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Sky's Elena Delle Donne Builds Strength, Endurance Through 3-Hour Workouts

By Justin Breen | January 27, 2014 5:52am
 Chicago Sky star Elena Delle Donne said lack of strength was her biggest weakness as a WNBA rookie last year, so she's implemented a vigorous workout routine in the offseason.
Elena Delle Donne
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DEERFIELD — WNBA Rookie of the Year Elena Delle Donne had an opening campaign for the ages, averaging 18.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and earning the most votes for the league's All-Star Game.

The Chicago Sky star's mindset at the end of the year? She needed to gain strength and improve her endurance.

"My biggest weakness was I wasn't able to play a full 40 minutes a game," said Delle Donne, who averaged about 31.5 minutes per game a year ago. "I was exhausted by the end of games."

The result has been a four-day-a-week, 3-hour workout regimen orchestrated by Ann Crosby, the team's director of basketball operations and strength and conditioning coach. Crosby puts Delle Donne, 24, through clean and jerks, box jumps, wall taps, dead lifts, decline leg raises and other hellish exercises like quadruped thoracic rotation.

 Chicago Sky star Elena Delle Donne (r.) and assistant coach Christie Sides work out on Friday in Deerfield. The workout lasted about three hours.
Chicago Sky star Elena Delle Donne (r.) and assistant coach Christie Sides work out on Friday in Deerfield. The workout lasted about three hours.
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DNAinfo/Justin Breen

"I love Ann, but she has this evil laugh, like a heckling laugh, because she knows what exercise is coming next," said Delle Donne, the former University of Delaware phenom who was the No. 2 overall draft pick last year.

At least the 6-foot-5-inch guard/forward has company during her 180-minute workouts at the Sachs Recreation Center in Deerfield. That would be Sky assistant coach Christie Sides, who has been at every one of Delle Donne's sessions since they started in early November. The pair trains together every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. On Wednesdays, Delle Donne concentrates on basketball skills, while weekends are mandatory off days.

"More of my job is to make sure Elena is working out at the highest level possible that we can get her to," Sides said. "Last season, people were able to push her around, so the main focus was we had to put some muscle on her.

"She's been so successful her entire life, failing for her is not normal for her. We need her to fail at things."

That's pretty much what happened during the first few workouts. Delle Donne said she was "completely dead with almost unbearable soreness" following her hours in the gym.

"We swore a lot, not necessarily at Ann," Delle Donne said.

Things have improved greatly since then for Delle Donne, who said she's "definitely getting stronger." Delle Donne also said spending the equivalent time of a plane flight from Chicago to South Florida four days a week building body strength has become part of her routine.

Delle Donne, who now eats five meals a day, wants to gain about 8 pounds of muscle mass by May, the start of the 2014 WNBA regular season.

"That would be a good number," Crosby said. "I've been really happy with her progress. She's an easy athlete to work with because she's so athletic. I know she's 6-5, but she doesn't appear to be that awkward 6-5 kid who can't move."

Crosby's goal for Friday's strength training was to "increase the size of [Delle Donne's] skeletal muscles through increasing the size of the component cell."

The scientific term for the phrase is hypertrophy.

Cosmetically speaking, Sides hopes the workouts have a fun side effect.

"We joked by the end of this she's going to come out in a tight little top to show off all her muscles," she said.