys to embrace that style of play," Windle says. "It starts in the brains and the heart. Our workouts are designed so that the players have to fight to get through them. Being strong and being tough starts in the mind."
At this point, calling the Pacers a physical team is beyond redundant, like saying Killer Whales are killers. Yet, as the Pacers pummel their way through round after round of the NBA playoffs, members of the opposing teams they have just steamrolled or are about to encounter can't get away from that word.
"We know we're going to be in for a battle," New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler said before their series against Indiana. "We've got to be prepared physically to match their play ..."
"They'll try to put me on the floor, maybe,'' LeBron James said in an interview before Miami's series against Indiana. "They'll be physical with me ... The word is you've got to beat up the Heat to beat them. And every team has tried to do that."
That quote from James brings us right up to the present day, where the Pacers are in a dogfight of a series with the Miami Heat.
"You never know who you're going to face each round of the playoffs," Windle says. "Of course we might be eyeing a showdown with the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals early in the season, but it's never guaranteed. We don't train in the off-season to play against certain teams or certain guys. We try to get everyone as strong as we possibly can. We lift heavy weight throughout the season to maintain that strength."
Roy Hibbert likes to lift weights after regular-season games. Paul George likes to lift weights before games. David West, it seems, will lift weights anytime and anywhere.
"David is an animal in the weight room," Windle says. "He's our strongest guy for sure. Part of my job is to visit players after the season to check on their workouts, and when I went down to see David, I was amazed at what I saw. I had never seen a guy work that hard in the off-season. He was putting in maximum effort on everything."
While most guys leave the team after the season ends with a laundry list of exercise instructions, West is simply given one objective as he leaves his exit interview: "Keep being David West."
"He doesn't require a lot of external motivation," Windle says, chuckling at the understatement.
Tyler Hansbrough is another Pacer who has no problem with motivation.
"Tyler is just so strong," he says. "He's done so much strength work in the past. During the season we almost do a slight de-emphasis on lifting and add in more stretching and corrective exercises for him. He's very in tune with his body."
Windle runs through the roster, citing how impressed he is with the hard work his guys have put in throughout the season.
"Sam Young is one of our strongest guys. Gerald Green and Paul George, in terms of pure athleticism, are off the charts. DJ Augustine is in the weight room almost every single day," he says. "And what Roy [Hibbert] has done is fantastic. When he came into the league, he had some excess body fat that we had to work off of him.
"Our previous coach wanted to run up and down the floor more, so we got his weight down. Now, with Coach Vogel, we're doing a 180. The last few years we've put quality weight on his body and he is back up to a solid 270 pounds."
At 7-2, 270 pounds, Hibbert is the throwback big man that NBA opponents can't match up with. But his size would mean nothing if he didn't have the power to go along with it.
"We treat strength as a skill," Windle says. "We try to develop it every single day. I want our guys to get used to handling heavy weights. We don't do anything fancy. High pulls. Bench press. Pull-ups. Rows. What makes us successful is our guys' willingness to pour their heart and determination into both the basketball court and the weight room."
Windle won the 2012 NBA Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year Award, and since body evolution and muscle development can often take years to be fully realized, the fruits of his labor may be paying off more this season than last.
"From my standpoint, I'm so excited to watch the transformation in so many of our guys," he says. "From nutrition to weight lifting to rehabilitating, every goal we set in front of these guys they do their best to reach."
The end result of that goal is the physicality the rest of the NBA can't stop talking about. And to think, there might be far fewer bumps and bruises and black-and-blues around the Eastern Conference if it hadn't been for a loose connection between Windle and Larry Bird's old physical therapist.
In fact, the ice vendor for the Miami Heat should be thanking Larry Bird, the Pacer president. So should the guy who sells the Knicks bandages and the Atlanta Hawks' massage therapist. And anyone else in the league who has seen business pick up as a result of the damage inflicted by the Pacers' powerful style of play.
"I was working as a strength coach at Rutgers University when the Pacers called to see if I'd be interested in the job," Windle says. "The connection was through a friend of mine who was Larry Bird's old physical therapist."
Eight years later, a small connection has given birth to one of the strongest teams in pro basketball.
"You can't help but sit here and realize that we have an advantage in the paint on most nights," Windle says. "When we see a guy make an athletic play or outhustle and outmuscle someone on the other team, for me, I just see all that hard work paying off. They know what's at stake. They know they're fighting for a trip to the NBA Finals."
The question then becomes, is any team strong enough to fight back and win?
-- Jon Finkel is the author of The Dadvantage: Stay In Shape On No Sleep With No Time And No Equipment. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Finkel.
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