Offseason training in Arizona helps Kemp, others

Matt Kemp was runner-up for NL MVP and signed one of the richest

contracts in baseball history a year after he posted a career-worst

batting average and was called out by his general manager.

What changed?

Not his batting stance. Not his swing.

The biggest difference for Kemp was offseason preparation. The

Los Angeles Dodgers’ All-Star center fielder spent last winter

training at Zone Athletic Performance in Scottsdale, Ariz., a gym

owned by Philadelphia Eagles guard Evan Mathis.

The results were quite impressive.

Kemp came close to winning the first Triple Crown since Boston’s

Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. He led the league with 39 homers and 126

RBIs, while finishing third in batting average at .324 and stealing

40 bases. Kemp was second to Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun in MVP voting,

even though he had better numbers. The Brewers won the NL Central

while the Dodgers were out of contention much of the season, giving

Braun the nod.

Kemp credits the trainers at Zone for his dramatic turnaround

after a tumultuous season in 2010. He batted just .249, drew the

ire of Dodgers GM Ned Colletti and made more headlines for dating

Rihanna than for his performance. At Zone, Kemp learned a new

exercise routine and diet regimen that he now follows


”Working out here definitely got me in the best shape of my

life,” Kemp said in a telephone interview with The Associated

Press. ”I was lighter than I’ve ever been, stronger, faster. They

teach you how to eat right and they definitely know what they are

talking about when it comes to weight training.”

The bankrupt Dodgers are banking on the 27-year-old superstar to

build on his success. In mid-November, Kemp signed a $160 million,

eight-year contract that matched the seventh-highest deal in the

majors. He was right back in the gym, working hard to ensure he’s

in excellent shape when the Dodgers open spring training next


”A guy like Matt Kemp is the epitome of hard work, dedication,

and commitment,” Mathis said. ”He always shows up to his workouts

ready to improve and is constantly making sure he’s on top of his

diet. The most important part of all is that he remembers his

formula for success. Even after signing a massive contract, he

still shows the same drive that he did when he was trying to prove


”He’s the definition of a winner.”

Kemp stays on top of his training during the season, helping him

endure the rigors of a grueling 162-game schedule. He’s missed only

11 games in four seasons since becoming a full-time starter.

”The two years I’ve been working out here at the Zone have been

great,” Kemp said. ”These guys really know what they’re doing.

It’s a great place. I recommend it to anybody who wants to get

their body in great shape.”

That kind of endorsement would make any gym owner happy. But the

man in charge at Zone isn’t your average business executive. Mathis

opened the club in December 2010 after six so-so seasons in the

NFL. He wasn’t looking to start a new career, though this gave him

options in case things didn’t work out on the gridiron.

”I’ve always been a gym-rat type, always had a passion for the

fitness and the performance industries,” Mathis said. ”Tying that

into understanding the importance of offseason training for a

professional athlete, I thought there was nothing I could do better

with my spare time in the offseason.”

Turned out to be a wise investment – for both of his


Before he opened Zone, Mathis was a journeyman player who made

just 22 starts in six seasons with three different teams. He joined

the Eagles last July amid a flurry of high-profile moves that

reduced his acquisition to a simple line in the transaction


But this wasn’t the same guy who spent most of his Sundays

watching from the sideline. The new-and-improved Mathis earned a

starting job in training camp and moved into the lineup at left

guard just days before the team’s first game. Mathis followed up

with his best season and the 30-year-old blocker should cash in

when he becomes a free agent next month.

”Why did I have such a good season? Numerous reasons,” Mathis

said. ”But the one I point out would be my nonstop training at

Zone during the lockout.”

It’s difficult to measure an offensive lineman’s performance in

numbers because most stats highlight skill positions., a website that grades players on every snap,

ranks Mathis No. 1 among guards. They base it on categories such as

pass blocking, run blocking, penalties, sacks allowed (0),

quarterback hits (3) and quarterback pressures (12).

Mathis also credits Eagles offensive line coach Howard Mudd for

his success. Mudd prefers athletic, intelligent linemen over the

bigger, bulky guys. Mathis certainly fit that mold, especially

after hard-core training for 28 straight weeks at his gym last


”Howard was able to teach me a lot of things I didn’t know

about the game,” Mathis said. ”He completely changed the way I

play. Going into my seventh year, I was still raw. I was always

hungry to improve. The wealth of knowledge that Howard has to offer

really helped me to step my game up. He gets the best out of his


The same applies to Garrett Shinoskie, the director of athletic

performance at Zone. Mathis weighed 308 pounds and had 21.8 percent

body fat when he began working out with Shinoskie. After just eight

weeks, Mathis was down to 286 pounds and had cut his body fat

nearly in half to 11.2 percent.

The remarkable transformation is chronicled in a two-minute

video on the home page of the gym’s website. The pictures featuring

Mathis starting out with a flabby belly and finishing with six-pack

abs are so astonishing that it would seem they are


”That saved my career,” Mathis said. ”My trainers are great.

The world will soon know.”

Several other professional athletes exercise at Zone, including

Beanie Wells and Adrian Wilson of the Arizona Cardinals and Dee

Gordon of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Wells also had a breakout season last year. He ran for 1,047

yards and 10 touchdowns despite having to play most of the season

with a sore left knee. Wilson made his fourth straight trip to the

Pro Bowl. Gordon batted .304 in 56 games as a rookie, earning the

starting shortstop job.

”You have a short time as a professional athlete,” Mathis

said. ”You might as well make the most of it instead of taking a

long vacation every offseason.”