The Mariners have completely revamped their strength and conditioning program, bringing on fitness consultant Dr. Marcus Elliott as their new director of Sports Science and Performance. Elliott is the founder of the Peak Performance Project (P3), a technologically advanced program using little equipment that develops sports-related workouts to optimize performance and reduce injury.
PEORIA, Ariz. — Hundreds of hours pumping iron with four prior major-league teams still couldn’t prepare Eric Byrnes for what he saw when he first stepped into the Mariners’ new weight room.
His initial reaction: “Where are all the weights?”
Most of them are no longer in a training facility the team has completely revamped this spring as part of an overhaul of its strength and conditioning program. The Mariners announced Thursday that they have hired fitness consultant Dr. Marcus Elliott as their new director of Sports Science and Performance.
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Elliott is the founder of the Peak Performance Project (P3), a science-based program that develops sports-related workouts to optimize performance and reduce injury. He has worked with the New England Patriots, Utah Jazz and various Olympic and national programs in the United States, Australia and South Africa, but the Mariners represent his first attempt to integrate P3 into a major-league baseball team.
“Baseball’s kind of a monolithic sport,” said Elliott, who has a three-year contract with the team. “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.”
If it sounds a little like “Moneyball” for gym rats, that’s because the Mariners are indeed trying to break new ground.
What Elliott has done in prior work with individual ballplayers — who travel to his Santa Barbara, Calif.-based training facility — is develop their “rotational mechanics” through strengthening their hips and lower bodies. Elliott says the idea is to improve the explosiveness in the movements players are required to perform, whether it’s swinging a bat or changing direction quickly to get to a hard-hit grounder.
This is accomplished through minimal equipment, which explains why the Mariners’ weight room has been gutted of all but a handful of workout benches and smaller-sized dumbbells. The one equipment exception is a wall lined with Keiser air-compression pulley machines, which are used to perform exercises that simulate baseball activity — like swinging a bat.
Byrnes has been on the program a week and says he’s very impressed.
“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.”
Elliott’s contract called on the Mariners to hire two full-time employees to help train current staffers on the aspects of P3. One of them, Danny Garcia, a former major leaguer with the New York Mets, was on hand Thursday to demonstrate some of the exercises.
Garcia performed a series of “skaters” exercises, where he shuffled from side-to-side, pushing off each foot to simulate a speedskater. Later, he grabbed hold of the pulley machine and performed a series of twisting, rotational movements that resembled swinging a bat.
Both exercises build hip strength and help develop “lateral” or “horizontal” power in a ballplayer, rather than “vertical” power that can inhibit performance.
“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,” Elliott said. “Almost always they create big vertical forces. They can’t create these horizontal forces.”
All Mariners minor-leaguers are required to use the program. Facilities are being adapted at minor-league parks throughout the Mariners’ system, and all players have been given diagnostic tests to pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to “lateral power” and flexibility.
They will be tested again later this year to gauge improvement.
Major leaguers aren’t required to use the program, though with the changed weight room, it’s tougher to stick to more traditional programs.
Ken Griffey Jr. began using a different training regimen last season and has no plans to change.
But most of the players are using it, or parts of it.
Mariners catcher Rob Johnson, coming off two hip surgeries, was the first Seattle player to use the system. Johnson began working out on the program in January, shortly after Elliott began consulting the Mariners on their fitness needs.
“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 onto the field.”
And the Mariners have an exclusive contract for the program in regards to other MLB teams. Elliott is to travel to Seattle for roughly four extended stays this season to monitor progress and says he guarantees the team will have better athletes because of it.
“If you’re going to build athletes, you have to do athletic things with them,” he said. “The whole philosophy of building athletes is you have to expose them to an environment that forces them to develop physical tools that they need when they’re out there.”
Even if it does mean taking away their weights.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners