Major League Muscle
This is a musclemorphosis.com camp? There's no pepper being played, no crack of ash. No batting cage, no expanse of outfield grass -- and for that matter, no musclemorphosis.com at all. And yet look over there: It's one of the game's elite players, Matt Holliday, the Oakland A's 29-year-old outfielder, looking invincible at 6'4", 235 pounds. Only he's not working on the swing that has produced a .319 career batting average. Instead, he's dancing . . . sort of. Holliday, who suffered back problems last season, is stepping over a series of 30-inch hurdles to open his hips. The aim: a body th...
This is a musclemorphosis.com camp?
There's no pepper being played, no crack of ash. No batting cage, no expanse of outfield grass -- and for that matter, no musclemorphosis.com at all.
And yet look over there: It's one of the game's elite players, Matt Holliday, the Oakland A's 29-year-old outfielder, looking invincible at 6'4", 235 pounds. Only he's not working on the swing that has produced a .319 career batting average.
Instead, he's dancing . . . sort of. Holliday, who suffered back problems last season, is stepping over a series of 30-inch hurdles to open his hips. The aim: a body that's more resistant to injuries. The payoff : a long career and many more millions of dollars -- for Holliday, and also for the man behind this place, superagent Scott Boras.
I'm visiting the Boras Sports Training Institute (BSTI) on a sterling midwinter day in sunny Aliso Viejo, California. Around me are major-league ballplayers -- great athletes with tremendous skills. Teams employ coaches to hone those skills at spring training and during the season. That leaves the off-season for full-body conditioning, the foundation those skills are built on.
The institute, on the campus of Soka University, stretches time as well as muscles. It's a smart investment for Boras, 56, a onetime minor leaguer who is lauded and loathed as the agent for 150 major and minor leaguers, among them Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez. When he isn't giving baseball general managers headaches, Boras uses these facilities (which include a gym, pool, rehabilitation unit, weight room, yoga studio, and track) and employs five strength and conditioning coaches and two sports psychologists to advise and train the athletes he represents.
Boras, who is wealthy from his share of his clients' megamillion-dollar contracts, doesn't charge for the services at BSTI. He argues, idealistically, that better athletes make for better baseball. But it's clear that the more productive and resilient his players are, the more money he stands to make from them over the span of their careers. He sees his job as "30 percent negotiating and 70 percent performance improvement." Helping those athletes optimize their bodies and athleticism helps him optimize his assets.
"You can beat the game temporarily, but you will never beat it forever," he says. "From day one, the clock is ticking. Our job is to add as much time as possible to it."
Case in point: Garret Anderson, the all-star outfielder who played 14 seasons for the Angels and signed in late February with the Atlanta Braves. He came to Aliso Viejo this winter as a 36-year-old free agent facing a tough labor market. With no margin for inefficiency, he's performing agility drills and sprints. BSTI coaches have filmed his sprinting and, using a software program called Dartfish (think John Madden's Telestrator), they've illustrated how his drive leg could be straighter, his elbows closer to 90 degrees, his forward lean just a bit more pronounced. The milliseconds these adjustments can save just might help him leg out enough infield hits to one day reach 3,000, the kind of number that's usually accompanied by a plaque in Cooperstown.
It's really a grand experiment when you consider that most mid-to late-career players today never had this level of ongoing oversight and conditioning in their formative years. Anderson, a career .296 hitter who still leads the Angels franchise in games played, runs scored, hits, and RBIs, admits to not doing much strength training beyond the recommended team workouts. Until now, that is.
"Catchers used to be done when they were 32, on average," says Boras. "But now we have a guy like Jason Varitek who is still playing at a high level at age 37. And look at a guy like Anderson, who's in the midst of an extraordinary career. If he had this type of training in his 20s or early 30s, he might have been even better."
A baseball smacks Boras's glove. "that's one of the premier arms of any shortstop in Major League Baseball," he says, "if not the world." Boras, dressed in black BSTI shorts and jersey, is playing catch with Danny Espinosa, a 21-year-old shortstop from Long Beach State. Espinosa was the third-round pick of the Washington Nationals in 2008. "Catch," however, is a relative term. Espinosa is 330 feet away -- the equivalent of foul pole to home plate. He's rocketing the ball to Boras, who never has to move his glove more than a few inches. Espinosa is getting ready to head to his first spring training. "We want to make sure not one stone is left unturned in his development, or in the development of any of the players here," Boras says.
Espinosa hasn't hit the jackpot yet, but the odds are in his favor, thanks to strategies set in motion at Boras Corporation headquarters in Newport Beach, 20 minutes from BSTI. In his war room, Boras appears relaxed, although it's late January -- a critical time for free agency and arbitration -- and he claims to be working 20-hour days.
A glance around the room explains why. On a whiteboard are the names of eight players who settled contracts in the past week. The total haul: a cool $45 million. Boras reportedly takes 5 percent of that tidy sum.
Now he turns his attention to me. I had asked for 40 minutes; he agreed to 30. I get the feeling he negotiates everything. But this afternoon he's discussing a deal that can be brokered only so far, against an invincible adversary: physical aging. Still, he's pursuing it with his usual gusto.
"With this program, from the day an athlete signs to the day he retires, he has a physical and mental monitoring system to aid him," says Boras, who played outfield during his career. "When he steps onto the field, we want him thinking, I've done everything I can to be my best. With that attitude, he'll be relaxed and perform at his optimal level."
Go on to the next page for more on all-star training...
Their regimens are a far cry from your father's calisthenics. "We train the five biomotor qualities," says BSTI executive director Steve Odgers, a former world-class decathlete and conditioning coach for the Chicago White Sox. "Those are strength, speed, power, flexibility, and endurance. We blend the latest science for each into a total program for the athlete."
In the weight room and on the training field, players' movements are videotaped and then replayed immediately on one of four 42-inch TVs. "We use video technology to create an interactive training environment, and support the athlete with immediate feedback so we can imprint proper technical movement skills," says one of the facility's strength and conditioning coaches, Scott Fricke, C. S. C. S.
Small details receive the most attention here, because major leaguers don't need to make big changes. They're already highly skilled. But they can always benefit from a little more strength, speed, power, flexibility, and endurance. Anderson refers to the process as "managing age." Just as you need to readjust your financial portfolio as the years pass -- now more than ever -- you also need to invest in these five critically important athletic skills, or face inevitable physical deterioration.
For men especially, the hips are the hubs of aging. We're naturally tight in this area and, if it's ignored, diminished mobility will promote injury and compromise performance. This is one of the main reasons Holliday works at BSTI full-time during the off -season. But the program doesn't involve classic touch-your-toes drills. Every training session begins with dynamic rather than static stretching, like those hurdle walkovers. (Anderson actually calls it "strength-flex training" because it strengthens as it stretches.) At the back end of their workouts, players periodically do "baseball yoga," a program Odgers created that correlates the throwing motion to the warrior poses.
BSTI is about portfolio management, but I also sense a more personal motivation in Boras. Although he played for the Cardinals and Cubs organizations in the 1970s, a gimpy knee kept him from ever reaching the Show. To still be involved in baseball now and to be playing catch with a guy like Espinosa is a privilege, says Boras. It's like having the catcher drop your two-strike foul tip with the bases loaded. Indeed, it'll be interesting to see if the same diligent work ethic that Boras applies to his agent business will click with BSTI. While just a handful of athletes are taking advantage of it now, he hopes hundreds will train with him eventually. And he believes the concept has implications beyond athletics.
"When a financial advisor promises to double your portfolio," he says, "keep in mind that if you live 20 years, that will likely happen regardless of what you do. So your best asset when it comes to success is your own personal longevity."
So you need to add time to your clock, too, and you can do this in the same general way these players do. You need to be conditioned and durable. You need to have strength and stamina. And when challenges arise, you need to be flexible and quick to react. It's the only way to stay in the game.
Granted, most men appreciate this. Nevertheless, when it's time to look across the war-room table at ourselves -- when it's time to "self-negotiate," as Boras puts it -- most of us wither in the face of all our other responsibilities and fail to prioritize these basic elements of success and happiness.
"Giving yourself a foundation of conditioning provides a greater opportunity to excel and enjoy life's privileges," says Boras. "I don't think the message is fully out there that physical discipline, just as you're seeing here, can provide rewards for everyone."
So what do you say, do we have a deal?
Go on to the next page to learn how to be faster and stronger...
Whether your sport is baseball, golf, running, or something else entirely, here are three simple exercises from trainers at Boras Sports Training Institute (BSTI) that can keep your whole body strong, limber, and injury-free. Make them part of your regular warmup.
Scapular wall slides
This exercise diagnoses problems at the same time it fixes them. Stand with your back, shoulder blades, and hips against a wall. Then make like you're surrendering to the Feds -- that is, keep the backs of your raised arms and hands against the wall. (Your elbows should be bent at 90 degrees, with your upper arms parallel to the floor.) Next, while your shoulders and arms are pressed against the wall, slowly straighten your elbows while sliding your arms up into a V. Then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat to complete 2 sets of 10 reps. "This exercise keeps your shoulders from rounding," explains BSTI executive director Steve Odgers, "which happens a lot to older athletes over time."
Run a bungee cord, elastic band, or rope between two secure objects so that it's 24 to 30 inches off the ground. (You can also secure a bar on a power rack or Smith machine at the same height.) Stand with your side next to this hurdle and step over it laterally with your inside leg and then your other leg. As you do that, bring each thigh above hip height while keeping your foot directly under your knee. Repeat for 2 sets of 10 reps while maintaining a comfortable pace. Although it looks deceptively easy, this exercise is designed to open up the hip area, which is critical for peak performance. "Lack of hip mobility can lead to injuries in the ankle, knee, back, and shoulders," notes Odgers. "This exercise is key for improving any athletic move -- sprinting, jumping, throwing."
Medicine-ball wood chop
Grab a 6-pound medicine ball and stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips and your knees slightly bent. Raise the ball overhead until your arms are fully extended. Then flex at the waist and bend your knees as you bring the ball down toward the ground between your legs. Extend back up to the start position and repeat, just like you're chopping a cord of oak. Perform 2 sets of 10 reps. "Achieve a full range of motion first," says Odgers, "and then pick up the tempo. You're not using your back muscles, really; you're using your legs as shock absorbers for your spine while teaching your back muscles to flex and extend properly. Do this regularly and you should never have lower-back pain."
Need more power?
Here's how Oakland A's slugger Matt Holliday, 29, gets it
Holliday has dented more than his share of bleacher seats. One reason: medicine-ball throws. He places his feet slightly wider than his hips, holds a 6-pound medicine ball at his chest with both hands, slowly sinks into a squat position, and then explodes up and out while launching the ball as far as possible. (Picture Kobe Bryant exploding up but launching the ball from his chest like a Bob Cousy set shot aimed at a very high basket.) His back is slightly arched during the descent and straight during the leap, but never rounded. Do 2 sets of 8 to 10 reps.
Need more explosiveness?
Here's how prospect Jason Donald, 24, of the Philadelphia Phillies, builds it
Donald, a middle infielder, may have to step in until Chase Utley's hip heals. Although Donald is naturally quick, BSTI executive director Steve Odgers wants to merge more strength with that agility to make him explosive at the plate and on the base paths. So he had Donald do combination jumps. To do one, jump laterally, and then immediately after landing, leap as high as possible vertically. Then jump back laterally to the starting position. Repeat for 2 sets of 10 reps. "This is great for infielders and pitchers, but it's also useful in any sport that involves a lot of changing of direction," says Odgers.
Need greater flexibility?
Here's how veteran outfielder Garret Anderson, 36, of the Atlanta Braves creates it
Anytime you intensify your strength training, as Anderson did this offseason, It's also important To increase your flexibility work. One exercise That accomplishes both of these goals is the basic lunge, especially when your trailing leg is kept straight and your hips sink. But to make the bottom of the move more than just a load-bearing static stretch, Odgers turned it into a flexibility Series based on the "warrior" yoga postures. The series incorporates basic lunge movements, and the exercises flow together in a way that mimics the baseball throwing motion.
MATT HOLLIDAY'S 20-MINUTE AGILITY WORKOUT
1. Warm up
2. Mini-Band Routine (2-3 sets of 10) [VIDEO link to launch pop-up and seethe Miniband workout]
3. Jump Rope (3 sets of 20)
4. Speed and Agility Skills (2 times each drill at 10 yards