Learning how to fall is just as important as getting back up if you want to have long career in the NBA. This is something that celebrity trainer Ed Downs, a fifth-degree black belt and former Navy Seals trainer, has taught Miami Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade over the years in their work together.
“I’ve helped (Wade) to control his body when he’s airborne,” Downs says. “He likes to go airborne a lot and he lands funny but people don’t realize that he’s actually in control. He’s able to go airborne, be three feet from the ground… and at the last split second finish the shot and still break his fall. We’ve worked on that by incorporating martial arts falls into his workouts.”
Downs is the co-founder of the Miami based ProTERF training facility along with his partner Jesus Gallo, who is well known in the MLB circuit. Downs trains Wade, Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers almost exclusively and has also worked with LeBron James on occasion through Wade’s referral. His work with each person he trains focuses on six parameters (power, speed, balance, agility, coordination and reaction time) and he grades each parameter on a 1-10 scale to determine the plan that will be best for each athlete.
Downs has over 20 years of experience in the industry and now boasts Wade as his highest-profile client. The two actually hooked up as a result of Downs training Wade’s kids on a travel basketball team in South Florida. Wade saw some of the exercises his kids were going through and approached Downs afterwards about some of the movements.
“Within five minutes I showed him a few exercises and he came back the next day,” Downs says. “I’ve had him ever since.”
But you don’t hook a former Finals MVP without some sort of resume and through the years Downs amassed a very impressive client list. His first big-name client was former Miami Dolphins safety Louis Oliver. He then worked with the Dolphins on a regular basis until Pat Riley hired him as a consultant to work with the Heat. Downs worked with guys like Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway, Jamal Mashburn and Penny Hardaway from the Heat. He also trained Allen Iverson and Baron Davis for a while as well.
When asked about his biggest success story from the athletes he’s worked with, Downs was torn between Penny and Mashburn.
“Penny had a lot of injuries and his whole goal was to get back into the league even if it was just for a month or a year and we did it,” he says. “We accomplished that goal. That brother goes hard! There were times I had to slow him down.”
Mashburn raised his scoring average from 13.4 to as high as 21.6 under Downs. They did a lot of work on Mashburn’s base and over the years, the small forward’s strength improved.
“He might have been the strongest guy I ever worked with, probably as strong as any tight end in the NFL,” Downs says of Mashburn. “For example, we would do five sets of squats, 30 reps working from 225, 275, 315, 365, and finally 405. Thirty reps for 405 along with everything else he did!”
Downs’ work with former Heat standouts has given way for the current crop he now cultivates. Wade has worked through knee issues, perfecting his Euro-step, and his ability to fall without injuring himself under Downs. Chalmers has improved his quickness and Bosh has improved his base through practice of the many martial arts concepts taught by Downs.
“We do that to keep his mind right when he is down in the trenches,” says Downs.
While at the ProTERF facility, some athletes go into the “Sports Lab,” where synergy between the mind and body takes place. That part of the facility focuses on sensory integration to improve cognitive skills and reaction time. A 6×15 wall with various light sensors throughout will illuminate randomly and the players test their agility and recognition by turning off the sensors while being timed.
Training also consists of work with resistance bands in both their natural on-court environment as well as the training facility. Muscle confusion is key, says Downs, as the athletes are so phenomenal that they pick up exercises quickly no matter how foreign they may seem at first. On one occasion Wade brought LeBron along for a workout and they did an exercise called “Ready to Fly.” The exercise emulates a plane taking off and landing. The player will try to simultaneously balance his upper and lower body on a disc. LeBron tumbled to the ground on his first attempt and joked that he must have crash landed into someone’s backyard. While the humor of the moment was not lost on those in attendance, Downs says LeBron had it figured out by the end of the session.
The hectic in-season schedule prevents Downs from seeing his star clients daily but he does keep in regular contact with them — even going so far as to send them short instructional videos on their phones.
“It’s important to keep up with the work we’ve done, especially to help prevent injuries,” he says.
That kind of service has kept Downs relevant in the industry without ever marketing himself until recently. Only within the last two years did he print business cards and create marketing material. His success is largely due to word of mouth and proven results in a niche market.
Downs will train anybody from kids 10 and up to the everyday 9-5 employee. He even showed yours truly a few exercises on my way out of the facility. He offers group classes to make his training more affordable and will also be releasing an app later in the year on both the iTunes and Android markets. It will launch with 42 exercises with his clients Wade, Bosh, Chalmers, and LaMarr Woodley from the Pittsburg Steelers demonstrating how to execute the moves. Downs will explain how to increase intensity or volume through the videos, and plans to update the app every month.
When asked if he saw anybody in the league he could help and would really like to work with, Downs humbly said, “Derrick Rose, man… because I know about his injury. I know there are things I could do with him to not only have him come back strong but also add years to his career.”
Maybe Wade could get in the ear of his fellow Chicago native, but in the meantime Downs is getting along just fine and has become friends with many of the clients he trains. He says the friendships come over time and allows him to avoid being the “yes man” that so many athletes are used to being around.
“I tell them how this is going to work,” Downs says. “We shake hands and we can become friends after that. It’s worked well for the last 20 years and being a black belt in karate helps.”
Working in sports takes a certain level of persistence, talent and dedication to your craft whether as a player, coach, administrator or trainer. Sometimes it’s better to be more lucky than good. But in the case of Downs, he is all of the above and has the client list and longevity to back it up.
Along with that black belt in karate.
What’s the most important aspect of staying injury-free?
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