MESA, Ariz. -- Outfielder Reed Johnson, a six-year veteran with the Blue Jays and now the Cubs, sat down with SI.com to discuss his rigorous workout routine, its impact on his game and his thoughts on the ongoing controversy over performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.
SI.com: How did you get started with working out in general and with this regiment in particular?
Reed Johnson: Probably about five years ago I came out to Las Vegas from Southern California where I was originally with [Giants outfielder] Aaron Rowand for a couple of weeks, a former college teammate of mine. We would get up at about 4:45 or 5 o'clock in the morning to make sure we got to the gym on time. We've got a physical therapist named Tim Soder that trains us. Initially we'd start working out that early because his patients would start coming into the office around 7:30 and we wanted to make sure we had the gym to ourselves. He'd put us through our training for a couple of hours and I really fell in love with the training and then fell in love with the facilities. Then I decided I was going to move out there, so I moved out that next offseason. I've been there for five years now.
SI.com: How does your routine help you on the field?
RJ: It benefits us mentally during the season. You feel like when you're waking up that early and working for two hours without stopping -- all circuit training, so it's one exercise after the other -- when you're training like that you feel like when August and September roll around you've got not only a physical edge over your opponent but a mental edge as well because you can kind of look out at the mound and know that the guy standing 60 feet, 6 inches away didn't put in the work you did so why shouldn't you be the one that's successful?
SI.com: Why did you want to start working out like that?
RJ: Aaron and myself are about the same size. I'm 5-feet-10, he's probably 5-feet-11, even though he says he's 6-foot. We're not the body type to put up those gaudy home run and RBI numbers so we've got to be in the weight room, do extra in batting cage or fielding so young kids aren't taking your job away.
SI.com: Who developed your routine?
RJ: Soder puts the routine together every morning and that's the good thing too because it's different every morning. You're always walking out of there sore because your body is doing different things that day. Your body is always going to be working different muscles in different ways. For a lot of the core exercises we get our ideas from MMA guys. A lot of those guys make Vegas their home and you see MMA guys and boxers and they never really have back problems because they do cardio and they do core all the time, so that's something that we've focused on is making sure that after every single exercise we do, the next exercise is a core exercise. It's going to be a lot easier for us to stay healthy. Back in the day you're only kind of interested in trying to throw up as much weight as you can. You're not necessarily focused on the right things to do and as you get older you learn how to train the right way.
SI.com: When do you start working out each year?
RJ: Right around Thanksgiving every offseason. I'm training about a month before that to get in there because if you go in there from Day 1 being the first day you've ever touched a weight you're going to be struggling a little bit. I like to go in there and try to build up my muscular endurance and at least have somewhat of a base when I start. There's really nothing you can do to prepare, but you can try to get ready so it's less painful. Then I keep going until the day I leave for Spring Training.
SI.com: What is a typical day at the gym like for you?
RJ: We're there at 5:30 a.m. I do a half-hour of cardio, then I start lifting weights around 6 and it's all circuit-type training. We'll do three exercises, so we'll do Swiss ball, bench press and three sets of 15 of those. First set we go one set of 15 then we drop down onto the ground and do plyometric pushups, then we move to a core exercise where you're balancing on a Swiss ball, which is one of those big balls you see in the gym or whatever. We do tons of different exercises using those two pieces of equipment to isolate our core. I had back surgery two years ago, Aaron's had back injuries. It's important for us that while we're doing strengthening your normal muscles that you would work on in gym, chest triceps, biceps, we're doing all that stuff but at the same time we're working on our core in the middle of our workout.
It's about four days a week. Mondays we do upper body, Tuesdays we do lower body, Wednesdays we have the day off and Thursdays back to upper body and Friday lower body. During those days off I'll come in and do some cardio, stuff like that, or shoulder cuff exercises that you always see the pitchers doing. Wednesday definitely feels like a day off compared to what you've put yourself through, but you're still sore and then you'll be sore through the whole weekend and then you recover in time for the Tuesday leg workout. It's pretty intense.
SI.com: Had you ever trained before with supervision?
RJ: I trained in Orange County area with Tyrone Bennett. He trained myself, Troy Glaus ... Hank Blalock came out for a little bit, Ryan Dempster was actually out there a little bit too trying to train with Bennett.
SI.com: Do you guys bring any other players in to workout with you in Las Vegas?
RJ: That's the thing that we really enjoy. We like to hear when guys come in and say they're working hard and 25 minutes in to it they're in the bathroom. We had a guy come in earlier in the season and he was in the bathroom 20 minutes after we got there doing what he had to do and he came running out going "Puke and rally!" He came back out and finished the workout. A lot of it is no weight and a lot of plyo exercise or no weight and a lot of balance on the Swiss ball, so it's as hard as you make it. If you want to push half effort and go through the plyometric workout you can do that. It's about the intensity.
James Shields, the pitcher from the Rays, is Rowand's cousin and this was the first year he didn't train with us because he bought a house down in Tampa so he stayed down there. I think he's the biggest example of somebody's career being completely turned around. He didn't have someone to push him hard and train him hard. He was basically almost on his way out of baseball where injuries were concerned and Aaron basically dragged him out there. If you know Aaron he wasn't like, "Hey man you should come work out." He's going to grab you by the neck and you're going to come in and work out with us. That's exactly what Jamie did. It took him probably a couple of weeks to get his body where he could train at our level but he never complained, never said anything, just kept knocking on the door every day and worked at being strong. Now he's at that level where he's strong.
SI.com: Do you keep up the intensity of your workouts once the season starts?
RJ: You've got to slow down to a point. I'm still doing some of the same exercises, I think we calculated it one day it was 270 to 300 reps that we do in a full two-hour workout and here I'll only do, instead of pairing three exercises together like a bench, a plyo and a ball I'll just do a bench and a core, or I'll do a back exercise and a core or a bicep exercise and a core. So you're only doing two, you're not getting your heart rate up and pushing yourself to the point you won't be able to perform that day or the next day.
SI.com: Can you tell a difference during the season?
RJ: You have flashes during games where you feel like in previous years before you did that training you remember how tired you were and now that you've put in the work you almost feel that now that other players are on a little bit of a decline, which is natural with so many games, but if you've got that workout in the back of your head and the physical benefit of those workouts it can help you stay at an even keel and sometimes you feel like it's giving you that advantage late in the season.
SI.com: Performance-enhancing drugs continues to be a problem for the game. What are your thoughts on that?
RJ: It's tough because in the back of your mind you know that's going on. At least in the past it definitely had and maybe there's still some guys that are doing it and are able to hide it and get past drug tests. When you're working out and you're training you're thinking, "I'm going to have to work out twice or three times as hard if I want to get to a certain level." Whether it's the PEDs I don't know if that's why it goes through your head when you're working out. If I wasn't thinking about that I'd try and push myself to the next level anyway and Aaron is the same way. We feed more off each other than what's out there from a PEDs standpoint.
Nobody's ever come up to me and asked that question but if somebody pointed a finger at me and was like, "Hey man you look like you got bigger in the offseason are you a steroid guy or are you a PED guy?," you think about the blood, sweat and tears you put in every three hours and you're pretty much try to brush it aside but in the back of your mind you're thinking, "You have no idea how hard I've been working." Fair or unfair, I think all baseball players understand that's what people are going to try and focus on. Whether you've ever touched it or even thought about touching it, you're going to have people pointing the finger at you. Guys that do it the right way and put the work in ... it's kind of too bad for those guys, but we're starting to understand that's the way it's going to be.
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