Noah Syndergaard is devising a new training strategy. The previous one emphasized packing more muscle onto the solid 6-foot-6 frame that had helped him earn the nickname Thor, and throttling up pitches that had already made him the hardest-throwing starter in the major leagues.
“I’m always going to try to raise that kind of bar,” he said when he showed up at spring training this year looking stronger than ever.
But Syndergaard, 24, has not appeared in a game since April 30. Instead, he has spent almost three months on the Mets’ disabled list, tending to a partly torn latissimus muscle on his right side and trying to figure out what went wrong. He initially rejected suggestions that his ambitious off-seasonweight training might have been counterproductive for a pitcher, that a better regimen would have focused on improving his fluidity of motion rather than building brute force.
During his time on the disabled list, Syndergaard has made some adjustments to his workouts and has come to realize that he had not been training effectively. Sitting in the dugout at Citi Field before Friday’s game against the Oakland Athletics, Syndergaard acknowledged that he was “maybe too bulky and wiry, and not in the right areas,” earlier in the season.
“So much of what I’ve learned this year,” he said, “is that I thought I was doing what I needed to be doing. But I realize now how messed up my body was, and I’m working hard to get it back to normal.”
Very early this season, Syndergaard developed a sore right biceps but turned down the Mets’ request for him to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging test. A few days later, in his fifth start, he suffered the muscle tearthat has kept him idle. His absence has been felt throughout this disappointing Mets season.
Syndergaard said he would not stop lifting weights, because he needs the strength to endure a six-month season.
“But you have to be smart about it,” he said. “I don’t think necessarily this off-season I lifted the smartest weights. I want to go to the weight room and feel taxed. Sometimes I’d leave the weight room not feeling that, so I’d do a little extra stuff.”
And that extra was too much? “Probably,” he said.
Before now, he said, he did yoga and Pilates in addition to weight lifting, and he did some stretching, but “not as much as I’d like to.”
“Nobody really wants to stretch now,” he added, “but I’ve had this desire to become a more well-rounded athlete, as opposed to just someone who lifts and is strong. I want to be strong, and be mobile, hostile and agile.”
In addition to refining his flexibility, Syndergaard said he wanted to focus more on running, in an effort to build his cardiovascular endurance and the sturdy legs that are essential to pitching. He said he would probably stop doing Pilates and yoga because they were “not exactly sports specific.”
When Syndergaard looks back at the day he tore his latissimus, he sees a minor mechanical flaw that may have contributed to his injury. He was keeping his eyes on the catcher during his delivery, which made him more upright and added stress on his right latissimus.
“The lat needs to be loose because that’s what slows down the arm,” he said, referring to the end of the pitching motion. “If it’s tight, it’s going to contract really fast, and ultimately tear.”
Syndergaard is also considering how to do more to alleviate lower-back tightness, which has nagged him off and on for years.
Syndergaard watched film of his pitching earlier this season and wondered, “Why does it always look like I’m leaning back and off balance?”
He added, “It was because my lower back was so tight, it was like a C. I’m trying to correct that but also build off of where I am already and learn how to train smarter and more efficiently.” That, he said, could include things as simple as more consistently maintaining good posture.
Syndergaard said he had not done extreme power lifting over the off-season. He did typical lifts such as pull-ups, rows, dumbbell bench presses and squats.
“But even my lower body, I wasn’t necessarily lifting my lower body the right way,” he said, “because my form was off to where a lot of my lower back was doing most of my work.” He realized that he was not using his gluteus muscles enough.
Now, Syndergaard said, he is receiving advice on efficient workouts from Eric Cressey, a trainer who has worked with past Cy Young Award winners like Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber, and from Shane Rye, who works with Cressey.
Syndergaard has also been doing a program called Kinstretch at the Soho Strength Lab in New York. He said Kinstretch was a more athletic advanced yoga, helping him work on the strength and flexibility of weaker joints and areas, such as his hips, back or gluteus. He said he had already noticed a difference.
“I feel like I’m able to control my body a lot better now, or just be more athletic,” he said. “Right now, I’m trying to build a better base.”
Syndergaard said that in the coming off-season, he would focus on the exercises recommended by Cressey’s group and continue with Kinstretch. He began throwing again last week and may return to the Mets’ rotation. He is already eyeing a healthier future.
“After this off-season and after this rehab program, I don’t see myself having another injury like that,” Syndergaard said. “I know what my weaknesses are. I know how to address them.”