GIVING HIS ALL AT FENWAY PARK STARTED 2,700 MILES AWAY
While former Boston Red Sox All-Star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra dazzled thousands of Fenway Park faithful for countless hours with his feats on the baseball diamond—arguably the most important work he did each year happened far away from Beantown—more than 2,700 miles away, in fact.
Tempe, Arizona, is the serene setting for Nomar’s grueling training sessions at Athletes’ Performance Institute.
By Nomar’s own admission, his time spent at Athletes’ Performance (AP) is critical to his athletic success.
“It’s my time to get mentally and physically ready, with no distractions. It’s what I need to carry myself through the season. This way, I know I’ve done everything I can to prepare myself.”
Nomar, the 1997 AL Rookie of the Year and perennial all-star is far from the only major league great making the off-season trip to Tempe. Among the other big names at AP are Nomar’s former teammate Curt Schilling, the Philadelphia Phillies’ Pat Burrell and the New York Mets’ Doug Mientkiewicz.
The real secret to Nomar’s success is not how far he travels to get to Athlete’s Performance, but how he trains once he gets there. To make that information available to you, we caught up with Athletes’ Performance’s Craig Friedman, who helps design and implement the performance training programs for AP’s professional baseball player clients.
AP’s baseball programs are less about bulk and more about generating flexibility and ‘functional’ movement. All programs have a goal that centers on the term ‘innervation,’ which is the process of putting lean muscle mass on the body in a manner consistent with performing baseball-related movements. “The term ‘innervation’ refers to our focus on the nervous system in training,” Friedman says.
“The most trainable thing that an athlete has is his or her nervous system.”
To illustrate this point, think of a young athlete that lifts weights for the first time. He or she makes very rapid gains, but those gains aren’t at the muscular level, they are at the neurological level. The gains are made through an efficiency improvement in overall move-ment—and AP tries to produce those same initial rapid training gains seen among new lifters in those athletes who have lifted weights for years.
AP trains the nervous system through a movement-based approach to training. “Everything that we do is geared towards augmenting our athletes’ on-the-field movement,” explains Friedman, “So we focus on body movements rather than the individual parts of the body.”
Remember why those young athletes made such rapid gains when they first began lifting? It was all a result of their movements becoming more efficient. That’s what you want to do with your off-season training program—improve the efficiency of your baseball specific movements.
If you’re not sure how to put that advice to use, Friedman can help you organize a program that will improve your baseball specific movements by strengthening your mid-section.
“If you think about movement, whether it be fielding, running the bases or swinging the bat, all movements are going to originate from the mid-section or the core, so the mid-section should be a focal point in any baseball training program.”
To strengthen the mid-section, AP places a strong emphasis on medicine ball training.
Medicine ball training for mid-section strength is divided into two planes of movement: linear and rotational. In both linear and rotational medicine ball training, low repetitions (4 to 6) or high repetitions (15 to 20) can be incorporated. Four examples of linear med ball training are the chest pass, overhead throw, squat-to-press pass and granny toss. An example of rotational med ball training is the simulation of swinging a bat with the medicine ball. Note that repetitions should not exceed between 4 and 6 for the squat-to-press pass and granny toss because these exercises are compound movements.
When working with low reps or “big throws,” an athlete will stand far away from the wall and throw the med ball as far and as hard as possible. When working with high reps, the movements are much smaller and faster—short response movements. In this instance, an athlete will stand close to a wall and rapidly fire the med ball in the respective motion against the wall and repeat.
Friedman suggests working with medicine balls two times per week when beginning an off-season training program. Each training day, both linear and rotational movements should be included.
In the following two training days, focus on corrective exercises geared toward improving general mobility and stability. As you progress in your program and get better at the movements, split the med ball training to linear movements on Monday and Thursday, and rotational movements on Tuesday and Friday. In a three-day-a-week program, alternate linear and rotational movements throughout the duration of your program. Regardless of the number of days you train per week, you will want to complete 2 to 3 sets of each movement. It also is a good idea to progress from high reps to low reps of the med ball movements.
When working with med balls, the emphasis should be on the quality and structural integrity of the movement—not on the weight of the ball. “We keep medicine ball stuff fairly light in weight and concentrate on moving the ball very fast. Once an athlete is able to do that well, then we’ll go heavier. But we definitely start with the 2 kilogram balls and just think about structurally keeping things sound and moving the ball very fast,” says Friedman. So, whether you’re doing low or high reps, the focus during med ball training should be on the quality and speed of the movement.
By incorporating AP’s philosophy of training into your off-season program, not only will you be able to train like the pros—you’ll be setting yourself up for Nomar-like success this upcoming season.
The chest pass involves passing the ball from your chest using both hands. Your feet should be set shoulder width apart and your thumbs should be pointed down throughout the movement.
The overhead pass involves the same lower body position as the chest pass, but occurs over the head with two hands.
The squat-to-press pass starts in a perfect squat position with thighs parallel to the ground. Then, complete a chest pass.
The granny toss differs greatly from the other linear med ball movements, as the athlete must throw the ball underhand using both hands. The movement is so named because it mimics how a grandma might shoot a three-pointer in basketball.
Med Ball Swing
In the med ball swing simulation rotational movement, pretend the medicine ball is a bat and perform the correct swinging motion, throwing the ball as your arms cross your body.