In recent years, baseball has undergone a pendulum shift. Big leaguers are posting offseason-workout videos of 500 lbs deadlifts or 400 lbs squats. Colleges all around the country are throwing their athletes into the weight room and telling them to get bigger, faster, stronger, and all of this is a good thing for the game of baseball, as evidenced by the increase in fastball velocity and 400+ foot dingers.
However, like anything being introduced for the first time, there comes with it a deluge of misunderstanding and misguidance on how best to incorporate it. The most common problem being that all too often the strength and throwing side of things are pigeonholed into their own silos.
Honestly, it’s not good enough to just have a strength program. If it’s a part of your training, then it needs to be fully integrated with your throwing program. That means we have to have strength coaches and pitching coaches sit down together and plan out programming as one.
So, before we delve into how to do this, let’s look at why we need this. Honestly, the why is pretty simple. It all boils down to the fact that training economy matters and that each athlete’s training economy is limited.
Athlete Training Economy
Imagine an athlete’s training economy in the form of a dollar.
He goes through a moderately intense practice; practice costs him 50 cents. He runs sprints after practice for conditioning; sprints cost him 15 cents. He gets his moderate-intensity lift in post practice; that costs him 35 cents. That’s his whole dollar right there, but that’s fine because he had a dollar to spend.
Now imagine you have him throw five innings, eighty pitches, in an intrasquad game. That’s going to burn through a lot more than 50 cents of his dollar. Let’s say that costs him 75 cents, and then if you compound conditioning and lifting on top of it, your pitcher is pretty quickly in debt from a training-economy standpoint.
The most important part here to also consider is that it takes your athlete time to earn, or “recover,” the money to pay off his debt, as well as earn enough to pay for his next bout of training. Stack up enough debt, and both an athlete’s recovery and performance will tank.
Training economy is a pretty simple concept, but it’s the first thing we need to understand when we start building out the strength and throwing programming. After that, we focus on what goals we have for each athlete and what time of the year it is. To simplify this, you can break the goal setting down into two categories: the first being physically oriented; the second being skill oriented.
Physically oriented goals:
These goals will likely create the greatest initial performance improvements as well as lay the foundation for improvements years later in development. These can be broken down into three subcategories of goals: Hypertrophy, strength, or power.
For example, if we have a 6’3” freshman pitcher weighing a buck sixty who can’t deadlift twice his bodyweight, we need to increase body mass (hypertrophy), and then in later phases, develop strength and power. He is an example of having physically oriented goals and the majority of his training economy will be spent in the weight room.
Skill oriented goals:
These goals are more specific to pitching and include mechanical efficiency, command work, pitch development, velocity development, etc.
In contrast to the college freshman who struggles to pick a weight up off the ground, if we have a junior pitcher who is 6’2”, 215 lbs, and is strong as an ox, he’s going to have different developmental goals. For him, the physical weight-room work isn’t as important. Instead, he needs skill-oriented goals. He needs to spend less of his training economy in the weight room and more on performing tasks that are either throwing related or very close to the movements.
Time of the year:
Now that we know what goals we have for our athlete, we need to look at the limiting factor: the time of the year. This matters because you’re not going to have an athlete crushing physical work with little skill work right before the start of your season, or tons of skill work with no physical work four months from opening day.
One thing to point out here is that regardless of an athlete’s goals and needs, he will spend time performing both physical- and skill-oriented goals throughout the offseason based on the time of the year.
Just because one athlete moves weight now doesn’t mean we don’t need a period of training focused on strength and power; just because another guy is leaner than a bean pole doesn’t mean he won’t have periods dedicated to skill work.
Putting it all together
All right, so we understand goals, we understand training based on the time of year, now how do we put it all together?
There are thousands, if not more, situations you’ll face as a coach when it comes to programming since each athlete is different. However, to lay down some guidelines that should help you out, let’s break things down into three examples of athletes: novice, intermediate, and advanced.
Novice athletes are your younger, weaker, less physically developed athletes. These are the athletes whose developmental goals are primarily physical. Their focus needs to be on gaining size and developing strength. Skill work is limited here. Yes, everyone wants to pull down and see the radar gun light up, but at this stage in the development process, less throwing is more for them. What we want to do is build a base level of size, strength, and movement quality for later athletic development.
Remember, each athlete has a limited training economy and a ton of high-intent–high-volume throwing work is going to take away from and slow development in the weight room. Relegate these athletes to movement quality work with Plyo Ball ® and limit high-intent throwing days during early stages of offseason training.
These are the athletes coaches most often struggle to program for. They have decent levels of hypertrophy, but they are not exceptionally strong in the weight room while also lacking in skill-specific goals as well. These athletes are going to need a more periodized programming approach than the novice athletes did.
For example, one of the ways we’ll program this in facility is by beginning the offseason with a focus on strength development. At this point there will be higher levels of volume in the strength training, and throwing should be tapered down to one or fewer high-intent days.
After that, training block-power development can be applied. With less volume in the weight room, you can begin to increase the volume of high-intent throwing. Although remember, we need to be careful about increasing the volume too much on the throwing side at this point, or we’ll spend all our training-economy cash and the athlete won’t get the power increase in the weight room we need for later training blocks.
In the third training block, we continue to focus on power or speed, but at a greatly reduced volume. This allows us to really hammer out skill work on the throwing side. Two or more high-intent days a week, bullpens, flat grounds, etc. This is where athletes make strides. All the strength and power work they developed in the last few months should now be applied to their throwing. Note, this reduction in weight-room volume is also what every athlete should be doing in a preseason training block, including the novice athlete.
Advanced athletes are your athletes who have great levels of strength and power in the weight room but are lacking in skill traits: whether that be velocity, command, or pitch development. Regardless of the goal, weight-room work will be similar to the example block three for intermediate athletes: low volume, high intent, with a focus on skill work.
Again, training will be adjusted based on the time of the year. Novice athletes won’t strictly be doing high volume all year, intermediate athletes won’t always work straight through those three training blocks, and advanced athletes will need periods of higher volume in the weight room to rebuild strength and power lost during the season.
The take away though is that an athlete’s throwing volume and intent work needs to change based off what he’s doing in the weight room if you want to get the most out of him.
High volume on both sides will crush an athlete, and you’ll see performance numbers on both ends fall.
Determine the most important needs for each athlete and program accordingly. Remember, it’s about the development of every individual athlete, so taking some time away from skill or weight-room work to lay the foundations of future training is a must.
This article was written by High Performance Coach Sam Briend