Justin Morneau's Off-Season Training Routine

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Justin Morneau sacrificed his high school social life for baseball. Some people might say he missed out on the best years of his life. Others might think that limiting his social life was a hefty price to pay for a shot at the pros. Morneau is not one of those people. 

From the beginning, Morneau was destined to do two things: play hockey and play baseball. Hockey was a given for this naturally athletic Canadian. Baseball, though, was not, as the game lacks the puck's popularity up north—especially for a guy of Justin's stature [6'4", 225].

Thank God popularity never fueled Morneau's passion for the game. Instead, he found inspiration elsewhere, starting with his parents. His father, who played baseball in his youth, served as Justin's hitting coach until he was 16. Responsible for his left handed swing is Morneau's mom, who was an accomplished fast-pitch softball player when she was younger.

Other influencing factors in Justin's choice to play ball were fellow Canadian Larry Walker and the Toronto Blue Jays. Walker starred in the outfield for the Montreal Expos from 1989 to 1994. In 1995, he was traded to the Colorado Rockies, and two years later he took home the NL MVP title—the first Canadian to score the honor.

In 1992 and 1993, when Justin was in his formative years as an 11- and 12-year-old, the Jays won back-to-back World Series Championships, with John Olerud as their first baseman. "John Olerud was one of my favorites. Obviously Larry Walker, too, but I'd pretend to be [Olerud] a lot when we played whiffle ball in the backyard," Morneau says. "I tried to swing like him. I've looked at videos, and our swings are pretty similar."

Justin transitioned from a dual- to a single-sport athlete when he was 16, simply by turning down an invitation to training camp for a Canadian Junior Hockey Team. "I had a pretty good summer playing baseball, so I decided to not go to the training camp," he says. "They called me a couple times to ask and make sure that I didn't want to play hockey. That's when I knew what I wanted to do.

His decision to forgo a possible career in his country's beloved sport quickly proved to be the right one. In 1999, two years after Morneau ditched the skates, the Minnesota Twins drafted him out of high school in the third round. By 2003, he worked his way through the farm system to make his major league debut. Morneau's true talent shined in 2006, only one year after he completed his first full major league season. He powered up at the plate for 34 homeruns, 130 RBIs and a .321 batting average. Following in the footsteps of one of his childhood idols, Morneau earned his league's MVP title.

Despite his huge accomplishments in America's favorite pastime, Morneau gets little attention in his Canadian hometown. "Baseball is not even close to being on the same scale as hockey," he says. "I can go pretty much anywhere in Vancouver and not be recognized." And although he doesn't get the fame or prestige of a pro hockey player, Morneau has no regrets about choosing baseball; it's the sport he was always most dedicated to. "I worked hard at baseball," he says. "I set up my high school schedule so I didn't have class during the middle of the day so I could get to the batting cages. I'd be the only one in there hitting as much as I wanted for hours at a time."

More than just his class schedule, Justin centered every aspect of his high school life around baseball. He looked beyond the season and into the future, so he could be the best baseball player today, tomorrow and in the future, when he'd have a pro career. He says, "I always did stuff a little different. I'd always be the first one to the park and the last one to leave. Everything revolved around what I was going to do in baseball for that day; it's all that mattered. I didn't think about anything else. My friends would go hang out late at night, but I never did that in high school. I always had a game or practice the next day I'd be thinking about. So when they were out late, I'd be home watching TV or sleeping."

Setting Justin even further apart from the typical high school kid, he never considered it a sacrifice to stay home instead of hanging with friends. Justin was doing what he wanted to do and what was necessary to make a career out of the game he loves. "In the winter, I'd be in the batting cages blocking balls for half an hour at a time, then I'd hit until my hands bled," he says. "But I don't really consider those things a sacrifice. That was fun for me, and that was what I loved doing. It's what I needed to do. There were times I'd look around at all my friends who were going out, and I'd just be playing baseball all the time. I look back now and realize it was completely worth it because I get to do what I love for a living."

Fully dedicating himself to becoming the best player possible would allow Morneau to walk away from the game—whether he made it to the pros or not—with no regrets. "Even if you don't make it to the big leagues, you should work hard so you can look back and know you tried as hard as you could," he says. "Sometimes you just don't have enough talent, but it's a lot easier to live with that than to have to look back and say 'I wish I would have done this or that.'"

Morneau has continued working hard through every off-season. This year, to really take his game to the next level, he is training at Twist Conditioning, working with strength coaches Peter Twist [president and CEO], Miki Kawahara [manager of baseball conditioning] and Dean Shiels [vice president of athlete conditioning]. Along with the rest of the Twist staff, these three coaches oversee every aspect of Justin's training to ensure that he'll be ready for another season of dominating MVP type numbers.

Maybe one day, Morneau's stellar play will convert some of Vancouver's hockey faithful into diehard baseball fans—or at least Justin Morneau fans.

The way Twist, Kawahara and Shiels were moving purposely around their weight room on this Thursday morning, you'd think an entire baseball team was coming in to train. But when 10:45 hit the clock, just four men entered the facility. Not just any four men, though; they are four of Canada's best products: Baltimore Orioles pitcher Adam Loewen and outfielder Adam Stern, New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Guiel and, of course, Justin Morneau— all of whom played on the Canadian National Team that beat the USA in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. While this foursome makes up Twist's first batch of professional baseball clients, the Vancouver-based group has trained nearly 700 professional athletes, including hockey, soccer and football players.

Using a three-or-four coach-to-player ratio, the Twist training staff can tailor workouts specific to each athlete's individual needs, then work hands-on to execute the program. For Morneau, the training focuses on improving his already-existing strengths. "Everyone knows Justin and what his forte is; he's a smart athlete who can hit the ball well," Twist says. "For him, at the end of the day, he needs power. And since Justin is a go-to player, we're concerned with him in terms of durability. We want him to handle high volume so he can stay in the game."

Kawahara echoes Twist's point, adding that rotary power will help Morneau translate his strength into greater pop at the plate. "We know how powerful Justin is," Kawahara says. "But if we teach him how to link his legs, and especially his core, into his rotary movements more, he will transfer power more efficiently."

After a thorough warm-up, the players' workouts call for standing core work, shoulder strength, weight training and finally, floor core work. Each segment and the exercises within train both the muscles and nervous system for maximum results. Twist says, "I use a computer as an analogy: Most training works on the hard drive, so we do that a lot. However, we also want to work on the software so it's smarter. So we train the muscles and the neural system to produce an athlete who is not only stronger, but also more skillful and a better overall athlete."

Although all four players' workouts integrate the same segments, the exercises included are slightly different based on the demands of their positions. While the two outfielders focus a bit more on acceleration to help them cover their region of the field, and the pitcher concentrates on shoulder stability with less rest between sets to mimic the demands of a day on the mound, Justin works more lateral movements to replicate what he does at his post on first base.

Justin's massive workout, which is part of a four-day-a-week training plan, takes more than two hours to complete from start to finish. Check out one of his complete weight-training complexes as well as a sample of exercises from the segments included in this particular day's workout.

Warm-up

To get his blood flowing and his body prepared for the more intense part of his workout, Justin starts with a dynamic warm up. The coaches at Twist prescribe 5 to 7 multi-directional movements through a series of cones set up in a zigzag pattern. Besides preventing the boredom associated with simple down-and-back, linear patterns, "the zigzag allows you to do things you can't do as well in a linear warm-up, like plants, cuts and changes of direction," Kawahara says.

After the zigzag drills, Justin works on quick feet, coordination, and the ability to plant, change direction and balance through the speed ladder.

Walking Lunge with Rotation

• Set up six cones five to seven yards apart in zigzag pattern
• Step into lunge in direction of first cone
• Drop hips until back knee is one to two inches off ground
• Rotate upper body with arms at shoulder level to same side as forward leg
• Step forward with opposite leg; repeat
• Continue pattern moving from cone to cone
• Repeat zigzag pattern twice, using jog back to start as rest

Shiel: Make sure to hold for two seconds at the bottom of the lunge; keep your arms at shoulder height, cycle the leg out as far as possible with each step and really drop the hips into the lunge.

Kawahara: We employ the Walking Lunge with Rotation toward the end of the dynamic warm-up to put the muscles through the range of motion they'll be experiencing during the workout. The lunge gets a nice, long stretch for the hip flexors and works the glutes and hamstrings. The rotation gets the lower back warmed up without too much force or weight.

Ickey Shuffle Stick

• Move through speed ladder with a two-feet-in, one-foot-out pattern:
–Right foot in, left foot in; right foot out to right side; pause on right foot for one count
–Explosively drive off right foot and step left foot forward into second square, followed by right foot in same square; left foot out to left side; pause on left foot for one count
–Continue pattern for entire length of ladder
• Repeat four times, twice quickly and twice with stick. Use walk back to start for rest

Kawahara: With the hold, we're working on single-leg stability and balance on the outside, which is so important for hitting and throwing foot work. We're also making Justin quicker and more explosive off his outside foot by holding and then driving off that foot into the next square. This transfers well for him as a first baseman, since he needs short quick footwork to make outside turns or inside pivots for a throw to second.

Core Prep

The majority of our core work is done standing to work on stability and rotation," Twist says. "We integrate movement into the drills so the athletes have to activate their core during the movement, not just when they're static."

Isometric Hockey Stick Hold

• Stand holding hockey stick with hands 18 inches apart and legs split front to back
• Press end of hockey stick against squat rack at waist height
• Hold position for 10 seconds keeping constant pressure
• Continue applying pressure for 10 additional seconds, but continually switching feet placement front to back
• Repeat for opposite side
• Perform 2 sets with 30-45 seconds rest between them

Kawahara: As you start switching your feet, really focus on keeping the same amount of pressure through the rack.

Partner Physioball Hold and Push

• In athletic stance, hold physioball and extend arms at chest level
• Facing you, partner stands with feet together and one arm extended, touching physioball
• Partner pushes physioball 5 times with left hand, then 5 times with right
• Resist partner's pushes, holding physioball in place
• Switch to standing with feet together and hand touching physioball, while partner resists pushes
• Next set, partner holding ball chops feet laterally, with out-out-in-in pattern, while keeping ball stationary
• Repeat twice with minimal rest between

Kawahara: This drill relates to being stronger at contact when hitting. You'll be able to accelerate through the baseball, rather than losing speed on the bat when you hit it.

Rotator Cuff Work

Justin performs several drills to strengthen and condition his rotator cuffs, which protect his shoulders from the wear and tear of the 162-game season. "Over an entire season, he throws a lot, so muscular endurance in the shoulders is very important," Kawahara says. To accomplish this, Justin performs 2 sets of 12 to 15 reps, using only a 2½-pound weight in each hand. He performs most of the drills lying face down on an incline bench, so he can fully extend his arms without his hands touching the floor and work his full ranges of motion.

Prone L

• Lie face down on incline bench
• Hold 2½-pound weight in each hand with arms extended toward floor
• Pinching shoulder blades together, raise elbows to shoulder height with 90-degree bend in arm and forearms pointed toward floor
• Maintain 90-degree bend as you rotate hands toward ceiling
• Rotate hands back toward floor and return arms to starting position

Prone Y

• Lie face down on incline bench
• Hold 2½-pound weight in each hand with arms extended toward floor
• Raise both arms toward ceiling at 45-degree angle, thumbs pointing up
• Keeping arms fully extended, return to starting position

Weight Training Complex

Training days include two complexes, each consisting of five to six lifts performed one after another with no rest. Once Justin completes one set of each lift, he takes a break, then starts over. He performs three sets of the first complex, then moves on to the second. "We use the complexes to tie the body together and overload the nervous system," Shiel says. "We want to challenge the muscles and the mind."

Justin's workout on this day incorporated two full-body complexes, rather than ones focused on either his upper or lower body. This is because he missed a day of training due to travel. The first complex included exercises that work more of the major muscle groups and prime movers of the body. The second focused on more explosive movements and smaller muscle groups. Here is a breakdown of the second complex.

Rotary Sled Pull

• Stand holding strap attached to weight sled to right
• Lower hips into quarter squat and rotate hips slightly toward sled
• Drag sled forward by exploding out of squat and rotating hips and upper body left, with arms extended at chest level
• Repeat with sled to opposite side
• Perform 8 reps per side

Kawahara: The biggest part of this drill is driving off the back hip and getting that back foot fully extended as you rotate. Really work on tying the upper and lower body together.

Med Ball Toss

• Stand in athletic stance with partner 10 to 15 feet to your left
• Catch med ball from partner, squat and rotate right
• Twist and drive off both legs and use one hand to shot put med ball back to partner
• Release med ball at 45-degree angle
• Perform 8 reps per side

Kawahara: We package the Med Ball Toss with the Rotary Sled Pull because both focus on tying the lower and upper body together while working the core. The Sled Pull is a little slower with heavier weight, which leads well into the Med Ball Toss, allowing that to be really explosive. Justin can let go of the med ball as he drives off the backside.

Core Work

This batch of core work is focused on strength development and is aimed at overcoming weaknesses and incorporating more baseball specific movements—in contrast with the previous core exercises, which are more suitable for a warm-up.

Foot Harness Side-to-Side Knee Tuck

• Place feet in harnesses attached to cords hanging from top of squat rack
• Start in push-up position with left hand slightly farther up than right
• Pull knees up to side of chest and toward left arm
• Slowly control legs back to starting position
• Switch hand placements; repeat to opposite side
• Perform 10 reps on each side twice, with 60-75 seconds of rest

Kawahara: Because Justin's feet are supported, he's working shoulder stability in addition to his core. With the knee tuck, we're really trying to engage his lower abs and work his hip flexors. We want him to squeeze and pause at the top, then slowly control his legs back, which really overloads the core and develops good strength.

Bosu Suitcase Crunch with Med Ball

• Lie face-up with Bosu under lower back
• Keep shoulders and feet off ground
• Hold 2-4 pound medicine ball in both hands with arms extended overhead
• Perform crunch while pulling knees toward chest and bringing med ball toward knees
• Perform 8 reps on each side twice, with 60-75 seconds of rest

Kawahara: Because the Bosu is dome-shaped, it exaggerates any movement Justin makes; he can tip off or lose his balance very easily. So, he has to be a lot more reactionary—by reading and responding to the environment, which really works his core. The dome forces him to work his upper abs to keep his back from rounding over the Bosu and his lower abs to keep his hips up, so he's working very hard before he even starts the crunch.

Physioball Dumbbell Bench

• Lie with upper back on physioball, holding dumbbell in one hand
• Keeping feet flat on floor and hips up, press dumbbell from chest until arm is fully extended
• Reach dumbbell up as far as possible; hold for two counts
• Return dumbbell to chest
• Repeat for opposite arm
• Perform 8 per side

Kawahara: This is similar to a lot of regular chest presses, but Justin finishes with a reach so he is able to get more range of motion and engage the core more with that pause. It also works on some rotation and stability because he's on the physioball.

Bungee Straight Arm Fly

• Stand with right hand holding bungee cord, which is attached to top of squat rack to your right
• With arm fully extended to right and hand slightly above shoulder level, pull arm across body to opposite hip
• Control arm back to starting position
• Repeat for opposite side
• Perform 8 per side

Shiel: Because Justin is standing, this drill works the pec and core simultaneously.

Bungee Lateral Extension

• Stand with left hand holding bungee cord, which is attached to top of squat rack to your right
• With arm extended across body at shoulder level and palm facing body, pull hand to left until it is one to two feet away from left hip and palm faces away from body
• Control arm back to starting position
• Repeat for opposite side
• Perform 8 per side. Rest 60 to 90 seconds, then repeat complex from beginning.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: STRENGTH TRAINING | BASEBALL | TRAIN