Simplicity and Individualization: The Hallmarks of Every Successful Program

About the Author: Eric Cressey

This past weekend, I spoke at a baseball conference that featured an outstanding lineup.  Sharing the stage were:

  • Lloyd McClendon (former MLB player and current Detroit Tigers hitting coach)
  • Jerry Weinstein (Colorado Rockies catching coach)
  • Gary Gilmore (Coastal Carolina head Coach)
  • Rich Maloney (Ball State head coach)
  • Shaun Cole (University of Arizona pitching coach)
  • Gary Picone (former Lewis & Clark head coach)

I picked up some great insights over the weekend, but the two themes that seemed to resound with me over and over again were that all of these guys emphasized simplicity and individualization.

On the simplicity side of things, all of these coaches emphasized not making things more elaborate than they needed to be.  Paraphrasing Hall-of-Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, Coach Maloney hammered home “making the routine play routinely.”  This really hit home with me, as many baseball players I encounter are looking for the latest and greatest throwing program, supplement, or training gadget to take them to the next level.  Meanwhile, the simple answer is just that they need train a little harder, eat a little better, and be a little more patient and attentive.

On the individualization side of things, McClendon, for instance, emphasized that while all great hitters get to the same important positions, many of them start at different positions.  And, they each require different drills to “get right,” and different players do better with shorter sessions in the cage than others.

In one way or another, every single speaker touched on – and, in most cases, specifically mentioned – keeping things simple and individualized.  To that end, I thought I’d post five random thoughts on both of these factors:

Simplifying Baseball Strength and Conditioning Programs

1. Magical things happen when you get stronger.  Learn to put more force into the ground and you will throw harder, swing faster, jump higher, and run faster.

2. Don’t miss sessions. The off-season is never as long as you want it to be, and it’s your time to “put money in the bank” from a training adaptation standpoint.  And, in-season, it’s easy to put things off until tomorrow – but that doesn’t mean that you should, as there is a tomorrow for tomorrow, too, and that’s a slippery slope.

3. Do what you need, not just what you’re good at doing. If you throw hard, but can’t throw strikes, do more bullpen work.  If you throw strikes, but can’t throw hard, do more velocity drills: long toss, weighted ball work, etc.

4. Don’t add more volume without taking something away.  You can’t do high volume strength training, high volume medicine ball work, high volume throwing, high volume hitting, and high volume sprint work all at once.  If you add something new, take something away.

5. Don’t power through bad technique or pain. If you can’t do something with good technique, slow it down and practice it at an easier pace. If that still doesn’t work, regress the drill/exercise.

Individualizing Baseball Strength and Conditioning Programs

1. Coach the same exercises differently. Different players respond to different cues, but they often mandate different cues as well.  For instance, a wall slide with overhead shrug would be cued differently for someone with scapular depression and anterior tilt than in someone with scapular elevation and adduction. The goal is to make the movement look right, but there are different roads to get to this point.

2. Assess for congenital laxity. If someone has crazy loose joints, don’t stretch them. If they’re stiff as a board, include more mobility drills and static stretching.

3. Inquire about innings pitched. The more innings a pitcher has thrown, the more down-time he’ll need and the longer it’ll take to get his rotator cuff and scapular control back to a suitable level in the off-season.

4. Master the sagittal plane first.  If you can’t do a body weight squat or lunge, then you probably aren’t going to have the rotary stability necessary to do aggressive rotational medicine ball throws or plyos in the frontal plane.

5. Appreciate each player’s injury history and find out where they usually get soreness/pain.  Simply asking these questions and reviewing a health history can tell you a lot about where a player might break down moving forward.  If you aren’t asking or assessing, you’re just guessing.

These five thoughts on individualization might seem obvious, but it never ceases to amaze me just how many people in the industry simply throw a one-size-fits-all program up on the dry erase board and expect everyone to do it exactly the same.  Some folks might thrive, but others might wind up injured or regressing in their fitness levels in some capacity.  This is where we begin to appreciate the incredibly essential interaction between individualization and simplicity.  Nothing is more simple than this:

Determine an athlete’s unique needs, and then write a program and provide coaching cues to address them.

There is nothing more basic and simple than a needs evaluation.  You can’t determine that something is too complex if you have no idea where an athlete stands in the first place!

Why then, do we have entire teams doing the same program with the same coaching cues?  Usually, it’s because it makes someone’s job easier, or it allows them to get more athletes through the babysitting service to make more money.  That’s not how you keep athletes healthy, win games, or educate athletes about how their bodies are unique.

So with all that in mind, remember to keep things simple – and that begins with an assessment so that you can create an individualized training experience.

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