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ARLINGTON, Texas — Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi has become famous for many things, most notably, being the first Korean-born player to get a hit in the World Series, which he called “an honor” before Saturday’s game. But in a just world, his flexible, run-saving grabs around ought to be a close second.
What does Choi credit for his gumby legs, beyond the normal stretching routine baseball players do before game time?
“Pilates. During the offseason — that’s about it.”
Oh, that’s it? That’s why the 29-year-old listed at 6 1/4 u20321 1/4 u2033, 260 is floating around the first base bag like a “Showtime” teen twisting through subway poles and straphangers on the A express?
But, to no one’s surprise, Pilates instructors who frequently work with athletes believe it’s a valuable method for improving strength while avoiding injuries.
“You’re working a lot with stabilizing muscles,” said Sarah Hackwith, an instructor at Session Pilates in Dallas. “It’s a really good compliment to an athlete. I think it’s very hard, and I think all athletes should be trained in it.”
Upon hearing of Choi’s exploits, Hackwith said “He must have a really strong core... He’s able to take all of his body weight and jump that high. That’s one of the first things that I noticed about a regular Pilates regimen.
“Stabilizing muscles through both your abdominal muscles and your back, (you) become so strong,” added Hackwith, placing extra emphasis on “strong.” “So, my first thought is probably the Pilates is coming into play in that regard.”
“Because Pilates is low impact, it is the ideal form of movement for athletes needing to rehab joint and muscle injuries,” said Emily Wills, the owner of Century Pilates studio in nearby Arlington, Tx.
By emphasizing controlled breathing for endurance, and exhausting large muscles to strengthen smaller ones, Wills says the popular exercise “builds true strength that endures.”
Choi said that injury avoidance was his main goal when he started doing it two years ago, as a rash of injuries hurt his chances of holding on to a big league role.
“The reason why I started to focus on my flexibility is because I got injured a lot during the time I was in the minor leagues,” said Choi, who got a brief run with the Yankees back in 2018 before finding his way to Tampa.
“I try to be more flexible, hoping that it will help with sustaining a full healthy season,” said Choi, who claimed that none of his trainers took his own initiative in trying out the workout on his own. Choi said he pursued the popular workouts on his own, without it being suggested by any teammates or trainers.
Wills is familiar with helping high-level athletes, including larger ones like Choi. She apprenticed at a studio that taught the Dallas Mavericks and since then, trained 6 1/4 u20324 1/4 u2033 291 lb Packers center Austin Davis.
“Pilates challenges larger-bodied athletes (to) carry themselves more fluidly so they are able to control their own momentum while in motion improving agility,” claimed Wills.
“Because Pilates is resistance training, we employ the use of springs to enforce the principle of strength and stretch for lengthening rather than shortening muscles,” Wills said.
Choi himself joked about his cat-like moves bearing more resemblance to Simone Biles, than, say, players like Willians Astudio whose physiques more closely resemble his. “A lot of people think I’m a gymnast instead of baseball player.”
When that quote was relayed to Choi’s manager, Kevin Cash, he couldn’t help but grin at his star athlete.
“Alright! Whatever,” Cash shrugged. “He looks like a gymnast.”
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