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Baseball and Strength

Written on January 19, 2009 at 7:59 am, by Eric Cressey

Free Teleseminar Series at SportsRehabExpert.com

I just wanted to give you all a heads-up on a great audio series – Sports Rehab to Sports Performance – that Joe Heiler has pulled together.  I’ll was interviewed on Friday, and Joe’s also chatted will Mike Boyle, Gray Cook, Kyle Kiesel, Stuart McGill, Phil Plisky, Brett Jones, and Charlie Weingroff.   The entire interview series is COMPLETELY FREE and begins airing later tomorrow night.  You can get more information HERE.

Also, don’t forget that the third annual Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning Winter Seminar is fast approaching.  For more information, click here.

Snowy Sunday Sentiments

Yesterday, in an email exchange I was having with some guys who are really “in the know” in the world of baseball pitching, one of them commented that pitchers need to start thinking more along the lines of training like Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  In other words, less external loading, more pure-body weight drills, and a big focus on reactive ability (plyometrics drills, for the lay population).

I’ll be the first to recognize Polamalu’s accomplishments on the field – including an interception return for a touchdown yesterday.  And, I admit that I don’t know much about his training philosophy aside from what I have seen in 3-4 minute YouTube and NFL clips.  So, I guess you could say that my point of contention is with what some folks take from viewing these clips, as was the case with this email exchange.  So, I’ll be very clear that I’m not criticizing the Sportslab philosophy; I’d love to buy these guys lunch and pick their brains, in fact.

However, I’ve got two cents to add – or maybe even three our four cents, depending on how poorly the American dollar is doing nowadays.  I’m writing this on a snowy day in Massachusetts and I’ve got a little bit of extra time on my hands (a rarity during the baseball off-season for me).

I think that it is wrong to assume that weight training is unnecessary and plyometrics are sufficient for injury prevention and performance enhancement in pitchers.  This is a common belief held among a large body of pitching coaches that I feel really needs to be addressed.

The fundamental problem I see is that a system that relies extensively on training elastic qualities.  Or, in the terminology I like to use, it teaches an athlete to be more “spring,” making better use of elastic energy from the tendons.  This works best in an athlete who is largely static, or has a solid base of muscular strength.

Who would be a static athlete?  Well, one example would be an athlete who gained a lot of strength in the previous four years…say, Troy Polamalu.  He was a first-round draft pick out of USC, known for a good program under strength and conditioning coach Chris Carlisle.  They’ve packed lots of muscle and strength on loads of high school guys over the years, no doubt.  Polamalu may not realize it, but those four years of USC training probably set him up for the positive results he’s seeing in this program – especially when you compare him to a good chunk of the NFL that now uses machine-based HIT training because they’re afraid of weight-room injuries.

Basically, for the most part, only the freaky athletes make it to the “big dance” in football, so the S&C coach is responsibly for not hurting them.   It’s not much different in the world of baseball – but we’re dealing with a MORE TRAINED population in the first place.

I’m sure that many of you have read Moneyball (and if you haven’t, you should).  One thing that they touch on over and over again is that high school draft picks don’t pan out as well as college draft picks.


Sure, it has to do with facing better hitters and maturing another four years psychologically.  However, one factor that nobody ever touches on is that these college draft picks have another four years of strength and conditioning under their belt in most cases.  It may not be baseball-specific in many cases, but I would definitely argue that it’s better than nothing.  Strength goes a long way, but physiologically and psychologically.

And, that’s what I want you to think about until my next newsletter comes out – when I’ll get a bit more to the science of all this, and how it’s been demonstrated in professional baseball.

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Until next time, train hard and have fun.


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8 Responses to “Baseball and Strength”

  1. Rick Kaselj Says:

    Another great newsletter.

    Always look forward to them.

    Rick Kaselj

  2. Kelly Clinevell Says:

    I’ll be interested in what you have to say about this subject as it’s an issue that I’m encountering at a baseball facility that I’m doing some work at. I’m the new guy at an already established program that relies heavily on box jumps, med balls, and behind the back bench dips for pretty untrained teenage boys and girls. There is one TRX that some posterior shoulder work is done on and I’ve gotten them to put in a pull up bar but I’m not sure how much it’s used. Can you direct me to one article or similarly condensed resource that would address these issues?

  3. Barry Charewicz Says:

    Eric –

    I think that the “foundation” you lay with basic movement patterns, strengthened with good common sense progressive overload, using external resistance, toughens the body. This is probably considered an old school mentality but I stand by it. You can do all the plyometrics you want but you first need to build the body to resist the stresses that are associated with high impact sports such as football. I think that heavy partials may be the best example. Done properly, I believe that they can strengthen tendons that will result in greater strength in full range movement and less chance of injury. They key is making the whole process “progressive” and adhering to proper technique.

  4. Mickey Says:


    Are these folks familiar with Bill Hartman’s take on Tricep Bench Dips? If not, they should be.

  5. Greg M Says:

    Another great article, thanks man!

    -Greg, representing from Boston

  6. Kelly Clinevell Says:

    I’ve told them that I thought that this movement was very rough on throwers (probably the worst) but I think you can actually find them recommended on some programs. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that Bill Hartman’s opinion would hold any more weight than a former player who did dips and improved his fastball by 5 mph. That’s why I was hoping there was some research that I could present.

  7. Jerry Weinstein Says:

    I think that the main reason that % wise college players have more success in professional baseball, aside from your S&C factors which are valid,is that college players are much easier to project based on a more level playing field. This is especially true for hitters. As far as pitchers are concerned, most break down early in their professional careers & the extra three years of pitching healthy after high school reduce the injury risk factor. Certainly some college pitchers blow up in professional baseball & many fail to meet their projectability, but fewer than those from the high school pool.
    On another front, what about more of a GPP approach(not totally, but at some time in the S&C cycle) to combat many of the imbalances that are inherent in the unilateral nature of the pitching process?


  8. Luka Says:

    I can’t agree more! It’s crazy because I will talk to coaches and many of them have this wall against strength training in baseball, yet the same ones are asking one of my players what he is doing as he has improved athletic ability, batting speed and power and maybe even more importantly he hasn’t had any injuries in 2 years.

    Just plyo’s and bodyweight, doubt it.

    Luka Hocevar

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