A Legendary NBA Strength Coach Described To Us How Big Of A Genetic Freak J.R. Smith Is And Oh. My.

In the NBA Strength and Conditioning circles, Steve Hess is royalty. The 49-year-old South African native has been the Denver Nuggets Head Strength Coach for two decades and his exuberant passion and incredible knowledge on fitness and diet has earned him a spot on the Under Armour training council, a position only nine other trainers worldwide are lucky enough to hold.

We got a chance to sit down and chat with the legendary trainer, who rocks dreads and a funky South African accent. If you didn’t know he was an elite NBA trainer, you may think he lives in a van in the summer, follows Phish around the country, and chose to settle down in Colorado, well, for obvious reasons.

I’m sure you can guess which one he is.

But as he began talking, it became immediately evident that this dude is a fitness savant–constantly referring to the body as a “machine,” with an unparalleled physiological understanding coupled with a contagious passion that allows his machines run at maximum efficiency.

We asked him questions about fitness and diet for the average Joe and about the inner workings of life as an NBA trainer. His responses were very compelling.

Check it out below.

My diet is awful. I ate a Hot Pocket for dinner last night. If you could take hold of my grocery list for a day, what would it look like?

My breakfast: Oats with berries, 6 egg whites, a whole egg thrown on a skillet and throw some vegetables in that.

Next meal: 4 to 6 ounces of Chicken, 2 yams, and a pear or apple.

I’d throw in a MET-Rx shake mid-day. These are a God send because they easily absorb protein and contain casein and amino acids that helps with recovery while simultaneously supporting muscle growth.

Dinner: 6 ounces of fresh Salmon–gotta get your Omega 3’s and your Omega 6’s. Make sure the ratio is correct so it becomes an anti-inflammatory as opposed to inflammatory. Cold water fish like Halibut is also a solid alternative. For my sides I’d cook up 2 cups of broccoli, a salad with all the different colors you can imagine with a table spoon of oil and a table spoon of vinegar

You’re working with some of the most finely tuned athletes on the planet. How often are these dudes working out?


Now in the season, generally speaking I get in pretty early, I’ll try and get in a lift from 6 to 7. Guys start coming in at 7:30, we’ll train them up until 9:30. 9:30 is video, 10 to 11 shoot around, then at 11, guys come off the court, and I work some guys out from 11 to 12. I’ll go back home, try and grab a nap be back at 3:30, and get ready for the game. So you got guys your prehabbing, guys you’re rehabbing , you’ve got guys you’re getting ready for the game. So we will go from 4 to 7, we’re rocking until game time. Lot of guys do stuff afterwards, and from 10-11 get home.

Jesus. When do they eat?

We have food delivered. We make sure we have the right supplementation, correct hydration. A big thing for us is electrolytes replenishing, which the MET-Rx products are great for.

How about the offseason?

No one is required to be in on the offseason. But many do. We’ll do team building things in the realm, you gotta understand 18-30 years old. Stuff they really like to do. We try and incorporate that. Like on a Wednesday we’ll go to Red Rocks, do some explosive running. We’ve gone to Manitou Springs. We’ll go climb a fortina. I’ll take them to a public pool. We’ll do recovery work in the pool. That’ll be a summertime type of day.

So you’ve been the Nuggets trainer for 20 years. You’ve trained some big boys–Kenyon Martin, Andre Iguodala, Kenneth Faried come to mind. Who is pound for pound the strongest player you’ve been exposed to?

Earl Boykins.

If you’re talking about pure strength pound for pound, not even close. He bench pressed 315 pounds and the dude weighed 150. Dude was a genetic freak.

Boykins height and weight is officially listed at 5’5”, 133 lbs.

If we’re talking athletes: J.R. Smith, Nate Robinson. But Antonio McDyess. Oh my God. The dude had a 44 inch vertical. He was a beast.

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Ok that checks out.

What kind of guy is J.R. Smith? He seems like a dude who shows up to the area five minutes before game time, downs a Whopper in the parking lot, and just shoots. 

Firstly, if I had the athleticism and the skills of JR, I would also just show up to a game and shoot. The thing about JR is that he’s a fierce competitor. People will say he’s not a competitor, but he’s a warrior. I’m so incredibly proud of him for winning a championship.

We had a rotation we were doing, and with the single leg press, this is the honest to God truth, he’s doing a single leg press with six 45’s on each side (585 pounds). Mind you, this is coming back from a meniscus tear and  it was like 3 weeks post surgery. Now I didn’t load the weights and if I did I’d be fired so quickly. So I go up to him and I’m like ‘JR, dude what the hell are you doing?’ and he looked at me casually and said ‘I just wanted to see how strong my leg was.’

So I go ‘let me see you jump,’ and he takes off, and I’m like ‘really dude? It’s like, 40+ inches. 21 days post-surgery. Just a genetic freak. Supremely gifted.

I’m going to hit you with a speed round. You ready?


Jacked arms or jacked legs?

Jacked legs.

Dumbbells or barbells?


Arnold or Stallone?

I’m a groupie of both.

You have to pick one, Steve. That’s the point of the game.

I have to go as Stallone. Just because I dressed up as him as a kid.

Broccoli or asparagus?


Cheetos: Crunchy or Puffed?


Big spoon or little spoon?


’96 Bulls or 2016 Warriors

’96 Bulls.

Last question. As I get older, it’s becoming more and more difficult to find the motivation to go to the gym. What advice do you have for useless slugs like me to turn it around?

I promise you right now. You’re 29 years. At 39, if you look the way you look right now, you’re going to be so excited. At 49, my age, if you look the way I look, you’re going to be the freaking next coming. If you don’t workout now, it will affect you later in life. You’re going to be fat as shit.

The most important workout advice I can give you is to absolutely unequivocally do strength training. Your biggest system besides your skin is your muscular system. Train it appropriately. I promise you. When you get to 49, the benefits will be ridiculous. Four times a week. I don’t care when you squeeze it in, but you have to do it otherwise at 49 we will be having the same conversation and you’ll be fat as shit.

*I drop down and do 13 pushups before passing out*

P.S. Thanks for the gifts, Steve. Any recommendation on the best product to use to recover from that diesel workout? LMK.

Matt Keohan Avatar
Matt’s love of writing was born during a sixth grade assembly when it was announced that his essay titled “Why Drugs Are Bad” had taken first prize in D.A.R.E.’s grade-wide contest. The anti-drug people gave him a $50 savings bond for his brave contribution to crime-fighting, and upon the bond’s maturity 10 years later, he used it to buy his very first bag of marijuana.