For new Yankee Holliday, no time for time off

Veteran training for haul of long season with Yankees

January 23rd, 2017

was wearing a navy blue Yankees baseball T-shirt as he warmed up with an empty barbell on a wooden Olympic lifting platform at the Central Institute for Human Performance in Jupiter, Fla.
After eight seasons in Cardinals red, Holliday signed a one-year, $13 million deal with the Yankees on Dec. 7. He will serve as their designated hitter and part-time first baseman and outfielder. Now Holliday, who turned 37 on Jan.15, is preparing for his new role -- and hoping to slow down the aging process -- with a series of exercises geared toward increasing his explosive strength and power from the ground up.
"During the offseason, we go through different phases," Holliday said. "Sometimes it's higher reps with lighter weight, sometimes heavier weights with lower reps. Now, as we get closer to Spring Training, we're working on power and speed and trying to move heavy weight fast. Trying to get that explosiveness that it takes to swing a bat fast, to move and to do the things it takes to play the sport."
This particular workout included a deadlift to an aggressive shrug from the hang position, which is a modified version of an Olympic lift, an inclined dumbbell press on a bench and a weighted chinup, along with two traditional strongman exercises: a sled push and a farmers walk.
Holliday typically follows a three-day-on, one-day-off schedule in the gym, and before he works out each day, he is evaluated by CIHP medical director Clayton Skaggs.
"Clayton checks nervous system stuff and tight spots and to see if I'm compensating on one side or the other," Holliday said. "He gives me a once over, and if he sees anything, he'll communicate with Ro about adjusting the training or he'll just say, 'Hey, everything looks good, go ahead and get after it.'"
CIHP strength and conditioning coach Ro Sharma has been working with Holliday for seven years at the CIHP location in St. Louis. Despite his Oklahoma roots and the move to the Yankees, Holliday makes his offseason home in Jupiter, home of both the Cardinals' Spring Training facility and a newly opened CIHP location. Holliday's wife Leslee also trains at CIHP, and the couple and their four children -- Jackson, Ethan, Gracyn and Reed -- love Florida's warm winter weather and the ability it affords Holliday to hit and train outside.

Holliday experienced a bit of a renaissance at the plate last year, slugging .461, which was his highest mark since 2013. And according to Statcast™, he hit the ball 100 mph or more off the bat 42.5 percent of the time he put the ball in play, which was the fourth best of the 247 hitters who put at least 200 balls in play last season. The big thing holding Holliday back the past two seasons has been injuries, as a right quad injury cost him half of the 2015 season and a right thumb injury limited him to 110 games in '16.
Though Holliday has always loved to train and highly prioritized his diet and exercise regimen, he and Sharma both recognize that things change as athletes age. Holliday, who is 6-foot-4 and listed at 240 pounds, says he played most of last season at 230 pounds. He feels leaner and faster at the lower weight, which also takes pressure off of his joints.
"We need to think a lot more about how we're going to preserve his joints and be smarter with his training," Sharma said. "Literally, every time we put Matt through a workout, we want to make sure he's doing the most optimal exercise and not doing any reps that are wasted. We always want to focus on keeping the intensity, the load relatively high. We don't want to be sacrificing any of the intensity of the workout, but the volume is something we closely monitor to make sure it's right for him."

That monitoring will continue into the season. Sharma will take into account Holliday's on-field activity and travel schedule when planning his in-season workouts, which usually take place every other day, in the mornings before night games. The intensity of the workout stays up to help Holliday maintain the strength he developed in the offseason, but volume is reduced. He maintains his power simply from playing the sport.
"As you get older, you have to get smarter," Holliday said. "Sometimes more isn't always better, and I put my trust in people I trust to help me design workouts that are best for me specifically and my body and where I need work. Every year we're modifying and improvising and doing things I didn't do the year before or the year before that."

Heading into this season, Holliday has also been taking both fly balls and grounders to be prepared for any role the Yankees may have in mind. It is most likely that Holliday will be the everyday designated hitter, which he says requires no specific training. Holliday did get some experience as a DH during the Cardinals' Interleague games, but in the interest of preparedness, he plans to do his homework prior to Spring Training.
"I may reach out to Jim Thome and some other guys who have done it for a long time who I have relationships with to see if there's anything they did that worked well for them," Holliday said. "But I don't know that there's any specific tactic, and with St. Louis, I was able to handle it pretty well."
No doubt the Yankees are hoping "pretty well" will be an understatement.