By Clayton Kershaw with Lindsay Berra
Los Angeles Dodgers lefthander Clayton Kershaw is a 15-year MLB veteran, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, a nine-time All-Star and a World Series champion. He’s also known for a stubborn stickiness to a physical routine that he says additionally preps him mentally to compete. “I just don’t want to have any excuses,” Kershaw says. “If things don’t go well when I get out there and pitch, I don’t want to think, ‘Oh, I didn’t do this on Day 2, I wasn’t ready.’ If I don’t pitch well, it’s not because I didn't do X or Y. It's just because I didn't pitch well.”
To that end, Kershaw has created a five-day routine that gets him from postgame to his next start, that includes arm care, recovery, lifting, throwing, eating, watching video, and even a few designated times to simply relax. It has evolved over the course of his career, but many touchpoints have remained the same. “If you have a few key sticking points that you stick to in between pitching, I think it mentally frees you up to go compete without having the thought of ‘Man, I'm not ready for this game,’” he says. “I can honestly say I don't think I've ever had that feeling.”
Kershaw stresses the importance of having a good filter, so you can sift through all of the information from coaches and other sources and decide on a consistent routine that works for you. He also points out that routines are different from superstitions, and while many players don’t like to change their hats or jerseys, it can become overwhelming to keep up with too many small details.
Below, Kershaw details his current routine, from postgame through his next start. But, don’t forget to check out the video of our conversation with Kershaw In the Kitchen.
Repair Work: Immediately, I’m doing some repair work to make sure everything is in line for the next day to get my workout in. I do a lot of core and lower back exercises, including dead bugs and some quadruped exercises. I put my feet up the wall and just hang there for a minute. All those things reset my back, which I've had trouble with in the past, but for the last few years, has been feeling great. A big part of that is my postgame reset.
Arm Care: I don't ice anymore. Ice kind of feels like a thing of the past. Unless there's an acute injury, ice isn't really around much in the big leagues. And so by arm care, I mean doing some different shoulder routines, whether it's with J Bands or some dumbbells, just to get your shoulder ready to go for the next day.
Cardio: I don't really want to run postgame and have extra pounding, so I'll usually do the elliptical for a while just to sweat it out, also just to reset for that next day.
Nutrition: I like a protein shake after a workout or after I pitch. I think that's super important to replenish your body. I also take some different amino acids to help recovery.
I think Day 1 is the most fun day, especially after a win. You’re feeling good and you know you have four days to get ready for that next one. Day 1 is also where you really get after your workout. In the past, I've done a total body workout on Day 1, and I've also just done a lower body workout, which is what I’m doing this year, coupled with cardio.
Running: On Day 1, I do my running. The 25 or 30-minute run is a thing of the past. I do an interval run. I run for 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off, or 20 seconds on, 40 seconds off, at a higher pace. I’ll do that 10, 12, 14 times, to really make sure I’m breathing hard and getting that interval training. I think that's super important.
Lower-Body Lift: For me, there are two different schools of thought with strength training. During the offseason, you work on gaining strength. You load up the weight and do as much as you can with perfect form to get your strength. During the season, you’re in maintenance mode. I try to keep the weight and the reps the exact same to see if my strength is improving or decreasing, and I adjust from there. I do back squat, but with the safety bar, because the barbell is harder on my back. I think the trap bar deadlift is a great exercise, or even a reverse lunge. Just pick something that will hit every muscle group in your lower body. That could be a Romanian deadlift for your hamstrings, a side lunge for your groins, a squat for your quads, but there's lots of different ways to do that, and you have to find what works for you.
Play Catch: Playing catch on Day 1 is just about moving your arm. For me, it's probably 90 feet, and not spinning any breaking balls or anything like that.
Day 2 is my bullpen day. Some guys like to throw their bullpen on Day 3, but I like to have those two days of recovery before I start.
Warmup: Before I throw my bullpen, I do my regular warmup routine, which is basically the same thing I do after I pitch. I get my lower back ready and I get my shoulder ready. Sometimes, that involves a med ball routine. So, I'll throw med balls against the wall to get my obliques moving and get really loose and sweaty before I throw my bullpen.
Long Toss: I start by just playing catch, but then I'll get my arm moving even a little bit more, back to 180 or 200 feet. But, I don't spend a lot of time there; I gradually start pulling the ball down, coming in closer, trying to feel that velo.
Bullpen: I've changed how I work on the mound over the years, and I think it's important to be able to adjust based on what you need to work on. I used to be very structured on my bullpens. I used to throw 34 pitches every time, good or bad, and it was the exact same routine every time. I threw three fastball down the middle, three in, and three away, then three changeups, fastball, three curveballs, fastball, three sliders, and then do it out of the stretch in sets a two, and it was 34 pitches. It seems kind of crazy, but that's what I did.
The last few years, I've let myself have a little bit of wiggle room. Say I just didn't feel good with my slider during my last start, or I didn't feel good with my curveball. I'll mix in some time to be able to throw a few extra there at the beginning, or maybe just stand up and throw them off a mound just to get that feel back before I start throwing my bullpen. I also started simulating at bats in the bullpen, which I think is great. I'll have our pitching coach stand in sometimes as a righty, and I'll have the catcher call pitches, so I get that feel of a game, because you don't get three chances to throw a good slider in a game, right? You throw one slider and you have to move on to the next pitch. I think simulating at-bats has helped me with in-game adjustments.
Upper-Body Lift: After the bullpen, I do an upper-body lift. I've changed this over the years as well. As much fun as it is to go in there and just bench press and lat row as much as you can, I just don't know if that's conducive to throwing hard. Instead, moving my arms fast is something that I've started to think more about, whether it's a cable pull or a press, or even a triceps pulldown. I've started to focus more on the way I move the weight as opposed to how much I move. So for example, if you're doing a cable row, instead of going super heavy, I pull it in as fast as I can, than come out slowly, and continue to do that. It helps to reiterate your arm moving fast, and hopefully over time your body gets trained to do that and it’ll keep you healthy. I don't know if it helps with velocity, but I have found that my arm does feel better.
Core Work: On my upper body days, there's also a lot of core work involved. I'll do a lot of oblique routines and different things like planks or saws with the TRX, or different with the med ball. I think all that's super important on your upper body day.
Day 1 is the most fun, but Day 3 is probably my favorite. It’s a lift day, but it's also a long toss day, and it’s when I start looking at video to figure out my next opponent.
Long Toss: I'll stretch it out, similar to bullpen day, but since I'm not throwing off the mound, I'll scoot back to 200 or 220 feet so I can really feel my arm getting to move that far back. As I come in, I'll start pulling the ball down with more velo to try and get my arm to feel that aggression, and then I'll throw a flat-ground.
Flat-Ground: I'll throw my off-speed pitches on flat ground to make sure I’m feeling the ball spin out of my hand. Not a ton, maybe four or five of each pitch.
Tempo Lift: Day 3 in the weight room is mostly bodyweight stuff. It could be some plyos, some jumps, some movements, some agility things, just to feel athletic. That's my main goal on Day 3. I want to feel like my body can move in a way that is athletic, rather than just standing there and lifting weights. So, lunges, lunge jumps, or skaters, or box jumps, coupled with some other corrective exercises. For me, those focus on my hips, so I'll do the 90-90 hip stretch or the pigeon stretch in between exercises to make sure my hips are lined up right and loose and mobile.
Arm Care: I'll do shoulder care on Day 3 as well. Usually it's J Bands, which I've been doing since high school.
Video: I don't love to watch myself on video unless there's something mechanical that I'm working on. What's most helpful for me is watching the other team that I'm about to pitch against. Say we’re playing the Padres. I'll watch the two left-handed pitchers that have pitched against the Padres most recently. I'm not looking for a scouting report on how they got guys out, I just want to see the Padres in the batter's box. I want to get familiar with where Manny Machado is lining up, and how Fernando Tatis looks in the box, so when I get up there, it's not new. Even though I’ve faced these guys a bunch, hitters change all the time, so it's good to make sure nothing has changed too much since the last time you faced them.
On Day 4, there is not a lot going on, but it’s basically a recovery day.
Run: I'll do some sprints on the fields, just to get loose.
Static Stretching: I'll do some extra static stretching to make sure everything's lined up.
Play Catch: I throw a bit, just to 90 feet on flat ground, probably with a little more intensity than Day 3 to make sure my arm is moving and feeling good.
Recovery: I'll probably sit in a cold tub, as un-fun as it is. Ice is one thing I don’t do, but getting in the cold tub for sets of five minutes really helps my body feel good and refreshed for that Day 5 start.
Video: On Day 4, I get a little more intense on the video work. I'll go through individual scouting reports on each hitter that I'm about to face, and go through what I'm looking for, what pitches I can throw first pitch, what pitches I can throw behind in a count, what pitches ahead in a count, and what pitches with two strikes.
Start day is an interesting day. No matter what I’m doing that day, it's constantly in my head, I have a job to do today. And my day is very regimented.
12:53 PM: This sounds crazy, but I leave for the field at 12:53 PM and I usually get there about 1:15 or 1:20.
1:20 PM -2:00 PM: I'm getting dressed and getting everything set up. I'll bounce the ball against the wall just to feel the ball in my hand for the first time. I'll make my electrolyte drink that I like to drink before the game.
2:00 PM: I sit down and eat lunch in the food room. I'm never that hungry on my start day, so it's kind of hard to eat. Usually I just make a turkey sandwich; that's the one thing that I can eat. There's probably better things to eat, but I'm just not hungry so nothing sounds good and at least I know I can get a turkey sandwich down.
2:30 PM: Around 2:30 is when the lineup from the other team will come over, so I'll make sure that the lineup I expect is the lineup I'm getting. And if there's any differences, that's when I'll go into the video room and finish up my scouting report so I know the nine guys that I'm facing that day.
3:00 PM – 4:00 PM: I take a nap on the training table from 3 to 4. Sometimes I fall asleep, but some days I just close my eyes and relax and reset.
4:00 PM – 5:00 PM: This is when I'm getting ready for the game. I get loose in the weight room, go through any last-minute details with our catchers Austin Barnes or Will Smith.
5:00 PM: At 5 we have our meeting with our pitching coach, our game-planning guy, the catcher, and me. I'll run the meeting and just say my game plan and the other guys give their input on what will work, where to be careful, different guy’s tendencies, they'll let me know who steals, in what counts guys like to steal, or what you should be cognizant of when picking guys off.
6:00 PM: I'll throw the weighted balls on the wall, right before I go out. I used to do my bands and shoulder program right before the game, and when I’d pick up the baseball, it would take me 20 throws before I felt loose. Now I do my weighted ball routine, I work on my hip and shoulder separation, I've done all these things before I go out on the field so I can really let the first one rip. I’m ready to go. And that’s a good feeling, going out on the mound and feeling healthy and ready to go. I think weighted balls are great, but you just have to use them the right way.
6:23 PM – 6:36 PM: I'll go out to the field at 6:23 for a 7:10 game. I do my normal stretch, which takes 13 minutes, from 6:23 to 6:36.
6:36 – 6:40 PM: At 6:36 I'll go sit on the field and just chill for around four minutes to get my head right and ready to go.
6:40 PM: I start playing catch, and that usually lasts until about 6:47 or 6:48. Then I get on the mound and throw my bullpen. I throw the exact same number of pitches before every game. That usually lasts till 7:01 or 7:02. And then I'll walk in, get my water and chill until 7:08. And that's when I walk out there.
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