for a World Series Repeat in San Francisco
The dog days of August are here, the Giants are at the top of the National League West, and all is well in the world of Pablo Sandoval. The slugging third baseman has been striking fear into the hearts of National League pitchers all season long. Well established in the clean-up slot in the Giants' potent lineup, Sandoval was hitting .304 as the month began, having just come to the end of a 22-game hitting streak. Sandoval has also been showing a new cat-like swiftness in the field as well, with several highlight-reel grabs already to his credit this year. Such is the respect afforded to Sandoval that he earned a trip to the All-Star Game this year despite missing several weeks with a broken hand. And now, the Giants have gone out an added perennial All Star Carlos Beltran to their lineup, where he will hit in the third slot, providing even more RBI opportunities for Pablo.
In short, it's good to be the "Kung Fu Panda" this year. It's hard to believe that a mere eight months ago, Pablo Sandoval was fighting for his professional life. Slow and dangerously out of shape, Pablo slumped through September as the Giants made their playoff run, then found himself benched as the Giants achieved their first world championship since 1954. Amidst all the hoopla, the Panda was an afterthought.
Fast forward to early November 2010 in Tempe, Arizona, and while most professional baseball players are taking a much-needed vacation, golfing a round at the local country club, or just chilling for some much needed R&R, Pablo Sandoval of the San Francisco Giants was going through a grueling series of pre-workout calisthenics that were not for the faint of heart.
He starts with a series of lunges along a long stretch of artificial turf, that at this early hour, probably feels like the "Long Green Mile." His trainer, Ethan Banning, is barking out instructions like a drill sergeant bellowing at a set of new recruits. "Butt down Pablo, head up."
Sandoval continues through a series of exercises that everyone dreads: lunges, side lunges, crab walks, and squat thrusts. And this is just warming up for the good stuff.
After a dismal and sometimes embarrassing 2010 season, Sandoval dedicated his offseason to becoming the impact player he was in 2009, when he hit .330 with 25 homers and 90 RBIs in his first full major league season. By 2010 those numbers dipped to .268 with only 13 home runs and 63 RBIs in his second full season in the big leagues.
The impetus for Sandoval was a humbling end to the 2010 season. Giants manager Bruce Bochy benched Sandoval for most of the postseason, and Sandoval could only watch as his teammates won the World Series without him. When it was over, general manager Brian Sabean told Sandoval if he did not get in shape he could start the 2011 season in the minors.
"I had to make a decision if I wanted to keep playing in the big leagues," Sandoval said. "To save my career."
Sandoval acknowledges his weight yo-yoed last season and his hips hurt from the extra pounds. His defense suffered and he looked winded on the basepaths. It was time for a change.
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Fixing What's Broke
In October, Sandoval was tipping the scales at an unsightly 274 pounds -- clearly living up to his moniker of " Kung Fu Panda." His goal was to drop 35 pounds, and add some much needed lean body mass. So he turned to Ethan Banning of Triple Threat Performance in Tempe.
Banning is old school. He's not a big proponent of glam exercises and curls for the girls. During his first month with Sandoval, beginning in November, Banning busted out all the classics: sledge hammer to tractor tire, medicine ball against the wall, tackling sled, pull-ups and push-ups.
Banning outlined his objectives during the four months he had to work with Sandoval:
- Increase mobility
- Strength and power development
- Increase functional strength
The challenge was quite glaring. Sandoval's body fat percentage was pushing 30%, and he had very little gym strength (because he had never trained before). It wasn't a pretty sight.
"When Pablo came to TTP, he was so far out of shape that his training program had to be modified substantially," Banning said. "He could not do walking lunges for more than 5 or 6 yards at a time before having to rest. He could not do a single pull-up either and could barely do a push-up. That said, initially we focused on GPP and relative strength. Lots of body weight exercises like walking lunges ... forward, backward, laterally, etc. Lots of isometric training (static holds). Lots of running of various distances."
Banning took the positives and worked with them.
"Inside that overweight body was/is a tremendous athlete," Banning explained. "His athletic IQ is very high. What I mean is that his ability to make biomechanical changes very quickly is very good. An example would be him doing a squat and me coaching him to change his technique. He could do this on the very next rep."
Banning knew positive results in the offseason would translate into more production on the field.
"Confidence is a huge factor in all sports and particularly baseball," Banning said. "Pablo needed to get his mojo back. A huge change in lean body mass helped with this part. He also had terrible relative strength. Relative strength is your strength to body weight ratio. His lack of relative strength was due to a number of factors. One, he was overweight. And another was his lack of experience developing his strength and power."
Losing weight in combination with a structured strength training program will dramatically increase an athlete's relative strength. Pablo did both. Because of his lack of body maintenance, Pablo had poor mobility and function through his body, in particular his hips. Consequently, he could not effectively swing a bat and drive the baseball -- most notably from the right side.
"His fielding also deteriorated dramatically from his lack of fitness," Banning said. "This was most evident late in the 2010 season when he could not get to the bag (third base) to get someone out. He looked like a fish out of water."
Results In The Gym Translate to Results on the Field
With a regular exercise schedule, and a diet carefully monitored by Banning, it didn't take long for Sandoval to start shedding the pounds. By January 1, Sandoval had dropped 16 pounds. By January 15, he cut 22 pounds. At the Pepsi Home Run Derby in late January, the public got a glance at the new and improved Sandoval, who looked sleek at 247 pounds. But there was still work to be done before the start of Giants' training camp.
Banning and his staff –-- including Greg Oliver, one of Barry Bonds' longtime personal trainers, and Olympic decathlon champion Dan O'Brien -- continued to press forward with Sandoval. Sandoval's regimen began the progression: GPP/Isometric Strength/Structural Balance; Fat Loss/Relative Strength; Muscle Hypertrophy/Functional Mobility; and finally Functional Strength/Power.
"In his 3 months at Triple Threat Performance, Pablo did not touch a weight for at least the first month," Banning said. "After laying an appropriate strength foundation, we began a more traditional strength training program. At this time, Pablo could barely squat 135 pounds. He now squats over 400 pounds. He could not do a single pull-up when we got him. Now he can do multiple sets of 10 pull ups."
By February 18, Pablo was down to 241, an amazing 36-pound drop in 110 days. His body fat was down from 30 percent to 19 percent. The before and after photos were quite dramatic, like looking at photos of someone in their high school days and 20 years later after a few too many beers and bratwursts, except the photos were in reverse. Sandoval transformed his body, and now looked like a professional athlete.
"He will benefit from a renewed sense of well being and confidence," Banning said. "He is not carrying around an extra 40-plus pounds, so he moves much quicker. The bat feels like a toothpick in his hands and his new found hip mobility allows him to generate lot of power into the baseball and move laterally in the field."
The 24-year-old Sandoval showed up to Spring Training in Scottsdale, Ariz., with a renewed attitude and a sleek body. The results paid off immediately. Now, a few months later, it's increasingly hard to remember Sandoval's darkest days of 2010. Sandoval's manager is impressed.
"I'm proud of how hard he's worked to get to this point," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "There comes a time you have to take responsibility for yourself, whether it's your actions or play. A lot has been done from the organization for Pablo. It was in Pablo's hands and he took the bull by the horns, so to speak, and got himself in this kind of shape."
Sandoval's diet underwent a complete overhaul as well. Gone were the excess carbs and empty calories, replaced by a nutrient-dense regimen that emphasized lean proteins and high-energy healthy fats in smaller individual meals spread throughout the day.
He hired a personal chef to cook him three meals a day. He cut out the no-nos: ice cream, soda and chips. And starting supplementing his diet with whey protein. When he needed a boost of protein, he turned to Supreme Protein bars for a quick fix. He tried the Supreme Protein bars in November, and quickly became a huge fan. His favorite flavor is Peanut Butter & Jelly.
" The Supreme Protein bars were a big part of my training," Sandoval said. "I would grab a Supreme Protein bar after I trained. And then again around 3 or 4 in the afternoon when I was hungry to replace a meal. In the past, I would eat junk food. Now I know I'm getting high quality protein, which is great for lean muscle mass and to keep my body performing at a peak level."
On training days, Sandoval would eat two to three Supreme Protein bars per day. Because they are so nutrient-dense, Supreme Protein bars fit well within the diet plan that Banning prepared for Sandoval. Supreme Protein bars are a great functional food, they taste like a candy bar, and they were a huge boost to Sandoval's overall body makeover goals.
"Yea, I feel good about myself," Sandoval said. "All of the work I put in the offseason has paid off. I feel more comfortable this year. My hips are stronger and I have more power in my legs. I feel great."
The leaner and meaner Pablo Sandoval is here to stay.