By: Holly Horning
…makes us stronger.”
A little known fact – Friedrich Nietzsche uttered these immortal words after working out with a personal trainer.
OK, maybe a slight exaggeration, but his words were the first things running through my mind at the gym the other day.
I made a foolish, impulsive mistake. And I blame it all on Olympic medalist Lindsey Vonn.
I happened to watch a video of how she trains for the downhill and was floored by what I saw. I was pretty proud of the fact that I could do squats with weights on a BOSU but Lindsey does them standing on a freakin’ balance ball while holding a weight roughly equivalent to that of a small child.
For the record, Miguel Cabrera, only this year, is able to kneel on a balance ball without holding any weights.
Watching Lindsey’s training regime prompted me to call my personal trainer and tell him that I needed to up my game. He became positively gleeful. Probably because he tortures people for a living.
Before I describe the sheer terror and punishment I endured – with periodic flashbacks of my life during certain exercises – as I went through the drills, it’s important to understand my background.
I have always been athletic. Twenty+ years of classical ballet, yoga and reformer Pilates as my training and conditioning foundations. Lots of outdoor and indoor sports as well as a dedicated gym rat 5 days/week. I run 2+ miles every day. I’ve also been known to drag big, heavy car parts across a gym field. And I’ve worked with personal trainers for years as well as having a few professional sports PTs as clients.
What this all means is that I walk the walk. My background, especially with my ballet, yoga, Pilates training and regular tune-ups with a physical therapist, have given me a detailed understanding of how all the muscles, tendons and other body bits allow humans to move freely – or not. And it’s provided great discussion topics with personal trainers as it pertains to the training and conditioning of professional athletes.
I belong to a hard-core gym owned by a former Olympic medalist. And many of the clients who work out there are serious athletes. Some of them professional. And I watch them. I watch their routines and I watch how they move.
I watch the body builders. Guys, like many professional athletes, who can’t buy their clothes off the racks. Guys who often wear braces on their joints due to previous and long-standing injuries. Guys who grunt a lot and move very slowly. Guys with slower response times. Guys who spend the majority of their time only lifting weights because they believe that is the only way to go.
And then there are the ones who cross-train. Many of them visibly muscular but also taller, leaner and much, much faster. They lift their weights but they split it evenly between fine muscle tuning and aerobic activity. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is a big part of their routine. And as a result, they appear healthier, have faster response times and can much more easily switch gears at a second’s notice. They pivot, stop and start seamlessly. All without pulling or tweaking something unlike Travis Wood and Francisco Liriano. And you don’t see them hobbled or wearing protective braces.
And it’s to this latter group I pledge my allegiance. Having the capacity to not only build muscle, but to also outlast others in endurance, to be fast with cat-like reflexes and to have a supple, flexible body structure that helps to keep me physically young, moving easily and preventing injury.
Priorities that made me re-think my goals as my personal trainer pulled out a large, tall box and wanted me to do bigger box jumps. That’s when visions of Daniel Norris and his injury resulting from a crash-and-burn box jumping session last year flashed before my eyes.
Which now brings me to the Tigers.
I’ve been to a number of the Tigers’ spring training games, always arriving as the doors just open and the players have started to run through drills on the field. And I’ve got to say, I personally know at least a couple dozen middle-aged men and women who are more flexible and limber than the majority of the team.
Some of the players appear disinterested and unfocused while simply going through the motions. It was astounding to see how many could not even touch their toes or do the basic ground stretches to an acceptable level. The bigger players especially appeared to have a harder time doing the drills that are supposed to keep them healthy and prevent injury.
It wasn’t a pretty picture. They reminded me of the big, bulky guys in the gym who have problems moving fluidly. Guys with muscles so big that their bulk prohibits the muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, etc. from moving freely and easily. And when you need to move quickly and suddenly, but the response time is lagging, that’s when you get hurt.
And it becomes an even bigger issue when it involves your franchise face who happens to have one of sports’ most expensive contracts. Miggy. A man who has been injured every year since 2013 with feet, tendon, knee, core and now vertebrae problems.
I’m amazed that only now has he, and the Tigers, started to address his physical conditioning after playing baseball professionally for 20 years. Why does it have to take a career-worst year and intense work-stopping pain to inspire change?
Cabrera finally admitted that maybe he shouldn’t have focused solely on weight-lifting. That maybe he should have spent more time addressing the overall conditioning. That maybe, he should have done some core work.
The core is the center, or foundation, of the body which holds up and aligns everything within the entire body. A core, that when absent or weak, throws the body out of alignment and creates an environment that welcomes injury. Especially when it comes to the back.
“Core” work is something that has been absent within the Tigers’ training and conditioning program. It is silly that an (almost) 35-year-old professional athlete is just now discovering its importance 2 decades after signing his first baseball contract.
But we’re now hearing from older ballplayers with other teams about how they have changed their training regimen. The trend is moving away from spending quality time just lifting weights and running. They are working towards whole-body fitness. Doing more conditioning, flexibility exercises and less lifting. Several of whom became quite vocal this off-season about how the programs meant to lengthen and strengthen bones and soft tissue have extended their careers and gotten them in the best shape possible.
More and more teams are requiring their players to take Pilates and yoga in the off-season as well as during spring training. Two disciplines attached to studies that show fewer injuries happen. One that even correlates the practice of Pilates with pitchers who are able to increase and maintain their pitch speed as they age.
It’s just too bad that some teams don’t explore the advantages until constant, nagging or severe injuries make it the last resort. Especially when you have a team in which 3 of your top players, making a combined $72 million in 2018 alone, haven’t been healthy in years.
I don’t think I’m alone in wondering if the Tigers had incorporated more conditioning and flexibility programs into their player development whether some of the players, and the yearly results, would have turned out differently.
But what we do know is that neglecting the strategies that keep one healthy is not a sound way to protect expensive investments.
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