As the flow of NBA news trickled to a near stop in mid-May, photos of Rockets guard James Harden briefly took the league by storm.
Harden spent the COVID-19 suspension training in Houston and Phoenix, and the released photos showed the 2017-18 MVP in perhaps the best shape of his career. Who can Houston thank for Harden's improved physique? All-En Sports Performance founder and trainer Justin Allen deserves a share of the credit.
Allen spent multiple weeks working alongside Harden and former Arizona State teammate Christian Polk, joining Harden shortly after the NBA suspended play on March 11. Allen was unsurprised with Harden's results after weeks of exhausting work.
"He’s James Harden for a reason. He works hard, he’s technical about everything he does," Allen told Inside The Rockets. "He’s detailed. He’s intense with everything."
So how exactly did Allen help Harden slim down without any live practices or games? The Houston-based trainer took a page from the NFL, using similar workouts to the ones he employs when training Pro Bowl players Earl Thomas and Michael Thomas.
"We did a lot of football drills with [Harden]," Allen said. "With football, it’s quick twitch, which was relevant. We put him through a lot of running back and receiver drills. A lot of cutting, a lot of short steps which translates well to basketball."
Allen's work with Harden featured plenty of cardio in addition to the quick-twitch football drills. Harden consistently used a jump rope in his sessions with Allen, and the three-time scoring champion ran a slate of 110-yard sprints. Allen said he was surprised by Harden's fitness, noting, "that's how he stays atop the game in his 11th year."
The football drills weren't the only unorthodox training method Allen used with Harden. The duo worked on Harden's balance throughout their time together, placing an emphasis on one-leg workouts. And Allen added another challenge to Harden's balance drills.
"James has an unorthodox game, so he takes a lot of unorthodox shots," Allen said. "So we did a lot of single-leg work in the glute, hamstring, calf and quad area in order to help his balance. When he was on a medicine ball, I’d hit him with a pad so he’d have to balance and absorb the contact. I enjoyed that one a little bit."
The NBA's restart will mark one of the strangest conclusions to a season in league history, and the first eight games in Orlando could feature some seriously sloppy play. But Allen believes Harden will be able to hit the ground running. After months of grueling training, Harden should be in-shape and ready to go in Orlando. His fitness is integral to Houston's championship hopes after nearly five months away from the court.