In the weeks before the start of spring training, more than 30 baseball players flocked to Athletes' Performance in Tempe, Ariz., a training facility for elite and professional athletes. Phillies leftfielder Pat Burrell lifted weights, Mariners prospect Michael Garciaparra (Nomar's younger brother) balanced on a physioball, and Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling lay on a training table while his surgically repaired right ankle was being taped. Devil Rays All-Star centerfielder Carl Crawford put himself through a multifaceted four-hour-a-day, six-day-a-week program for six weeks from early January to mid-February. "When I first came here in 2002, they had me write out my goals, and I thought I would be lucky if I could accomplish even a quarter of them," says Crawford, 24. "But after five weeks I saw noticeable improvement on every last one." Last year Athletes' Performance corrected Crawford's running form, and that helped him steal 59 bases to lead the American League. This year, Crawford's conditioning goal was to increase his strength, flexibility and mobility. "For as many bases as I've stolen, Mariners catcher Miguel Olivo can still throw me out from his knees," says the 6'2" 219-pound Crawford. "There's always room for improvement. That's why I keep coming back."
1. QUADRUPED LEG RAISE (above) Crawford starts his regimen with this stretch, which works his quadriceps, glutes, adductors and hamstrings. He gets down on all fours, extends one leg straight behind him. He then swings the leg to one side and holds it for one-to-two seconds. He repeats the motion with the opposite leg. Ten stretches on each leg. "You need core stability to hold this position, and first thing in the morning you're still really tight," says Crawford. "This helps wake up all those muscle groups."
2. SQUAT PRESS TO THROW WITH MEDICINE BALL Holding a 14-pound ball, Crawford squats, then jumps straight up while throwing the ball upward. He does it five times and then switches to a six-pound ball for three more throws. Three sets. "This works almost everything from your legs to your core to your shoulder muscles," says Crawford. "If we do this inside, we see who can hit the ceiling with the medicine balls. I usually come close."
3. ACCELERATION SLED PULL Dragging 90 pounds of weight attached to a sled, Crawford does two 15-yard sprints, then removes the straps and does a 15-yard sprint with no resistance. Three sets. "I started at 70 pounds, and it took me a month to get to 90," says Crawford. "Having the sled pulling me back forces me to use the correct running form for speed and acceleration."
4. HURDLE JUMP Starting in a squat with his hands behind his head, Crawford jumps over five 12-inch hurdles in a row that are two feet apart. Three sets. Says Crawford, "This helps build explosiveness and power in my hips and legs while working my glutes. People don't realize how important it is to get your glutes in shape. They're one of the largest muscles in the body and one of the most underused, but they're essential for explosiveness to run the bases."
5. DUMBBELL PRESS AND PLYOMETRIC PUSH-UPS Lying on his back on a bench, Crawford does four dumbbell presses with between 85 and 100 pounds in each hand. Then, without rest, he gets up and does four quick plyometric push-ups: Keeping his back straight and leaning forward with his hands on the bench, he bends his elbows, then pushes off so hard that his hands leave the bench before returning to starting position. Three sets. "I used to bench barbells a lot, but you can easily overcompensate with one arm," says Crawford. "With dumbbells you're isolating each arm so they have to work equally. I contrast that strength movement by immediately following it with a power movement--the push-up. This trains your body to increase its power output and express that power at a faster speed."
6. COLD PLUNGE REGENERATION After a full day's workout Crawford spends three minutes in a 104° hot tub and one minute in a 55° cold tub (left). He hits each tub four times. "This flushes the [lactic acid] out of our muscles and makes them recover quicker," says Crawford. "But those one-minute cycles in the cold tub feel like an eternity. After the last rotation a lot of us will sit and hang out in the hot tub."
DIET At 9 a.m. each day Crawford ate two slices of wheat toast or a bowl of oatmeal with a glass of orange juice. An hour later, before the morning workout, he drank a small protein supplement called a shooter. At 11:30, after the morning workout, Crawford had a strawberry shake with amino acids, the carbohydrate maltodextrin and essential fatty acids. For lunch Crawford had half a ham-and-cheese sandwich on wheat bread with no dressing. He had another shooter in the early afternoon and another shake at 4 p.m. For dinner he splurged. "I'd stop by Jack in the Box and grab three pieces of fried chicken," he says. "If I was being good, I'd get a cold cut 12-inch sub from Subway."