At the start of 2020, the Miami Heat was one of the NBA’s surprise teams, in part due to Jimmy Butler’s high-caliber performance. Two months later on March 11, the league, following the announcement that Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus, came to a halt.

Since then all sports—as well as most of the nation—have been on lockdown due to the global pandemic. And while staying safe remains the top priority, for Butler, whose physical fitness is unrivaled in the league, staying COVID-19-free and game fit became a challenging necessity.

Throw in the uncertainty of the NBA season at the time — from the length of lockdown to the question of whether the season would ever start again, determining how to stay game-ready became a conundrum Butler would also face along with his personal trainer, James Scott.

The pair came to the realization that sticking to their ritual of early morning workouts, with some tweaks to Butler’s diet, would be the ideal roadmap to maintaining the level of fitness that’s made Butler one of the league’s most ripped athletes. So effective was their plan, that Butler took the court on Aug. 1 against the Denver Nuggets with more muscle and less body fat than his last game in March.

“Just from a whole mental, um, kind of readiness, we didn’t know if this was going to be two weeks or two months or a year,” Scott tells Muscle & Fitness. “At the beginning, training was sort of ambiguous. We saw people were doing Zoom workouts and stuff like that. Finally, we just said, you know, screw that, let’s go ahead and do this the right way. Let’s have an offseason mentality.”

Butler knows all about what it takes to be ready for whatever life throws at him. “I’d be lying if I were to be able to tell you what tomorrow brings,” Butler told M&F in January, following a loss to the Brooklyn Nets. “I can’t tell you how my body’s going to feel. I can tell you how I can prepare for hoping that this is the way that my body’s going to feel.”


While the rest of the nation was battling a different kind of “quarantine 15,” over the past four months, Butler added weight to his 6’7’’ frame, hitting a solid 230 pounds, while at the same time dropping his body fat percentage to a ridiculous 4.3%. With the NBA season on hold, Scott had Butler switch to a carb-backloading—limited carbs throughout the day and loading up on carbs at night—approach to his diet. And the strategy, he says, worked.

“Since Jimmy wasn’t playing any games, he didn’t need so many carbohydrates to recover or need for fuel,” Scott says, saying that at Butler’s final meal, around 7 p.m. each night, his carbs would usually consist of healthy grains, some rice, quinoa or sweet potatoes.

“Our thing was like, if it came from the earth, we would eat it,” Scott says.


From a physical standpoint, the time off may have helped Butler today, Scott says. Prior to the shutdown, Butler was averaging more than 20 points a game for the Heat (At the same time, however, a host of injuries began piling up, including foot, back, hip, knees, ankle issues as well a toe injury that kept Butler out of the Heat’s last game against the Charlotte Hornets in March.)

“In a way, it was actually kind of a blessing because it gave Jimmy time to heal all those gentle bumps and bruises you get after 60 games in the season,” Scott says. “I’m sure most of the NBA players were feeling that way too. At that point in the season you’re kind of putting bandaids on a lot of things.

Working with Butler, Scott incorporates his own variation of the conjugate method of training, the popular formula made famous by Westside Barbell in which you constantly rotate exercises in and out of a program. “We don’t incorporate many max lifts for a basketball player,” he says.

In any given workout, Scott will have Butler perform dumbbell presses and rear-elevated split squats to increase strength, also adding in trap-bar and Vertimax machine jumps to increase explosive strength.

One constant in every workout, Scott says, is incorporating a medicine ball. For Butler, or any basketball player, quick reflexes are essential in any situation, from dishing to the open man to no-look passes. So Scott will throw in any number of variations—overhead throws, rotational throws, catch-and-pass, both single- or double-arm passes into Butler’s routine.

“We really focus on the speed-strength side of his fitness,” Scott says, advising that the medicine ball weight doesn’t need to be heavy. “We’re trying to move as quick as you can…This is what separates elite athletes. They don’t necessarily produce more force than non-elite athletes. They can just produce that force at a quicker rate.”

As a finisher, Scott tosses color-coded tennis balls at Butler as part of what he calls neurocognitive efficiency type training. Scott yells out a color, then tosses a ball that may or may not match his words. Butler is tasked with catching the right color and letting the wrong one fly by. Sounds easy, but Scott says, when time is winding down, you need to keep your mind right.

“Concentration can be a split-second decision for an athlete like Jimmy,” Scott says. “It could be the difference between winning and missing an assignment and giving up the winning basket.”

The physical and mental push Butler receives from Scott, has helped keep him focused and ready to continue his All-Star season.

“I think that’s one of the realest things he’s said, is ‘nobody cares,’” Butler says. “If you’re asking me to do 10 reps, man, I only got eight, just do the f***** ten. I guarantee you got ten. It’s all part of the mental. If you can do it, nobody’s going to clap for you.”

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