Why the Biggest Yankees Stars Cut Back on Lifting This Offseason

Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge got their yoga on this winter

Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton of the Yankees
Why would the Yankees want their power hitters to cut back on lifting?
Michael Reaves/Contributor/Getty Images

According to Eric Cressey, the Director of Player Health and Performance for the New York Yankees, the franchise’s two (literal) biggest stars — Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton — both diversified their offseason training plans this winter.

Speaking to the ballculb’s regional sports network, YES, Cressey reported: “Both of those guys took a dramatically different approach this offseason from what they’d previously done. In both cases, they lifted less than they had in the past. Aaron in particular has taken a heavy interest in yoga.”

Quick refresher: Stanton is 6’7″ and 245 pounds. Judge is 6’8″ and 282 pounds, and one of the few people on the planet who doesn’t look that small when standing next to Shaq. In theory, their superhero stature is a good thing. It makes the lineup more intimidating. It sells jerseys. But since the start of the 2018 season, after Stanton was traded from the Miami Marlins to the Yankees, their physique has been under special scrutiny.

In 2017 alone, Stanton and Judge had a combined 111 home runs. Across 2018, 2019 and 2020, the duo combined for 108 home runs. There have been flashes of brilliance, even last year (Judge was raking at the beginning of the 2020 season, Stanton in the playoffs), but by and large, they’ve struggled to stay on the field. It’s a list of hard-to-remember issues; Stanton has battled biceps strains, sore shoulders and hamstring issues, while Judge has dealt with calf injuries, aggravated obliques and cracked ribs.

For the Yankee fans out there — and really anyone who doesn’t root for injuries — this “less lifting” report is great news. Lifting, and lifting heavy, is essential for ballplayers. It increases bat speed, which helps a hitter catch up to a pitch quicker, or stay in the zone and drive the ball to the opposite field. But with guys this big, of a size the game hasn’t seen before (the great Dave Winfield, for reference, was 60 pounds lighter than Aaron Judge!) too much time in the gym could have been leading to diminishing returns over the last few seasons.

As Cressey points out: “We have to be mindful of the stress put on guys who are 6’8″ and 6’7″ — they’re big dudes standing around for long periods of time in cleats.”

Baseball is sneakily aggressive on the body. Barring the odd home-plate collision, it isn’t much of a contact sport. But it demands strange movements from the body — twists, turns and lateral shifts in direction — which must be repeated over and over again, both in practice and through the rigors of a 162-game season. Don’t underestimate, either, the toll all that travel can have on the lower back. It’s hard to get a good night’s sleep in a foreign bed, I don’t care how nice the hotel is.

Judge and Stanton have god-given mass. They’re not going to atrophy into a Kevin Durant-esque physique by cutting back on heavy lifting. They just need to focus on a blend of injury prevention and functional fitness. Yoga sounds like a great start. It’s likely that during spring training we’ll learn more about these routines. Expect talk on bodyweight training, resistance bands, HIIT training, and fun strength-cardio tools like battle ropes. Here’s hoping it pays off for the big fellas this year.

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