NBA Hall of Famer Details Intense Miami Heat Conditioning Program

Gary Payton, Dwyane Wade

Getty Former Miami Heat guard Gary Payton won his lone title alongside Dwyane Wade in 2006.

Gary Payton only spent two seasons in South Beach, but safe to assume he never ran that hard in his life. The NBA Hall of Famer was one of the first players to really explain the meaning behind the term “Miami Heat Culture” and it all starts with their fitness and conditioning program.

Payton earned his lone championship ring playing alongside Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem, Shaquille O’Neal in 2006. He didn’t fully get what was happening that year until Pat Riley took over as head coach after an 11-10 start. The legendary figure with the slicked-back hair showed the team the movie “Glory Road” and recommitted them to the fundamentals. That meant full-court wind sprints after a two-and-a-half-hour practice, plus getting on the exercise bike and wearing heart monitors. And weights, lots of weight lifting.

“If you did not have your weights in, you would have to go back and do your weights,” Payton told’s Sean Deveney. “Pat Riley kept his foot on our necks about that because he would always say, ‘When the fourth quarter comes, we are going to be the best-conditioned basketball team there is. When they’re tired and their tongues are hanging out, we’re going to be running extra.’ That showed when we won the 2006 championship. When Dallas was tired in the fourth quarter, we were picking it up more and more.”

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Miami Heat Conditioning is ‘Very Different’

Payton enjoyed dominant stints with five different teams during his illustrious 18-year career. The nine-time All-Star guard was always one of the fittest guys in the league, leading the NBA in games played on five occasions. Nicknamed “The Glove” for his defensive tenacity, Payton excelled in all phases of the game as evidenced by his all-time rankings: fourth in steals (2,445), 10th in assists (8,966), 38th all-time in points (21,813).

Gary Payton (The Glove): The NBA's All-Time Best Defender"He wanted you to know that you were going to lose the game, that you weren't going to play very well, and it was basically because he's covering you." -George Karl Will there ever be another point guard named NBA Defensive Player of the Year? SUBSCRIBE for NEW basketball performance videos every week: Click…2016-10-14T11:00:04Z

Throw those stats out the window. Riley still made him run just as much as the rookies in Miami. And if it wasn’t to the coaches’ liking, then he would have to run again.

“The conditioning there, it is very different,” Payton said. “What we would do when we would go to practice, we would run. I don’t know what they do now in the NBA, but I know we would have practice for two-and-a-half hours and we would run, we would run up and down the floor. We would do drills where we would stand and sprint, full out, go full out. Like we did in high school, middle school.”

And the hustle rule applied not just to Payton but to every player on the roster, regardless of veteran experience or contract size.

“We would have to get on the bike after practice, keep our heart rate up, keep things up, monitors on our chest and we would have to keep going,” Payton said. “If we did not complete it, you have to go and start over back from the beginning. That is what it takes, it takes NBA guys, veteran players with big contracts, who will buy-in and do the stuff we did when we were kids because those fundamentals matter.”

Bill Foran Honored with Lifetime Achievement Award

Credit Bill Foran for the insane attention to fitness that helped establish Miami Heat Culture. The long-time strength and conditioning coach joined the organization in 1988 and immediately put an emphasis on total bodyweight training. Hip work, core stability exercises, and recovery methods (ice baths, foam rolls, tissue massages) are all important in molding world-class athletes.

For example, Rony Seikaly. The Heat’s very first draft pick — ninth overall in 1988 — was Foran’s first case study.

“He was the starting center at 6-foot-11 and 230 pounds, and he just got ate up his first year,” Foran told Stack. “He came back and that next summer, he didn’t miss a workout. He went from 230 pounds to 252, kept his body fat at 8-percent and increased his vertical jump three inches, and was voted the most improved player in the league. From the get-go, our organization saw the importance of what strength and conditioning can do for an athlete.”

Foran was honored by the National Basketball Strength & Conditioning Coaches Association with the inaugural Bill Foran Lifetime Achievement Award on Jan. 28. His “exceptional achievements” have helped the Heat win three championships while churning out well-rounded chiseled Heat players for 33 years.


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