Dana Cavalea was all alone behind the front desk. No receptionist. No assistant. Just the Yankees strength and conditioning coordinator waiting to shake hands with anyone who walked through the front door.
Cavalea opened ML Strength in downtown White Plains as a kind of offseason project, a chance to further utilize his big league expertise. The gym itself has a green turf floor dotted with high-end equipment. In the back are a massage table and training room. It’s a small taste of the things Cavalea prioritizes in training athletes, from A-Rod to high schoolers.
Before making a few pre-spring training visits to a handful of Yankees, Cavalea sat behind that front desk and talked about his gym, his athletes and his approach to training big league players.
For me, the training methods that we’re using are consistent. It’s human specific. I’m really focused on movement and helping people understand their bodies and why they have pain, and why they have discomfort, and get them past that without medication.
So I imagine a lot of this is teaching people to workout the right way?
It’s kind of like going back to saying, “Form, form, form.” You heard it back in the day – form first. Well, a lot of that kind of went out the window, and now we’re focusing more on that again. We’ve got to focus on form before we worry about getting strong. If you clean up the body, then we’re able to move in the right direction toward better health and fitness and lifestyle.
Do you have professional athletes come in doing a workout wrong, or at this point do they pretty much know what they’re doing?
You know what, there are a lot of professional guys you see, and their bodies just adapt to some negative movements that they have. And that’s why you see guys with chronic breakdowns and chronic pain. You find out what the root cause of that is, and then you start to work backwards. Sometimes it’s going back to do the same progressions you would do with a 9 year old kid on this pro athlete. It’s working backward to work forward, cleaning up what’s wrong with them neurally in order to move forward.
Part of their body will be moving the wrong way?
Yeah. Sometimes their bodies will adapt. Their shoulders get frozen and they don’t move as well. What we try to do is address all of that, get their shoulder functioning. Kids are great because their whole body works. That’s why they move (so easily), but now with all the video games and sitting down (some of that movement goes away). The same thing transfers over to pro athletes. The whole goal is to keep their bodies moving unrestricted and keep strength in areas that matter most.
What should your players be doing right now? They’re into some baseball specific stuff at this point, aren’t they?
The goal right now is for these guys to be focusing a lot on conditioning, get their conditioning levels up. Focus on anything that might be in the way of their range of motion. Anything we’ve dealt with over the past season, we’ll focus on those limiting factors.
Do you talk to players regularly through the winter about nagging issues?
Yeah. You’d like to hear from guys more in the offseason. Sometimes you play phone tag with them. I always just try to ask them when I try to swing around once a week (making phone calls), “How are you doing? Is everything OK? Are you all good?” (They’ll answer), “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” “OK, great.” That’s pretty much the extent of it, and if anything comes up, we try to take action on it the best we can. Our guys are pretty smart about knowing their bodies, because at the end of the day, their bodies are their career.
Alex Rodriguez had the knee last year. He’s had the hip in the past. Do you do specific things with him that are focused on those areas.
With him the goal is to reestablish range of motion in the right side and make sure the body parts are moving the way they’re supposed to be. If they’re not moving with an adequate range of motion, extra stress is created and puts extra stress and torque on that knee and that hip. Certain musculatures, as a result of surgery, shut down and we want to be click it back on.
Where is he with that?
He’s great, man. Our guys are doing very well.
The biggest thing you try to do is adjust how much they’re doing. Limit the amount that they do because you don’t want to wear them down, wear their body parts down. Their bodies are adapted. Strength is there. The power, for the most part (is there). It’s about keeping oil in their joints, making sure that they’re staying ready to go.
We’ve heard quite a bit about Phil Hughes’ offseason training. What is it exactly he’s been doing this winter?
Phil’s been great. He’s a big kid, but he’s working really hard. He’s trying to come back and let people know that he’s put the time and the effort in to make some changes for himself. (His training this winter) is very similar to what I do, kind of a whole body training program where we’re focused on measuring him out, finding out what his restrictions are, and then attacking those restrictions through programs. It’s strength. It’s conditioning. It’s nutrition. It’s injury pre-hab, what we call injury prevention. All of those things.
Do you start working with a guy like Joba Chamberlain coming back from Tommy John surgery, or is that more medical at this point?
(Head trainer) Steve Donohue will probably start working with him, but at the end of the day it’s a team-based approach.
With a guy like CC Sabathia… We’ve both seen a lot of big pitchers, guys who carry a lot of weight but can really throw. When CC puts weight on during the season, does that affect his strength at all?
I don’t really think so. He’s a big guy. His structure holds a lot of weight. Obviously, for his own health, you’d like to see him get a little bit leaner, but he’s one of our hardest working guys. He works hard. He takes pride in his work. It’s not that there’s a lack of conditioning. He wants to be in on every drill. He’s committed to making himself better. Sometimes you are what you are. He’s a big guy, and he’s always going to be a big guy.
Speaking of players who are what they are, Dave Robertson is the opposite of CC. He’s not a very big guy, but we see a big fastball out of him. Where do you see that sort of strength in him?
He’s very strong, and his body’s like a big rubber band. He creates a lot of torque and can really slingshot that ball.
Which Yankee is in the best shape right now?
Man, I haven’t seen them, so I can’t really say. Russell Martin is in pretty good shape. He works really hard, but we have a special group. They all work hard. There’s nobody really that doesn’t work.
Anybody’s who’s raw strength stands out to you?
Sergio Mitre was one of those guys.
He’s strong. Big time. Very big. He’s a horse, just strong.
I expected you to say Mark Teixeira or someone like that.
Tex is strong also, very strong. We’re talking about a very small part of the population, so their strength and their power and their bodies are different from everybody else. That’s why they are where they are.
I assume Brett Gardner is the fastest guy you have. Is there anybody who’s close to that?
(Eduardo) Nunez is up there too. He can fly also.
Other than Sergio, is there someone who would surprise people off the street when he’s in the weight room?
Jeter. Very strong. He’s a strong guy, that’s how he generates his power. It’s pretty cool to work with these guys and see what they bring every day. They’re a special group and they work every hard. I can only tip my cap, because asking them to be consistent for nine months is a feat within itself. They all do a really good job. I think Joe Girardi set the tone, and (Brian) Cashman demanding that out of them. I’m a soldier. I just follow orders.
Photos from ML Strength