Born in war-torn Sudan, raised in Brixton, and now an All-Star NBA player, Luol Deng is no ordinary pro basketball hero. The 27-year-old will also be appearing in the Olympics, and he took time out from his hectic training regime to tell ShortList how he readies himself for the big occasions…
Talk us through your average day in training.
I have had it repeatedly drilled into me by my trainer that there are five steps you need to focus on every day when you’re training. They are flexibility, strength, agility, nutrition and recovery. It can be easy to let one of those slip, but when you do, the whole pyramid can fall down. I always start with stretches. I don’t care what your chosen sport is, if you are professional, or you are just playing for fun, not to stretch is criminal.
Do you train without a basketball?
At least half of my training is without a ball. You could have the best ball skills in the world, but if you are not a conditioned athlete you will not make it in the NBA. I do lots of stretching, gym, weights, cardio and rehabilitation. I do everything.
What’s the most extreme measure you’ve taken to prepare?
I bought an oxygen tank for my house. It may seem extreme, but it really helps with rehabilitation.
Do you use any hi-tech equipment in training?
The NBA has introduced a wireless heart-screening monitor that you wear during a training session. You can then watch a 3D video of your heart afterwards, and it shows any defects or pressure that might be on your heart as your training gets more intense. It’s incredible.
Do you have any nutritional tips?
There are a lot of guys in the NBA who take their diet seriously, and there is no doubt it contributes to improving your game. People can talk about all these clever nutritional plans, but we are living in an educated world now, most people know what is right and wrong. It’s as simple as cutting out sugary and fried foods, and eating lots of grilled chicken with vegetables, and also pasta if you are looking for fuel.
What’s the one part of life that you have to deny yourself, but really miss?
There’s nothing any more. Maybe at the start it was tough, but you then get to the point where you think even if I wasn’t an athlete, I don’t want to eat crap, and even if I wasn’t getting paid I would still want to train every day, just because I feel so much better for it.
Do you ever do other sports as part of your training?
There are various sorts of kick-boxing moves we do to enhance strength and posture. Obviously, we keep it all non contact, but if anybody is looking to improve their all-round fitness, then kick-boxing would be a great sport to take up.
What’s your gym workout like?
Intense. When I have been in the gym with my trainer I know I have definitely earned my money. You should never come away from any gym or training sessions thinking you could have given more — you need to treat it like a professional game.
What exercises do you do to build up strength?
Landmines [abs exercise] are great — they are tough but worth the effort. The key is to keep your legs and back straight — so much good work can be undone by bad posture. It’s best to have the proper equipment, but they can be performed using a dumbbell bar wedged in a corner of a room.
How about stamina — what do you do to improve that?
Clock wall taps — which is basically tapping a basketball very quickly against the wall from the 3 to 9 o’clock positions, and then back again — are great. You have to keep your legs and arms straight. It might sound easy, but give it a try and see how easy it is after five reps.
What drills would you recommend to improve speed?
You should do short, fast sprints in the gym like you normally would, but use small hurdles at the same time. Doing this will benefit both your speed and agility.
(Image: Rex Features)