Training Michael Jordan

Workout: Before the star returned to the court, Tim Grover helped him get back in playing condition.

Health & Fitness

November 25, 2001|By Bob Condor | Bob Condor,Special to the Sun

Michael Jordan's new position is what basketball fans like to call "small forward." That hardly seems fitting for such an extra-large return to the NBA.

Yet a few things about Jordan are, indeed, downsized. Since he started working out again with long-time personal trainer Tim Grover in January, the 38-year-old Jordan dropped from 248 pounds and a self-admitted gut to the rippled 215 leaping across a recent Sports Illustrated cover. That photograph of the new Washington Wizard player says plenty about the six days a week that Jordan and Grover worked out between Jan. 2 and mid-June, before a rib injury derailed Jordan's comeback for two months.

The trainer and his most famous client met for two morning hours of conditioning Monday through Saturday, plus two more hours each day of pickup basketball Monday through Thursday. Sunday was the only off-day.

The exact conditioning regimen has been a confidential matter between Grover and Jordan for more than a decade. But Grover discussed some of the details about getting Jordan ready for his 14th NBA season. Two days a week are devoted to the upper body, two for the lower body and two for a combination of upper and lower body. Grover said it is "much more than weight training or even strength training."

The sessions combine weight lifting (machines, dumbbells, barbells), lots of stretching, core exercises such as abdominal crunches ("if you are doing more than 15 or 20 per set, you are doing them incorrectly"), medicine ball and stability ball training, balance and agility drills, jumping exercises and movements with a basketball in hand.

Rather than simply ask Jordan to do a set of abdominal crunches, for example, Grover will have his client pass a weighted medicine ball on the up move of the crunch.

"We are getting his body ready for basketball," said Grover, 37. "That's my entire focus. I am concerned about stability of the muscles and joints, function, strength and speed."

Grover trains more than 30 other NBA players during summer months, and he regularly advises them in-season as part of his Chicago-based Attack Athletics training company.

In 1989, Jordan decided he needed a personal trainer beyond the Chicago Bulls staff. It was unprecedented among professional basketball players.

The first personal trainer Jordan tried lasted one session. Jordan wrenched his back lifting weights and wasn't about to risk any other tweaks. Team physician Dr. John Hefferon recommended Grover, and the two clicked.

Grover is a down-to-earth, conscientious guy who grew up in Chicago and played basketball for the University of Illinois-Chicago, where he majored in exercise science. Jordan talks about Grover's "second-to-none knowledge of sports training."

The trainer explained why most people who start working out on Jan. 2 fail to reach their goals -- or their toes -- come October.

"The body works on three planes," Grover said. "One is front and back movements, the second is side to side movements, and third is twisting movements. When we started training in January, we started with strictly front and back moves. Then when I saw Michael's ligaments, tendons and joints were ready, we moved to the other planes.

"The mistake most people make is on Jan. 2, they go to the health club and jump on an exercise bike or treadmill for 45 minutes, then hit the weight room for an hour. They are working on all three planes at once before they are ready. They are inevitably going to wrench their back or pull a muscle."

After he started working with Jordan, neither Jordan nor Grover knew if there would actually be a comeback, but those early workouts and pickup games were immediately intense.

"Anytime Michael starts working out, it becomes serious," Grover said. "He didn't tell me whether he was coming back until he made the decision public [in September]. My job was to prepare as if that was his goal."

Jordan's aerobic conditioning was always on the basketball court. He doesn't like "any of the stationary equipment," Grover said.

Between February and June, Grover began adding variety to the conditioning activities. Jordan's weight decreased by about 20 pounds, and his body fat was returning to the 3 percent to 6 percent range of his former playing days. Maybe most noticeable was his ability to "do things on the court he used to do in the past," said Grover.

Then two broken ribs suffered in a pickup game set Jordan back eight weeks. When he and Grover started working out again, they spent about four days making sure none of the exercises was putting too much pressure on the ribs.

Grover said recuperation is underrated by most exercisers. "Rest is probably as important as actual working out in terms of making progress," he explained. "I have always said a person who undertrains is better off than someone who overtrains.

"We're not back to where Michael was before the rib injury," he added. "But we're getting there."

Bob Condor is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune.

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