Pitchers looking to add a few miles to their fastball might focus on upper body training—the bigger your bicep, the stronger your pitch will be, right? But if you really want to add some speed to your game, you’ll need to focus on more than just your arms to get faster. It’ll take work on your lower body—especially your hips, glutes, and legs. For proof, look no further than New York Mets pitchers Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, two of the hardest-throwing players in baseball.
The young fireballers have taken the MLB by storm over the past couple years, making All-Star games and helping the Mets get to the World Series. Their success should be no surprise: Both players know how important it is to hammer their lower body in the gym.
“The day after I start I do a heavy leg workout,” says Syndergaard, who uses leg curls, deadlifts, rowing exercises, and squats (his personal favorite) in his training. “They’re so important. I like working out. It helps me get better and make the game easier. It’s a therapeutic for me as well.” The 6’6”, 240-pound pitcher is nicknamed “Thor” due to his blonde locks of hair—but also because he looks like a towering Norse deity when perched on the mound.
DeGrom—who measures in at a brawny 6’4”, 180 pounds—doesn’t do as much heavy lifting as Syndergaard due to a past knee injury, but the righthander makes up for it with lighter weights in-season and leg band workouts. “I go heavier on my legs in the offseason—that’s when [I] try and gain that strength,” deGrom says. “During the season, it’s about maintaining it.”
UPDATE: After having a record-setting season for the Mets in 2018, DeGrom won the 2018 National League Cy Young Award. DeGrom went 10-9 while getting very little run support during the season, but the rest of his stats were incredible—and historic, which is why he won the award. Per CBS Sports: “DeGrom finished the 2018 season with an MLB-best 1.70 ERA over 217 innings. It was just the eighth time a pitcher with at least 150 innings pitched finished the season with an ERA of 1.70 or lower since the Cy Young was first awarded in 1956. The 30-year-old had 18 starts in which he went at least six innings and allowed one or zero earned runs, and he set a record with 29 straight starts allowing three runs or fewer. DeGrom is only the second pitcher since earned runs became an official stat in both leagues in 1913 with a sub-2.00 ERA, at least 250 Ks and fewer than 50 walks in a season, joining Pedro Martinez in 2000.”
The commitment to fitness has paid off for both pitchers in 2016. The Mets rotation has been hit hard by injuries—Matt Harvey had season-ending elbow surgery, while a shoulder injury has limited Steven Matz—but deGrom and Syndergaard have been constants, along with the heroically un-muscular crowd-favorite, Bartolo Colón.
At this time in 2016, both Syndergaard and deGrom were ranked in the top five in the National League in ERA, and apart from a brief break for Syndergaard in July, both players were been on the mound every fifth day. With the way the pitchers take care of themselves, it’s no surprise they’ve been able to stay healthy.
Syndergaard and deGrom spoke with Men’s Journal about how their training helps them on the mound, what it felt like playing in the World Series, and why pilates is a “great workout” for pitchers.
(Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for concision and clarity.)
Men’s Journal: What is your training routine like? What are your favorite areas of focus when you are working out in the gym?
JACOB DEGROM: During the season, it’s more just maintaining. As a pitcher, it’s important for your shoulders, rotator cuffs, and back. That’s my main focus. I keep a good shoulder routine and [scapula muscle] routine. But Noah’s more into working out than I am. Free weights is mainly what I use.
NOAH SYNDERGAARD: Every pitcher has his own routine—legs, core, rotator, shoulders. I love to crush it in the off-season, whether it’s going to the gym or working out on the field. I do a lot of free weights; I’m not big into machines. I really started getting more into working out when I was probably a junior in high school and I’ve evolved ever since then.
What is your training like during the offseason compared to during the season?
DEGROM: The offseason is when you try to gain strength. You have 162 games during the year, so you’ve got to pick and choose the times work out. It’s a little easier for pitchers to have routines, so we have our days kind of scheduled that way. You’re going to work out and try to maintain the strength you gain in the offseason, and then you work to gain after the season is over.
Are there any workouts or exercises you did during the offseason that have helped you stay so consistent this season?
SYNDERGAARD: Last off-season, I really got into pilates.
DEGROM: Me too.
SYNDERGAARD: Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. I think it’s great for pitchers—it hits all the small muscles in the hips and in the core, moving keeps them strong. I’m big into yoga as well, I try and do a lot of that in the offseason. If you’ve seen me run… I’m not the most flexible person [laughs].
What’s your routine like between starts and during pre-game?
DEGROM: Play a little light catch, and only some short sprints for me. Then on the day-of, it’s just getting loosened up and ready to go out there and pitch. I think in high school and college, you don’t really know what your routine is going to be, you’re still trying to come up with it. I think just who you’re around the different strength trainers and coaches that you have and the different levels, it all kind of brings something different. You take a little bit from each of them and what works for you.
SYNDERGAARD: Normally the day of a game when I start, nerves really get to me. I think nerves are a good thing. I’ve always been told that if you go to the ballpark one day and you’re pitching but you’re not nervous, then you should probably just retire. You want to go out there and you want to be the best that you can be and get out there and help your team win a ballgame. I’m not really superstitious, except the days when I pitch.
Do you use any supplements or other products in your training?
SYNDERGAARD: I just drink a lot of water, make sure to stay hydrated—also a lot of CytoSport supplements. It’s protein, different hydration drinks. Doing that, it just allows my body to go out there and perform at 200%.
DEGROM: Not so much for me. No, I wouldn’t say there’s anything. I mainly just try to drink a lot of water.
What was it like playing in the World Series?
DEGROM: It was a lot of fun. Definitely would like to do it again. I wasn’t very pleased with how my World Series started out, so I definitely would like to get back there and get another chance at it.
SYNDERGAARD: It was a dream come true. I made me so fortunate and blessed to be able to pitch in the World Series, especially because it was my rookie season. Still to this day, each and every day, I flash back to it—just remember how much fun we had.
What advice do you have for young players other athletes who want to emulate your training?
SYNDERGAARD: Step one, you got to get a great haircut—that’s the first one. [Laughs] My best advice is to go out there and don’t take anything for granted, don’t take any day for granted, because you never know if it’s your last. Whether it’s throwing your last pitch, don’t take each day for granted, try do the best, and be the best athlete you can be every day.
DEGROM: Just hard work. Everyone always says hard work pays off and I think me and Noah are examples of that. I wasn’t a first-rounder, but I wasn’t that late of a pick—I was a ninth-round pick, and I just kept working hard and followed my dream. I was fortunate enough that it came true.
How are you feeling about the rest of the season? What would it mean to get back to the playoffs again?
DEGROM: We know what type of team we have, we feel we can match up with anyone.
SYNDERGAARD: We’re all really optimistic. We’re ready to finish out this second half on a high note, get back to the playoffs, and get back to the World Series.