The BIRDS S T R E T C H Their Wings

April 02, 1991|By Gerri Kobren

The Orioles who migrate north this week are "the best-conditioned" group of players their strength and conditioning coach has worked with in his three years with the team.

In fact, Coach Allan Johnson says that most of them were in pretty good shape when spring training started in February. They knew he'd put them through a 12-minute run to test their aerobic capacity the first day, and they were ready for it, he said in a telephone interview from Florida:

"The days of coming in and taking six weeks to get into shape are a thing of the past. If you come in shape, you have an advantage in winning a position" on the 25-man roster, Mr. Johnson added.

To push their physical fitness up even further during the pre-season period, Mr. Johnson has kept them running, and also worked with them on flexibility, plyometrics (practice that increases their jumping height and explosive take-off), and weight training to build strength.

Strength training is relatively new for the baseball athlete, though hitters have traditionally "been more open-minded about it," according to Mr. Johnson. But now most of the team is also hefting weights, he said: "The Orioles are very young, and I think the players are all soldon strength training. At no level is there a mandatory strength and conditioning program," he said, but most of the players get involved in strength training two to three days a week.

Flexibility training is, however, required, and flexibility drills remain high on the agenda during playing season, according to the coach. It's part of the pre-game preparation beginning 25 minutes before batting practice.

"They do sustained running for two to five minutes, from the left field foul line to the right field foul line, to increase the flow of blood and raise the body temperature. Then they do a flexibility drill for 14 to 17 minutes; during that time, we will stretch every major muscle group in the body. Plus, we do abdominal work to keep the abdominal muscles strong."

Belly tightening might seem far afield for a baseball player, but Mr. Johnson is adamant about its importance.

"Abdominals are the missing link, especially in baseball, in terms of throwing and hitting," he said. "If the abdominals are strong, you won't have as many breakdowns. You have increased athletic explosion in vertical jumps, and increased running speed. If the abdominals are strong and flexible, you maintain optimal force generated from the torso and hip area. I think everyone has tuned in to doing extra stretches, but most athletes, I've found, neglect the abdominals."

Strong stomach muscles help hold up the back, but back muscles get some attention, too, he said, as do the hamstrings, an easily injured muscle group in the back of thethigh: Leg curls are practiced to strengthen them.

And pitchers, he added, pay particular attention to strengthening the rotator cuff in the shoulder, with several different exercises. In one routine, they lie on their side, tuck the elbow of the upper arm into their waist, and then raise and lower a 5-pound dumbbell.

"When we're on the road, I find aplace in every city to work out in," he said. "Every morning, from 9 to noon, I will take them and work out on the day of a game, and then head for the stadium at 1:30. In the American League, there are fitness areas in the stadium; when those teams let us use those areas, we start the workout at 1:30. At home, I'm at Memorial Stadium every day at 1:30, and there's a steady flow coming infor extra aerobic training. Once the game is completed, I have the athletes work out with me in our fitness area."

Once the game is completed, the athletes are also treated to an evening meal -- low in fat, high in carbohydrates, vegetables, and fruit, in the hope, Mr. Johnson said, that they'll choose that kind of healthy food when they're on their own.

How the Orioles work out

If your tummy looks as round as a robin's, and your filled-out look isn't simply because someone's ruffled your feathers, you may want to get into shape the way the Orioles do.

Whether you're an athlete or not, the key, say the experts, is having strong legs, strong arms and a strong torso.

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