Pekovic worked on smaller muscles to get big, stay on the court

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 25, 2014 - 10:28 PM

The big-muscled center needed to develop his smaller ones in order to avoid injuries.

In order to get stronger, healthier and even richer, Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic first must regress all the way back to his baby days.

Three times a week, he’s in the Target Center basement weight room down on his stomach or elbows or all fours, making small, measured movements intended to replicate how an infant learns to crawl, roll, sit and eventually walk.

The tattooed, self-declared “real man” whom opponents call probably the NBA’s strongest also will deliver, if the mood strikes him, sound effects along with the delicate motions designed to strengthen and stabilize his smaller muscles after he has spent a lifetime pumping the biggest ones.

“Waaaaaaa,” he says, contorting his face and mimicking a baby’s cry.

It’s a striking juxtaposition from a mountain of a man — inked with a bed of skulls and a shielded warrior rippling across his biceps — who opponents consider the strong, silent type, even if his NBA career until this season has been sidetracked by a series of nagging little injuries that betrayed his power.

“I’ve never heard him say anything, not even to a teammate,” Utah veteran Marvin Williams said.

All his life, Pekovic believed bigger is better and more is more when it came to building a body that former Timberwolves basketball boss David Kahn once likened to “an Adonis,” the Greek god of beauty and desire.

Newly hired Wolves director of sports performance Koichi Sato came along last summer, and he asked Pekovic — and his teammates — to improve their posture, breathing and balance as well as rethink everything they thought he knew about their bodies.

Unconvinced at first, Pekovic now calls himself a believer in “baby reaches” and “bear walks” that, among other methods, have helped balance his body’s major muscles with its smaller ones. They’ve also helped him reach the halfway point of this season without a missing a game on a new five-year, $60 million contract that adds incentives for games played.

“Until now it helps,” Pekovic said. “I think this is the biggest stretch — 40 games I already played — and it’s first time I don’t got any injury. For now it really helps. Some things you can’t avoid, if you turn an ankle or something. But I can really see my body is accepting it really good. I can see that it really helps my body. I’m more flexible. I’m moving better.”

Muscular teamwork

Born in Japan and educated at Tokyo and American universities, Sato brought with him from the Washington Wizards last summer training philosophies and techniques learned from Czech Republic experts in a field of study — called Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization — used to test babies, rehabilitate injured adults and train professional athletes and Cirque du Soleil performers.

Those techniques are intended to balance the body by integrating fast-moving big muscles that move heavy weight with slower-moving small muscles that stabilize the big muscles.

“One muscle doesn’t do all the job,” Sato said. “It’s like a basketball team. It’s not Pek and Kevin [Love] do all the work. Everybody has to function together.”

A man who once only pumped more and more iron, Pekovic now walks with a block atop his head on a beam placed on the weight-room floor, not all that unlike a beauty-show contestant from days gone by who balanced a book on her head to improve posture.

When Sato worked in Washington, Wizards forward Jan Vesely impersonated his former European teammate at the mere mention of Pekovic’s name by scrunching his shoulders toward his ears and furiously pumping his arms to mimic Pekovic’s unbalanced running posture.

“Koichi’s the first guy who told me I did that,” Pekovic said. “I never think about it until he told me.”

Now Pekovic is conscious of how he runs, walks and sits.

“He doesn’t do this anymore because I think his body is changing,” Sato said, impersonating Vesely’s impersonation.

Now Pekovic himself impersonates a baby, a bear and a beauty queen in the weight room without hearing so much as a snicker from a teammate.

“I think he enjoys the baby ones better because then he gets to make the noises,” Love said. “He’s a big baby. A big teddy bear, too, though.”

Light on his feet

Sato calls Pekovic “one of the most nimble guys I’ve ever seen” after watching him progress through a program that shares a bit in common with yoga.

“No, I never done yoga,” Pekovic said. “Or 80 percent of the stuff we’re doing, I’ve never done in my life.”

So, might he have been a dancer?

“No, even my mom tried to take me to dance when I was like 14,” Pekovic said. “She was like, ‘We have to start,’ and I was like, ‘No, no, no.’ I’m kind of a little big for that. I don’t know how that would look.”

But his footwork on the beam is almost graceful, even if he and teammates such as rookie Gorgui Dieng drip sweat from seemingly the simplest of movements while Sato demonstrates the exercises seeking “reflexive stability” with nary a drop of perspiration.

“Their muscle is not working the way it’s supposed to,’ ’’said Sato, whom Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders hired after they worked together in Washington. “The little ones function very efficiently so you don’t feel fatigued. That’s why I can do this all day because I don’t have to use a big muscle to do it. If the only choice is to use big muscles … big muscles are strong but they fatigue quick.

“That’s why you see those guys sweating profusely. You’d be surprised: It looks like a simple exercise, but if you make sure they are in the right position, many of them struggle.”

Pekovic credits Sato’s work with keeping him healthy, which has kept him on the floor and allowed him to deliver in the past six weeks what coach Rick Adelman calls the most productive stretch of his four-year NBA career. He scored a career-high 34 points in a game last month, has nine 20-point and 10-rebound games and has led his team in scoring in five of the past 10 games.

“His consistency where he just keeps playing has been terrific,” Adelman said.

If Pekovic plays 60 games, he’ll start receiving a bonus that increases based on how many games he plays.

Pekovic gives his trainer the credit for his good health, but have they made a deal to give Sato his cut should Pekovic reach those bonuses?

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I don’t know about that,” he said, laughing. “We didn’t make that deal.”

 

  • related content

  • Video: Pekovic's special workouts focus on core

    Friday January 24, 2014

    Nikola Pekovic has an unusual workout regimen with Timberwolves Director of Sports Performance Koichi Sato.

  • Wolves' Love surprised by All-Star starting spot

    Friday January 24, 2014

    He joins the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and the Clippers’ Blake Griffin on the West team.

  • Martin ready for Warriors, Shved waiting for mask

    Friday January 24, 2014

    Wolves play three games in four nights starting Friday

  • Chart: Pekovic's injury history

    Thursday January 23, 2014

    pekovic’s injury historyNikola Pekovic has played in all 41 Wolves games this season after missing 56 games in his first...

  • Gameday preview: Wolves at Golden State

    Thursday January 23, 2014

    wolves gameday9:30 p.m. at golden state • oracle ARENA • fsn/NBA TV, 830-AMPreview: Kevin Martin practiced fully Thursday with that...

  • Nikola Pekovic loves the weight room but had to learn new techniques in an effort to avoid injuries. ‘‘I can really see my body is accepting it really good. I can see that it really helps my body. I’m more flexible. I’m moving better.’’

  • Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic worked under the direction of conditioning coach Koichi Sato at the Target Center.

  • wolves center nikola pekovic

    Up next: 9:30 tonight at Golden State • TV: FSN, NBA TV (830-AM)

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Chicago 11/27/14 11:30 AM
Detroit
Philadelphia 11/27/14 3:30 PM
Dallas
Seattle 11/27/14 7:30 PM
San Francisco
Cleveland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Washington 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Tennessee 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
NY Giants 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Cincinnati 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Oakland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
New Orleans 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Carolina 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Arizona 11/30/14 3:05 PM
Atlanta
New England 11/30/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Denver 11/30/14 7:30 PM
Kansas City
Miami 12/1/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
Atlanta 106 FINAL
Washington 102
Golden State 114 FINAL
Miami 97
Detroit 86 FINAL
Milwaukee 98
Sacramento 99 FINAL
New Orleans 89
Chicago 109 FINAL
Denver 114
Winnipeg 4 FINAL
Columbus 2
Ottawa 3 FINAL(SO)
St. Louis 2
Los Angeles 3 FINAL(SO)
Nashville 4
Edmonton 2 FINAL
Dallas 3
Colorado 4 FINAL(OT)
Arizona 3
New Jersey 0 FINAL
Vancouver 2
Calgary 2 FINAL
Anaheim 3
Fresno State 52 FINAL
East Carolina 58
Morgan State 73 FINAL
Elon 74
Purdue 82 FINAL
Missouri 61
Hawaii 62 FINAL
Marist 55
Liberty 57 FINAL
North Florida 77
MD-Eastern Shore 55 FINAL
Bucknell 58
Western Carolina 70 FINAL
Georgia State 85
BYU 121 FINAL
Chaminade 85
Evansville 62 FINAL
Green Bay 64
Alabama 76 FINAL
Arizona State 71
UT Martin 74 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 56
SE Missouri St 54 FINAL
Bowling Green 62
NC Central 50 FINAL
Cincinnati 59
Fair-Dickinson 47 FINAL
Columbia 57
Citadel 55 FINAL
Florida State 66
Houston 63 FINAL
Harvard 84
William Peace 71 FINAL
High Point 88
Texas-Arlington 44 FINAL
Kentucky 92
St Francis-NY 60 FINAL
La Salle 73
Boston Univ 68 FINAL
New Hampshire 75
Chicago State 57 FINAL
Oakland 70
Ark-Pine Bluff 60 FINAL
Ohio 69
Hartford 54 FINAL
Quinnipiac 50
Saint Peters 68 FINAL
Rutgers 50
Jackson State 71 FINAL
St Bonaventure 79
Long Island 70 FINAL
Saint Josephs 74
Hofstra 70 FINAL
South Florida 71
Western Ky 61 FINAL
Stony Brook 71
Loyola-Maryland 37 FINAL
Syracuse 70
Penn 67 FINAL
Temple 76
Detroit 82 FINAL
Toledo 79
Tennessee St 36 FINAL
Virginia 79
Northern Iowa 73 FINAL
Virginia Tech 54
Western Ill 49 FINAL
William & Mary 83
Ohio Valley 54 FINAL
Wofford 82
Toccoa Falls 40 FINAL
Presbyterian 63
Mount Ida 57 FINAL
UMass Lowell 102
Kansas State 68 FINAL
Arizona 72
Binghamton 54 FINAL
Army 80
Central Arkansas 67 FINAL
Char Southern 80
Howard 68 FINAL
UMBC 54
VA Commonwealth 77 FINAL
Oregon 63
Arkansas 78 FINAL
SMU 72
Jacksonville St 67 FINAL
Alabama A&M 61
TX A&M-CC 38 FINAL
Bradley 52
Eastern Ill 53 FINAL
Creighton 75
St Xavier 76 FINAL
Ill-Chicago 87
Northern Ariz 53 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 65
Nebraska Omaha 67 FINAL
Nebraska 80
Akron 72 FINAL
Penn State 78
NC A&T 54 FINAL
Saint Louis 57
Columbia International 55 FINAL
SC State 92
Troy 70 FINAL
Southern Miss 72
St Francis-PA 46 FINAL
Texas 78
Northwestern St 64 FINAL
Texas Tech 75
Loyola-Chicago 71 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 57
Southern U 59 FINAL
Tulane 74
Norfolk State 53 FINAL
Vanderbilt 63
Jarvis Christian 65 FINAL
Abilene Christian 91
MN-Crookston 63 FINAL
North Dakota St 64
Lamar 63 FINAL
Arkansas State 58
IUPUI 60 FINAL
Drake 73
San Francisco 47 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 62
Miami-Florida 77 FINAL
Charlotte 74
Air Force 53 FINAL
Colorado 68
Boise State 86 FINAL
Idaho 75
Louisiana 76 FINAL
Oral Roberts 52
Buffalo 80 FINAL
Grand Canyon 64
Maryland 72 FINAL
Iowa State 63
Northwestern 55 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 46
Bristol University 63 FINAL
Sacramento St 97
Villanova 60 FINAL
Michigan 55
Pittsburgh 57 FINAL
San Diego St 74
Cal State Fullerton 49 FINAL
USC 53
Delaware 47 FINAL
Stanford 84
Ohio U 24 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 21
LSU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas A&M
(6) TCU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Northern Ill 11/28/14 10:00 AM
Western Mich
Nebraska 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Iowa
Western Ky 11/28/14 11:00 AM
(19) Marshall
UCF 11/28/14 11:00 AM
So Florida
Houston 11/28/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Akron 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Kent State
Ball State 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Bowling Green
Buffalo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Massachusetts
Toledo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Arkansas 11/28/14 1:30 PM
(17) Missouri
Navy 11/28/14 2:00 PM
South Alabama
(13) Arizona State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(12) Arizona
Stanford 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(9) UCLA
(21) Colorado State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
Virginia 11/28/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
East Carolina 11/28/14 7:30 PM
Tulsa
North Texas 11/29/14 11:00 AM
TX-San Antonio
Old Dominion 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Fla Atlantic
(16) Georgia Tech 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(8) Georgia
Kentucky 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(24) Louisville
So Carolina 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(23) Clemson
West Virginia 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Rice 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Louisiana Tech
Michigan 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Purdue 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Indiana
Illinois 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Northwestern
Cincinnati 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Temple
NC State 11/29/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Syracuse 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Louisiana 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Troy
Utah 11/29/14 12:00 PM
Colorado
Texas State 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Idaho 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Appalachian St
Wyoming 11/29/14 2:00 PM
New Mexico
New Mexico St 11/29/14 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
UAB 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(4) Miss State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Notre Dame 11/29/14 2:30 PM
USC
(10) Michigan State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Penn State
(22) Minnesota 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(14) Wisconsin
(5) Baylor 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Texas Tech
Florida 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Rutgers 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Maryland
San Jose St 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Diego St
Tennessee 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Kansas 11/29/14 3:00 PM
(11) Kansas State
Connecticut 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Memphis
BYU 11/29/14 3:30 PM
California
ULM 11/29/14 5:00 PM
Ga Southern
Middle Tennessee 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Fresno State
Wake Forest 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Duke
Pittsburgh 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Florida
(15) Auburn 11/29/14 6:45 PM
(2) Alabama
(3) Oregon 11/29/14 7:00 PM
Oregon State
Utah State 11/29/14 9:15 PM
(25) Boise State
Washington 11/29/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Nevada 11/29/14 9:30 PM
UNLV
Hamilton 11/30/14 5:00 PM
Calgary
Belmont 55 FINAL
Kent State 58
Robert Morris 75 FINAL
Coppin State 58
UMKC 48 FINAL
Western Ill 71
Manhattan 48 FINAL
La Salle 61
UC Santa Barbara 34 FINAL
Arizona 61
Santa Clara 69 FINAL
LSU 67
Tulsa 67 FINAL
Texas Southern 64
SE Missouri St 57 FINAL
Ole Miss 58
Air Force 35 FINAL
Army 79
Towson 59 FINAL
UMBC 54
St Bonaventure 56 FINAL
Penn State 54
Texas-El Paso 43 FINAL
Kansas State 72
Cheyney 38 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 63
Johnson C. Smith 45 FINAL
NC A&T 76
Winthrop 71 FINAL
NC Central 63
USC Upstate 50 FINAL
SC State 60
Quinnipiac 52 FINAL
(2) Notre Dame 112
Buffalo 54 FINAL
(8) Duke 88
Washington St 74 FINAL
Hampton 60
Bryant 67 FINAL
Brown 60
Vermont 75 FINAL
Central Conn St 77
St Francis-NY 50 FINAL
NJIT 57
(21) Rutgers 81 FINAL
Wagner 53
IUPU-Ft Wayne 63 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 90
Fairleigh Dickinson 66 FINAL
Monmouth 71
Jacksonville 59 FINAL
UCF 71
SIU-Edwardsville 76 FINAL
IUPUI 87
Duquesne 89 FINAL
Howard 63
Fordham 49 FINAL
Delaware 44
Saint Josephs 63 FINAL
Drexel 76
Liberty 62 FINAL
Elon 73
New Hampshire 39 FINAL
Penn 74
Valparaiso 65 FINAL
Akron 100
Grambling 64 FINAL
Georgia Tech 97
Western Ky 67 FINAL
(12) Louisville 89
Arizona State 65 FINAL
Miami-Florida 61
Charleston Southern 64 FINAL
Florida 92
Georgia Southern 52 FINAL
(22) Georgia 93
Tenn Tech 67 FINAL
Mercer 73
Hillsdale 56 FINAL
Eastern Michigan 73
Ohio U 77 FINAL
Northern Ky 38
Gardner-Webb 69 FINAL
Appalachian St 77
Bucknell 54 FINAL
Youngstown St 69
Lafayette 66 FINAL
Rider 48
Lehigh 70 FINAL
Saint Peters 58
George Mason 79 FINAL
Navy 84
High Point 57 FINAL
Davidson 76
Old Dominion 69 FINAL
Virginia Tech 62
SW Assemblies 57 FINAL
Houston Baptist 85
LSU-Alexandria 58 FINAL
Northwestern St 86
Wofford 55 FINAL
Jacksonville St 70
ULM 46 FINAL
(25) Miss State 80
Morgan State 43 FINAL
(20) Oklahoma St 73
Lyon 43 FINAL
Central Arkansas 59
Lamar 72 FINAL
Texas State 79
Mobile 47 FINAL
SE Louisiana 74
St Edwards 56 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 65
Lipscomb 71 FINAL
Murray State 74
UAB 61 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 51
Northern Iowa 45 FINAL
(17) Iowa 73
Southern U 62 FINAL
Minnesota 107
Harvard 79 FINAL
Holy Cross 76
Colorado 77 FINAL
Denver 49
Portland State 56 FINAL
Oregon 63
Montana State 64 FINAL
San Diego 79
Idaho 77 FINAL
Wyoming 66
Pepperdine 76 FINAL
Cal Poly 69
Long Beach St 68 FINAL
Boise State 50
Nevada 48 FINAL
San Francisco 63
Yale 63 FINAL
Alaska-Anchorage 72

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Will the Gophers bring home The Axe?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close