Strength Training with Eric Chavez

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Some blame the era of "big business baseball." Others point to overpaid sluggers who refuse to dig out ground balls. Maybe it's the spoiled millionaires who show up to spring training either unprepared or with suspiciously large biceps. Whatever it is, the passion, love and support for America's pastime have been damaged.

A few overexposed problems and athletes have overshadowed the fact that most players still bust their butts to remain on top. Because despite what cynics believe, the Major League off-season is not about arbitration, questionable supplements and salary disputes. It's about old-fashioned preparation—players working to get their minds right and bodies ready for the upcoming season.

If you're a fan who's turned your back on the game, prepare to fall in love again. You will undoubtedly find solace—and a new faith in baseball—after studying Eric Chavez's dedication and work habits. The will of this man isn't rooted in a desire for recognition. It's not about the paper. It's about his pride and loyalty to the equally dedicated men who don the Oakland uniform alongside him. The game welcomes you back—no hard feelings. >>>

"Part of being an athlete in any sport is having pride-regardless of the situation. And that goes all the way down to your preparation," Chavez says. "You owe it to yourself-and the team that has put faith in you-to always work to get better. In the off season, do everything in your power to improve physically."

Every off-season, energized with this fortitude and pride, Chavez heads to Athletes' Performance, Tempe, Ariz., to train with performance specialist Mark Verstegen. Chavez's dedication to training quickly became clear to Verstegen: "Eric loves being able to perform at his best-and his results speak for themselves. He exemplifies what an athlete can do to maximize his career."

Chavez reciprocates the respect. "AP's training is something special," he says. "They've gotten me away from traditional weightlifting-walking into the gym, lifting heavy and leaving all swoll. In this program, everything we do-every stretch, exercise and drill-has a purpose and incorporates what I do on the baseball field."

AP's comprehensive program aims to supply Chavez with every tool he needs to exploit his baseball ability. "We want to keep Eric's range at a world-class level and improve his time from home to first. We also want to optimize his power output pound for pound-rotationally and linearly," Verstegen says. "This relative power and quickness is what baseball is all about."

Improving Chavez's already-sick game comes from what Verstegen calls "the rubber band effect," "We first work on Eric's stability-you can't store or release energy without stability," Verstegen says. "After that, we work mobility to bring the energy into the muscle, and improve elasticity, power and efficiency to increase his range, arm speed and ability to drive the ball harder."

Chavez says AP has helped him generate a "snap" and power different from any other training he has experienced. "That's why I keep coming back," he explains. "After my first year here, I could generate so much more power at the plate. The exercises that help me create that quick snap and rotational power are great for me. Baseball is a game of fractions of seconds, and generating power within those fractions is what I try to do. That's what separates the best."

Beyond improving Chavez's offensive power and defensive movements, AP works toward preventing shoulder injuries, which are common among Big Leaguers. Verstegen says, "The training protects Eric's body against the natural wear and tear of the game." At the end of last season, Chavez was experiencing problems with his throwing shoulder. Instead of surgery, he returned to AP, entrusting his shoulder to Verstegen's program. He says, "They really focus on rotator cuff work and exercises to strengthen the little muscles in there. We also avoid lifting heavy weights overhead."

The 12th man in history to hit 30 homeruns in a Gold Glove-winning season, Chavez has returned to his off-season training hungrier than ever. He says, "I want my power numbers to be up—I am shooting for career highs in RBI and homeruns this year. I'm dedicating myself to this workout process, because I think this is going to be a big year for our organization— one of those years when everything comes together."

If dedication and pride define you the way they do Eric Chavez, get ready for your own career-best season.

Verstegen estimates that 65 to 70 percent of baseball injuries result from overuse. "Our prehab is a proactive way to head off the most common injuries baseball players experience from overuse," he says. "We set out to protect Eric's body on a fundamental level by making sure his mobility and stability are clean in efficient movement patterns." Only after the fundamentals are established, Verstegen & Co. work on building Eric's performance.

Tennis Ball Thoracic Mobs
Targeted muscle: Mid back

  • Tape two tennis balls together to form peanut shape
  • Lie on back; position tennis balls vertically under thoracic spine (mid to upper back)
  • Bend knees to 90-degree angle
  • Hold arms straight above chest pointing to ceiling
  • Without arching lower back, lower one arm until it's overhead, then move arm back to start position
  • Repeat with opposite arm and continue alternating for specified reps
  • Move balls up spine one to two inches each set

Miniband Walk—Linear
Targeted muscles: Abductors, adductors, glutes, hip flexors

  • With miniband around knees, assume shoulder-width stance with slight bend in knees
  • Walk forward slowly for specified reps
  • Maintain tight pillar and bent knees
  • Walk backward for specified reps to constitute one set

Miniband Walk—Lateral Bent
Targeted muscles: Abductors, adductors, glutes, hip flexors

  • With miniband around knees, assume shoulder-width stance with slight bend in knees
  • Shuffle left slowly for specified reps
  • Maintain tight pillar and bent knees
  • Repeat to right

Shoulder External Rotation at 30 Degrees
Targeted muscles: Rotator cuff, back of shoulder

  • Stand with shoulders perpendicular to cable machine
  • Make sure chest is up, abs are drawn in
  • Hold handle with outside hand, then bend that arm to 90-degree angle, keeping elbow four inches from ribs
  • Without moving elbow or rotating body, rotate hand outward
  • Return to start position with control; repeat

Verstegen implements movement prep to increase Chavez's core temperature and improve mobility through dynamic movements. "By simulating movement patterns he uses on the field, this prep also builds symmetry between the left and right, and front and back of Eric's body. We consider his pillar strength—the complete integration of his shoulder, torso and hip stability—the foundation of the whole program. When those work together harmoniously during movement patterns, the force transfer is much stronger."

Forward Lunge-Forearm to Instep
Targeted muscles: Hips, hamstrings, lower back, torso, groin, hip flexors, quads

  • Take large step forward with left foot and lower into lunge position
  • Place right hand down, even with left foot to support your weight
  • Keep back knee off ground and reach left elbow down to instep of left foot
  • Move left hand outside of left foot, straighten left leg by pushing hips toward sky and pulling left toe toward shin
  • Step forward with right foot into next lunge; repeat over specified distance

Backward Lunge with Twist
Targeted muscles: Hip flexors, quads, core

  • Step back with right leg into lunge position
  • Twist torso over left leg while reaching toward sky with right hand
  • Push back out of lunge; then step back with left foot into next lunge
  • Repeat over specified distance

Walking Knee Hugs
Targeted muscles: Glutes, hip flexors

  • Step forward and raise knee of opposite leg
  • Grab raised knee with both hands and pull into chest
  • Raise onto toes of grounded foot; tighten glute of that leg
  • Step raised leg forward; repeat on other side
  • Repeat in walking fashion over specified distance

Inverted Hamstring
Targeted muscles: Hamstrings, core

  • Balance on right foot with perfect posture—stomach tight, shoulders back and down
  • Extend left leg back; reach for right foot with left hand by bending at waist and firing left glute
  • Try to form straight line with body and leg as you raise to start position
  • Step back; repeat on left side
  • Repeat over specified distance

Hand Walk
Targeted muscles: Shoulders, core, hamstrings, calves, lower back

  • Begin with legs straight and hands on floor
  • Maintaining straight legs, draw belly button in, walk hands out past shoulders
  • Keeping legs straight, walk feet back to hands taking baby steps
  • Repeat over specified distance

According to Verstegen, Plyo drills build stability and elasticity and make Chavez as powerful as he can be relative to his body weight.

45-Degree Bound—Hold
• Standing on left foot, bound right at 45-degree angle
• Land on right foot. Absorb force with right leg
• Hold bent-knee position with firm, stable stance and core for three seconds
• Bound left off right leg
• Repeat for specified reps

45-Degree Bound—Quick
• Standing on left foot, bound right at 45-degree angle
• Land on right foot
• Absorb force with right leg, then immediately bound left off right leg at 45-degree angle
• Repeat for specified reps

Medial Lateral Hurdle Hop
• Set up four mini hurdles two to three feet apart
• Stand to left of hurdles on right foot
• Laterally, hop right over first hurdle with right leg
• Upon landing, quickly hop right over second hurdle
• Continue through line of hurdles; repeat back over hurdles on right foot
• Repeat format with left leg

Hurdle Jump—Continuous
• Place five hurdles a few feet apart in a row
• Position yourself in athletic stance facing hurdles
• Continuously jump over each hurdle by driving arms up and pulling knees to chest
• Spend as little time as possible on ground between each jump

Box Blast—Alternating Continuous
• Stand with one foot on box
• Cock arms back and bend at 90-degree angle
• Drive arms upward and push front leg through box so hips, knees and ankles extend to jump vertically
• Land on box with opposite leg by switching position of legs in air
• Begin next jump immediately upon landing
• Repeat in alternating fashion for specified reps

Chavez uses movement exercises to maintain his world-class range and improve speed to first base. "We look for quality through clean patterns," Verstegen says.

• With straight legs and dorsiflexed toes (pulled up), step forward with right foot
• Drive right leg down so that ball of foot contacts ground to pull body over right foot
• When body passes right foot, point right toes and push off by extending ankle
• As right foot leaves ground, repeat pattern with left leg
• Repeat over specified distance

Heel Slide Run
• Run forward
• Cover minimal distance with each step by sliding heel up to butt
• Continue over specified distance

Step-Over Run
• Run forward
• Cover minimal distance with each step by cycling leg so that foot goes higher than opposite mid-shin
• Continue over specified distance

To improve his kinetic linking and efficiency-how different body parts work together to perform a coordinated movement-Chavez performs various medicine ball throws. "The med ball work dynamically improves Eric's instantaneous power output in baseball movements," Verstegen says. For all of the following drills, position yourself three to four feet away from wall, then proceed with instructions.

Parallel Single-Leg Rotational Throw

  • Stand facing wall
  • Balance on left leg with slight bend in knee
  • Hold med ball in front, then rotate right
  • Quickly rotate forward and throw ball at wall
  • Perform specified reps
  • Repeat opposite side

Perpendicular Single-Leg Rotational throw

  • Stand so shoulders are perpendicular to wall
  • Balance on left leg with slight bend in knee
  • Hold ball in front, then rotate right
  • Quickly rotate back left and throw ball at wall as hard as possible
  • Perform specified reps
  • repeat to opposite side

Parallel Rotational Contrast Throw

  • Assume athletic stance with hips parallel to wall
  • Hold heavy med ball in front, then rotate right
  • Using large range of motion, quickly rotate forward and throw ball toward wall as hard as possible; repeat for specified reps
  • Repeat with lighter med ball using tighter, more compact higging motion for specified reps
  • Repeat to opposite side

Perpendicular Rotational Contrast Throw

  • Assume athletic stance with hips perpendicular to wall
  • Hold heavy med ball in front, the rotate right
  • Using large range of motion, quickly rotate left and throw ball toward wall as hard as possible; repeat for specified reps
  • Repeat with lighter med ball using tighter, more compact hitting motion for specified reps
  • Repeat to opposite side

Reverse Throw

  • Assume athletic stance with back to wall
  • Hold ball in front, then rotate right
  • Posting around left leg, rapidly rotate left and throw ball at wall
  • Perform specified reps
  • Repeat to opposite side

Squat to Press Throw/Contrast

  • Assume athletic stance facing wall
  • Holding heavy med ball at chest level, perform controlled squat
  • As you rise to standing position, drive med ball into overhead press
  • Keeping hips tall and abs tight, chop down and throw med ball at wall with as much force as possible for specified reps
  • Repeat with lighter med ball for specified reps

Verstegen: "These exercises are about increasing Eric's power. Tremendous success has resulted from using Keiser equipment to accomplish this."

Pull-up (neutral grip)*
Targeted muscles: Back, shoulders, biceps

• Assume neutral grip (palms facing each other) on pull-up bar
• Without swinging body, pull yourself up until chin is above bar
• Lower with control until arms are straight
• Repeat

The Word: "Pull-ups are one of the best scapular exercises you can do if you have healthy shoulders. We first use Keiser machines for assistance and gradually work toward using them for resistance. The neutral grip frees up the motion and decreases the chance of shoulder or elbow impingement."
*If neutral grip is not available, loop two towels around bar.

Supine Lat Stretch
• Lie on back with feet flat on ground, bend knees 90 degrees and bend arms 90 degrees so palms face you
• Keeping ribs down, elbows together and hands apart, reach arms overhead until you feel stretch in lats
• Hold for 2-3 seconds; return to start position

Standing Chest Stretch
• Assume split stance with arms in front and palms facing up
• Without arching back, reach both arms back until you feel stretch in chest
• Hold for 2-3 seconds; return arms to start position

Heel Sit Mid-Thoracic Stretch
Targeted muscle: Mid-back

  • Sit with knees on ground, butt on heels, stomach on upper thighs, left arm extended forward with hand on ground, and right hand behind head
  • Keeping stomach on thighs, open chest to right and hold for two seconds
  • Don't allow hips to rise
  • Return to start position and repeat for specified reps
  • Repeat to opposite side

The Word: "We want Eric's lumbar spine [lower back] to be stable and his thoracic spine [mid back] mobile. This exercise mobilizes and then activates that region, so he learns to transfer force. This improves his throwing ability and rotational power. We've tried to teach Eric to capture the energy of his hips so he can release better through his pillar, out of his hand or through his bat. This helps because his whole torso sits on top of his hips, and it decreases stress on his lower and mid back."

Lateral Half-Kneel Cable Chop
Targeted muscles: Hips, shoulders, triceps, abs

• Position body perpendicular to cable machine with outside knee on ground
• Hold handle from high cable position with both hands.
• Rotate shoulders toward machine, then pull handle to chest as you rotate away
• Continue by pushing handle down and away
• Finish with chest up, shoulder blades back and down, stomach tight

The Word: "This helps Eric generate maximum power in the specific muscles he uses for baseball movements. It also improves his pillar's ability to stabilize and rotate."

Medicine Ball Linear Chop
Targeted muscles: Back, shoulders, abs

• Assume athletic stance holding med ball in front
• Raise med ball back and overhead. Keep stomach tight
• Chop down with arms and abs to throw med ball at ground with as much force as possible

Single-Arm Speed Chop
Targeted muscles: Hips, shoulder, triceps, abs

• Position body perpendicular to cable machine with outside knee on ground
• Hold handle from high cable position with outside hand
• Rotate shoulders toward machine, then rotate away
• Continue momentum by pulling handle across body and down in chopping motion
• Finish with core tight and chest up

The Word: "This also improves power output and helps the hips and core stabilize and rotate."

Dowel Shoulder Stretch
Targeted muscles: Shoulders, upper back

• Hold dowel in front—right palm facing up, left palm facing down
• Keeping arms straight, rotate right hand toward left until right palm faces ground
• When you feel slight stretch in back of right shoulder, return to start position
• Repeat for specified reps
• Switch position of hands; repeat in opposite direction

The Word: "This opens Eric's shoulders to improve mobility."

EZ Curl
Targeted muscles: Biceps, forearms

• Grip EZ curl bar on inside grip
• Hold in front with straight arms
• Without changing elbow position, curl bar to shoulder
• Lower with control until arms are straight and repeat

Forearm Circuit
Targeted muscle: Forearms

• Stand holding wrist roller in front of body
• Without arching back, roll wrist roller forward, then backward
• Put down roller and hold baseball bat so arm is bent at 90 degrees and bat points to ceiling
• Slowly rotate palm to the floor, then back to start position
• Rotate palm to ceiling, then back to start position
• Repeat for specified reps

Dumbell Pullover-Extension
Targeted muscles: Back, triceps

  • Lie on back on bench holding dumb-bells with arms extended over chest and shoulders
  • Bend arms 90 degrees without allowing elbows to splay out
  • Maintaining 90-degree bend in elbows lower weights toward floor as far as possible without discomfort
  • Drive elbows to start position and straighten arms in one motion

Single-Arm, Single-Leg Dumbbell Row
Targeted muscles: Lats, rear delts, glutes, hips

• Stand with slight bend in right leg, hinge over at waist and hold dumbbell in left hand
• Place right hand on stable, waist-high surface
• Lift left leg to form "T" with body; fire left glute
• Slide left shoulder blade toward spine, then lift weight toward body by driving elbow toward ceiling, keeping elbow tight to ribs
• Return to start position with control
• Repeat on other side

The Word: "This is the ultimate lift to get that cross-action across the back of your body. We look for stability across the hips, glutes and lower back, all the way up to the lats. It's the same action used when you run."

X Pulldown
Targeted muscles: Lats, scapular region

  • Kneel in front of crossover cable machine; cross arms and grasp opposite handles with each hand
  • Without arching back, first retract shoulder blades, then pull elbows to side of body; straighten and externally rotate arms in fluid motion so thumbs point back
  • Return to start position; repeat

The Word: "When you perform this drill, make sure to depress and retract (move down and together) your scapulas, and then extend your arms. This is the movement pattern that increases your bat speed."

Physioball/Floor Y, W, L, T
Targeted muscles: Rotator cuffs, shoulders, upper back

• Lie with stomach on physioball or floor
• With thumbs up and arms straight, raise arms in front so body and arms form "Y"

• With thumbs up, arms bent and elbows tight to ribcage, squeeze shoulder blades down and rotate hands as far back as possible so arms form "W"

• With arms hanging toward floor, make 90-degree angle with elbows and bend arms so upper arms are parallel to floor
• Externally rotate upper arms so backs of hands rotate toward ceiling
• Lower through same motion

• With thumbs up and arms straight, raise arms to side so body and arms form "T"

The Word: "This is part of our pillar strength series. We want to ensure everything works together. So our cuff work integrates pillar strength by working the shoulders, torso and hips together"

Power Plate Push-up (30 Hz)
Targeted muscles: Chest, shoulders, arms, abs

• Assume push-up position on Power Plate
• Perform specified reps with machine at 30 Hz

The Word: "The Power Plate improves mobility, stability and elasticity. Our guys have had great results using it before upper-body work, or before squatting actions. They feel more stable, powerful and activated after using it. It serves both prehab and performance enhancement purposes."

Calling Major League baseball players "the boys of summer" isn't entirely correct. When the pre- and post-seasons are counted, these athletes are competing most of the year. And although your school's season is much shorter, playing in summer leagues and on traveling teams takes a toll on your body.

Consistency, a positive attitude and the ability to focus determine success as much as physical strength and skill. "The mental part of baseball is undoubtedly the toughest part," Chavez says. "We are out there six times a week with only two to three days off a month over a six-month period. No other sport compares."

Chavez has established a method to remain fresh throughout the long season. He says, "When things start going badly, you start to question yourself. That's when I have to remind myself that I can do it, I'm talented, and I'm here for a reason."

AP's training also helps. "Something about this training sticks with me throughout the whole season," Chavez says. "It was always tough to maintain strength and power for so long with such a busy game schedule. But all the improvements in strength and quickness that I make in the off-season stay with me. I love knowing my hard work will last me that long."

To rejuvenate his body from the grind of hard-hit groundballs and life on the base paths, Chavez uses hot and cold contrast baths. "Every day during the season, I hop in the cold tank to help me get rid of all the aches and pains," he says. "I get there early, sit in the cold water, and then hop in the hot tank for two minutes to warm my body up again. It's like recharging the batteries each day, and I feel huge recovery benefits from it. It's tough. Most guys go up to their waists, but I go full-body."

The cold dunk isn't limited to the season. Verstegen says, "The contrast baths are great for recovery and regeneration. Our philosophy is that work plus rest equals success. We work hard, and then recover to let the training effects set in."

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock