“” A Guide to Strength-Training Progression - Part I - Driveline Baseball

A Guide to Strength-Training Progression – Part I

| Blog Article, Programming, Strength Training
Reading Time: 7 minutes

As we move out of “Summer Sixteen” and into the Fall, any ballplayers who have yet to embark upon a serious strength training program due to travel baseball should now be commencing a consistent program.

For most coaches and athletes, the most difficult part of beginning a strength training program is not compliance or follow-through, but in the creation and development of the program itself. Teams, and the athletes that compose them, generally possess sufficient motivation to fuel their efforts. On the other hand, it is the knowledge and understanding of training that are much harder to come by at the high school level.

Strength and conditioning is a profession unto its own, as is baseball coaching. Thus, the high school baseball coach – or any baseball coach for that matter – cannot be blamed for not possessing a baseline knowledge on the subject. The resourceful coach, though, will acknowledge this (not believe that they know enough to get by) and seek out the best information possible to help their athletes.

The goal of this three-part series is to provide the knowledge-seeking coach or players with the information necessary to progress safely and effectively in the weight room.

Why is Progression Important?

Progression (and conversely, regression) is vital to the strength training program. This is because resistance training must utilize the Overload Principle (in conjunction with other training principles) by progressively applying stimuli to the body.

In other words, the goal of a strength training program is to gradually increase the stress placed on the body in order to create adaptation transferrable to sport.

By adapting to applied stressors, the body undergo changes that can positively impact sport, and these changes also help it to better tolerate the stimuli it is experiencing. This is actually the main function behind adaptation – the body morphs itself in order to become better suited to face the stressors being applied to it. As strength and conditioning coaches, we are simply trying to manipulate stress/stimuli in order to create adaptations that also benefit sport performance.

As the body adapts to these stressors, it becomes more efficient in handling them. Thus, we must gradually overload the body one way or another to continue seeing positive changes. This is progression at work.

This series will cover three means of progression in strength training:

  • Movement/Exercise Progression
  • Intensity Progression
  • Volume Progression

Exercise/Movement Progression

As you or your athletes begin implementing strength training, exercise selection can immediately becomes a friend or foe.

If you choose movements with the appropriate difficulty level, you can expect safe improvements while you build movement competency. Choose inappropriate movements, and the athletes may not only stagnate, but they may get hurt as well.

Similarly, if you include adequate amounts of variety, you can expect compliance to the program. Include the wrong amount of variety, and the athletes may not only get bored and non-compliant, but they may again risk injury.

Thus, an exercise toolbox is a vital component of any program. But, how do we go about developing and focusing this exercise toolbox?

Step 1: Determine The Vital “Movement Categories” for Sport

For starters, you should determine what type of movements are important to include in your training program. There are probably tens of thousands of exercises for you to choose from. Rather than choosing exercises from this overwhelming list, start by narrowing down movement types, or “movements categories” that you deem important to your program.

When it comes to baseball, here are my chosen movement categories:

  • Lower-Body Knee-Dominant
  • Lower-Body Hip-Dominant 
  • Lower-Body Unilateral
  • Upper-Body Pull
  • Upper-Body Push/Reach

Anything outside of these categories will generally fall into either “Core” “Mobility” or “Auxiliary”

Step 2: Choose Your “Staple Movements”


With these five movement categories defined, you can then select your “staple movements” – or the movements that make up your standard training program. These are the exercises that your program will be built around.

I liken this process to a large skyscraper. The first floor of the building would be your staple movements. If an athlete has some training experience and possesses the competency to complete general strength training without limitations, then they are walking into the lobby of the first floor, which is where your staple movements reside. As they advance and progress, they will make their way up the elevator to higher levels. But, if the athlete isn’t quite ready for the standard level of your staple movement (aka the lobby), they can ride the elevator down into the basement of the building, where the regressions live.

An example of staple movements:

  • Lower-Body Knee-Dominant – Barbell Front Squat
  • Lower-Body Hip-Dominant – Barbell RDL
  • Lower-Body Unilateral – Barbell Reverse Lunge
  • Upper-Body Pull – Inverted Row
  • Upper-Body Push/Reach – Push-Up

Ideally, every single athlete would walk into the “lobby” and be able to perform these movements adequately right away. But, this just isn’t the case with most. Many will need to regress by going “down the elevator,” while some may progress by going “up the elevator.”

Regardless, by determining which exercises will constitute your baseline “staple movements” you now have a small exercise toolbox to branch off of in both the direction of progression and regression.

Step 3: Determine a Path For Progression/Regression 


Now that we have determined our five movement categories and five corresponding staple movements, we can make a line, tree, web – whatever you prefer – of progressions and regressions.

Movement/exercise progression and regression can be done by altering the stance, the implement (or loading pattern) utilized, or the complexity of the movement. For example:

  • Loading pattern progression: Dumbbell Press —> Single-Arm Dumbbell Press; Kettlebell Goblet Squat —> Barbell Front Squat
  • Stance progression: Barbell RDL —> Staggered Stance RDL; Split Squat —> Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat
  • Complexity progression: Push-Up —> Push-Up + Shoulder Tap; Split Squat —> Reverse Lunge

Any combination of exercise progression can be utilized to alter the movement itself (intensity of movement and volume utilized are another story) and create a pathway for movement progression in the weight room. For example:

***Key: Staple Movement Regression Progression***

Bodyweight Squat <—> Goblet Squat <—> Barbell Front Squat <—> Barbell Back Squat <—> Barbell Squat Jumps

RDL Wall Drill <—> Plate RDL <—> Barbell RDL <—> Med Ball Caber Toss <—> Kettlebell Swing

Bodyweight Step-Up <—> Split Squat <—> Reverse Lunge <—> Forward Lunge <—> RFE Split Squat

High Plank Hold <—> Eccentric Push-Up <—> Push-Up <—> Dumbbell Floor Press <—> Dumbbell Press

Inverted Row (on High Angle) <—> Inverted Row (Feet on Floor) <—> Inverted Row (Feet-Elevated) <—> Single-Arm Dumbbell Row <—> TRX Row

With this roadmap in mind, an athlete now possesses a simple pathway to progress their exercises based on movement difficulty. Each line is based upon a vital movement category, with a staple exercise at the heart of each line, branching out in either direction – both toward progression and regression.

These lines can be as long as needed, or web out into many different directions. Only creativity, movement competency, and confidence can confine exercise selection.


Movement/exercise selection is just one of a handful of ways to progress an athlete through a training program. So long as the athlete or coach continues to safely apply the overload principle, the trainee should expect to experience enjoyment and success in the process of weight training.

Find Part II here

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