Home Baseball Content Strength and Conditioning Programs: Think “The Opposite”

Strength and Conditioning Programs: Think “The Opposite”

Written on September 6, 2011 at 12:30 am, by Eric Cressey

September 6 might seem like just another Tuesday to most folks.  Many people probably despise it because the day after Labor Day serves as an unofficial end to summer.  Kids go back to school, teachers go back to work, and many seasonal businesses lose customers and employees as the season winds down.

Not me, though.  Today, the madness begins for me – and I love it.

You see, today is the start of the professional baseball off-season, as some minor leaguers played their last games yesterday.  Between now and the start of spring training in February/March, Cressey Performance will likely see over 50 guys either in the big leagues or trying to make the big leagues.

We get a special type of ballplayer, too. Trekking to Hudson, MA in the winter isn’t for everyone – and certainly not for guys who want to be coddled.  Our guys love to work smart and hard – and that makes my job incredibly fun.

People are often surprised to learn that I never even played baseball in high school.  Being an “outsider” to the game would seemingly make it harder to enter the world of baseball strength and conditioning, but I actually used it to my advantage.  To put it bluntly, I had no preconceived notions of what people think works, so it made it easy for me to “buck” stupid baseball traditions and focus on what I know works.  In short, as some of the world’s smartest marketing advisors have recommended, I did the opposite of what others do, and the Cressey Performance Elite Baseball Development Program thrived.

Given that baseball players are among the most often-injured athletes in sports, many “experts” in the industry baby them with “do no harm, but do no good” strength training programs.  We show guys that it’s possible to get strong in an intelligent way while decreasing the risk of injury – both acutely and chronically.

Conversely, many strength and conditioning coaches alienate players by looking, acting, and programming like football coaches.  We don’t Olympic lift, back squat, or bench press with our baseball players – and we’ve gone to great lengths to bring in equipment that enables us to modify traditional strength exercises and make them safer for a baseball population.

Many coaches who have played the game before rely exclusively on their experiences playing the game to dictate how players prepare nowadays.  What they fail to appreciate is that the modern game is far different: more off-field distractions (e.g., heavier media attention, social networking), heavier travel schedules (more teams = more travel), more competing demands (e.g., strength and conditioning), and more pressure to succeed (larger organizations = more levels of minor leaguers pushing to take your job).  As a result, I do a lot more listening to my athletes than I do talking – and much less assuming than other coaches do.

Loads of coaches run their pitchers into the ground, thereby ruining guys’ mobility, sapping their power, and abusing their endocrine systems in an ignorant attempt to improve recovery.  Our guys never run more than 60 yards – and they get healthier and more athletic in the process.

Many organizations hand out the same strength and conditioning programs to all their players – regardless age, training experience, dominant hand, and position on the field.  A lot of facilities are no better; one training program on the dry erase board dictates what everyone in the gym does on a given day.  In a sport where each body (and injury) is unique – and asymmetry is overwhelmingly problematic – we give our guys a competitive advantage with a strength and conditioning program that is individualized to each player.

While some facilities were aligning themselves with companies who were trying to be “everything to everybody” by catering to loads of different sports, we allied with New Balance, a Boston-based and not only has a heavy baseball focus (225+ MLB players under contract), but a strong commitment to various charitable causes, American workers, and the education of up-and-coming players.

Walk into any professional baseball clubhouse, and you’ll see a lot of different “cliques.”  Guys of a wide-variety of ages come from different states and countries, speak different languages or have different accents, and play different positions.   On a 25-30 man roster, a player might only hang out with 2-3 teammates off the field at most during the season.  We’ve made camaraderie an insanely important piece of the CP professional baseball approach, introducing guys to each other, setting up out-of-the-gym events for our guys, and creating a culture where everyone roots for everyone else.  I’ve had guys at my house for Thanksgiving and at my wedding – and guys have held back on referring other players because they didn’t feel that their work ethics or attitudes would be a good fit for CP.  In short, we’ve created a family and an experience – and given our athletes an ownership stake in it – while others just  “worked guys out.”

Although it is a point Pat Rigsby, Mike Robertson, and I heavily emphasize in our Fitness Business Blueprint product, the concept of “doing the opposite” to succeed isn’t just applicable to business.

Go to any gym, and look at how many people are on the treadmills year-after-year, none of them getting any leaner.  Get some of them to head across the gym to a weight room and they’ll transform their bodies in a matter of a few months.  Switch someone from a high-carb, low-protein, low-fat diet to a high-protein, high-fat, low-carb diet, and they’ll often drop a lot of fat in a short amount of time.

With all that said, the answers for me will never be the right answers for you.  Look at what you’re doing – whether it’s in training, business, or life – and think about how doing the exact opposite may, in fact, be the best way to improve your outcomes.

For those of you interested in taking a peek inside what goes on with the Cressey Performance Elite Baseball Development Program on a daily basis – from training videos to footage of guys goofing off in the office – I’d encourage you to follow @CresseyPerf on Twitter.

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17 Responses to “Strength and Conditioning Programs: Think “The Opposite””

  1. Coach D Says:

    I have been following your blog for awhile now and really enjoy the content. I had a couple quick questions. 1) Why do you program front squats and dead lifts but not back squats for baseball guys? The shear would seem to be worse on a dead while the front rack position is obviously much more taxing on the upper extremities. (We use all 3 in our training) I am just wondering why no back squats but yes to deads and front squats. 2) Why doesn’t the over-load principle apply to sprint training? When trying to make our players faster we will sprint up to 100 yards. It is the same energy system used, just at a greater length (approx. 4-5 more seconds). So wouldn’t them being able to sustain that turnover for 12-13 seconds make running a shorter distance easier? Thanks for taking the time to read this and I look forward to your reply.

  2. Erika Says:

    Great blog, Eric. “With all that said, the answers for me will never be the right answers for you. Look at what you’re doing – whether it’s in training, business, or life – and think about how doing the exact opposite may, in fact, be the best way to improve your outcomes.” Poignant.

  3. Mark Says:

    Great article Eric. I use the term bio-individuality here. Each client is unique and what diet works well for one may be a disaster for another. What exercise program works for one will be wrong for another. You approach of listening more and suggesting what is appropriate for what you hear is a breath of fresh air in this “one-size” get it done in 30 days world. Thank you for this intelligent approach. As a Holistic Life and Health Coach (I am not a personal trainer), I practice this with my clients and get great results.

  4. Jamie Vanderheyden Says:

    Coach D, (without using fancy words like Eric might), back squats seem to put the shoulder in an uncomfortable externally rotated position for baseball players. In the front squat athletes also cant “cheat” as much, and it really emphasizes the ankles, hips, and knees working together. Its a pretty athletic movement. They wont lift as much weight though. I personally like my baseball players to deadlift with a trap bar, as it starts from a neutral grip, which seems to be more successful with lower back injuries. I don’t think you are “totally” wrong for sprinting 100 yards, but bases are only 90 feet apart, so the “longer” they run, the higher the potential of lower power outputs. Also, overload wont happen if you give long rest periods and keep volume appropriate to the side of speed and not conditioning.

  5. Ted Ryce Says:

    Great article and video Eric! Watching the training you guys do over there was enlightening to say the least.

    Agree with you 100% about the training method question. The best training method is one that takes into account the goals, strengths and limitations of an individual while constantly evolving to take into account new discoveries in the science and art of training.

    Very inspiring.

  6. Mitch Says:

    This type of post reaffirms my belief that Eric Cressey and CP are the industry leaders – not only for training but for so much more than that.

  7. Jeff Blair Says:

    Great post Eric-environment is key. I am trying to emulate that. I think your post also highlights the importance of experience. You cannot learn all the subtleties listed above sitting in a class room or watching youtube videos.

    Coach D, squats are likely excluded due to the externally rotated, abducted, loaded position of the shoulder in the back squat. In a high risk shoulder population (especially with heavy squat weights), this might not be the best idea.

  8. J.B. Says:

    I am not eric, but I believe the issue with back squats is the position of the shoulder. Having them externally rotated and adducted under load is less than ideal considering the amount of wear overhead athlete’s shoulders get.

    I was all set to get a pair of NB minimus, too bad they don’t make them in wide sizes. Can’t even get my dogs in a pair.

    great stuff Eric.

  9. Adam Says:

    As for not back squatting players, I think it’s more likely an issue with the larger back extensor torques needed to perform the movement; yeah, the shoulder position is hard if you have an external rotation deficit, but throwing athletes usually have ample mobility here. One issue would be with a high degree of horizontal abduction and its effects on the anterior shoulder.

    For every athlete, though, a front squat is more upright, which makes the forces needed from the back extensors lower. With people who have LBP or are “low-back dominant” (for lack of a better term here), the front squat is just as productive with less back strain, as well as lower absolute loads. Any time you can achieve the training stimulus by using a heavier relative load vs. a heavier absolute one, why not? Ego.

  10. Kevin Neeld Says:

    “It became very clear to me sitting out there today that every decision I’ve made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every aspect of life, be it something to wear, something to eat – it’s all been wrong.” – George Costanza

  11. Ben Says:

    Why don’t you do back squats with baseball players? Does it have to do with their shoulders? What do you do instead of back squats? Front squats? Cambered/Safety bar squats?

  12. Bob davis Says:

    High school baseball coach in Kentucky looks forward to hearing all about the training. I have read the blogs, maximum strength, and watched the YouTube videos and we have tried to implement what you are doing. We want to be like the hs program that you work with that won state!

    Thanks again

  13. Bill Says:

    Eric you said it perfect, my wording over the years is do the opposite of The public. In general what the avg citizen is doing do the opposite and most likely you will be doing it right. Example look at movie reviews the public usually gives a movie a grade better than the critics why? Because the avg citizen doesn’t see the movie in the same depth that a critic sees it. Another example ask a person who thinks he or she eats healthy I can guarantee if you break down there diet on a daily basis they don’t. Great article eric

  14. Eric Cressey Says:

    Coach D and Ben –

    We don’t back squat because it simulates the peel-back mechanism of shoulder injuries in throwers, and also creates quite a bit of valgus stress at the elbow. You can learn more in the follow write-up:


  15. Eric Cressey Says:

    Coach D – Also, it may be the same energy system, but there will still be a shift toward the aerobic end of the continuum, and it is extremely rare for a player to have to run 100+ yards at one time in baseball (would have to be an inside-the-park HR). Definitely more speed endurance than speed.

  16. Adam B Says:

    Good stuff Eric- Couldnt agree more. I had the opportunity to play a couple of years of collegiate baseball many many years ago when strength training & conditioning was no where near what it is today. So even though I played a little bit, I decided to strongly re-evaluate preconceived notions and also “buck” baseball traditions and focus on what works…similar to the many you mentioned in your post. Keep spreading the word that it’s ok not to run miles and miles, it’s ok not to implement olympic lifts, it’s ok not to conform to baseball purists/tradition and that it’s ok to think outside the box.


  17. Aaron B - MusicForMuscles.com Says:

    Although my baseball days are over nowadays beyond pure recreation and enjoyment, there are definitely a ton of things that I can see would have been beneficial during my “career” as it relates to certain weight training principles.

    You are certainly right in the idea of going against the grain and doing the opposite of what the “average person” thinks is the best way.

    It amazes me how most of the people in the gym who want to “correct” others are the same folks who you have seen “train” for years, yet they still look the same as they did 3 years ago.

    Do what works for your specific purpose of training, and forget about the other “traditions.”

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