Manny Machado knows what will keep him playing for another decade: ‘You gotta invest in your body’

A half-hour after the sun rose on a clear, cold spring training morning, Manny Machado walked into the Padres clubhouse at the Peoria Sports Complex.

A short while later, Machado was rummaging through his locker and carrying on a conversation with a reporter when a can of sunscreen flew toward him.

Machado caught it, studied it front and back, then nodded his appreciation to close friend and teammate Nelson Cruz.

Mentor to mentee, again.


When Machado signed an 11-year, $350 million contract in late February, he did so with the intention of playing into his 40s — just like Cruz, a veteran with 18 major league seasons under his belt and a person whom Machado has long looked up to.

The effort and care Machado puts into his body bolsters belief that the 30-year-old will see that contract through while continuing to play at a high level.

The Miami native employs a team around him that includes personal trainers, flexibility and massage specialists and a chef. He understands the importance of rest and rehabilitation and diet and the way everything works in sync to make the body function at its highest level.

Among his favorite therapies involves time spent in a sensory deprivation chamber. Machado enters an enclosed pod filled with saltwater and floats weightlessly in silence and darkness. The therapeutic practice aids in mental and muscle recovery; the buoyancy of the saltwater solution eases soreness and allows the body to fully relax.

“It brings you back down to level,” Machado said. “It brings you back down to where you need to be and it just takes (off) a lot of stress.”

Flotation therapy is only one tool in Machado’s ever-expanding commitment to doing all he can to remain healthy. Lately, he has been spending more time in an infrared sauna, as ongoing research suggests that red light lowers inflammation and aids in the stimulation and repair of cell function.


“You gotta invest in your body so your body can be the best at all times,” he said. “This is our job. This is what pays the bills. … The body is what’s going to give you the best opportunity to make it to the big leagues, to become a superstar, to be that person. I learned that at a young age, and I’ve just continued to do it.”

San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado grabs his left ankle

San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado grabs his left ankle after suffering an injury while legging out a ground out in the first inning of a June 19 game in Denver.

(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

‘Horrific’ ankle injury

On June 19 of last year, Padres fans and teammates collectively groaned and then figuratively held their breath.

In the first inning of a game against the Rockies at Coors Field, Machado suffered an ankle sprain while trying to run out a ground ball. His left foot slipped as it hit the top of first base, causing his ankle to snap when his shoe found dirt. Machado tumbled for about 10 feet before clutching his leg and writhing in pain. Trainers helped him off the field.

The injury sparked questions about the Padres’ playoff hopes. Machado was arguably the National League’s best player to that point, hitting .329 with a .929 OPS and NL-leading 3.8 WAR.

The Union-Tribune recently learned that Machado suffered a Grade 3 sprain, which is a complete tear of the ligament and one level below a break. The ankle instability is severe. Recovery time is typically two months or longer.


Machado returned after 11 games.

“It was bruised on the inside as well,” Machado said. “I was lucky I didn’t break it. … I had my team at home working on me day in and day out. Come back to the field and our staff here, they got me ready to be on the field as well.”

Nick Soto, Machado’s trainer for the last eight years, was alerted to the injury by a mutual friend. He turned on the game, saw a replay and immediately thought Machado broke something.

“I was freaking out,” Soto said. “It looked horrific. … Then within the third week he was kind of sprinting, putting force on that ankle and moving with some trajectory on it. I honestly couldn’t believe it.

“Then he says to me, ‘Thank God for all that (expletive) ankle stuff that we do.’”

Padres right fielder Juan Soto (22), third baseman Manny Machado (13), and shortstop Xander Bogaerts (2)

Padres right fielder Juan Soto (22), third baseman Manny Machado (13), and shortstop Xander Bogaerts (2), chat during a Feb. 17 workout at the Peoria Sports Complex.

(Meg McLaughlin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)


Making his mark

Machado and Soto work together four to six days a week in Miami during the offseason, focusing primarily on speed, power, absorbing and redirecting force and strengthening tendons and muscles.

The Padres superstar performs dumbbell push jerks and hang power snatches, moves not commonly seen in the baseball sphere.

Soto says Machado’s commitment to fitness has always been there, though Machado has brought a stronger purpose to their work in recent years.

When they first started working together, Machado was simply eager to prove himself in the weight room. It was after Machado’s first season in San Diego — a disappointing 2019 campaign that followed a stressful free agency period — that a switch was flipped during their training sessions. Machado came into that offseason with the mentality of a player who had his sights set on a Hall of Fame-worthy career.

“I think for him it was like, ‘OK, this is home. Now let me make my mark,’” Soto said.

In the COVID-shortened season that followed, Machado hit .304 with a .950 OPS. Over the last three years, he ranks fifth in bWAR (15.0), ninth in total bases (713) and fourth in RBIs (255).


His consistency and durability may be traced, in part, to his offseason gains.

Machado, like most players, loses weight during the season. He gets down to about 215 pounds by October and has come into camp at around 230 the past two years. That is between 10 to 12 pounds of muscle, according to Soto, who points out that Machado’s speed has remained constant throughout the gains and even improved.

“You’re not supposed to get faster with that much increase in mass,” Soto said. “I think his training has gotten to a whole other level of force production of eccentric loading, that his body is able to absorb force just so much better at this point. He can just handle the load way better.”

The six-time All Star has long taken pride in his ability to be in the lineup. He has played at least 150 games in eight of his 11 major league seasons and the full 60 during the ’20 season.

Since 2015, he has played in more games (1,156) than any player besides Cardinals’ first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (1,158).

Manny Machado laughs

Manny Machado laughs as he speaks with manager Bob Melvin during batting practice ahead of Game 3 of the NLCS in October.

(Matt Rourke / Associated Press)


Learning from veterans

Even with Superman-like abilities, no player can remain fully healthy his entire career.

Devastating knee injuries marred the end of Machado’s 2013 season and part of 2014 as well. The experience affected the way he looked at his training.

He paid attention to how veterans went about their routines and soaked up advice whenever possible.

In 2014, teammate Nelson Cruz took the then-22-year-old Machado under his wing. Machado listened as Cruz spoke of his personal chef, trainer and massage therapist.

Before the Orioles’ playoff opener that year, Machado, injured at the time, noticed Cruz in the gym. He asked him why he was there, figuring Cruz’s routine might be different in the postseason.

“I was like, ‘You have to prepare for every game — even the playoffs — like it’s a regular game,’” Cruz said. “You have to be ready. It was a good example of, you need to learn by watching and asking questions and he was willing to find out this is the way you do it.”


Two years prior, in Machado’s rookie season, veteran pitcher Luis Ayala asked Machado if he wanted to use “his guy” since time on the treatment tables was hard to come by. Even while making the league minimum, Machado began putting aside a percentage of his income to invest in treatment and training beyond what was provided by the team.

“I remember I did get a massage one time (at the ballpark) and a veteran player on my team said to me, ‘I’ve been here all year and I’ve never gotten a massage by this guy,’” Machado said. “It was different times then. I got off the table and I found a massage therapist.

“I was like, man, this is like a real thing. You got to see it to believe it. You’d hear stories about these guys paying tons of money for these things and you’d be like, ‘No, that’s fake.’ But you got to invest in your body to get the most out of it.”

Machado credits the Padres’ training and athletic staff for his health while also taking great pride in the team he has assembled to keep him at his best. His trainer, Soto, calls it “a collaborative effort.”

“We sit down in the offseason and we’re like, ‘OK, what did we like about last offseason? What do we not like? What did we feel we’re missing? What did we do too much of? How did we feel through the season because of it?’” Soto said. “He kind of questions everything, which I like, because I better have an answer and a reason for what I’m doing. It actually helps me step up my game quite a bit.”

Cruz, whose locker is a few steps from Machado’s in the spring training clubhouse, feels that same gratification.


“He grew up a lot since I met him,” Cruz said, nodding toward Machado. “Definitely a total different guy. He’s proud of his work. He understands he needs to put in the work every day to go out there and perform. He understands the responsibility to be a leader and now he’s taking charge of that.

“That definitely makes me really proud to see him grow up that well and become the man that he is right now.”

Staff writer Kevin Acee contributed to this report.