Home Baseball Content Advice From a Former College Baseball Player: What If?

Advice From a Former College Baseball Player: What If?

Written on April 7, 2014 at 7:17 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from current Cressey Performance intern, and former D1 college baseball player, James Cerbie. -EC

What if?

It’s the age-old question that has haunted athletes and competitive people for ages.

What if I had done this? What if I had done that? What if I hadn’t been stupid and done <fill in the blank>?

Unfortunately, these questions will never have answers. It’s impossible to go back and revisit what could have been. Rather, we’re left to look at the now, learn from our “what if” moments, and share our new understanding with another generation. That is where I now find myself.

I’m in the middle of my internship here at Cressey Performance, and to say I’m greeted with the “what if” question on a daily basis would be an understatement. Everyday I get a glance at how we train and prepare athletes, and get to reflect on how I was trained and prepared.


And just to bring you up to speed, I’m speaking to the training and preparation of baseball athletes. I’m currently 24 years old and spent approximately 19 of those years playing baseball. It was my greatest passion growing up and I devoted countless hours to my craft. My hard work eventually paid off as I got to play Division 1 baseball at a great school (go Davidson). But, nevertheless, it’s impossible to wonder what could have been if I had known what I know now.

Here are 6 things I really wish I would have known, or done more of during my baseball career, courtesy of my experience here at Cressey Performance.

1. Get assessed.

I’ve always been a good athlete. That’s not to toot my own horn because I have my parents to thank for that more than anything; it just is what it is.

Because I was always a good athlete, however, I believe certain aspects of my training got overlooked. Number one on that list being an assessment.

Not once, throughout my entire athletic career, did I ever get assessed.

If I got injured or came up short on a certain task it was just chalked up to being an athlete:

“James…these things just happen. You’re a good athlete and getting injured is just a part of what you do.”

Oh really? A stress fracture in my back, multiple hip flexor strains, a pulled quad and a host of other injuries just happen for the sake of happening? Sorry, but that answer always frustrated me. What I really heard was:

“James…you keep getting injured but I really don’t know why.”

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that getting injured is a part of sports. Here’s the difference though: there are fluke injuries that pop up on the rare occasion, and then there’s being “chronically” injured which entails always being nagged by one thing or another.

Throughout my collegiate baseball career, I fell in the “chronically” injured category and would constantly be met with suggestions like:

“Oh, your hamstrings are tight. Just stretch those bad boys a couple times a day and that’ll help.”

“Oh, your hips are tight. Just stretch that and things should start feeling better.”

For those of you who haven’t tried the “stretch it because it’s tight” routine, let me save you the time and effort: it doesn’t work. There’s far more to it than that.

I don’t want to start sounding like a repetitive drumbeat, so let’s get to the point: you need to be assessed. It’s the number one most important thing you can do; it’ll help you stay healthy and take your performance to the next level.

I’ll use myself as example.

The first time I met Eric was about a year after I stopped playing baseball. Having heard great things about him, I visited Cressey Performance for a one-time consultation. Here’s an excerpt from the email Eric sent me, highlighting my “problems.”

“1. Your sit in significant scapular downward rotation, and your humeral head dives forward whenever you extend or externally rotate. These are super common in overhead throwing athletes, and you just took them a step further by also becoming an overhead pressing athlete! You simply don't get enough upward rotation when your arms elevate - and that's a big thing we'll address with these warm-ups.

2. Getting upward rotation and good overhead motion is also heavily dependent on building up anterior core stability. You're extremely lordotic and heavily overuse your lats to not only pull the spine into extension, but also take the scapula into depression/downward rotation. When lats are this overactive, your lower traps don't want to do their job. So, core stability closely relates to shoulder mobility and stability (not to mention breathing patterns and a host of other things). You could also see how your anterior weight bearing negatively affected your squat pattern, and why that counterbalance made so much of a difference.”

He actually talks about some of these issues in this video:

In short, here were my issues:

- I was incredibly extended with an obnoxious amount of anterior pelvic tilt
- I had crazy overactive, short and stiff lats
- Lower trap strength equivalent to that of a 7-year-old girl
- A 6 pack that meant nothing because my core was actually really weak

Cue epiphany.

I finally had answers to my seemingly endless list of injuries throughout college. Almost all of them could be tied back in one way or another to the list above and here’s the frustrating part: nobody had ever looked at these things before or had ever written me an individualized program to address them.

I was merely given generic “athletic” development programs that fed into and compounded my dysfunction.

Moral of the story? Get assessed.

2. Movement comes first.

I always equated problems with strength. I thought strength could solve any deficiencies I had and approached my training likewise. Looking back, I now realize how dumb that was.

More times than not, especially as you get older and advance from level to level, it has far less to do with strength and far more to do with how well you move. Like Gray Cook says, “Don’t layer fitness on top of dysfunction.”

Well, I layered a whole bunch of fitness on top of dysfunction.

This happened because one, I was never assessed, and two, I was incredibly stubborn. The thought of taking a step back to work on movement quality irked me like no other.

“I can squat over 400 lbs. Why am I going to go do goblet squats with an 80 lb dumbbell?”

This was foolish, and something the coaching staff at CP does an excellent job of handling. Because Cressey Performance puts every client through an assessment, they know what a client needs to work on and how to do so properly. Many times, this means taking a small step backward (from the client’s point of view) in order to take an enormous step forward.


Unfortunately, most athletes are like I was. They want to always push the envelope and the thought of taking a step back is almost insulting.

Dear athletes: Please change this attitude.

I can’t harp on the importance of movement before strength enough. Do what you need to do to make sure you move well before you worry about building up strength. Your body and your career will thank you as you stay healthy and reach the highest levels of performance.

3. Focus on the little things.

It’s often the little things that get overlooked the most. These are things like prone trap raises, breathing patterns, soft tissue work and your posture outside the gym. They aren’t sexy and are, to be quite honest, boring.

It’s these boring and non-sexy items, however, that make a big difference.

Putting your full attention into the tiny details of arm care, how you breathe, how you stand, and how you often you foam roll will make the difference between being good and being exceptional.

Luckily, the athletes at CP have a staff that understands this and harps on it daily.

4. Do more single-leg work.

There were few things I hated doing more than lunges, single leg RDLs, split squats, step-ups…really any single-leg exercises. I hated them because I sucked at them.

Tell me to do something on two legs and I crushed it. Put me on one leg (especially my right) and I turned into Bambi on ice.

Okay, so it wasn’t that bad, but it definitely wasn’t my forte.

Instead of forcing myself to conquer this deficiency, I merely found ways to implement as much bilateral work as possible. Seeing as the vast majority of baseball, and pretty much all sports for that matter, are played on one leg, this wasn’t the smartest decision. I would have been far better off doing like we do at CP and hammering single-leg work.

Not just doing lightweight, high rep sets though, but getting truly strong on one leg:

Ultimately, I believe a lot of the success CP baseball players have is because they are forced to get strong on one leg, while most people take my approach and only get strong on two.

Side note: that’s not to say CP athletes don’t get strong on two legs, because they do.

5. Get outside the sagittal plane.

Oh…the beloved sagittal plane.



Visit most weight rooms and you’ll see people living in the sagittal plane:

Squatting…sagittal plane
Deadlifting…sagittal plane
Box jump…sagittal plane

And the list could easily go on. Most sports (and life for that matter), do not comply with this North-South straight-line orientation; they are lived in multiple planes of motion.

Just think through the complexity and mechanics of throwing a baseball. All the things that need to take place to ensure a ball is thrown at the correct velocity, with the right spin and the right trajectory to bring about the desired result. It’s pretty amazing stuff when you consider the minute details.

Here’s another cool little tidbit of info: power development is plane specific. Just because you can generate power in one plane doesn’t mean you’ll do so well in others.


Yup…you guessed it. I missed the boat on this one also.

At CP, however, they get outside the sagittal plane, and do so often. First on this list is medicine ball throws.

They use a lot of different medicine ball throwing routines to help their athletes develop power in the transverse and frontal plane. A great example of such an exercise is the rotational med ball scoop toss:

Second, they implement exercises like the 1-arm kettlebell lateral lunge and heiden:

Lastly, they use off-set loading on exercises; this provides a rotational component to the movement because the body has to resist rotating towards one side vs. the other. A good example of such a movement would be a 1-arm 1-leg kettlebell RDL:

Although this barely scratches the surface when it comes to exercises used by Cressey Performance and the importance of training outside the sagittal plane, I hope it has given you a good frame of reference.

6. More doesn’t equal better.

There’s a time to push it and a time to back off. Being an in-season athlete is not one of the “push” times. Many coaches, however, forget this and continue pushing their athletes as if nothing has changed.

If you read Eric’s blog often (which I hope you do) you’ll know he says, “You can’t add something without taking something else away.” I really wish that quote could be plastered on the walls of weight rooms around the country.

When the volume of swings, throws and sprints picks up because you’ve started the season, then you have to start taking something away.

Having been lucky enough to spend the past few months at CP, I’ve gotten to witness this first hand. As pitchers begin entering their competitive season (when they’re obviously throwing more often), you see a change in the program to reflect the increased volume outside the weight room.

Medicine ball throws are scaled back, if not eliminated completely. Lifts move towards a two-day per week full body structure, and extra movement days are limited.

As an athlete, it’s easy to forget how everything you do adds up. Every swing, every throw, every sprint and every lift leaves traces in your nervous system. And, although you may be awesome, your body can only handle so much. I understand the desire to get in and work hard, but you have to remember that a lot of times, less is more.

Closing Thoughts

At the end of the day, this barely scratches the surface when it comes to things I wish I would have done differently. As opposed to dwelling on that, however, I’d rather write and share my experiences with coaches and athletes so they can avoid making the mistakes I did. Feel free to post questions or discuss your own experiences in the comments section below.

About the Author

James Cerbie is a cecerbie1rtified strength and conditioning specialist and USA weightlifting sports performance coach who is Precision Nutrition Level 1 and Crossfit Level 1 certified. He has been blessed to work with athletes from the middle school to professional level, including powerlifters, Olympic lifters and Crossfit athletes. Cerbie gets no greater enjoyment than seeing people improve, succeed and achieve their goals. He’s the owner of Rebel Performance and currently works as a strength and conditioning intern at Cressey Performance. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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27 Responses to “Advice From a Former College Baseball Player: What If?”

  1. Brendan Says:

    Hey James, great insight. One question though: Get assessed, but specifically, by whom? A trainer with CSCS certification, a PT, etc?

  2. Ivan Racic Says:

    Great post, being a former college baseball player i couldn’t agree more with everything said, looking forward to EC seminar in Europe this may, and good look in your coaching career James.

  3. Shawn Says:

    Can you recommend somewhere in the Cleveland area that I can get my son an assessment of the level that CP would provide?

  4. kathy ekdahl Says:

    James (and Eric)- this is a great article. Way to go James! I just forwarded it to the Hudson Youth Softball and Baseball Association. Hope you don’t mind! On Saturday, I presented at their coaching clinic, and discussed the importance of some type of a movement screen for assessing players, paying attention to (and not ignoring) chronic injuries and poor posture in their athletes,and making sure they include proper warm-ups and body weight conditioning to insure good movement skills. Your article is icing on the cake,or the cake under the icing. Timely. Thanks! (They were also flabbergasted to hear that I did not recommend long distance running for bball and sball players). Hearing it from you may sink in more than hearing it from me!

  5. Eric Cressey Says:

    I’d recommend Heather Jennings, who has attended our baseball mentorships. If you’d like to email me at ec@ericcressey.com, I can put you in touch.

  6. Shane Says:

    Geez, James, i didn’t know that about you. I think points 1-4, everybody can take note. Not just athletes. Seeing a great physical therapist has really opened my eyes to points 1-4. Nice work buddy.

  7. Eric Bach Says:

    Great work James and Eric!

  8. jeff Says:

    My question is at what age does an athlete need to be assesed ? My son is 12, somewhat flat footed and has very tight hamstrings.He is also crazy about Baseball!!

  9. Eric Cressey Says:


    It’s never too early to start!

  10. Brian O'Donnell Says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your article. My 14 year old son starts HS next year and will play football and baseball.

    Baseball is the game he really excels in and the one that he works at without any parental prompting.

    We live in the Portland, OR west suburbs. Do you know of a trainer that you would recommend that is qualified to do the type of assessment you mention in your article?


  11. Scott Fricker Says:

    Is there anyone in the Kansas City area that you can recommend for this type of baseball-specific assessment?

  12. Matt Case Says:

    I echo some of the earlier commenter’s questions, who do I get assessed by? I don’t even know what to look for in a trainer to get help with form and programming, let alone someone to assess my movement. I live in the St. Louis area and am not sure where to even begin. Maybe you guys could do an article on how to find an qualified trainer/coach/PT to do such an assessment.

  13. Kirk Says:

    Hi Eric,

    I am a high school baseball coach here in Mass and we have a website for our program. I was wondering if it would be OK to post your PDF of post throwing/pitching stretches on our website for our pitchers to follow. I just want to make sure credit is give where credit is due.

  14. Eric Cressey Says:

    No problem, Kirk; thanks for asking.

  15. Eric Cressey Says:


    I’d recommend Joe Potts. http://www.topspeedtraining.com/

  16. Eric Cressey Says:


    Try checking out the Smart Group Training guys, Steve Long and Jared Woolever. http://smartgrouptraining.com/creators/

    They’re in St. Louis and do a great job.

  17. James Cerbie Says:

    Hey Brendan,
    Glad you enjoyed the article. The answer to your questions is a tricky one, and it really depends. It’s impossible to give a blanket statement because there are people on both sides of the spectrum who can do it. I know CSCS’s who can give great assessments, and I know PT’s who can give great assessments. I also know CSCS’s and PT’s who can’t give an assessment to save their lives. It really depends on the person and their skill set. I really wish there was a better answer for you but that’s just the nature of the business.

  18. James Cerbie Says:

    Hey Ivan,

    Thanks! And glad you enjoyed the post. Being a former baseball player I’m sure you can relate.

  19. James Cerbie Says:

    Hey Kathy,

    Thanks and I don’t mind at all. The more young people who can see it the better!

  20. James Cerbie Says:


    I second Eric 100%. It’s never too early to get them with a good coach. It’ll make all the difference in the world as he gets older.

  21. James Cerbie Says:

    Hey Matt,

    I feel your pain man. It can be real hassle trying to find someone to work with. Shoot me a message at james.cerbie@gmail.com and I’ll do what I can to help you out!

  22. Eric Cressey Says:


    Right off the top of my head, I don’t know anyone in Portland. What you probably can do, however, is find an IYCA certified trainer in your area with this locator:


  23. Bob Says:

    Great advice! Do you know of a good trainer in the Denver area for a current College baseball player?

  24. James Cerbie Says:


    I don’t know anyone in the Portland area either. Going off the IYCA list is probably a good bet though.

  25. Eric Cressey Says:


    Shoot me an email and I’ll get you an introduction: ec@ericcressey.com


  26. Dave Says:

    Can you recommend someone in the Detroit/Ann Arbor/Lansing area to assess my 14 year old son?

  27. Eric Cressey Says:


    Jim Kielbaso does a great job out there. He works out of Total Sports Complex: http://www.totalsportscomplex.com/

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