ST.LOUIS – Chicago Cubs starter Jake Arrieta is the model for today’s in-shape pitcher. Some hurlers, such as Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, didn’t view getting in optimal shape as something they needed when they took the mound. Arrieta is the opposite. He’s trying to get to a level of excellence, in part, by being in peak physical condition. It’s what he relies on as he climbs the ladder of elite pitchers in the game today.
Before his outing on Thursday afternoon against the St. Louis Cardinals Arrieta sat down for a day-by-day look at what he puts his body through – and in it -- over the course of four days between starts.
Day 1: It’s generally a flush day. I get a good run in and try and rebound as quickly as possible. Over the years I’ve figured out ways that I can do that most efficiently. After my run I can focus mainly on mobility, flexibility and recovery. That’s the most important aspect of Day 1, to find ways for your body to recover at its peak. You’re more sore the day after you pitch than any other day but early in the year isn’t as bad. But your body is still learning and understanding the five-day routine. Physically, there isn’t a week that’s identical to any other week. You have to listen to your body.
I just got two Pilates machines, like four or five days ago, so now that’s going to be a huge part of my daily routine regardless of where I am during the week. I use it for flexibility and recovery purposes. And I do a lot of work on the TRX (suspension training).
If I can mimic my movements in a workout as close as I can to my pitching delivery I’m going to be able to control my body better and repeat my delivery more efficiently from start to finish. I want to repeat my delivery 110 to 120 times as close to perfect as possible. It will benefit command, lower the risk of injury and keep me in the game longer.
Day 2: It’s a bullpen day. About two hours before I throw I like to get at least 20-30 minutes of Foam Rolling in to get the body ready and loosen up the fascia. Fascia is hard to stretch and limber up, just doing your normal type of stretching. Foam Rolling is something a lot of guys have started to incorporate. I actually started that in college. Foam Rolling is where I start every day. It’s crazy how much you notice the benefits of doing that even before you get into your workout. You feel that transition of being tight to limber or loose in every part of your body. I do all this leading up to a side. It reduces the chances of all those little issues. Hip flexor strains, quad strains, things like that. All are avoidable if you put a little extra time and effort to make sure your body is ready for that day of work.
My side session is anywhere from 40 to 50 pitches. That’s a pretty good workload for a side day. I do like to feel that sense of exhaustion so before my side I’ll run for a while or get on the bike for a little while. I’m trying to mimic the feel of the sith, seventh or eighth inning in my side so when I get to that point in a game it’s not foreign to me. I know what it feels like to be that exhausted. A sports psychologist in college said you have to find a way to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. That stuck with me.
Day 3: It’s a slower day. I like to play light catch if I play catch at all. It’s back to the same workout routine. A lot of functional flexibility work on the TRX to lengthen and open up my lats. At release we’re trying to create as much extension as possible. If I can mimic the movement of my extension through flexibility I’m going to be able to repeat that extension from start to finish. It’s vitally important. The TRX is a huge piece of equipment that I use to work on my flexibility each and every day.
Day 4: The day before I start is an intermediate type of catch. Anywhere from 90 to 150 feet based on feel. Just want to get things going. Stay in the arm slot, get the rotation going on each one of my pitches. I’ll normally throw a modified flat-ground of about 15 to 20 pitches. Spin a couple of breaking balls and focus on being down in the zone on everything. Just get to that feel. Make sure I’m finishing on the ball of my left foot. I try to finish square. I see that true rotation and good ball flight to the catcher.
Game day: I generally like to have two meals before the game. I want to feel full without any sensation of sluggishness or overeating. It’s not always about controlling the portion size it’s about what we eat.
The day I start I like to warm up twice. Thursday is a 12:45 p.m. start so I will get here (Busch Stadium) at about 8 a.m. I’ll get loose, do my foam roll and have a warm-up session as soon as I can. I like to see how my body feels, how it’s responding to certain things. Some days you might not feel great but for me there are things I can do in the warm-up phase to get my body at its optimum feel. Get the heart rate going a little bit then shut it down for about an hour. Then I really start my warm-up process. It’s very similar to my bullpen day.
I’ll get the headphones in, do some light meditation, sit alone by myself and go through my game plan. Calm my mind before the real works starts about 90 minutes before the game.
Diet: It doesn’t really change from day to day and it’s been an evolution over the course of my life. I try and avoid your simple carbohydrates like white pastas, white breads, white rice. They are void of the bran and the fiber; those are the two things your body needs to have the sense of being full. If you take those things out, your body won’t understand when its full so you eat a large quantity of those foods and that’s why you feel sluggish after meals like that. The fiber is the thing that helps your body digests things properly. I like to find meals that keep me full for an extended period of time so I decrease the amount of low energy or sluggishness throughout the day.
Then I rinse and repeat after my start. Do it all over again.