Feb 15, 2019
Next Stop: CWS

Last year, the Auburn University baseball team came within one run of advancing to the NCAA Division I College World Series, losing to the University of Florida in the Super Regionals. In 2019, Head Coach Butch Thompson says he won’t be satisfied with falling short again, and his solution has been putting more emphasis on the players’ strength training and nutrition, according to an article in the Montgomery Advertiser.

A big part of the plan was the hiring of strength and conditioning coach Chris Joyner, CSCS, RSCC, who spent 16 years in pro baseball. He most recently served as the major league strength and conditioning coordinator for the Toronto Blue Jays from 2014-17. He also held the same position with the Milwaukee Brewers from 2007-10. Previously, Auburn baseball did not have its own dedicated strength coach.

Joyner’s weight training plan is fairly basic. He assigns lifts based on fundamental movement patterns: push, pull, squat, hinge, load and carry. But where he deviates from the norm is in how he uses data collection to vary workouts. In addition, he is spearheading a new emphasis on sleep and nutrition.

Using the Kinduct Athlete Management System, Joyner tracks players’ hours of sleep, nutrition, and workouts, and gets feedback on how they are feeling physically. He believes all the small data points can add up to better strength plans.

“What can we do, what can we collect that could be a game-changer for us?” Joyner said. “I know Coach Thompson talks about those little things that can compound to make a big difference, and that’s what I wanted to bring to the table.”

Working with dietitian Marie Pesacreta, Joyner is individualizing player nutritional plans. The strategies include figuring out an ideal weight and developing pregame meals.

“A lot of times it’s trial [and] error,” Joyner said. “A lot of times guys might want to put on a ton of weight, but all of a sudden their mobility is affected and their speed is affected, so how much weight can we put on a guy? We may or may not know until we get there and we see performance is going down or there’s some movement restrictions, guy looks slow on the field, things like that.”

Do players mind the intrusion into their everyday activities? Most have welcomed Joyner’s approach.

“CJ came from working with big-leaguers, so he knows what works, what doesn’t work,” junior right-hander Davis Daniel said. “He works pretty closely with us and helps all that stuff. We have an app now that we can track our sleep, track how many fruits and vegetables we eat, all that stuff. They keep up with it and basically base practice schedules and stuff like that off of it. It’s been a big help.”

As the season progresses—opening day was Feb. 15—data collection will help coaches to better figure out why a player may be struggling. If a pitcher, for instance, suddenly loses velocity, they will look to the data collected for answers. They may uncover a change in routine that is hindering the pitcher or if long-distance travel seems to affect his abilities.

“It just allows us to keep monitoring what’s going on from a health standpoint, from a strength standpoint. Maybe we start monitoring a strength and see it trending down; then we can address that issue,” said Blake Beck, head of player development and data analyst. “It’s a flood of information, and you can’t just go to the player and give it all to him. So that’s where we collaborate as a staff really well, I believe. We’re meeting in here as a staff a few times a week and we’re talking about our team and our players, because they’re what’s important.” 

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