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Programming for Athletes vs. Training Athletes

Written on November 6, 2009 at 8:08 am, by Eric Cressey

A while back, I wrote an article that went into quite a bit of detail on appropriately allocating CNS-intensive stress.  Check it out HERE.  Likewise, a bit later, Mike Boyle introduced a fantastic DVD of a presentation on CNS-intensive training.

In hindsight, a lot of the concepts in both my original article and Mike’s DVD are probably best appreciated by taking a look at some sample programs.  Some stuff we are doing right now with one of my pro pitchers is a perfect example, so I thought I’d turn it into a feature for today’s blog.

First off, we’re talking about one of the most gifted natural athletes I’ve ever seen.  He has some incredible reactive ability, and just as significant to this discussion, he doesn’t hold back…ever.  We are talking an incredible motivation to train and a complete willingness to do everything put in his program to a “T.”  He is every coach’s dream, but it can certainly pose more of a challenge with respect to program design.  Here’s what his October training schedule looked like:

Monday: Medicine Ball Work (88 total throws), Low-Volume, Less Intense Plyos (24 total landings), Lower Body Lift
Tuesday: Upper Body Lift
Wednesday: Medicine Ball Work (80 total throws), Plyos and Movement Training
Thursday: Full-Body Lift
Friday: Easy Flexibility Circuits (recovery-oriented)
Saturday: Medicine Ball Work (88 total throws), Low Volume Sprint Work, Full-Body Lift
Sunday: Off

Looking at this schedule, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday are really the CNS-intensive days – and a schedule like this had worked well for him in two previous off-seasons when he wasn’t quite as highly trained.  Each year, he dropped body fat, gained a ton of strength, increased his power numbers, and directly transferred those gains to increased velocity on the mound and zero injury issues.

Last month, though, our guy was feeling a little banged up two Thursdays in a row.  The challenging sprint work on Wednesday was taking too much out of him prior to Thursday’s lift.  So, we simply decided to consolidate things a bit more, and drop our sprinting volume a bit.  Here’s what this month’s schedule looks like:

Monday: Movement Training, Lower Body Lift
Tuesday: Medicine Ball (68 total throws), Upper Body Lift
Wednesday: Easy Flexibility Circuits (recovery-oriented)
Thursday: Movement Training, Full-Body Lift
Friday: Rotational Medicine Ball Work (66 total throws), Easy Flexibility Circuits (recovery-oriented)
Saturday: Overhead Medicine Ball Work (12 total throws), Less Intense Plyos (24 total landings), Full-Body Lift
Sunday: Off

In this set-up, our CNS-intensive days are Monday, Thursday, and Saturday.  In other words, he’s got one less training session per week that’s really challenging – and he’s seeing great progress without any of the little issues that he noticed last month.

This off-season, we will have over 30 professional baseball players.  Some are big leaguers, some are on the cusp of making the big show, and others have a few years of work ahead of them to reach that dream.  No two of them are identical.  Every evaluation is unique.  There are different health histories, different positions on the field, different ages, and different training experience levels.  Every program needs to reflect these differences.

This is a great opportunity to talk about the interaction of programming for athletes and training athletes.  Early on in an athlete’s career, it’s all about training them: teaching techniques, educating them on when to push and when to hold back, and how to progress.  As they get more advanced, they know a lot about this stuff – so the programming gets more challenging as they get more individualized.

This is the main tenet upon which we have built our Elite Baseball Development Program at Cressey Performance. While many facilities will just put a program on the board and train a group of individuals off of it, we firmly believe that the real work to make athletes successful goes on behind the scenes when we’re reviewing their evaluations, watching videos of them throwing/hitting/sprinting, and compiling a program that’s right for them.

It’s also an observation that led Bill Hartman, Mike Robertson, and I to create Assess and Correct: Breaking Barriers to Unlock Performance.  If you aren’t assessing, you’re just assuming – and that’s a recipe for mediocrity at best.

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A Semi-Related Note

While we’re on the topic of baseball, I wanted to send out a quick congratulations to my buddy Dana Cavalea, the strength coach for the NY Yankees, on his first world championship.  Admittedly, I’m not a Yankees fan, but Dana’s a great dude who does an excellent job, so you have to give him some love for an outstanding season.

That said, Dana and some colleagues are putting on the 2nd Annual Major League Strength Coaches Clinic at St. John’s University in New York on November 21, 2009.  I won’t be able to present with my schedule, unfortunately, but I did present last year and can assure you that it’s a top-notch event.  I’d strongly recommend you check it out HERE.

5 Responses to “Programming for Athletes vs. Training Athletes”

  1. Donnell Boucher Says:

    Great point: we firmly believe that the real work to make athletes successful goes on behind the scenes when we’re reviewing their evaluations, watching videos of them throwing/hitting/sprinting, and compiling a program that’s right for them.

    saw the A&C book…absolutely outstanding resource…thanks for your work.

  2. Patrick Ward Says:

    Great post Eric. It is nice to see strength coaches who take into consideration the individual – their limitations and needs – rather than just running them through a “stock” program and hoping for the best.

    Question, what brand of medicine balls is the athlete using in that video? They seem to “deaden” a little more after hitting the wall and don’t come flying back as quickly as the ones that I have. I like those better.



  3. Sam Leahey Says:

    Patrick – i agree with your observations. One of the many reasons i am looking forward to internning at Cressey Performance this spring is to get a better understanding of “individualized” programs, and assesing&correcting their limitations and needs through programming.

  4. Patrick Ward Says:

    Sam, it should be a good internship. You are going from Boyle’s to Cressey’s – that will give you a lot of great experience!


  5. Derek Peruo Says:

    To everyone:

    Any tips for managing a large number of individualized programs?

    Are the trainers present for every session? Or do you teach proper technique and “check in” with your athletes regularly to make corrections to the program?

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