Coach's Corner: Paul Fournier

Paul Fournier is a New England native and has been in the MLB and minor league affiliates for the last 26 years. He started with the Montreal Expos organization in the mid 90s, and transitioned to the Florida Marlins with whom he has a world series ring from 2003. He has been with the Philadelphia Phillies since 2012 serving as the Major League Strength & Conditioning Coordinator since 2014.

Paul took time out of his schedule to speak with Perch about his career, and implementing Perch units into the Phillies organization from minor league to the majors this year. Enjoy!

PERCH: TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF?

Paul Fournier: I grew up in the northeast in New Hampshire. And I went to Northeastern and majored in athletic training and exercise science. I wanted to be an athletic trainer. I had grown up as an athlete and seemed to always be hurt. So I was researching how I could stay in baseball, knowing that my chances of playing major league baseball was slim to none as far as odds go. I remember I was watching a football game on TV and somebody got hurt and a group of people ran out and it piqued my interest. So I researched it, and ventured over to the library and found a journal for athletic training, at the time I was a sophomore in high school, and I figured out that’s what I wanted. I ended up at Northeastern, and met my girlfriend (who is now my wife) my junior year of college. She happened to be working in West Palm Beach doing event planning for the Montreal Expos and Atlanta Braves. I was able to funnel a resume through her after I graduated to the Rehab Coordinator for the Expos at the time. This was back in ‘95. He ended up calling me a year later, I was working as an athletic trainer at a private school down in Miami. He asked if I was still interested in working in baseball and I said “Hell Yea.”

My first year was ‘95, which was the strike year so I arrived for Spring Training and I didn’t know any different. It was a normal year to me, but looking back it’s actually pretty similar to the Spring Training we had this year due to COVID19. I got into baseball as an athletic trainer, I worked in the minor league system for about 10 years. I was an AT in A-ball for a couple years, and then I became a rehab coordinator for about 7 years with Montreal. Back then there wasn’t a lot of organized strength and conditioning in professional baseball. The Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox were a little more advanced with strength and conditioning. We were behind the times a little bit. So I threw myself into the fire of strength and conditioning as it pertains to professional baseball. In 2001 we ended up switching teams. Our ownership bought the Florida Marlins and took myself and a bunch of the staff to the Marlins, and that was in 2002. I remained the rehab and strength and conditioning coordinator through 2002, and then switched to strength and conditioning coordinator in 2003, which happened to be the year we won the World Series, and it’s been downhill ever since!

I remained the rehab and strength and conditioning coordinator through 2002, and then switched to strength and conditioning coordinator in 2003, which happened to be the year we won the World Series, and it’s been downhill ever since!

Paul Fournier

WHAT HAS MLB STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING BEEN LIKE FOR YOU?

PF: I really enjoyed everything leading up to and now being the strength and conditioning coordinator. After I transitioned from AT, I was in an environment where I felt I could be more myself, it was a positive environment, high energy, the guys wanted to be there. It was a different feel than athletic training. And throughout it all I got to learn from other strength and conditioning coaches throughout the league. Back then we didn’t have standards that we have now. So if I was in Shea Stadium playing the Mets, we would share their weight room. And vice versa. A lot of times the strength and conditioning coaches became friends. I met a lot of players on other teams that would end up signing with us as free agents, we were able to make relationships with players a little earlier than we do now, simply because we saw them and their faces and talked a little bit because we were sharing facilities prior to signing. Now each side has their own facility so we barely see each other.

After I transitioned from AT, I was in an environment where I felt I could be more myself, it was a positive environment, high energy, the guys wanted to be there.

Paul Fournier

I stayed with the Marlins until 2011 when we parted ways and that’s how I ended up with the Phillies. I was hired as the Minor League strength and conditioning coordinator in 2012 and 2013, and then I was promoted to the Major League position in 2014 and I’ve been there since. This is my 26th year in pro ball, and the 16th year at the major league level. Unfortunately we don’t have a season yet, but I’m still making it my 16th year even though we’re not playing yet.

And that’s how I ended up in Major League Baseball Strength and Conditioning. I sort of fell into it, and it fits my personality better so it was a blessing to fall into this profession after going to school for athletic training.

HOW HAS THAT PATH SHAPED YOUR COACHING PHILOSOPHY AND PROGRAMMING?

PF: I’ll tell you how it’s changed: When I first got in, coming from the athletic training side of things with strength and conditioning being relatively new to professional baseball, it was very safe programming back then. Athletic trainers felt the weight room was an extension of the athletic training room, they were always watching out for what was going on in the weight room. There was a lot of apprehension about having strength coaches working with players one on one back then. So being an athletic trainer myself actually really helped out my case for getting the position and then being able to work with some autonomy. I didn’t have someone looking over my shoulder all the time.

There was a lot of apprehension about having strength coaches working with players one on one back then. So being an athletic trainer myself actually really helped out my case for getting the position and then being able to work with some autonomy.

Paul Fournier

Early on, I was definitely asked questions anytime somebody got hurt, I was the first one they went to to figure out what went wrong. And I never really had the right answer for them, it was either “they’re on the program or not” and if they aren’t, let’s get them on the program and bought in. And if they’re not, let’s get them doing something different. Obviously the profession has grown since then. What I learned throughout was that the body was a lot more resilient than we gave it credit for back then. I went from programming through a TLC mindset, to more of a regular athlete. Rather than treating them gently like “baseball players” I switched to treating them like athletes. I’m not even concerned about the position they play for the most part. We have a general weight training program, and we individualize it through “correctives” or auxiliary exercises that will address mobility work and some other possible imbalances they may have (because it is baseball).

We have a general weight training program, and we individualize it through “correctives” or auxiliary exercises that will address mobility work and some other possible imbalances they may have (because it is baseball).

Paul Fournier

From a general preparedness standpoint, it is very athletic programming now. There is no bad exercise, there’s only bad form, lack of range of motion, and improper load. So as long as they can go through a full range of motion with proper form and appropriate load, and there’s a goal, there are no bad exercises.

YOUR SEASON IS SO LONG, HOW DO YOU WORK TRAINING AROUND GAMES?

PF: Our in season strength and conditioning program relies a lot on what players do in the offseason. We give our players offseason programs, we use a platform so they have an app, get the program sent to them, and they download it. Some choose not to participate in our program, they’ll do something on their own. Especially with all the private companies out there like Driveline and Cressey’s place. There are facilities where players will go in their offseason, and we try to marry the programs, so we get something out of it as well. As far as the offseason goes, we try to stay in touch and get eyes on them when we can. But once the season starts, I have my goals, and then unfortunately what happens is those players who don’t adhere to the offseason program become a higher maintenance player for me. And that’s just because a lot of negotiation has to happen to get them on our program to meet our expectations.

One good example of that would be conditioning, metabolic conditioning. In the literature there is more sport specific conditioning for baseball players, but there is a place for VO2 Max and being fit in professional baseball. We have a 6 week spring training and 162 game season, and then playoffs. So there is a fitness capacity to that. And metabolic conditioning also lowers resting heart rate, which is helpful for our guys too. My point is, some of these players will not do the programming and will not be up to the same conditioning level as our other players. I usually see that with free agents more so than people within our organization though.

In season, we become recovery specialists instead of strength and conditioning coaches. There is a lot of give and take and a lot of communication. Technology can help with that, but it won’t replace the relationships you have with your players and the ability to communicate and find out where people are.

Paul Fournier

In season, we become recovery specialists instead of strength and conditioning coaches. There is a lot of give and take and a lot of communication. Technology can help with that, but it won’t replace the relationships you have with your players and the ability to communicate and find out where people are. We do try to do an upper/lower body split twice a week for our players, obviously depending on playing schedule, position, the amount of times a reliever has been up in the bullpen, that is all fluid and we have to roll with it. We can do more with our bench guys too. We do always push them to get into the weight room and at the very least, check in with them one way or another. A lot of that is about recovery. I hate to say we focus on maintenance, so I’ll say a lot of what we do is delaying the downward slide at the end of the season of being tired and overtrained or deconditioned by September. It is a long season and we play almost every day, so there is a lot of management that goes along with that.

WHAT IS THE PROCESS OF CREATING BUY-IN FOR SUCH A LARGE ROSTER?

PF: For me it is all about relationship building. It’s not my way or the high way, these players are good at what they do and they are all individuals. So what it is for me is establishing that relationship, and working hand in hand toward a common goal. We’re looking at their health history, and we’re educating them on the program and why it is good for them at this point in their career. I usually use Spring Training to get to know our players and free agents especially. And sometimes even the length of their contract will dictate how quickly I attend to certain things with them as well. But you really do have to develop trust and have a really good relationship with your players. The way to do that, I think, is through transparency. They’re older and grown men at the major league level (it is a little different at the minor league level), so you just have to be honest and transparent with all of that.

So what it is for me is establishing that relationship, and working hand in hand toward a common goal. We’re looking at their health history, and we’re educating them on the program and why it is good for them at this point in their career.

Paul Fournier

WHEN WERE YOU FIRST INTRODUCED TO SPORTS TECHNOLOGY, VBT SPECIFICALLY?

PF: So VBT or velocity based training, we’ve been exploring for several years now. I know it’s been around for awhile. At the time when I first looked at it, our organization wasn’t in a place where we could invest in a lot of technology both financially and man-power as well to take on all the different technologies at once. With the research that’s out there now with tendon stiffness etc, we found it a little bit more beneficial to start exploring it. And now we have the resources too, we have an R&D department that’s pretty large, so now we have these assets that will help us determine what the way to go is.

So for us with the VBT, we are looking to utilize it through management of recovery, testing, and not necessarily seeing how fast a player lifts, but how slow a player lifts.

Paul Fournier

So for us with the VBT, we are looking to utilize it through management of recovery, testing, and not necessarily seeing how fast a player lifts, but how slow a player lifts. In our game, there are several bouts of high intensity movement for a short period of time each game. If you are high velocity all the time, we tend to supplement that with absolute strength development in the weight room. With Perch and VBT, we can manage that a little bit better in season. Especially with the guys who want to get that check mark after a workout, the ones who speed through it and just do it to get it done. We want to be goal oriented with our workouts and actually look at absolute strength development in season if we can to help with tendon stiffness and not losing our strength throughout the year.

We want to be goal oriented with our workouts and actually look at absolute strength development in season if we can to help with tendon stiffness and not losing our strength throughout the year.

Paul Fournier

HOW HAVE YOU BEEN PROGRAMMING VBT FOR YOUR GUYS?

PF: Unfortunately our Spring Training has been cut short, and we really just invested in Perch before spring training. So far we have used it quite a bit in our rehab setting, we have some players that are going through rehab. And one of the considerations for injured players is muscle atrophy, and in order to get some strength back we want to work on a hypertrophic response. In order to get that, we know we need to move at a certain speed. So Perch has been really helping our player rehab with more precision.

And I’m really looking forward to using it in season with these guys. We started to test out our minor league players prior to the shut down, and we were starting to get baselines on guys as far as speeds at certain weights. I think that will be helpful once we get back too.

WITH THE COVID19 PANDEMIC, ARE YOU PLANNING ON USING VELOCITY TO GET GUYS BACK TO THEIR BASELINE?

PF: Everyone is at home right now and some players have in-home facilities while others do not. When we reconvene, these guys are going to be coming in at different levels of conditioning. Who knows when we’ll get back. But through our testing we will be able to see where these guys are. And those who we got numbers on in Spring Training, we can compare those baselines. It’ll be interesting to see where their numbers are across the board. With this type of thing, one of two things are going to happen:

  1. We will have a high injury frequency or prevalence because of the lack of facilities for these guys
  2. Or because of the additional time to prepare, there are going to be some performances that are maybe higher than what we’ve seen from our guys.

WHAT IS YOUR GENERAL PHILOSOPHY SURROUNDING VBT FROM A BASEBALL STANDPOINT?

PF: In season is a lot about durability and recovery and really having every opportunity to play. Which is different from the offseason. The offseason is about developing a player to be the best version of themselves prior to camp or the start of the season. So in-season VBT is used to assess and program to the needs of the athlete at that point in time. A starting pitcher will have 30 starts, so his needs will be different than a reliever who may get 7 innings over a longer period of time. Or the bench player that plays 2-3 times per week at a partial game, versus a guy who plays every inning 5 or 6 days a week. So it is going to be useful for both assessment and for prescribing loads specific to them and where they are at that point in time. Velocity Based Training will help us get what we need out of that player, whether it is strength-speed or absolute strength or a little bit of both.

BASEBALL IS SO “DATA-DRIVEN” AT THIS POINT, WHAT DO YOU THINK THE ROLE OF DATA IN THE WEIGHT ROOM WILL PLAY IN THE BASEBALL SETTING THAT HAS ALREADY BOUGHT INTO DATA ANALYTICS?

PF: As far as data in the weight room goes, it comes down to durability In-Season. The data that is going to be used in season will be the data that facilitates conversations about durability. So things like workload management or applying the correct force on a barbell at the right time, or someone who’s acute to chronic workload ratios are inappropriate. Take a guy who went from a bench player to playing every day for two weeks and has been having success so he’s on the bases a lot, his workload just shot through the roof. So now how do we manage him? Data can help us understand that.

Data in the weight room of professional baseball is all about analyzing where the guys are at at a specific time, and making sure they’re ready to perform over and over again at that level.

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