It's an eruption of immense violence and power masked by a calm, smooth and peaceful exterior. Hidden from view, every muscle fiber contracts and quickly releases energy in perfect coordination, sending a surge of power from the ground up. Not until the baseball explodes off his bat do you realize the brute force that Joey Votto has packed into another mighty swing.
At the moment of contact, Joey's feet are in contact with the ground and his hands are in contact with the bat. Between those two points, every element of his body seamlessly connects in a rhythmic, relaxed harmony. This effective connection generates the elastic power Joey unleashed on the 37 home run swings and numerous other cuts that drove in 113 runs in 2010.
"Elastic power is all about getting the body to connect," says Corey Stenstrup, Joey's off-season performance coach at the IMG Academies. "Look at a swing or a jump [and notice] there's a certain degree of harmony. It should look smooth. No matter how violent and explosive [the] movement, it should still look calm, smooth and clean when done correctly."
Stenstrup's description of elastic power seems straightforward, but the intricate methods he and the reigning NL MVP employ to achieve it are quite complex. Their current regimen is a far cry from Joey's first training experience—a basic routine prescribed by his parents that involved lifting soup cans at various angles.
At a time when Joey stunk at baseball (his own words), the soup cans provided a simple solution that gave rise to something big. "That was the first time I learned that I could make improvements and apply it to sport," Joey recalls. "When I continued to stink, my father and my mother told me that I had to do something about it. From there, I noticed improvement and thought, 'That's pretty good stuff. Hard work does pay off.'"
Early in life, Joey considered himself an average athlete. He played basketball, but "wasn't that good or that fast" and "couldn't jump as well as any reasonable athlete." Despite growing up in Toronto, he never liked hockey, citing his poor skating skills, his family's inability to afford the expensive equipment and his aversion to 5 a.m. practices.
His formative workouts with soup cans and almost immediate improvement on the diamond helped Joey discover his destiny. Inspired by an important lesson, the average athlete hit the bookstore. "I wanted to make sure I was doing things right," Joey recalls. "So I bought books about plyometrics and weight training and books about what athletes and Olympians did to get better."
Armed with knowledge, Joey embarked on the same ambitious routine every day. "I would wake up, go to school and then lift weights at lunch, once I started lifting at 16 years old," he says. "When school ended, I would do my baseball stuff for two to three hours…every single day."
During the frigid Canadian winters, Joey attacked his baseball training at an indoor facility owned by one of his coaches. When summer came, he moved his training outside to an immaculate ballpark run by the same coach. "I was so lucky to have a place to practice 12 months out of the year," Joey says. "When it was summer, I would go to the ballpark and hop on the field to hit for three or four hours, throw for an hour and then I would do uphill [sprints]."
Joey's year-round routine transformed the average athlete into a legitimate pro prospect. By the time he finished high school, Joey had dramatically improved his athleticism. He was dunking a basketball with the best of them, but it did little to alter his decision to pursue professional baseball. The dream had evolved into an expectation.
During his final two seasons in high school, Joey made the confident decision to hit exclusively with wooden bats, dampening his high school stats for an expected future reward. "I always thought I was going to be a pro ball player," he says. "I thought I had a really good shot at getting drafted, and I wanted to make sure my hands were strong and that I practiced with what I would be playing with for the rest of my career. That's pretty arrogant for a 16-year-old to be saying, huh? [laughs]"
Joey's strong hands wielded a heavy bat as he scorched opposing pitchers during his fifth year of high school (the final year for students in Canada), which was crucial, because MLB scouts saw Joey display skills he hadn't possessed the year before. His explosive production earned the bold slugger a (now legendary) tryout with the Cincinnati Reds.
The tryout took place in the afternoon before a Reds night game, which allowed for the team's current players and entire front office, including Johnny Bench and manager Bob Boone, to watch prospects flex their hitting prowess. "Ken Griffey Jr. was there getting ready for the ballgame that day," Joey recalls. "He walked behind the cage when I was stepping up to hit, and I turned and said, 'Hey everybody, who's this?' and I started doing the Griffey swagger."
After imitating Griffey's pre-hit waggle, Joey proceeded to dribble an infield grounder. An onlooker taunted, "Griff wouldn't do that!" Joey then took his stance and sent the next pitch into the outfield seats of Riverfront Stadium. He ended up cranking four balls out of the park during his hitting session. "It was a great experience," he says, grinning.
The Reds were sold and drafted Joey in 2002.
Thereafter, Joey endured a two-year strike in the minors and was assigned to every level over his five-year stint. He played well at each level, but he didn't get his Major League call until 2007. "I was more angry than anything," he says. "I was relieved to some extent… but I felt like I was ready a year and a half before that. In hindsight, I'm the ballplayer I am today because of my time down there."
During his journey through the minors and first few seasons in the Bigs, Joey never lost his desire or focus. "People will say, 'You've got to get motivated!'" he says. "But I learned that motivation is so overrated. Don't worry about trying to feel motivated or worry about emotions and fears. Just do what you have to do. I just think about execution and finishing what I've started."
Joey started the 2010 season on a tear and finished up just as hot. His MVP performance fell just short of a Triple Crown. He hit .324 and slugged an NL leading .600. He was near the top in almost every offensive category while leading the Reds to the post-season. "The season went quickly," Joey says. "It was great to be in first place, win the division and play with great guys, but we got our butts kicked by the Phillies in the playoffs. Hopefully we'll pass them this year and go to the World Series."
The Joey Votto Workout
With his eyes set on passing the Phillies—and everyone else—on the way to a World Series championship, Joey reunited with Stenstrup this past off-season.
Joey Votto's workouts at IMG run from November until spring training. "He makes his money during the season, but he earns it here during the off-season," Stenstrup says. "This is a layered program that focuses on getting the biggest gains from what he puts in. We do this by targeting areas that need the most work."
Joey is already strong, so he and Stenstrup spend little time developing pure strength. Instead, they focus on increasing mobility and power. "I am looking to feel healthier and lighter throughout the year and be more efficient with my body," Joey says. "I played at about 230 last year. I'd like to play at about 225 this year. I think I can feel a little better throughout the season at that weight. I want to feel agile, play great defense and have a ton of power at the plate."
Stenstrup facilitates these goals by taking Joey through demanding, high-quality workouts that promote force transfer from his feet up (like that aforementioned MVP swing). "We make sure all the muscles, bones and joints of his feet will be able to move and shift and connect with the ground," Stenstrup explains. "We want that force transfer from the feet, through the hips, to the shoulders and through his hands."
Joey trains at IMG five to six times per week during the off-season. Votto's explosive workout below has been the key to developing his epic swing.
1. Elastic Power Circuit
(Watch video of Joey Votto improving explosive hitting power for baseball.)
Perform circuit twice, resting briefly between circuits
A. Depth Drops With Recoil
- Assume athletic stance on edge of box or bench
- Step off box and drop to floor
- Land with knees bent and weight evenly distributed
- Lower into squat to absorb force, then immediately drive through ground to perform small recoil jump
Stenstrup: We begin with this exercise because it's most demanding on the nervous system. Joey uses a 36-inch box, but the height should be progressed from a lower box. We want to see the initial distribution of force and then that force rekindling itself back up. You see recoil right away. It's one smooth, elastic movement.
B. Med Ball Clean and Press
- In athletic stance, grip heavy med ball resting on object about six inches off ground
- Keeping chest above hips, explosively extend hips, knees and ankles while shrugging with straight arms
- Pull ball close to body, drop into squat and catch ball at shoulders
- Explosively extend lower body and arms to drive ball overhead for maximum height
- Reset and repeat
Stenstrup: The heavy ball allows [Joey's] arms to stay within the framework of his body. After the Clean, he tries to get that elastic response off the ground to create as much vertical force as possible.
C. Suspended Traction
- Hang from rings or pull-up bar so that heels barely touch floor
- Without shifting pelvis, raise one knee to waist level and slightly inward while pushing down with other leg
- Lower leg and repeat with opposite leg; continue in alternating fashion
Sets/Reps: 2x3 each leg or about 20-30 seconds
Stenstrup: This provides a great lengthening and decompression aspect for his entire body, specifically his spine and hips.
2. Lower-Body Strength Circuit
(Watch video of Joey Votto's lower-body strength circuit for baseball.)
Perform circuit twice, resting briefly between circuits
A. Step-Back Lunge With Elastic Stabilization
- Assume athletic stance holding band resistance from right with right arm overhead
- Keeping arm straight, step back with right leg into lunge position
- Drive up and forward, finishing with right knee up in front
- Repeat for specified reps; perform set on opposite side
Stenstrup: [This exercise] forces him to find his center and stabilize through the movement.
B. Med Ball Bulgarian Squat
- Assume split stance with top of back foot flat on bench; hold med ball at chest
- Keeping chest up and front knee behind toes, lower until front thigh is parallel to ground
- Drive up to start and repeat
Sets/Reps: 2x3 each leg
Stenstrup: We want to see his shoulders back, chest forward and hips back as he performs a clean up-and-down action.
C. Keiser Squat
Hold Dumbbells at shoulders if KeiserSquat machine is not available
- Assume athletic position on Keiser Squat machine
- Lower until tops of thighs are parallel to ground
- Explode up to start position and repeat
Stenstrup: We take the single-leg aspect from the previous exercise into a double leg aspect. The air-loaded resistance doesn't allow for inertia, so he can be as explosive as possible. We want a clean, quick eight reps.
D. Double-Arm Overhead Walk
Perform with light dumbbells or EZ Curl bars before advancing to full barbells
- In athletic stance, hold a barbell in each hand with arms straight overhead
- Maintaining posture, walk forward 10 yards and make 180-degree turn to left
- Walk 10 yards back to start, turn to right
- Continue for specified distance
Sets/Reps: 2x40 yards
Stenstrup: Stabilize throughout the turns, don't allow the bars to dictate where your body goes. We start with light, short bars and work to longer, heavier ones.
E. Infant Squat With Rotation
- In athletic stance, hold light object with both hands directly overhead
- Squat and bring object to ground between feet
- Keeping one hand on object, rotate opposite arm toward ceiling and hold against partner's resistance
- Return hand to object and rotate opposite arm up
Sets/Duration: 2x30 seconds each side
Stenstrup: There's a little manual resistance and lengthening going on. He's focusing on bringing the crown of his head one way and his tailbone in the opposite direction to lengthen his spine.
3. Upper-Body Strength Circuit
(Watch video of Joey Votto's upper-body strength circuit for baseball.)
Perform circuit twice, resting briefly between circuits
A. Heavy Ball Floor Press With Adduction
- Lie on back holding heavy med ball at chest
- With legs raised and light object [e.g., yoga block] between knees, press ball toward ceiling until arms are straight
- Lower ball to chest and repeat
Stenstrup: Squeezing the block between his knees [locks in] his pelvis. We don't want any back movement, so he keeps his belly button sucked in. We coach him to pull the ball down to his chest, which keeps his hands engaged by forcing him to squeeze the ball.
B. Towel Pull-Up With Twist
- Grip towels hanging from pull-up bar at shoulder width, and squeeze block between knees
- Pull body up until shoulders are above elbows
- Without rocking or swinging, slowly rotate knees to one side. Slowly rotate back to center
- Lower until arms are straight. Repeat, rotating to opposite side
- Continue in alternating fashion
Sets/Reps: 2x3 each side
Stenstrup: We are looking for him to use his arms and hands while stabilizing his body. Make sure to maintain your posture.
C. Kettlebell Chair Shoulder Press
- Hold kettlebell or dumbbell with both hands in front of shoulders
- Sit hips back and lower into quarter squat
- Holding squat position, drive weight forward and up overhead
- Return weight to start position and repeat
Stenstrup: This is great for the middle part of the back. Focus on maintaining your posture with your chest up. Equally distribute the force throughout the bottom of your feet, not just your heels. This should be very controlled.
D. Band W
- Secure tubing to stable object and hold it in front with both hands
- Form W with arms by bringing elbows to shoulder level
- Slightly rotate hands away from resistance; return to start position
- Repeat quickly for specified reps
Stenstrup: We don't do a lot of stretching. We try to do short action movements to flush out the muscles instead. This is a quick movement that focuses on posture and a small range of motion performed very precisely over and over. This keeps everything strong through his rotator cuff.