Offseason of change: CC stronger than ever
With new workout program, lefty adds muscle and drops body fat by eight percent
One year ago, Yankees ace CC Sabathia weighed in at Spring Training camp at 275 pounds. This spring, he tipped the scales at exactly the same weight.
But camp has been buzzing about Sabathia's physical transformation, because it does indeed appear to be nearly as dramatic as his initial drop from 320 pounds. The Internet has been all aflutter with posts about his svelte appearance. Many of them have been negative, calling him "really skinny," "gaunt-looking" and "shockingly thin."
Sabathia has called the criticism "hilarious."
The six-time All-Star is still sporting the same ultra-baggy pinstripe pants he's worn in years past, and they do accentuate his lankiness. But take a look at him in workout gear and it's obvious his 6-foot-7 frame is considerably more toned than it has ever been.
Sabathia has basically done what every dieter in America dreams of doing; instead of merely dropping pounds, he has replaced fat with lean muscle, dropping his body fat percentage from nearly 25 percent to around 17 percent in just four months. According to trainer T.J. Lopez, Sabathia has added seven to 12 pounds of muscle.
How? By working out like he never has before.
In offseasons past, Sabathia has always struggled in a down-to-the-wire race to weigh under 300 pounds by the time pitchers and catchers report, as his contract mandates. That scramble included lots of long cardio sessions and calorie counting.
"It was like I was on 'The Biggest Loser,'" Sabathia said. "But this year I was already at the right weight and I was only worried about getting stronger."
Everyone knows 2013 was a disappointing year for the big lefty, who posted a 14-13 record and a career-worst 4.78 ERA in 211 innings. Sabathia admitted to feeling tired after four or five innings in his starts, and his fastball has also dropped a few miles an hour in velocity -- from 95 mph to around 92 mph -- in recent years.
Some of Sabathia's troubles last season could be attributed to muscle weakness, fatigue and loss of power that can be caused by rapid weight loss.
"He didn't have the leg strength he usually does," said Lopez. "So this offseason, it was all about getting him to a facility with the proper equipment to develop core, leg and total body strength."
Sabathia has trained with Lopez since 2010, but they had always worked out at Sabathia's New Jersey home, using mostly resistance bands, dumbbells and medicine balls. This winter, though, Lopez got Sabathia into a real gym, five or six times per week from mid-October through mid-February, so he could train using Olympic lifts and other exercises to add muscle and increase strength, explosiveness and power.
Sabathia always warmed up with mobility and core exercises. Workouts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays focused on strength exercises, including deadlift, squat and power clean variations -- all of which involve moving heavy weight on a barbell -- and box jumps, broad jumps and other lateral and linear bounding exercises to train explosiveness. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays were dedicated to sprints and sled work, some conditioning and the shoulder and rotator cuff maintenance exercises nearly every pitcher includes in his training program.
With the elbow issues Sabathia battled in 2012 a not-so-distant memory, this offseason also included a visit to Dr. James Andrews' biomechanics lab at American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Ala., for a full analysis of Sabathia's pitching motion. Dr. Andrews' team also tested Sabathia's shoulder girdle and rotator cuff strength, and gave Lopez manual resistance, rotational and rhythmic stabilization exercises to incorporate into Sabathia's shoulder maintenance program.
"We got a lot done when we were training in CC's house, but this year I wanted to change the plan a bit and get him out of his comfort zone," Lopez said. "We obviously weren't trying to create an Olympic athlete, but we did want to develop the extension and power he needs to be more explosive in his sport, and he loved it."
|"[Before last season] it was like I was on 'The Biggest Loser.' But this year I was already at the right weight and I was only worried about getting stronger."|
|-- CC Sabathia|
Sabathia, who was a high school quarterback in Vallejo, Calif., also loved Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild's suggestion for his offseason throwing program. From mid-October to mid-February, Sabathia and Lopez played catch with a football four times per week to redevelop and maintain arm strength. Sabathia began throwing a baseball again in mid-January, moving from soft toss and long toss to throwing off a mound by the beginning of February.
Sabathia's diet has also been completely revamped. When he was trying to lose weight, Sabathia eliminated all carbohydrates, which left him feeling weak and depleted.
"I felt like garbage," he said. "I had no energy. I lost the weight pretty quickly, but given how terrible I felt, I don't think that was the right way to do it."
Now, Sabathia eats four to five smaller meals per day, which include some carbohydrates, along with one protein shake.
"CC has a personal chef who will cook whatever [Sabathia] wants," Lopez said. "We've made sure to add more whole foods, fish and lean protein and more vegetables."
Because he is maintaining his target weight, Sabathia also no longer has to obsess about "cheat meals" and can indulge whenever he wants. That is, if he wants a slice of pizza or a cheeseburger, he'll go for it.
Sabathia, 33, is now entering his 14th season in the big leagues and claims this is the best he's felt in Spring Training in years.
"I have great energy and I feel strong, even just throwing bullpens and batting practice," he said. "And the arm is definitely coming quicker."
Sabathia is also reaping the rewards of his healthier lifestyle and stronger physique off the field. In the past, he had trouble keeping up with his four children, ages 10, 8, 5 and 3.
"I've got them now," he said, "and I'm going to make sure I can continue to sprint after them."
The Yankees agree that Sabathia's changes have been for the better.
"CC has done a great job of getting in better shape than he's ever been in, health-wise, and now he's also stronger and tighter," said general manager Brian Cashman. "He had excess weight that it was best for him to lose."
How Sabathia's new physique will affect his performance and velocity over the course of another long baseball season remains to be seen.
"The proof is on the field," Lopez said. "If it works, it works. And if it doesn't, so be it. But either way, CC is in a better position to succeed this year than he was last year, and he's never been more excited for a season."