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Baseball Strength and Conditioning: Early Off-Season Priorities 1-5

Written on September 19, 2011 at 6:20 pm, by Eric Cressey

We’ve got over 100 professional baseball players scheduled to be at Cressey Performance for their off-season training, so it goes without saying that I’ve been doing a lot of evaluations over the past two weeks – and writing the individualized strength and conditioning programs in accordance with those assessment results.  To that end, I thought I’d use a two-part series to highlight the top 10 “general” things I find myself addressing with guys coming in after the long season.

1. Planning the off-season schedule – Each player is 100% unique in this regard.  As examples, a guy who threw 50 innings would be able to start a throwing program sooner this off-season than a guy who racked up 150 innings.  Some guys goes to instructional league in Florida or Arizona, and others play winter ball.  Guys headed to minor league spring training report later than those headed to big league spring training.  In short, everyone has different timetables with which to work, so it’s important to get an appreciation for it well in advance for the sake of long-term planning.

2.Discussing role/status within the organization – This priority aligns with #1.  You manage a first-round draft pick who may be a guaranteed big leaguer if he stays healthy somewhat differently than you’d manage someone who was drafted in the 48th round and paid a $1,000 signing bonus.  The former has the world on a silver platter for him, whereas the latter really needs to improve with dramatic improvements in order to stick around in pro ball. In this situation, you have to be willing to get a bit more aggressive with the programming of the “underdog.” I wrote about this two years ago in a feature on CP athlete and Oakland A’s prospect Shawn Haviland.

3. Mastering the sagittal plane – When the season ends, it seems like a lot of strength and conditioning coaches are super anxious to start up loads of aggressive medicine ball drills and change of direction work.  I’m a firm believer that guys need to master the sagittal plane before they head out and spend a lot of time in the frontal plane – especially when it comes after a long season of aggressive rotational activity.  In some guys, we omit medicine ball work altogether for the first month of the off-season while we work to enhance anti-rotation and anti-extension core stability.  You’d be amazed at how many athletes can’t do a decent prone bridge, rollout, or reverse crunch on their first day back because their anterior pelvic tilt is so excessive that their anterior core strength is virtually absent.

Other athletes need to spend a lot of time simply working on single-leg exercises.  While these exercises are performed in the sagittal plane, the athletes are still stabilizing in the frontal and transverse planes.  The “sexy” work in these planes comes in subsequent months.

Of course, some athletes do a great job of taking care of themselves during the season and come back with complete control in the sagittal plane.  As long as they aren’t too banged up, we’ll certainly get them right back in to medicine ball exercises.

4. Regaining rotator cuff strength – It’s a huge struggle to improve cuff strength when an athlete is constantly throwing – especially when we’re talking about a pitcher who is racking up 100+ pitches – and the eccentric stress that accompanies them – every fifth day.  Since most professional pitchers get about 10-16 weeks off from throwing each fall, those 2-4 months become absolutely crucial for regaining cuff strength at an optimal rate.  It’s one reason why it drives me absolutely bonkers when a guy takes a full month off after the season ends.

I discussed our general approach to improving rotator cuff function in Clearing Up the Rotator Cuff Controversy.  Of course, all this work is accompanied by loads of work on thoracic mobility, scapular stabilization, breathing exercises, and soft tissue work.

5. Normalizing diet and, in turn, vitamin/mineral status – There are a ton of guys who want to stick with healthy food options during the season.  Unfortunately, that can be very challenging on a minor league salary, less-than-stellar clubhouse food, and extensive travel.  All our professional players complete three-day diet records at the start of the off-season, and when reviewing those, we tinker with food selection, meal frequency, and supplementation.

If a guy is overweight, we don’t try to take 30 pounds off him in two weeks; rather, we focus on improving food quality and allow the increased training volume to take care of the rest.  Most guys will undergo a pretty dramatic body composition shift in the first 6-8 weeks of the off-season, anyway, so there is no need to get “aggressive” with caloric reductions at this point when they should be all about regeneration and feeling good.

Of course, if they’re skinny, we’ll get them crushing more food right away!

These are just the first of many key areas of focus for early in the off-season.  Check back soon for Part 2!

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7 Responses to “Baseball Strength and Conditioning: Early Off-Season Priorities 1-5”

  1. Rich T. Says:

    Do you feel that the decline seen in points 3, 4, and 5 could be preventable with better in-season training and eating or is it inevitable?

  2. Noel Piepgrass Says:

    Keep the good content coming EC!

  3. Jacob Says:

    Great content!

    This solidifies some of my thoughts regarding off-season training for young golf players. Thanks!

  4. Jeff C. Says:

    Love your stuff. Point #5 was a good one for me. Many of my players come back needing to lose weight. Rather than freaking out, applying the process you described is 1,000 times better for the player in the long run!

  5. Jared Says:

    Great Stuff!

    I really appreciate point #3 about the sagittal plane. Many of the athletes that come in are quite powerful in the transverse and frontal planes. Then we address the sagittal plane with rollouts and planks and they are instantly stronger with their rotational movements. Can’t wait for the rest!

  6. Eric Cressey Says:

    Rich,

    On 3, yes. Sagittal plane shouldn’t be lost.

    On 4, it’s inevitable….so much microtrauma to the rotator cuff. You maintain as well as you can.

    On 5, yes – for the most part. Easier at the big league level where the food is better and guys can afford to eat more/better. Much more difficult in the minor leagues, where the food spreads are usually unhealthy and guys don’t get in enough total calories or nutrients.

  7. Braedan@Physio Surrey Says:

    Eric

    I’m very glad that you clarified your point and added the reverse crunch video. I think that some of the more modern theories of core exercise cause many babies to be thrown out with bathwater. Thanks for clarifying the point and keeping reverse crunches pertinent for today

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