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A reason for optimism about Luke Voit

If Luke Voit has changed his weight room philosophy, that could be a sign of good things to come.

New York Yankees v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Luke Voit recently shared a short video of part of his workout, which in and of itself is far from newsworthy. Athletes and non-athletes alike commonly like to let everyone know what they’re up to in the gym (for reasons I personally can’t quite understand.) That said, Voit’s video had a few details that caught my attention, and at the risk of writing with more than a glass half-full of optimism, I think the details were good signs with regards to his overall health. Since Voit’s health has been a frequent topic and area of concern among Yankee fans, let’s look at the details of the video a little more closely.

First is the exercise selection. The deadlift that Voit is performing with the bar he’s using has numerous benefits for just about everyone, but with regards to this discussion, it’s very easy to perform correctly – that is to say, to lift the bar while maintaining good form and posture. If your first thought is that someone as mobile, strong, and coordinated as Voit is should be able to perform it correctly, you’re 100-percent correct. However, there are some exercises that may reap the same benefits that are far more difficult to perform with good form and posture, even for professional athletes (traditional straight bar deadlifts and the cringe-worthy giant tire flipping come to mind.)

Additionally, one of the main benefits of this particular exercise is that it encourages correct posture and typically improves it. You may be thinking “Posture? That’s great if Voit were a marine recruit with a drill sergeant yelling at him, or if he were 12 and his mom was telling him to ‘stand up straight.” Obviously, we don’t have the time today to fully elaborate on the role of static and dynamic posture in athletics, but the short version is this: There are very few things that are relatively reliable predictors of injury, both chronic and acute, and posture is one of them. Someone who can maintain efficient posture, particularly during athletics or when fatigued is less likely to be injured.

The second takeaway in the video is Voit stopping at what’s often known as “technical failure.” Most of us are familiar with the term “to failure” in exercise, meaning just keep going until you can’t do anymore – i.e. until you fail. In the “to failure” scenario, often the exerciser gets to a point in which good form can no longer be maintained, but they keep going anyway to do a few more reps - usually as the result of misguided mental toughness, or a trainer yelling at them. Unfortunately, that results in a loss of form and correct posture on the last few reps which as mentioned above, only increases the chance of injury, both in the short and long term.

In Voit’s case, the last rep looked exactly like the first – he stopped at “technical failure” when he could no longer maintain proper posture, instead of falling into the “just two more!” mindset. Given that Voit is both physically and mentally very tough with an incredible work ethic (professional athletes generally are those things) it’s safe to say stopping at technical failure was a conscious choice, with long term results on the mind instead of short-term perceived benefits that would be more ego-based than physical in reality.

Lastly, Voit’s footwear in the video – or lack thereof – is telling as well. Traditional footwear, particularly traditional sneakers, can subtly contribute to joint issues. The elevated heel of a traditional sneaker shifts the body’s weight forward toward the toes which increases knee involvement and decreases hip involvement in movement. Again, that’s too long of a topic to comprehensively cover today, but generally more weight on the knees and less on the hips is not a good thing for anybody, particularly someone with a history of knee problems.

Additionally, traditional sneakers are cushioned and have narrow toe boxes. That combination decreases and alters sensory input that travels from the foot to the brain about our body position – our brain then uses that information to send messages to muscles and joints to stabilize and move us. Similar to a computer, if decreased or altered information goes in, the wrong information goes out to our muscles and joints. With humans that could mean the knee, low back, or shoulder joints are slightly out of place as we move – never a good thing for performance or health, but particularly problematic when holding 400 and something pounds as Voit is in the video.

As you can imagine, the physiology and biomechanics of the foot and its relation to afferent and efferent neural input and reflexive stabilization and movement isn’t something that most people find to be a fascinating topic of conversation. As a result, it’s still far from common to see people exercising in socks or bare feet. Combine that with some of the factors we’ve already discussed and it’s likely Voit is getting some solid advice from someone who does care about this stuff and has convinced Voit that it’s a good idea.

Now, if you want to say this is one exercise from one workout* and that’s not enough information from which to draw conclusions, I wouldn’t completely disagree. Yet I’d respond as someone who’s been a vocal critic of Voit’s workout choices prior to this, that changes of that nature are unlikely to be coincidental. I’m not a betting man but if I were I’d bet Voit has either changed his mindset about training or is getting good advice from someone and is putting it into practice (or both.)

*Although there have been other aspects of his workout posted that are also far more sound than the one arm bench press video from a few years back.

Regardless, if Gary Sánchez had a game with a walk, two singles served into right field and a lineout to center field, Yankees fans would blow up social media with optimism. Similarly, that’s my reaction here: It may be a small sample size, but there’s plenty of reason for optimism.