A strong foundation can help you find that sweet swing
Take core training. He does a lot of it, and says he's been doing so for the past 25 years as he worked with athletes. But he won't use the term because, in his mind, "It's become this trendy . . . thing."
His gym, called Advance Athlete Strength Training, is not trendy. It's in the abandoned gymnasium of a dormant Lake City Way elementary school. It holds rows of weight machines, treadmills and bikes, but he spends almost all his time on one end of the room, away from the equipment. In fact, he never has one of his pupils perform a bench press.
A former bodybuilder and University of Washington baseball player, Potts mainly works with high-school and college baseball players, but also helps some professionals, including a fast-rising pitcher in the Anaheim Angels farm system last winter.
"We work on diagonal rotational movement," Potts says. "Each thing we work on has to translate to the field."
Swinging a bat is a violent torque that requires balance, strength and body parts working in sync and supporting one another. Many athletes, especially weekend warriors, aren't balanced. This applies to swinging a golf club, throwing a softball, and serving a tennis ball. All these movements start and drive from the core.
Potts has worked with football players, too, and when I visited him, an FBI recruit he had been working with was preparing for an agency fitness test. Potts spoke while sitting on a large inflatable balancing ball. Behind him, the would-be agent maintained push-up form while balancing his feet and each hand on balls of various sizes. After a certain time, he'd switch the combinations. The drill is a way to force the body to gain strength while learning balance.
To help them build core strength through balance, Potts has his athletes stand on one foot while balancing balls of differing weights in each hand. He runs many drills on large inflatable stability balls. He also spends considerable time working on the non-dominant sides.
Many of his drills confound young players at first; they look longingly at the weights, he says. But they are challenged: "They come in with attitude, but they don't walk out with it."
Some of his drills are tough and geared for the ambitious athlete, but Potts insists that even a weekend golfer or rec-league softball player should consider the moves. As always, check with your physician or trainer if you have any concerns about getting hurt, but here are a couple of things he demonstrated:
Kneel and balance on a stability ball. This can be hard to do, and may require practice. But once you master it, you're working stabilization muscles and challenging the abductors of the inner thighs. Then, see if you can play catch with a Nerf ball while in that position. This, says Potts, further works your core muscles and functional balance.
Grab both sides of a volleyball or other light ball with outstretched arms. Stand with your feet pointed parallel to a wall (or a friend). Rotate your body away from the wall, then rotate back to it, throwing the ball with two hands and fully extended arms. Let the torso do the work. Start light and work up to a basketball. If you're strong and adept with proper form you can use a medicine ball. Be sure to work both sides of the body. This exercise targets the back, abdomen and hips.
While Potts spends a lot of his time working with ambitious athletes, he takes on all kinds of folks. Tomasa Eckert, 54, couldn't even walk around Green Lake without getting pains in her legs. She heard about him and shyly called. He told her to come over at 6:30 in the morning and he'd see if they could work together. She was so nervous, she didn't even sleep the night before.
"I'm the classic person that somebody like him wouldn't work with," says Eckert, a music teacher. "I'm in my 50s, wasn't in very good shape and wasn't athletic throughout my life. But he didn't do that macho show-off thing that is so irritating to beginners like me."
Eckert's goal was to be able to pick up and carry her niece or nephew in an emergency situation, be able to meditate without getting a sore back, and hike without knee pain. Her progress, they both report, has been outstanding.
It's all about function and balance, Potts says. And strength. "If you don't do anything else, and no matter who you are, get stronger. That's always a good thing."
For more information on Potts' philosophy and training, go to www.advancedathlete.com.
Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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