Home Baseball Content 5 Things that Might Surprise You about our Baseball Strength and Conditioning Programs

5 Things that Might Surprise You about our Baseball Strength and Conditioning Programs

Written on May 23, 2012 at 2:48 pm, by Eric Cressey

We have quite a few baseball coaches, athletic trainers, physical therapists, and strength and conditioning coaches who stop by Cressey Sports Performance to observe our training.  While they are the ones visiting to learn, I actually learn quite a bit about the "norms" in the baseball strength and conditioning field by listening to them tell me about what surprises them about what they observe at CSP.  Here are some of the areas that seem to surprise quite a few people:

1. They're surprised we don't do more sprint work and change-of-direction training.

The competitive baseball season essentially runs from mid-February all the way through early September, and during that time, guys are sprinting, diving, and changing directions constantly during fielding practice.  They're also on their feet in cleats for an absurd number of hours each day.  To that end, when the off-season rolls around, most guys want a few weeks away from aggressive sprinting and change-of-direction work.  Once they get their rest, we typically go to 2-3 movement training sessions for October through December, usually on off-days from strength training.  I prefer to break them up so that we can get more quality work in with our strength training program, and also so that the sessions don't run too long.  Once January 1 rolls around, the volume and intensity of sprinting increases, while the strength training program volume is reduced.  

Summarily, because we often separate our sprint/agility work from our resistance training, many folks get the impression that we don't do much movement training - but that couldn't be further from the truth.  It's a big part of our comprehensive approach to baseball development; we just fit it in a bit differently than most coaches, and emphasize or de-emphasize it at different point in the year.

2. They're surprised how much medicine ball work we do.

One of the reasons there is a bit less movement training than you might see in other strength and conditioning programs is that we do a ton of medicine ball work, particularly during the months of October through January (for our pro guys).  

Medicine ball drills are great for not only training power outside the sagittal plane, but also because it helps to iron out excessive asymmetries while maintaining pitching- and hitting-specific mobility.  Our guys may do 240-360 medicine ball throws per week during their highest volume phases.

You can learn more about the medicine ball exercises we incorporate in our program by checking out Functional Stability Training of the Core.

3. They're surprised that we don't Olympic lift our baseball guys.

On multiple occasions, I've written at length about why I don't like overhead pressing and Olympic lifts in light of the unique demands of throwing and the crazy adaptations we see in throwers.

While the Olympic lifts might have great power development carryover to the sprinting one encounters on a baseball field, the carryover to power in the frontal and transverse planes just isn't as pronounced.  In other words, power development is extremely plane-specific.  I'll take medicine ball work and non-sagittal plane jumping exercises over O-lifts for baseball players in a heartbeat.

4. They're surprised we don't do more band work.

It's not that I think bands are useless; I just think most guys use them incorrectly, and even when used correctly, they just don't really offer that much advantage other than convenience.

The fundamental issue with bands is that the resistance is generally so light that guys can quickly develop bad habits - poor humeral head control, lumbar hyperextension, etc. - while doing them.  They'd be much more effective if guys would just slow down and use them correctly.  I am also not a fan at all of using the bands to get the arms into all sorts of extreme positions; you're just using a passive implement to create more laxity in an already unstable shoulder.  If you want (and need) to stretch a shoulder, do so with the scapula stabilized.  

Additionally, I'll take cables over bands whenever possible simply because the resistance is heavier and it matches the strength curve for external rotations better.  Throwers are generally weakest at full external rotation, yet the band has the highest tension in this position; meanwhile, the cable's resistance remains constant.  Obviously, manual resistance is ideal, but bands are a distance third.

5. They're surprised how "aggressive" our throwing programs are.

The overwhelming majority of our guys long toss, and most of them throw weighted baseballs at certain points of the year as well.  They pitch less and throw more.  They all still get their 2-3 months off from throwing each year, but when they are throwing, they work hard.

This is in stark contrast to some of the throwing models I've seen in professional baseball, where many organizations limit players to 90-120 feet with their long tossing, and the only time a baseball is "weighted" is when it gets wet on a rainy day.  Guys take so much time off that they never have any time in the off-season to actually develop.  I firmly believe that while you have to have strict limits on how you manage pitchers, you also have to stop short of completely coddling them.

These are surely just five areas in which we deviate from the norm with respect to baseball development, but important ones nonetheless.

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  • Vai

    Hello, Coach.

    I was wondering if there is a way to implement these strategies on tennis players, and what would be specific for them concerning their shoulder health, because their shoulder movements are much wider. Also interested in other movement aspects like foot work etc.

  • Eric,
    Even when the volume/intensity of the sprint training increases, do you still program these workouts the day after lifting sessions?

    Also, do you feel track and field throwers should also rely primarily on medballs/jumping for power development (as opposed to the olympic lifts)?

  • Cory

    Hey Eric, I have a question regarding using weighted balls: what I learned was that if you are going to load at the distal end of an extremity, the overload should not be more than 3% of what the normal object weighs, so a 5 ounce baseball should not weigh more than 5.15 ounces. This is because of a physics law called “The momentum transfer theory” meaning that all the energy developed during the throwing motion must be transferred into the implement (ball). If the object weighs to much the forces and inertial energy can not be appropriately transferred into the ball, slowing the throw and increasing the stresses on the soft tissue, basically the shoulder labrum and medial elbow. What are your thoughts as I see you use weighted balls? Thanks
    Cory

  • Val – These definitely apply to tennis players just as much. In fact, you could argue that tennis players need ZERO direct sprint/agility training in their strength and conditioning programs because they do so much of this work on the court (and because the competitive season is so long).

  • Neil,

    I’d try to program the more intensive sprint work either the day before or day of (before) the heavier lower body sessions.

    I’d say that track and field throwers (particularly discuss and hammer) could follow this approach, although I wouldn’t exclude traditional O-lifts completely.

  • Cory – 3% is a pretty arbitrary number. Think of the weighted balls as a means of kick-starting post-activation potentiation; the arm speed shouldn’t be the same (we’ve radar gunned it; it will be slower).

    Additionally, with a heavier implement and the particular drills we use, you don’t always achieve the same ROM, so you may comparing apples and oranges. This isn’t *exactly* like sprinting against a parachute or sled.

  • Cory

    So what size weighted balls do you use? and what kind of throwing program do you use for them?

  • Carl

    What’s your feeling about incorporating under-weighted balls as well?

  • Carl – we don’t utilize underweighted balls at present, but that’s not to say that I’m 100% against them. Still refining my approach with each passing day; we may integrate them later.

  • Cory,

    We stay in the 7-10oz range. At most, 2x/week. Done after long toss or a bullpen, but never before.

  • Mati

    Hey Eric,
    what kind of medicine ball training do you recommend for volleyball players? Do you think, medball throws in air may make sense?

  • Cory

    Hey Eric,
    I appreciate the responses. How many throws do you do with the weighted balls? Do you use all the sizes in one throwing session? Can you give me an example of what you would do in that 2x/week weighted ball throwing? Sorry for all the questions.

  • zach

    What is your ideal in season long toss regiment?

  • Zach,

    It depends on reliever vs. starter.  And, if it’s a starter, is it a 5-day or 7-day rotation, and on what day does the pitcher throw his bullpen?  Lots of factors to consider – including whether or not someone actually responds well to long toss.  Some don’t!

  • zach

    Its a 7 day rotation, pitching on Saturday.
    The bullpen is on Wednesday.

  • Bill

    How does an elite pitcher take 2-3 months off from throwing and stay an elite pitcher. I can see shutting down for 1 month from any throwing but anymore than that atrophy loss of neuro patterns kick in.

  • Bill,

    I disagree – and professionals do it all the time with no problem at all.


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