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What 4 Months of Off-Season Strength Training Did for This Baseball Program

Results and data speak for themselves.

In this article, I will be breaking down the results of 8 baseball teams ranging from 13u to 18u which we had the pleasure of working with this off-season and winter here at Champion Physical Therapy and Performance. I will provide examples and how to’s of several exercises as well! See how this baseball program increased power, strength, and performance!

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Why We Tested Our Athletes

First off, we like to test and collect data for many reasons. The main priority for us is knowing whether our program was successful or not successful.

I am a true believer in assessing myself as a strength coach and if something was implemented that did not achieve the results I would want or expect, I definitely don’t want to continue to make the same mistake the next year! As a coach, we also have to progress and develop our programs and coaching abilities.

 

What Data?

This is an area which I don’t know why many programs or coaches do not implement.

It’s all about your athletes getting better right? A huge game changer for us once the off-season ended was handing out progress reports of starting and ending data for each athlete. We held team meetings where we discussed results, goals and much more.

What’s even more important is the kids continued to train even after their “program” ended. This is awesome as many kids just simply stop training during the season.

Don’t make that mistake of not training! For more on that Click here for 5 Mistakes Baseball Players Make in-Season 

I believe there are two main excuses as to why most don’t test their athletes…those are:

  1. You don’t have (make) time.
  2. You are afraid you and your coaching philosophies will be proven wrong.

 

Look, I get it from a time perspective, but you are in full control of the practice plan and strength program. You make the time!

If you are afraid of being shown your training program really wasn’t as effective as your marketing led that to be…well either grow and make changes or stop coaching.

 

The Other End of the Spectrum

While testing can be a great thing, I do need to touch on the other end of the spectrum: over analyzing or collecting data just to say you collected it.

I have seen it before. I have seen some of the most unnecessary tests and assessments performed. I don’t know who actually cares to measure or needs to know the hand size of a 10-year-old baseball player but I’ve seen it done.

Sick, your 11 now and your hand grew 1/8 of an inch, our training is so good

Was it the training that caused that? Probably not as much as the sun going up and down a whole bunch.

Look, that even happened in our off-season tests. We measured the athletes’ height…but I did not include it on the final reports, many kids are in puberty and maturing…that’s a VERY big variable for me to say had nothing to do with getting taller.

If you are going to collect data, use it! Find out what went right, what went wrong, and how to make adjustments to help the athletes next season!

 

What We Tested

As we entered the off-season training, we needed to make a list of tests and measurements that were:

  • Applicable to the athletes
  • Made sense for baseball players
  • Able to be consistently replicated
  • Take 3 Sessions to perform
    • We did not want to lose too many training days

 

Our Training Parameters

I wanted to break this down a bit more for the coaches and parents who run baseball programs. I am sure some of you have a similar layout to roster structure.

  • 8 Total Rosters
  • 120 Total Athletes
  • 3 days a week of Strength Training
  • 1 Hour Per Training Session
  • 4 Total Months
  • 48 Total Workout Sessions
  • 6 of those sessions were allocated to testing, goal setting, and result breakdown and exit meeting

 

What We Tested

During the first week (November) and last week (February/March 15) of the strength program, we measured the following:

  • Body Weight
  • Grip Strength on Right and Left Hand
  • 60 Yard and 10 Yard Sprints (weather permitting)
  • 300 Meter (weather permitting)
  • 5-10-5 Pro Agility Test
  • Broad Jump
  • Lateral Bound on Left and Right Foot
  • Vertical Jump Height
  • Med Ball Stepping Overhead Throw

 

We used the GFlight to measure jump height. I absolutely love the GFlight. It’s portable, convenient, and consistent with its data and performance. Here’s a recent post for more and my review. Want a GFlight? Pick one up here and use code ESPOSTRENGTH for savings!

For velocity readings for the Med Ball Throws, we used Pocket Radar. Similar to the GFlight, it was easy to use, portable, and consistent. Here’s a great post from Mike Reinold on 3 Ways Pitcher’s can use radar to enhance performance…and check out the flame-throwing lefty in his videos…

Some of the goals of the baseball program were to simply get bigger and stronger. We only had an hour with the teams, and one of the areas we chose to not allocate much time to was speed and agility. As a strength coach, I do know many of these kids are multi-sport athletes, so that was not a major concern for me. Playing basketball, hockey or other sports gives plenty of agility and footwork.

We also know there is a high carryover when you perform strength lifting and plyometrics that translate into force production of sprinting and change of direction.

We chose several power development markers (broad jumps, lateral bounds, vertical, med ball) to track. We know these have a very strong correlation to baseball players performance and development.

 

Estimated 1 Rep Max

For our older athletes (15u, 16u, 17u, 18u) we used an estimated 1 Rep Max (e1RM) to safely find working weights for athletes. This also lets us have a better idea of appropriate weight selection for athletes, without the risk of performing a true 1 rep max test.

Every phase of the off-season for the older teams was specific in regard to developing strength and power and then using the new found strength to become explosive. This helps translate to on-field performance!

We had 3 main exercises we chose to track e1RM. Those were pushups, squats, and deadlifts.

Want to know your estimated 1 rep max…bookmark this link and use this 1 Rep Max Calculator

 

Here are some videos of the testing we performed this off-season!

 

The Results

These kids absolutely crushed their lifts. We were very clear from the beginning that the results would not happen overnight. Showing up consistently, lifting with good form, and properly increasing their weights was a great start.

While we had great results across all of the testing data, some of the areas that stood out were the power development of the Broad Jump, Vertical, and Lateral Bounds. On top of that, we created very good symmetry in the body from Right to Left on both Lateral Bounds and Grip Strength

We had a 42.98% increase in Right Leg Lateral Bound. For right-handed hitters and throwers, that is HUGE. More force to generate with will translate into higher velocity, and more power when hitting!

One of the other benefits to note is many athletes gained body weight during the off-season. While we gained weight, we also increased all power metrics…AND our running numbers either stayed at the baseline or improved. Even though we gained weight, our running did not get slower!

See the charts below for a full breakdown by age group!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How We Got Results

#1 Item that helped with results: showing up! That was something that was awesome this off-season. Almost all of these athletes were committed to coming to the gym and 100% bought into their personal development!

With that set, setting the foundations for this year and long term success was our top priority for these athletes. The programs were designed to hit the major areas for youth and developing athletes:

  • Strength and Power
  • Stability
  • Proprioception
  • Force Acceptance
  • Force Development
  • Med Ball Work
  • Plyometrics

 

We focused on what I call the pillars of strength: push, pull, hinge, squat, carry, core, balance. All of our workouts incorporated some type of movement or skill associated with those pillars.

 

Program Design for 13u and 14u Players

For our youth athletes, we always focus or the learning and mastering the basics. For a vast majority of this age group, it was their first time lifting or following a sports performance program.

This age group sets the tone and prepares them for heavier loads at older ages. You will be way ahead of everyone when you get into your 15 and older range from a strength development perspective.

We kept our rep ranges in the 8-12 for most of the exercises and focused on quality over quantity. Our progressions were designed to maintain their focus during the entire lift to be self-aware of their movement and patterns. For example, using 1 weight in a contralateral hold challenges your lateral flexion while performing a reverse lunge. This is a great progression for a standard reverse lunge.

 

Program Design for 15u, 16u, 17u, 18u Players

We had 4 significant phases for this age range during the off-season.

  • Phase 1 was re-acclimating to the gym after time off, as well as ensuring the lifting movements were ideal!
  • Phase 2 was continuing on our linear progression and added in some Isometric holds, and preparing the body to accept heavier loads.
  • Phase 3 was our heaviest load phase. We reduced the number of reps and increased the number of sets. This allows to safely get under heavier loads all within a linear progressive training approach!
  • Phase 4 was our speed phase. We take the muscle and strength we gained during the previous 12 weeks, and we teach it to become explosive and powerful. We reduce the weight as well to provide the proper stimulus for training, and prepare for tryouts and the season!

 

Just a note, we did not progress the athlete to the next phase just because the program called for it. This was where we would individualize for the athlete. If they required more time to master a movement, we simply allowed them that additional time.

 

How to Videos

Here are some great demos and how to videos of some of the exercises we used through the off-season training program. Many of these were crucial to power development as the data shows!

 

Final Thoughts

This was a great off-season for these athletes as the data shows. It was awesome seeing the progress from start to finish. Thanks to everyone at Champion (Kiefer, Diwesh, Kristy) for being a huge part of the success of these athletes!

We were very excited to show all the athletes at the end of the year meeting their results. It was great to see the kids talk about their goals and seeing their faces when they realized how they did not just hit their goal, but absolutely crushed it.

If you are interested in this type of training and results for your teams, send me a message below!

How to Program Medicine Balls Into Baseball Workouts

Med ball exercises are a great way for a rotational athlete, such as a baseball player, to develop power and strength from their lower body to their upper body.

You often hear about rotational power or kinetic linking, but how do we maximize that? How does that relate to athletes, especially baseball and softball?

These qualities can be maximized with ballistic training. Movements often found in sports are considered ballistic.

What is ballistic movement?

“Movements that are performed with maximal velocity and acceleration can be considered ballistic actions. Ballistic actions are characterized by high firing rates, brief contraction times, and high rates of force development.” -Department of Kinesiology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario.

 

SO, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BENEFITS OF MED BALLS?

Here are just a few of the many benefits of training with med balls:

  • Improved coordination in movements demanding high rate of force development in all planes of motion (especially rotational power)
  • Improved ability to control and decelerate rotational forces
  • Improved kinetic linking through which helps the ability to generate and transfer force through the body.
  • Injury prevention because athletes are training to control rotation and deceleration.

After seeing some of those benefits, you can see why med balls are commonly seen in sports performance programs.

 

SETS & REPS

When done right, med balls can be a very demanding on the body and the central nervous system. We program all med ball work to be done BEFORE any lifting for that day.

We will pick 2-3 med ball drills per workout day that will benefit the athlete the most.

Taking that into consideration, here is a how we commonly program med balls for our athletes:

  • 2 Days a Week Strength Program: 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps
  • 3 Days a Week Strength Program: 3 sets of 5-8 reps
  • 4 Days a Week Strength Program: 2-3 sets of 5-8 reps

 

TOP 5 CONSIDERATIONS FOR MED BALLS

 

STANCE

There are several positions you can begin your med ball exercises in. Typically, I work from the ground up with new athletes. This gives less room for error with form, and a progression to reach in the short and long term goals.

  • Tall Kneeling (TK)
  • 1/2 Kneeling
  • Iso-Hold Stance
  • Split Stance
  • Athletic Stance
  • Single Leg

Here are some examples:

TK Rotation Med Ball Slams

 

Iso Lunge Med Ball Side Scoops

 

Split Stance Med Ball Side Scoops

 

Athletic Stance Med Ball Chest Press

 

1 Leg Med Ball Side Scoops

 

DIRECTION & BALL PATH

Where is the athlete and med balls intended path? Taking the stances from above, now add in the follow 3 items:

  • What direction is the athlete facing? Are they facing the wall, or facing sideways, etc.
  • Where is the ball starting from? Is the ball starting above their head, at their side, at their hips, etc.
  • Where is the ball going? What is the intended target or direction you want to slam/throw the ball?

 

INITIATION

There are typically 3 initiation methods for med ball exercises:

  • Non-Counter Movement: This will be your traditional slam method. Accelerate at the wall, floor or target from a specific starting point.
  • Counter Movement: This will be a movement initiated by a partner or a coil motion. The ball is moving against you so that you must stop, load, and then unload in your intended direction.
  • Continuous: This will be a rapid movement – quick and precise. You will commonly see a plyo based or rubber bouncy ball for continuous med ball exercises.

 

MED BALL TYPES

There are several types of med balls out there. Some have handles, some are large, and some are small. Here are the common types we use with our athletes:

  • Jam Balls: These balls won’t have much bounce. They are very dense, and can be on the heavier side.
  • Plyo Balls: These are commonly smaller, and offer a bouncing recoil when you slam them. These are great for continuous and rapid med ball type exercises, and even single leg stance exercises.
  • Soft Toss Med Ball: Commonly seen in gyms as Dynamax or PB Extreme Balls, these are great for slamming, tossing, and offer many uses.

 

INTENT

This may be the most important one. For athletes, one common goal is becoming faster and quicker. Med balls are great for developing these qualities. However, many athletes can’t check their ego at the door when they start training with med balls. They will grab the heaviest possible ball to throw or slam…VERY SLOWLY!

If the med ball is moving slowly, are you truly gaining the benefits of ballistic training? Probably not.

You have to put full effort and intent into each throw, and you have to find an appropriate weight that allows you to move quickly. This is how med balls were designed to be used. Med ball exercises are truly a “you get what you put into it” exercise.