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Although I came into pro ball with a lot of talent, it took me almost four years to approach my potential as a power pitcher. In my first season with the Angels, I was 19-16 with 39 starts, 20 complete games, an ERA of 2.28, 9 shutouts and 329 strikeouts in 284 innings. I had 17 games in which I struck out 10 or more batters. But something more important happened that year that would affect my performance for the next 25 years – I discovered the weight room in Anaheim. It hadn’t been installed for the Angels, because back then it was believed that weight training made you muscle bound. I started slipping in there and working out, being careful not to overdo it and letting my body tell me how it was responding. I learned how to work different areas of my body for balance and flexibility, taking a day off now and then to recover. I also discovered that even if I was somewhat stiff from lifting, it really had no effect on my ability to pitch. And after I began using the weights consistently, my arm would bounce back more quickly from one start to the next.

A key to my success with the Angels was that my velocity increased in the later innings. Now, this could be attributed to establishing a rhythm, finding a good groove and improving my mechanics as the game went on. But the conditioning program made this possible by increasing my stamina. Once you fatigue, it affects your mechanics and you can’t pitch with the precise timing required for a smooth, compact motion. I was so pleased with my results that I bought a Universal Gym for my home, and it paid dividends. During my first 3 years in the AL, I pitched more than 900 innings. There’s no way I could have recovered quickly, or been as durable, without a firm base of strength from lifting. Lifting helped me be more consistent.

As I got older, things began to change. I found that I had to vary my workouts to make up for longer recovery times. And, I had to work through injuries and pain. I learned to work around some muscle and to concentrate on others. I was fortunate that my genetics allowed me to age more slowly than most, but there’s no secret to what it takes to stay in shape. And that’s hours and hours of workouts. If that sounds boring or not worth the effort, you feel the same way that many big leaguers feel. I can’t swear to it, but it may be one of the reasons most of them leave the game in their early thirties. At the end of my career, I really felt the effects of my age. My back bothered me at times. I got stiffer quicker and I needed to loosen up and stretch longer. I couldn’t run as often, as fast or as far as I could when I was younger. But I still put myself through the paces of a hard workout nearly every day, because it was worth it to me.

I enjoyed feeling good, strong and hard. I can’t guarantee that a pitcher’s fastball will still be with him after 25 years in the big leagues if he works out, but it worked for me. I had to work harder and smarter every year, but the key was deciding to keep with it. Sure it would have been easier to skip it. But at my age I would probably have gotten soft or fat and, for sure, I would have been out of shape.

A lot of people were amazed to see me on an exercise bicycle immediately after a game while my arm was being iced. Did I need to exercise after I’d thrown a complete game? No. I needed to get started on my preparation for the next start. There’s no doubt in my mind that if it hadn’t been for the weight room, I would have been out of the game many years ago. Not only did it help me prevent injury, but it also kept me strong so I could continue to hold up over the long grind.

I believe that you should never lose a game because the opposition is better prepared than you. There are a lot of things that you can’t control. You can’t control the weather, condition of the mound, playing surface, your offensive and defensive support or the quality of the umpiring. A pitcher can no more control velocity, location or movement on a given day than a position player can control the quality of pitches he sees or the hops he gets. My philosophy is to focus on the one thing within your control, your preparation, and ignore those that you can’t. You should never lose a game because the opposition is in better shape, ate better, got more rest or thought more about the game than you did.
Don’t think that you can skip a workout and make up for it by working twice as hard tomorrow. If you have it within your power to work twice as hard, why aren’t you doing it now?

Nolan Ryan

 

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