AT 29, the Cubs' Michael Barrett is one of baseball's top catchers--the U.S. World Baseball Classic backstop hit .276 and had just four passed balls last year. One reason, he says, is his off-season workout. Five days a week he goes to Competitive Edge Sports in Duluth, Ga., near his home, the training center for scores of NFL players, including the Bears' Brian Urlacher and the Broncos' Champ Bailey. "As a catcher you get beat up, so I like being around physical guys," says the 6'3", 222-pound Barrett. "My favorites are college guys getting ready for the combine. They push me." Barrett follows a regimen designed by the center's owner, Chip Smith. Using surgical tubing with a nylon overlay, Barrett does resistance exercises that mimic what he does on the field. The idea, he says, is that the muscles "remember" the movements and perform them at a higher level once the resistance is removed. "I feel much more flexible," says Barrett, who also undergoes regular massage therapy and acupuncture. "My hips aren't as tight, my knees aren't as sore, my reaction time feels quicker." Three days a week Barrett ends his training day with an hour of martial arts. "I don't believe there's a place for fighting in baseball," he says, "but I want to be confident that if a situation arose, I could handle it."
<< FOOT SPEED Wearing cords with four pounds of resistance attached from waist to heel, Barrett, using a variety of step patterns, accelerates down and back a 15-rung ladder laid on the ground. Fifteen reps. "The cords pull his foot up faster than normal and resist as he puts them down," Smith says. "We call this an 'overspeed' drill. He'll have a neuromuscular reaction: When the cords come off, his foot will be conditioned to fly up faster, as if the cords were still on."
<< LOW-PITCH BLOCKING One knee and both hands drop down in a blocking motion to the right and then to the left with 45 pounds of resistance from three cords attached to waist. Three sets of 15, each way. Smith explains that blocking is a complex maneuver: "He is working his adductor and abductor [inner and outer thigh] muscles, his abdominals, lower back, glutes, quads and his hamstrings."
<< HITTING Three sets of 15 swings while attached over his shoulders and around his waist to a harness (held by Smith) with 30 pounds of resistance. One set of 15 swings without resistance. "This generates bat speed," says Smith. "His hips work against the resistance to fire as hard as they can, and his hands come around as an extension of his hips turning. When we take the resistance off, the muscle memory will be there; the explosiveness that his muscles generated with resistance will be there."
<< LOWER-BODY EXPLOSIVENESS With 100 pounds of resistance attached to his waist, he does a set of 10 quarter jumps (only go into a partial squat), a set of 10 full jumps (squat deeply before jumping as high as possible) and a set of 10 fast jumps (jump as rapidly as possible, without getting set between jumps). Then he removes the resistance and does five quarter jumps. "When he needs to come up for a throw to second base," says Smith, "his muscles will fire that much harder to get him up quicker. It also helps prevent muscle fatigue."
<< SELF-DEFENSE Barrett's mixed martial arts regimen involves 20 minutes of punching a heavy bag and sparring with a partner, 20 minutes of muay thai (in which he hits a padded surface with shins, knees and elbows) and 20 minutes of grappling called "ground and pound" with a partner on the mat. "This is my release," says Barrett. "It works my arms, my legs and my hips. It totally wears you out, but I think it's fun. I wouldn't mind trying to be an ultimate fighter after my baseball career."