MLB: The secrets to training World Series stars

Ben Fairchild, trainer of World Series stars and resurrector of aging careers, gives the secrets of getting players to the top and staying there.

For the last three seasons, Ben Fairchild must have felt like a proud parent.

Fairchild – holder of a Master’s degree in human performance, Bachelor’s degrees in sports science and business, plus a certified strength and conditioning specialist – is the owner of Fairchild Sports Performance training facility in Houston with over 50 professional baseball clients.

Since 2017, each World Series has featured two of those clients going head-to-head. First George Springer and Ross Stripling, then Nathan Eovaldi and Stripling, then most recently Anthony Rendon and Springer with the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros this year.

“It’s been really nice to see at least two of our guys compete for the championship each of the last three years,” Fairchild said in an interview. “It makes for a fun offseason because there’s a lot to talk about when they get back in.”

Once the season ends, players start trickling into the facility over the subsequent month. Before beginning their intensive program, Ben and his team assess each player’s needs and establish a path for training. They’ll train four or five days a week up until leaving for spring training.

With advances in the sport, preparations for the long grind of the season ahead have changed over time. Though plans get stratified by level of play, recent years brought a shift in MLB toward health preservation and career extension instead of solely maximizing performance.

“I think wiser approaches have prevailed more recently,” Fairchild said. “With your professional athlete whose skill is so refined, if they just stay healthy they will earn more money over time. It’s not that we’re playing it safe but we want to really weigh injury threat versus the potential for performance gain at the highest level.”

Figuring out how to preserve health is key. Of course, every player varies and different positions on the diamond take tolls on different parts of the body.

Fairchild and his team look at each client from a handful of perspectives. They want to understand the athlete, considering everything from injury history to anthropometrics — measurements and proportions of the body. They’ll take account of height, waist circumference, waist in relation to the hips, body fat percentage, body composition, even looking at resting posture and overhead reaching posture.

All these metrics establish the player somewhere on the mobility spectrum. For the majority of Fairchild’s athletes, rewiring them to be hip-dominant opposed to knee-dominant is the prevailing sentiment. Movement through the knee is an easier pathway and therefore a more common neuro-muscular wiring. Fairchild aims to help players avoid knee injuries by teaching them to be less stiff and more fluid through the hips.

Optimizing those movements can even unlock the fountain of youth for aging players. Notably, Lance Berkman prolonged his career after training with FSP.

“He’s a guy who, at age 34 with five knee procedures and career on the brink, had never earnestly addressed just his simple human movement quality,” Fairchild said. “I’m not referring to his baseball swing. Obviously that was tremendously refined as a five-time All-Star coming in. We got into general movement skill. If he’s playing first base, how does he shuffle left to right? How does he plant his foot? How does he distribute his center of gravity in relation to his base? Those are the things that really can have an impact on overall health over time.

“He needed to understand how to move better if he was going to carve out another one-to-three years of play at a high level.”

In 2011, during his age-35 season, Berkman went on to make the All-Star team and finish seventh in NL MVP voting.

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Another common issue Fairchild hopes to provide clarity on is what he refers to as the arm care catch-all for pitchers.

“The arm is often your displayer of symptoms, but rarely is it the underlying cause of the problem,” Fairchild explained. “Most people work exclusively on the arm with bands or external rotation of the shoulder, but the structural foundation is more important. Spinal position, rib cage position, hip position…all the things that sequentially and anatomically precede the shoulder need to first be addressed.”

Fairchild has been innovating in the sports performance industry for more than 15 years with these practices, growing that roster of over 50 professional baseball players deep enough to now see his clients consistently playing in the Fall Classic.

While Fairchild’s training philosophy takes his clients to the game’s pinnacle, he does his best to remain democratic in picking favorites. Despite being from Houston, he wouldn’t say if he rooted for the Astros, only that he was thrilled for Rendon’s victory and how wonderful it was to see him and Springer get to compete at that level.

Just like a parent can’t root against their kids, a proud trainer can’t root against his players.

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