Austin Meadows is leaner, lighter, stronger, and laser-focused on regaining the swing that made him an All-Star two years ago.

Back in 2019—his first season as a full-time starter—the Tampa Bay Rays outfielder and designated hitter hit a career-high 33 home runs, drove in 89 RBIs, and earned a spot on the American League All-Star team.

Meadows carried that same level of offensive optimism heading into last season. But both COVID and an oblique injury prevented him from ever finding any rhythm at the plate. He gained more than 15 pounds, and his batting average dropped to a disappointing .205, with just four home runs and 13 RBIs in 36 games.

“For me, last year, with getting COVID and putting on extra weight, I just didn’t feel athletic,” Meadows says. “I didn’t feel light on my feet. I felt heavy.”

Once the Rays were eliminated in Game 6 of the World Series by the Los Angeles Dodgers, the work began. He cut his normal offseason rest time in order to begin cutting the weight. He hired a new trainer and began hitting the weights. His four-day-a-week program (two days each of upper- and lower-body training) included lots of compound moves like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses. It also consisted of a plyometric variation such as box jumps before wrapping up with a lung-busting and calorie-burning finisher—like a 15-minute ski-erg session. “Getting through it was tough, but obviously it puts you in a better spot,” he says.

Meadows says his diet habits also underwent a major change. He eliminated the nutrition no-no’s—fried foods, sugary foods, and an overabundance of takeout food responsible for his weight gain. Meadows added a meal service plan, Tampa-based Whole Body Fuel, which laid out his daily diet of chicken, brown rice, and lots of vegetables. “That was a game changer,” he says. The change helped Meadows lose close to 15 pounds going into spring training.

As the Rays open the 2021 MLB season against the Miami Marlins on April 1, Meadows shares in this week’s M&F Winning Strategy series some of the principles he’s implemented that’s helped him avoid any long-term slumps throughout his baseball career. From muscle-building to mindset maintenance, Meadows’ offseason training now has him swinging the bat with the same power and tenacity as he did two seasons ago. Meadows hopes a repeat performance can have his name once again mentioned when it comes to All-Star and MVP talk.

“It’s hard predict the future, but being healthy is a key thing for me,” Meadows says. “In 2019, I was super healthy. And with no hiccups in the road, I have the opportunity to do something greater this season. Preparation is key, and I worked my butt off in the offseason. I did everything I could to have a good 2021 season.”

1. Outwork Your Opponents

My father once gave me this quote: “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” And baseball is a game of failure. You are going to have some super tough times. I’ve had those moments when I came into the minor leagues straight out of high school. It was a huge adjustment. You went from dominating against the best in high school and getting drafted high (Meadows was selected ninth in the 2013 draft). But when you get to the minors, everyone’s as good as you. So you have to find a way to stand out, whether it’s through establishing a solid work ethic or learning to adapt to pitchers and the elements. I think that I was able to do that at each level and persevere through the hard times by continuing to adjust on the fly.

2. Embrace Repetition

I had a lot of injuries in the minor leagues, which wasn’t fun at all. Obviously, you want to be on the field all the time. So I began doing what I had to do, starting with honing in on my diet and my sleep and [focusing on] the decisions I made every single day. That was a big change for me.

But there was one thing I remember doing when things kind of took off for me in triple-A—and that I still do to this day. I began a hitting routine while I was in Altoona in the Pirates organization that I had developed with our hitting coach. It’s really helped me continue to stay consistent, whether I had a bad or good day at the plate. I’d go into the cage and hit off the tee. I would move the tee around, adjust it either to the high or low parts of the strike zone. I’ll just go in there and get a feel for my swing. And it just helped make my swing feel right, and it still does.

3. Think Outside the Batter’s Box

In 2019, I had developed a crazy new method in the batting cage in which I’m swinging while standing on two Bosu balls. The routine came from my hitting coach Chad Mottola. If I feel like something’s off, like my balance or hip movement, I’ll go back on the Bosu balls.

Stand at about shoulder width—your back foot is on the left ball, the front foot on the right. You’re just taking normal swings, however you can’t really pivot, or else you’ll fall off. And this tells you when your balance is off when you’re swinging.

I feel like it really helped me take off that year. It’s pretty unorthodox, but it works for me.

4. Find Your Strength

Everybody has kind of their own routine that works best for them, but for me personally, I think deadlifts really help build that backside. I think as a hitter, having strong glutes that fire is super important. You can put a little bit more behind the ball and have a lot more power. You also need a core element in your routine as well—like your standard planks or side planks. Other exercises work as well, but for me, it’s planks and deadlifts.

5. Make Time to Recover

I love hot and cold tubs. We’re playing every day, which means we’re gonna have a lot of soreness. I’ll contrast hot and cold baths in the morning or at the end of the day. It just helps eliminate the aches and speed up recovery.  Being able to warm up the muscles or even ice them down is now a part of my daily routine.

Also, getting at least eight hours of sleep is something that’s become important. Whether it means putting the phone down before bed and eliminating any light and stuff like that, a good night’s rest is essential.

The Swarthmore College Baseball Workout

The Baseball Workout

Train like a college baseball player with this four-day routine.

Read article