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In-Season Baseball Strength and Conditioning: Part 4 – Professional Baseball

Posted Mar 24 2011 7:49am

This is the fourth installment of a series on in-season strength and conditioning for baseball.  In case you missed them, here are links to check out the first three parts of this series:

Part 1: General Assumptions about In-Season Strength and Conditioning for Baseball
Part 2: In-Season High School Baseball Strength and Conditioning
Part 3: In-Season College Baseball Strength and Conditioning

Today, I’ll be talking about what I believe to be the optimal set-up for professional baseball players.  This might be a minority in the big picture of all the baseball players on the planet, but pro guys’ responses to in-season strength and conditioning programs can really tell us a lot.

Professional baseball players are the ones with the most accumulated wear and tear on their bodies, so effective programming is essential.  Likewise, they play daily games – often upwards of 200 per year when you combine spring training, the regular season, and post-season play – so you really need to be able to manage competing demands and fatigue if you want to keep pro guys healthy and performing at a high level.

We’ll break things down by position.

Position Players

Position players tend to represent the widest range of preferences.  On one hand, you have guys who are completely dragging from having to stand on their feet for hours upon end day-after-day.

On the other hand, I’ve known guys who literally want to do something every single day – whether it’s lifting, med ball, sprinting, or a combination of one or more.  Don’t believe me? Here’s an awesome email I got from a big league middle infielder who trained 5x/week (3-4 lifting sessions and 1-2 movement training sessions):

I want to thank you for all that you’ve done for me, EC.  In this my 18th professional season, I can say, without a doubt, this is the best I’ve felt during any season.  By following your program, I was able to stay strong and explosive the whole season.  This is the best I’ve felt after the season too.  I don’t have any nagging injuries or soreness and I know this is because I followed your programs. I can’t express in words how much you contributed to my success this season.

We’re talking about a guy in his late 30s with a lot of years of service time under his belt – and he felt better by doing more.  Don’t be afraid to make guys work in-season; if you don’t, they’ll eventually break down.

This, of course, is the rarity; most guys will be best off finding the balance between doing nothing and doing what we did in the above example.  I tend to give position players the most wiggle room in terms of time and day of their lifts.  They can either do it earlier in the day, or after games.  We usually shoot for three full-body lifts per week on non-consecutive days – and never with more than 15 sets in a given day.  One of those three lifts is almost exclusively upper body and core work.  They get in, do their work, and get out.

Some guys, however, prefer to split things up into two upper-body and two lower-body sessions per week.  They are shorter sessions, but are good for ensuring that athletes are going through their foam rolling and mobility drills more frequently.

Catchers

In my high school and college examples, I included catchers with position players’ programming needs.  However, when you catch 4-5 games a week, things change – and we take that into account with our programming.

First off, we don’t squat our catchers in-season.  Trust me, they squat enough.  We use more deadlift variations and single-leg exercises during the season.

Second, I encourage catchers to lift post-game, if they have the opportunity and energy to do so.  Training before a game might be okay for a pitcher or position player, but crushing a lower body lift right before getting in the bottom of a squat for three hours isn’t particularly appealing.  If you can get in the work the night before, you’ve got a better chance of being fresh.

Third, I think that 2-3 strength training sessions per week is sufficient – and only two of those days have lower body work in them.  It takes far less volume than you can possibly imagine to maintain strength, so a couple sets each of a bilateral and unilateral exercise usually does the trick for catchers in-season.

Also of note, I don’t like the idea of guys lifting much on their off-days from catching.  If you’re only getting 1-2 days off from catching per week, you might as well use them for full recovery.  In other words, try to consolidate training stress and earn 24-hour “recovery windows” where you can.

Starting Pitchers

Professional baseball starting pitchers might have the coolest job and schedule in professional sports.  It’s very predictable – and they should be able to get in a good 12 lifts per month on the following schedule:

Day 0: pitch
Day 1: challenging lower body lift, light upper body work
Day 2: movement training only
Day 3: challenging upper body lift, easier lower body work
Day 4: low-intensity dynamic flexibility circuits only, or off altogether
Day 5: next pitching outing

If they wind up with five days between starts, they can split the day 3 training session up into upper body (Day 3) and lower body (Day 4), then take a day off on Day 5.

Life is tough, huh?

Relief Pitchers

Describing what I do with my relief pitchers is a mouthful, but I’ll give it a shot.

Every reliever has three strength training “options” and one movement training day in each program that I send them:

Long Option (Full-Body Strength Training: 15-17 sets)
Movement Training
Short Option 1 (Full-Body, but Lower Emphasis: 8-12 sets)
Short Option 2 (Full-Body, but Upper Emphasis: 8-12 sets)

Here’s exactly how I describe it to them:

“If you go over 20 pitches in an outing, perform the regular Day 1 and then Day 2 in the subsequent two days, as you can assume you won’t throw for 48 hours.  Then, progress to Short Option 1, day off, Short Option 2.

“If you make less than 20 pitches, go right to Short Option 1, then Day 2, then Short Option 2, then day off.  This is good for when you think you may be going on back to back days.  You can do the Short option lifts earlier in the day even if you think you may be throwing a bit that night; the volume will be so low that you’ll still be fresh.

“If you are going to be a long/middle reliever, most of your work will be the Day 1, Day 2, Short Option 1, Day off, Short Option 2, etc. option.  Listen to your body and take days off when you need to, but at the very least, make sure you’re getting in the gym 2-3 times a week.

“If you’re going to be a ‘face-one-guy’ reliever or a closer, you’ll be doing more of the short option work.”

Hopefully, that makes sense – because our guys have loved it and I know of a few smart pitching coaches “in the know” who have implemented it in their programs with excellent success.

That wraps up this series on in-season strength and conditioning.  It’s taken a long time to test-drive these programs and tinker with them to make sure that they work.  At the same time, though, no two athletes are the same, so be sure to individualize your recommendations whenever possible.

Please help me spread these articles around via Facebook, Twitter, and emailed links, as we need to get the word out that in-season training is a must for baseball players at all levels!

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A New Model for Training Between Starts: Part 2

Written on January 1, 2009 at 2:34 pm, by Eric Cressey

A New Model for Training Between Starts: Part 2

By: Eric Cressey

In Part 1 of this article series, I discussed everything that was wrong with distance running for pitchers.  In Part 2, I’ll outline my thoughts on how to best integrate conditioning for pitchers between throwing sessions.  This article will focus on managing starters, but I suspect you’ll find that managing relievers isn’t entirely different aside from the fact that you’ll need to “roll with the punches” a bit more.

I think the best way to introduce this article is to describe a coincidence from the beginning of the year.    On January 5, I received an email from one of my pro pitchers asking me if I could outline some thoughts on my between-start strength and conditioning mentality, as his old college pitching coach had asked for his input from him, as he was a student of the game and had tried some non-traditional ideas. In response to that email, I replied with essentially everything I’ll describe in this article – plus everything I outlined in Part 1 with respect to how bad a choice distance running is.

The coincidence didn’t become apparent until a week or two later when I got my hands on the January installment of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, which featured a study entitled “Noncompatibility of power and endurance training among college baseball players.”

These researchers divided a collegiate pitching staff into two groups of eight over the course of a season, and each group did everything identically – except the running portion of their training programs.  Three days per week, the “sprint” group did 10-30 sprints of 15-60m with 10-60s rest between bouts.  The endurance group performed moderate-to-high intensity jogging or cycling 3-4 days per week for anywhere from 20-60 minutes.

Over the course of the season, the endurance group’s peak power output dropped by an average of 39.5 watts while the sprinting group increased by an average of 210.6 watts (1).  So, basically what I’m saying is that I was right all along – and I’m totally going to brag about it.  Part 1 of this series simply justified all of my thoughts; now it’s time to put them into a framework.

Some Prerequisite Q&A

As a response to Part 1, I got an email from a college pitching coach looking for some further details, and here were his questions (bold) and my answers:

Q: Is running 1-2 miles once a week considered distance running?

A: I’d call anything over 150m “distance running” in a pitching population, believe it or not.  I haven’t had a baseball player run over 60 yards in two years – and even when they go 60, they’re build-ups, so only about 50% of that distance is at or near top speed.

Q: Is running 10 poles in 30s with one minute of rest considered distance?

A: Let’s say it takes 30s to run a pole, and then you rest a minute (1:2 work: rest ratio).  Then, you go out and pitch, where you exert effort for one second and rest 20s (1:20 work:rest ratio).  This is the equivalent of a 100m sprinter training like a 1500m runner.

Q: Don’t you need some endurance to pitch a complete 9-inning game?

A: If all endurance was created equal, why didn’t Lance Armstrong win the New York or Boston Marathon?  Endurance is very skill specific.  Additionally, there is a huge difference between exerting maximal power over 20-25 individual efforts with near complete rest (a sample inning) and exerting submaximal efforts repeatedly with no or minimal rest.

Q: What about guys who are overweight?  What should they do?

A: Fat guys should be paperweights, bouncers, sumo wrestlers, or eating contest champions.  If they want to be successful players at the D1 level or beyond, they’ll sack up and stop eating crap.  Several years ago, I promised myself that I would never, ever try to use extra conditioning to make up for poor diet.

Q: What are your thoughts on interval training?

A: We know that interval training is superior to steady state cardio for fat loss, but the important consideration is that it must be specific to the sport in question.

These responses should set the stage for the following points:

1. The secret is to keep any longer duration stuff low-intensity (under 70% HRR) and everything else at or above 90% of max effort (this includes starts, agilities, and sprints up to 60yds).  For more background on this, check out the McCarthy et al. study I outlined in Part 1.

2. Ideally, the low-intensity work would involve significant joint ranges-of-motion (more to come on this below).

3. Don’t forget that pitchers rarely run more than 15 yards in a game situation.

4. Strength training and mobility training far outweigh running on the importance scale.

5.  If you need to develop pitching specific stamina, the best way to achieve that end is to simply pitch and build pitch counts progressively.  If that needs to be supplemented with something to expedite the process a bit, you can add in some medicine ball medleys – which can also be useful for ironing out side-to-side imbalances, if implemented appropriately.  However, a good off-season throwing program and appropriate management of a pitcher early in the season should develop all the pitching specific endurance that is required.

The 5-Day Rotation

In a case of a five-day rotation, here is how we typically structure things.  Keep in mind that dynamic flexibility and static stretching are performed every day.

Day 0: pitch
Day 1 (or right after pitching, if possible): challenging lower body lift, push-up variation (light), horizontal pulling (light), cuff work
Day 2: movement training only, focused on 10-15yd starts, agility work, and some top speed work (50-60 yds)
Day 3: bullpen (usually), single-leg work, challenging upper body lift (less vertical pulling in-season), cuff work
Day 4: low-intensity dynamic flexibility circuits only
Day 5: next pitching outing

Notes:

1. When a guy happens to get five days between starts, we’ll typically split the Day 3 lifting session into two sessions and do some movement training on Day 4 as well.

2. I know a lot of guys (myself included) are advocates of throwing more than once between starts.  For simplicity’s sake, I haven’t included those sessions.

3.  There are definitely exceptions to this rule.  For instance, if a guy is having a hard time recovering, we’ll take Day 2 off altogether and just do our sprint work after the bullpen and before lifting on Day 3.  That adds a full day of rest to the rotation in addition to the really light Day 4.

The 7-Day Rotation

With a 7-day rotation, we’ve got a lot more wiggle room to get aggressive with things.  This is why in-season can still be a time of tremendous improvements in the college game, especially since you can work in a good 2-3 throwing sessions between starts.  Again, dynamic flexibility and static stretching are performed every day.  To keep this simple, I’m going to assume we’ve got a Saturday starter.

Saturday: pitch
Sunday: challenging lower body lift, light cuff work

Monday: movement training only, focused on 10-15yd starts, agility work, and some top speed work (50-60 yds); upper body lift

Tuesday: low-Intensity resistance training (<30% of 1RM) circuits, extended dynamic flexibility circuits

Wednesday: full-body lift

Thursday: movement training only, focused on 10-15yd starts, agility work, and some top speed work (50-60 yds);

Friday: low-intensity dynamic flexibility circuits only

Saturday: pitch again
Of course, traveling logistics can throw a wrench in the plans on this front sometimes, but the good news is that collegiate pitchers have six days to roll with the punches to get back on schedule.
Closing Thoughts

As you can see, I am a big fan of quality over quantity. Our guys only sprint twice in most weeks – and certainly not more than three times.  This certainly isn’t the only way to approach training between starts, but I’ve found it to be the most effective of what our guys have tried.
References
1. Rhea MR, Oliverson JR, Marshall G, Peterson MD, Kenn JG, Ayllón FN. Noncompatibility of power and endurance training among college baseball players. J Strength Cond Res 2008 Jan;22(1):230-4.

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  1. eugene sedita Says December 27th, 2010 at 12:49 am edit Wow, I’ve got nothing to do with pitching and throwing and still read these articles like a mystery novel, (just couldn’t stop ) Thanks, Eric, very interesting.
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