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Fredi fitness: Braves' skipper keeps in serious shape

For the last month, any Braves player who has happened upon manager Fredi Gonzalez working out in the clubhouse weight room has seen his skipper battling a 53-pound kettlebell.

"All I ever see him do is this," says third baseman Chris Johnson, miming the hip-popping, knees-to-shoulders motion of a kettlebell swing.

Gonzalez, 50, undertook a 10,000 kettlebell swing challenge at the start of the season. Two days on, one day off, 20 workouts, 500 kettlebell swings per workout, with other exercises to break up the sets. Gonzalez came to the challenge through CrossFit, which has become his go-to means of working out.

CrossFit is a workout regimen that combines Olympic weightlifting (snatches, cleans, jerks), power lifting (squats, presses, deadlifts), gymnastic movements (pullups, pushups, handstand pushups) and cardio movements (box jumps, jumping rope, rowing) into short, intense and constantly varied workouts. Each CrossFit gym, or "box," creates its own programming in the form of a workout of the day, or "WOD."

CrossFit also posts workouts every day, and there are many benchmark workouts, some named after women, others in a category for fallen military heroes, that all CrossFitters perform.

Gonzalez, who is 6-foot-1, 245 pounds, loves the technique involved with Olympic and power lifts, like the snatch and overhead squat. He hates heart-pumping burpees, which are similar to wrestling up-downs and, according to Gonzalez, "just sap your energy."

But unlike most bigger guys, Gonzalez also loves long body-weight workouts like "Murph" -- a one-mile run, followed by 100 pullups, 200 pushups and 300 squats, followed by another one-mile run -- and "GI Jane" -- 100 burpee pullups for time.

Gonzalez began CrossFitting in 2011, when he took his son Alex to a local coach to help him prepare to play Division II football at the University of West Georgia. Gonzalez was intrigued and began training with the same coach. Now, Gonzalez either works out with his wife Pam, who has also become an avid CrossFitter, at a box near their home in suburban Atlanta, or he does WODs on his own or with one of the Braves' strength coaches at Turner Field.

"I knew the CrossFit movement was going on, and I had gotten tired of the standard jogging and lifting," Gonzalez says. "When you get into a CrossFit box, you have this community, there's the clock and there's the person next to you. And if you have any competitive juices, it feeds right into them."

Gonzalez regularly trades text messages with Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who is so enamored with CrossFit that he even had a set of rings mounted to the ceiling at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla., so he wouldn't get out of practice with his muscle-ups -- one of CrossFit's most difficult movements -- during the long months of Spring Training. Gonzalez and Girardi trash-talk each other about the times of their workouts and the weights they are able to lift.

Gonzalez, though, is most competitive with himself. He and Girardi both log their workouts online so they can keep track of their times, weights and reps, and monitor their improvement.

"In CrossFit, the benchmark workouts always come back around," Gonzalez says. "My goal is always to just get better from the last time I did a particular workout."

CrossFit has certainly helped Gonzalez get in better shape; the 50-year-old former catcher wishes he'd had CrossFit when he was playing to help improve his leg, hip and core strength, along with his overall fitness.

"It has made a huge difference for me, especially cardiovascularly," he says. "In CrossFit, we don't do long runs that much, but every once in a while, there's a 5K in there. For me, that's 30 or 32 minutes of running, and even if I haven't run in a month, I'm now able to just go out there and do it, no big deal. CrossFit has also changed my body. I'm still 245 pounds, but I'm stronger and my pants are definitely looser. At age 50, that makes you feel good about yourself."

Gonzalez also likes that most CrossFit workouts can be done in less than half an hour.

"Sometimes, as a manager, that's all the time you have," he says. "As soon as you walk into the office, it's like someone puts out an alert that says, 'Hey, Fredi's here,' and then 40 different people want 10 minutes of your time, and then it's time for batting practice and you haven't been able to get your workout in. But CrossFit is fast, so I can follow the programming religiously."

So every day, Gonzalez is in the weight room. Some of his Braves players will see him and giggle, or poke fun at his CrossFit routine. Others -- like pitcher Mike Minor, catcher Evan Gattis and outfielder Jordan Schafer, who have some experience with CrossFit or CrossFit-style workouts -- will take note of Gonzalez's WODs up on the white board and try them themselves. But overall, the reaction of the Braves' players is largely the same.

"They know how hard this stuff is," Gonzalez says. "For the most part, they just say, 'Damn, skipper, that's pretty good.'"

Lindsay Berra is a reporter for Follow her on Twitter @lindsayberra.
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