Bryce Harper is incredibly driven. He has, at every level of his career, found a way to adjust against older competition and become one of the best players on the field. For his sophomore season in the major leagues, the 20-year-old has grandiose hopes. And to prepare for that, Harper relied on an intense lifting and conditioning routine over the winter. He loves weight lifting, he loses weight quickly (10-15 pounds last season) and knows he has a long nine-month, 162-game regular season ahead.
After the playoffs ended, Harper went home to his parents’ house in Las Vegas and took a month off. He started lifting again in mid-November. Harper set his alarm for 4:50 a.m. four times a week (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday), was up by 5 and drove to a training facility in Las Vegas by 5:30 to join a group of minor league and major league players.
“It gives me a good time to relax and hang out and clear my mind,” said Harper, who reported to spring training at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds. “Lifting and stuff really helps me clear my mind. I love it.”
The workouts were usually between 90 minutes and two hours, a little longer on leg days. His older brother, Bryan, 23, a Nationals minor league pitcher, accompanied him to the training facility where major leaguers such as Josh Johnson and Mike Dunn also work out during the winter. (Aaron Rowand worked out there, too.) The facility is owned by Tim Soder, Harper’s trainer for the past two offseasons.
To get warmed up before lifting, Harper did eight to 10 minutes of cardiovascular exercises, usually running or on stationary bikes. The lifting portion of the workouts is non-stop and intense. The last workout of the winter consisted of seven super sets — comprised of three exercises each, one for the chest, one for the back and another for the core. And each is done three times. Do the math: that’s more than 60 exercises in one morning. Sometimes it’s more.
“It’s brutal,” Soder said. “These guys work their tail off. And someone like Bryce, he’s such a beast. He’s doing heavy weights. … He’s kind of a genetic freak. He’s got man strength at 19 and 20.”
“It’s rough,” Harper added. “It’s bam bam bam. You don’t get a break.”
On Wednesdays, Harper did his heavy lifts such as power clean, one of his favorite exercises and one he used to do when he played football. Squats and dumbbell bench are also personal favorite exercises. Harper tossed around 100 pound dumbbells with ease. He will even do extra workouts on the side.
“These guys bust their tail in here,” Soder said. “And Bryce will come in and do cleans on his own. I tell him, ‘Bryce, tell me what you’re doing. You’re going to overwork it.’”
After workouts, Harper would come back home, nap for a couple hours and then go hit around 11 a.m. or noon. He started hitting in January. Sometimes, he said, he would run hills or run with a parachute to increase resistance.
“Not really surprised how big he has gotten, he is still young and growing into his body,” added his brother Bryan, a 6-foot-5 left-handed pitcher, in an e-mail. “He has been working his butt off in the gym, we both have, and you can really tell that it has paid off. He definitely got my dad’s genes.”
As for those who fear Harper is too big to be playing the outfield, he loses weight quickly. He has always been a big kid and managed to play well with size: At 16, he was listed at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds. He was 6-3, 215 last season and never lacked for speed. At 20, he is also still growing. By the start of the season, he figures he will be close to 220, only five pounds more than his listed weight last season. When he is at home, eating his mother’s home-cooked meals, he is getting a more consistent and heartier fill of food than he was during his hectic rookie season.
“He’s still so young,” Soder said. “When he’s home, he’s eating properly and doing what he is supposed to. Now that he’s going to be working with the team full-time, he’s just at the age where he is going to burn through calories.”