by Samantha Pell
PHOENIX — Brewers pitcher Hiram Burgos had an unconventional offseason training regimen.
In a parking lot adjacent to the beach in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, Burgos pushed automobiles back and forth.
Minivans, to be exact.
“Oh I remember (the first time),” Burgos said this week at Maryvale Baseball Park. “It was kind of like we were just looking around at each other. But it was something really good for your legs and core and all that. It is similar to pushing a sled in the weight room. It’s kind of like that, but with a car. It’s a little bit heavier.”
Little bit? Burgos’ personal trainer didn’t cite an exact weight for the minivan he uses in the workouts. But according to the website car.com, a typical minivan weighs more than two tons.
For the last two years Burgos, 29, has trained through a Puerto Rico fitness program called “Build + Safe Sport Trainer.”
The program is led by Josué Lionel Rivera, 40, who has been in the fitness business for more than 20 years. He added car workouts four years ago.
“The idea of pushing a car is an explosion in our bodies and symbolism of ability and energy and power,” Rivera said through a translator in a phone interview.
Once a week, athletes who work with Rivera have to push minivans for 20 meters, repeated three times. Rivera said players usually complain and are scared on their first attempt.
“It’s interesting because it can allow you to value your power and show where your power can actually go,” Rivera said.
Once the athletes have completed the task, they are eager to do it again.
“It’s something that is fun, but at the same time you are working hard and it’s kind of different,” Burgos said. “We do it the smart way. It’s nothing crazy.”
Burgos is quick to credit Rivera for the progress he has made in two years.
“I started working with him and (was) having pains on my arms and thanks to him, right now, I feel like a baby,” Burgos said. “Kind of like a brand new guy so I really appreciate his work.”
Targeted differently for each client, Rivera workouts are usually two to three hours. Burgos specifically worked on his core strength, coordination, mobility and stability.
Burgos’ offseason workouts normally start mid-morning and increase in length and number of days per week as the offseason goes on. He trains in the gym, in the weight room, on the track, and on the beach.
Beach workouts involve running in the ocean to build strength and training in the sand to work muscles that wouldn’t normally be pushed on flat terrain.
Burgos said the views in Puerto Rico are “beautiful” and gave him the extra motivation to work out in his homeland. Other professional baseball players that train with Burgos are Javier Baez (Chicago Cubs), Enrique Hernández (Los Angeles Dodgers) and Jose Berrios (Minnesota).
“We as humans when we grow up, we have a certain kind of mobility and flexibility,” Build + Safe Sport assistant trainer Christopher Torres said in a phone interview. “But through our childhood and adulthood, we lose part of that mobility because of bad nutrition, lack of strength training, or bad movement. What we specify is, it isn’t only for athletes, it’s for any person.”
Strength training is just one component of Rivera’s workouts. He is heavily focused on harnessing the spiritual power of athletes. Everything starts with the spirit, then the soul, then the body.
“It doesn’t matter if we push 10 cars,” Rivera said. “It doesn’t matter what we do. It’s not going to give you (inner) power.”
(Video by Sydney Cariel/Cronkite News)
Burgos’ Twitter cites a Bible passage: “Phil. 4:13 Todo lo Puedo en Cristo que me Fortalece.” Translation: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Burgos said he uses this verse as strength and guidance for “everything” in his life.
“Every morning I wake up and it’s something I keep in my heart,” Burgos said.
Rivera said that when athletes work on their souls, they can better attack other parts of their workouts. But if the soul and spirit don’t align, the workout will falter.
Torres said Burgos is a “great athlete” and has made major improvement in last two years.
“Mobility has taken him to another level in his pitching health,” Torres said. “His recovery was very fast in comparison to a year and a half ago. Actually, this offseason he threw in Puerto Rico’s Winter League and he was outstanding, just outstanding.”
A sixth-round 2009 draft pick, Burgos worked his way up through the system and into the major-league rotation in 2013. But after six starts, he needed shoulder surgery, and he hasn’t pitched in a big-league game since. He started 25 times last season for Triple-A Colorado Springs, and he’s on the Puerto Rican roster for this month’s World Baseball Classic.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Burgos won’t be in the Brewers starting rotation to open this season and will return to Triple-A.
But if Burgos has the strength to push a car, anything is possible.