Home Baseball Content 4 Factors that Make or Break a Baseball Strength and Conditioning Program

4 Factors that Make or Break a Baseball Strength and Conditioning Program

Written on January 29, 2012 at 3:57 pm, by Eric Cressey

At Cressey Performance, we’re getting to the time of the year when things gradually start to slow down for us.  For many business owners, this is a source of frustration, as they worry about paying the bills when things get quieter.  I, on the other hand, view it as a source of excitement, as it signifies that the beginning of baseball season is at hand, and our athletes will have an opportunity to put all their off-season hard work into action on the baseball field.

You’d be surprised, however, at how many collegiate and professional players get genuinely worried about how they’ll be managed once they get back to school or their organizations.  In the private sector, we can individually manage guys with their unique needs in mind, but in collegiate and professional, because of the larger volume of athletes (and fewer coaches per athlete), limited training time, and additional competing demands (i.e., practicing and playing games), player development can be quickly stunted.  Believe it or not, 2012 was the first year that Major League Baseball mandated that every minor league affiliate have a strength coach on staff; many teams didn’t have anyone (in-person, at least) watching over their highly-touted prospects during critical minor league development periods.

That said, though, there are some colleges and professional organizations who are doing a solid job of managing guys – and I wanted to use today’s post to highlight four areas in which they’re getting the job done effectively.

1. Synergy – As I outlined in Weight Training Programs: You Can’t Just Keep Adding, we have a limited recovery capacity, so if you’re going to add something to a program, you have to take something away.  Unfortunately, this “give and take” gets overlooked in some team settings.  As an example, a strength and conditioning coach, athletic trainer, and pitching coach might all prescribe different rotator cuff exercises for their players without knowing that an overlap is taking place. Or, a strength coach might prescribe a challenging lower body lift, then have a pitching coach send his players to run poles – only to have the head coach tack a very taxing practice on top of an already hefty workload.  If you’re always adding, but never taking away, it’s only a matter of time until athletes break down.  As such, communication among coaches, medical and strength and conditioning staffs, and players is absolutely essential for optimal synergy.

2. Individualization – I’m constantly amazed at how – even at the highest levels – players aren’t managed on a case-by-case basis.  That is, of course, until they get hurt and need unique rehabilitation prescriptions.  Just imagine how much less rehabilitation would be needed if players were simply managed more individually on a proactive basis so that injuries didn’t occur nearly as often.  Additionally, we’d be much more likely to see late-round draft picks and undrafted free agents become MLB superstars if they were managed differently than already-talented players who are just coddled on their way to the big leagues. I think you’d see more stories like Tim Collins’.

I also see this as a huge competitive advantage for college coaches on the recruiting side of things.  Not everyone can boast beautiful weather, an amazing baseball complex, a pristine academic reputation, and beautiful girls everywhere when recruiting prospects, but being able to guarantee an individualized approach to development goes a long way in making up the difference.

3. Specificity – You’d be amazed at how many folks in the baseball world have absolutely no knowledge of exercise physiology or the unique demands of baseball – but are still prescribing strength and conditioning programs for baseball players.  Some of what I have seen is so atrocious that the players would have been better off doing absolutely nothing.  I’ve seen programs with 10+ mile runs, kipping pull-ups to failure, 1-rep max bench presses, and high rep clean and presses.  I seriously can’t make this stuff up.

The most common justification for this type of garbage is that coaches want to build mental toughness.  Well, I’m here to tell you that there are much better ways of doing that, as your mental toughness won’t mean much when your pitchers are having surgeries or throwing 74mph and well on their way to those surgeries.

When we discuss throwing a baseball, we are talking about the single fastest motion in all of sports. General training is absolutely valuable, but if you don’t have the specific nature of that throwing motion – and the adaptations it creates – in mind when we implement that general training, you’re asking for problems.

4. Effort – The best program on the planet won’t do any good if it isn’t executed with loads of effort and attention to detail.  If you have issues like players skipping warm-ups, athletic trainers refusing to do manual therapy, and coaches showing up late to practice, whatever is written on the paper doesn’t matter at all.

At the end of the day, these four factors are just a few of many that will ultimately determine how effective a baseball strength and conditioning program is.  Unfortunately, many of these factors are outside of a player’s control, so what do you do?

Very simply, control what you can control.

Educate yourself so that you can be your own best coach.  Optimize your nutrition and get plenty of sleep. Write down what has and hasn’t worked for you so that you can refer back to it down the road and avoid making the same mistakes twice.

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  • Your comment “I’ve seen programs with 10+ mile runs, kipping pull-ups to failure, 1-rep max bench presses, and high rep clean and presses.” is more common that you realize, especially on the college and Jr. college level…they’re doing all kinds of unnecessary ‘stuff’ in the name of baseball fitness.

    I also wanted to give a shout out to Jeff Soptic, 2012 – 3rd Round Draft pick of the Chicago White Sox. He’s finishing the final week of his 12-week off season workout schedule and heads back to AZ next Sunday. He’s 6’6″ tall, 220 lbs. and throws the ball 100 mph! Ready to take it to the next level…

  • Thank you for all the quality info you keep putting out!

    In future posts, can you please break down how you implement your programs ( position, middle / high school, college, minor / major leaguers, re-hab, strength, power, explosive movements, core, 12 or 16 week cycles, etc.) in a little more detail.

    As a Strength Coach, I deal with a lot of issues with just the basics because in California baseball is year round. It’s hard to convince parents to let their kids rest and get stronger…

    Again, thank you!

  • AC

    Great comments. Looking forward to our visit next month where we can get a foundation set. Right now I am avoiding a strength program that consist of Bar Dips to failure and 400 meter runs and mile time trials for conditioning. Says we all need to get tougher and stronger mentally.

  • Horse81

    Eric why would be so bad to do sometimes pullups to failure?

  • Eric, great post. I run an S&C gym in San Diego and have been fortunate enough to work with a good sampling of minor league guys training out here in their offseason. Your comment on specificity really hit home as I work with a AAA kid in the Nats system who actually said his college strength coach (VERY reputable DI program) had all players doing CrossFit.

    Including pitchers.

    Pitchers doing kipping pull-ups and jerks. The f**king horror of that makes my head hurt.

    Great post on specificity. I have the luxury of being a former player so I understand the training and what not to do, but I see so many guys doing terrible things with baseball athletes(push press for pitchers, swinging a simulated heavy bat, etc) that it’s so refreshing to read your baseball training blogs. Big fans of you and Tony and read you guys each morning. It’s a big inspiration to our baseball training business growing out West in San Diego.

    Keep up the great work. I learn a lot from this blog.

    -Dave Thomas

  • Sam

    Just saw and read this post. EC, as usual, great stuff. It’s really encouraging to hear as a coach/strength coach that the stuff you are implementing is right on board with some of the best in the business. Similarly, I ran into a coach who implemented Crossfit for his pitchers. There were some injuries that occurred, and sure enough as a strength coach I was targeted for the reason behind them. After cross-checking my program with other professionals and athletic trainers (much of it influenced by Cressey Performance), I was assured of my program. This was when the Crossfit and additional movements surfaced that I had no idea were being implemented by the coach. It pains me to think of some of the ignorance in training even college athletes. Thank you for continuing to educate and inform.

  • Brad Adams

    How do you find out which high schools and colleges have the best Strength and Conditioning Programs what should parents look for?

  • ARD

    Horse81,
    Training to failure (particularly in resistance training) is never a good approach. High intensity resistance training is very important for several reasons for a baseball player, but the S&C professional must very carefully control the volume performed. Research shows tells us that exercises done to failure (in addition to higher risk of injury/overuse/overtraining) typically result in rapid, but small strength gains that peak quickly and are well below an athlete’s potential. Whether your season is 40 or 160 games, its very important to develop strength in a way that gives a player the best chance to maintain the best possible level of performance for as long as possible. A properly periodized program results in ultimately greater gains that an athlete is then better able to maintain.


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