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February 25, 2010 at 4:52 PM

Mariners seem impressed by new training regimen

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A reminder that we’ll have Geoff Baker Live! coming up at 6 p.m.
We went into detail in an earlier post about the Mariners revamping their weight room and training regimens for minor leaguers and for all major leaguers who want to switch. The team today announced that Dr. Marcus Elliott of Santa Barbara, Calif. has been hired as their new Director of Sports Science and Performance. He’s got a three-year contract and the goal of radically improving the team’s athleticism and overall achievement.
“Baseball’s kind of a monolithic sport,” he said. “They keep doing the same thing that they used to do. And so, it’s difficult to come in with a real wholesale change like this. It takes some energy and you ruffle feathers a little bit. But the upside is so huge. The upside to the organization is so huge largely because other people haven’t done this yet.”

As we mentioned earlier, the Mariners have an exclusive contract where MLB teams are concerned. Elliott’s company, the Peak Performance Project (P3) does work with individual ballplayers and will continue to do so.
But on a team scale, the Mariners are his first and only MLB squad. Elliott’s other pro sports teams include the New England Patriots and Utah Jazz.
At the risk of using an overused cliche, it sounds like the Mariners are looking to make this their latest Moneyball tool to try to exploit something undervalued in the marketplace. Last year, it was team defense (which continues this season, but others are catching on quick). Now, the team seems to be hoping its biggest edge could come in the gym.


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So, the weight room has been completely gutted, leaving behind only a handful of benches and smaller dumbells. The new gym is almost completely devoid of equipment, with the exception of a back wall loaded with Keiser air-compression pulley systems, which form the backbone of a lot of the machine-related work the team will be doing.
“Equimpment is overrated for training athletes, let me just say that,” Elliott said. “You walk into your 24-hour Fitness, there’s equipment everywhere and you do one of those, one of those. It’s a nice system if you’re trying to get a whole lot of people in somewhere that aren’t very stable, and not very athletic and you don’t want to break anybody. That’s a nice system. You just get people on one machine and the next machine and the next machine.
“But if you’re going to build athletes, you have to do athletic things with them,” he added. “The whole philosophy of building athletres is you have to expose them to an environment that forces them to develop physical tools that they need when they’re out there.”
And the physical tools needed to be a great baseball player?
Elliott says it’s all about helping them generate more explosive movement and being better able to cope with quick changes of direction. This is done by training the player’s “rotational mechanics” so they can use “lateral” or “horizontal” force rather than “vertical force” when doing things like swinging a bat.
So, as mentioned earlier, a lot of the new training has to do with the hips and lower body.
“When we have guys that show up who are these big, strapping monsters, and we find out they hit four home runs? Never do they use their lower half well. Alomst always they create big vertical forces. They can’t create these horizontal forces.”
Elliott says the changes the Mariners experience will be dramatic.
“We’re going to develop so many great athletes out of your system,” Elliott said of the Mariners. “I guarantee it. I absolutely guarantee it.”
Veteran outfielder Eric Byrnes, now with his fifth team, is has one of the more noticeably muscular builds of any Mariners player and obviously has seen a gym or two throughout his career. Byrnes says his first reaction upon entering the new weight room was: “Where are the weights?”
But Byrnes quickly figured out there was a purpose behind it all and says he’s very impressed with the first week of the program.
“It’s as technologically advanced a program as I’ve ever seen,” Byrnes said. “It’s very baseball specific. I’m always open to trying new things, but it seems like they really have it figured out over here.”
Byrnes said there are some similarities between this program and what he was doing before.
“It’s just that they’re very meticulous about each exercise,” he said. “Each exercise has a baseball specific purpose. It’s all about explosion movements. And really, if you know a thing about baseball, that’s what baseball is about.”
Rob Johnson has been using the program for over a month since the Mariners first began consulting with Elliott before inking the three-year deal. After his surgeries on two hips, Johnson seemed a perfect candidate for a program that strengthens the lower body like this.
“It’s phenomenal,” Johnson said. “The whole program is built around hips. Hip mobility, hip power. Obviously, I had two surgeries, two blown out hips, so I have nothing but good things to say about it.”
I asked Johnson what the program has done for him so far.
“It gives you a really good feeling about using a lot of your legs,” he said. “But it’s not like a squat where you’re just pounding your muscles. Everything’s explosion. So, you get in that rhythm, you simulate your swing, you simulate certain movements that you make. The point of the whole thing is really to translate it on to the field.”
Not all the players are using the new program. As I said earlier, it’s mandatory for minor leaguers, while major leaguers get to choose. But with the weight room gutted like this, it’s kind of tough for folks who want to stick to exclusively traditional weight training.
Ken Griffey Jr. started on a different kind of regimen last year and told me he’s keeping it this season. He’ll have nothing to do with the new program, mainly because he likes the one he’s on.
Others are incorporating the new system slowly into their previous regimens. Elliott doesn’t want to force it on anyone too strongly. He says some players will need convincing that it really works and wants to give them the chance to implement it at their own speed.
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Minor leaguers who reported to a mini-camp were all given diagnostic tests and the team has a computer readout of their strengths and defficiencies when it comes to things like generating lateral force. The major leaguers who use the program are also in the process of being tested.
They will be re-tested at later dates to measure gains or declines in all areas.
Ryan Rowland-Smith told me he’s been getting into the program and will probably be tested shortly.
“There’s stuff here that I’ve done before that makes sense,” said Rowland-Smith, who trains with a former world class sprinter in the off-season to build explosiveness. “You always question what you do as an athlete, and whether it’s benefitting you. Now, with this stuff, everything starts to make sense because it’s all related to baseball.”
Rowland-Smith admits he was “a bit shocked” when he walked in and saw the weight room.
“But I saw those Keiser machines and I love those Keiser machines, because I’ve used them before,” he said. “They help you be more explosive.”

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