As a result of his spinal stenosis, David Wright has been completing an extensive daily pre-game warm-up to better prepare his body for the upcoming game. Men's Fitness recently delved into the routine and this article summaries that workout and explains the principles and rationale behind the selected exercises. It is an overall great read, as is this article that shows how to do some of the exercises included in Wright's three-hour workout.
Quick recap of the injury
Spinal Stenosis occurs when the joint space between two vertebrae narrows either in the central canal (where the spinal cord is) or the intervertebral foramina (where the nerve root leaves the spinal column to go to another body part). Degeneration and/or bulging of the intervertebral disc (lies between two vertebrae) can also contribute to the narrowing. As noted in the article, Wright injured his L4-L5 and L5-S1 discs, which initially incited the stenosis.
The narrowing of the joint space causes compression of the nerve and results in back pain that can shoot down the leg(s), causing muscle weakness, numbness, and tingling. The low back stiffens up as a protective mechanism to reduce the amount of pain; consequently, muscles become tight and the vertebrae in the lumbar spine lack mobility. Symptoms are exacerbated by activities that involve being in an upright position such as standing or running. With disc involvement, as in this instance, activities that require flexion of the low back (e.g., fielding a ground ball) can intensify symptoms as well. Any rotational activity such as swinging a bat or throwing a ball further adds compressive forces on an already compressed/stenotic portion of the lower back.
Principles behind Wright's workout program
The name of the game for Wright's workout plan is "core stabilization." The core comprises four muscles, most notably the rectus abdominus (i.e., abs). The lesser-known muscles are the external and internal obliques and the transverse abdominus (TA). When working together, the core enables your body to move while protecting the spinal cord regardless of the task and stabilizing the rest of the body during the movement. While everyone wants to do sit-ups to get those rock-hard abs, the other three muscles need to be performing optimally as well to improve the performance of your core.
The obliques act to rotate your body as well as to stabilize the body when only one side is moving. For instance, your right obliques are stabilizing the body while your left arm is reaching over to grab something. The TA is the deepest of the group and is therefore the hardest to activate since the three bigger muscles kick in if the core is activated too much.
Before all of this occurs, though, Wright must demonstrate that his body has the flexibility to allow his muscles to function properly. If a muscle is too tight, then the muscle will be unable to produce the amount of force that is required; as a result, the other muscles and structures have to compensate since additional forces are placed on them. Each warm-up and workout requires a thorough stretching program to improve the range of motion of his joints and better prep his muscles for dynamic movement.
Wright needs to adapt his routine to account for the toll the baseball season has on any player's body. For this reason, he shows up to the ballpark hours before everyone else to get the proper treatment and warm up his body well. Essentially, the routine breaks down to hands-on physical therapy techniques to loosen up any stiff joints and tight muscles, followed by an extensive exercise regimen to prepare his body for baseball-specific movements, and concluded with a shortened baseball-related routine.
We have already gone over the essentials of his pregame work that primarily consists of flexibility and core stabilization; nevertheless, this is all completed before any baseball-specific drills and warm-ups. A good way to enhance core stabilization is through balance and coordination exercises. A lot of these exercises are completed while standing on one leg, jumping in multiple directions and/or over hurdles, and doing two tasks at once (such as catching a ball while balancing on one leg). In addition, exercises are included to develop agility and power because those require a tremendous amount of core stabilization and translate over to baseball-related tasks.
Batting and fielding practice has been shortened to take fewer swings off the tee and fewer grounders to preserve this back for the game. Wright has to make sure this time is efficient and purposeful given that he does not have the luxury of a bad rep. He used to take 60 swings off a tee and about 50 ground balls, but those swings have been reduced by more than half and Wright now only takes 10-15 ground balls. One of the adjustments made was altering his swing to allow more trunk and hip rotation; this was achieved by Wright sitting back more (by making sure his weight is centered over his feet) to take pressure off his back.
Start to finish, this is a 4-5 hour process, but it is clear Wright is dedicated to this process to help his team return to the World Series.