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THE SECRET
Baseball Strength & Conditioning
By Dr. Greg Shepard
Published: Winter 1996

Baseball is the last frontier in the epic saga of strength and conditioning history. The first athletes to figure out the strength and conditioning "secret" were the throwers in track and field. As soon as the secret became widely known in the late 1960's, the marks for the Discus, Shot Put, Hammer and Javelin skyrocketed. Many of these throwers were 6'4", 270 and ran a 4.6 forty. Some even better than that. 

Football coaches like myself looked at these guys and wondered what they were doing. I was truly amazed at how quickly my football players got bigger, faster and stronger both at the high school and college level. When we trained like the track guys, the secret was simply to use primarily free weights, concentrate on the legs and hips by doing Parallel Squats and Power Cleans, vary your sets and reps, only weight train 3-4 hours per week and combine flexibility, agility, speed and plyometric work with strength training. Sounds fairly simple, right? Well it is, but coaches kept screwing around and as a result it has taken football years to figure out the "secret". 

In the 1950's, linemen averaged about 210 at places like Southern Cal. By the 1970's this had moved up to 240, the 1980's about 265 and in 1990 about 280 pounds. Now in 1996, many Division I lines average 300 pounds. If I said that I had a 6'2", 210 running back who was fast, you'd say, "What's your point?" It is now common place. Here is another example, Jim Druckenmiller is a 6'5", 225 pound quarterback at Virginia Tech who can Hang Clean 405 pounds! 

My point is that colleges could have done this in 1970. We had the knowledge. Football coaches in the 1970's would say, "Weights will screw up athletic ability or slow you down. They would also try a variety of machines, circuit train, work the upper body or just life without the other components of strength and conditioning. Two other common mistakes which held football players back were connected suprisingly to winning. First, if a team won, everything they did had to be right. In truth, some teams won in spite of their strength and conditioning program not because of it. Just about any strength program will produce results but don't we all want the one that will produce the best results? 

The second mistake connected to winning is what the successful pro-teams or college teams did. A high school football coach might have proudly stated that he was doing what a certain pro team was doing. The mistake here is the concept that a 16-year old should do the same program as a 26-year old who plays up to 24 60-minute games in a season. I train the Utah Jazz and I'll gaurantee you that what 34-year old John Stockton does at this point in his career is not what a 16-year old point guard should do to reach his potential.  

The amazing phenomenon in strength and conditioning history is that each sport has gone through its own learning curve. Each sport made the same mistakes as they gained knowledge. I was the first strength coach in the NBA to last a season back in 1981 and now most of the NBA teams have a strength coach. Basketball in our high schools and colleges are still going through this learning curve but each year the players get a little bigger, faster and stronger. My point is we could have had a whole bunch of players like Karl Malone in the 1970's. We had the knowledge. 

Here's the big money question. Why can't baseball just learn today about the "secret"? Why should they take 20 more years to figure it out? Why should the players needlessly be used as "guinea pigs"? Why go through a machine stage, a circuit training stage, a lightweight-high rep stage, or an upper body is the thing stage? Let's not be satisfied with just producing results. Let's produce the absolute best results. Now, let's get to the "secret". 

There are three main parts to the "secret". First you must know WHAT to do. Then you must know HOW to do it and finally, you must IMPLEMENT the program correctly. 

The What-To-Do part of the "secret" has already been outlined. There are huge misconceptions prevalent in baseball at the present time. Most important is the understanding of the source of power in throwing or hitting. At first glance, it would seem to be centered in the arms. After all, you hold the ball and bat with your hands. Therefore, do wrist curls, forearm and shoulder work. This should never be the main thrust. The exercises for these areas are called specific auxiliary exercises. The true source of strength and power for a baseball player is centered in the hips and legs. Look at the photos (will be added at a later date) of the two athletes shown from the waist down. One is Sammy Sosa who hit 40 home runs in three-fourths of a season. The other is of a Discus thrower. Notice the similarity of the hip and leg position as you look at their full picture. 

If a Discus thrower were to train like most baseball players, he would fail miserably because of lack of leg and hip strength and explosive power. Baseball players must Parallel Squat and Power Clean to develop their maximum power. If baseball players were to really get after these two lifts and do them correctly, you'd have to do one of two things. Either move the fences back another 50 feet or get used to football-like scores. 

Baseball players should also do quick foot drills, stretch for speed and jumping power, sprint train and plyometric train. We also do not want to overtrain in the weight room. The maximum time in the weight room should be 45 to 75 minutes three times per week in the off-season and two 30-45 minute workouts twice per week during the season. 

The How-To-Do-It part of the "secret" is even more important than the what part of the "secret". The correct and perfect technique of any phase of strength and conditioning is critical to success. There are special things to know and look for when stealing a base. The same is true for a Power Clean, Squat or stretching. You don't just tell a kid to steal a base or Squat without detailed coaching. 

Look at Lenny Dykstra. The above photo apeared on the front cover of Inside Sport Magazine and the front page of USA TODAY. Lenny knows WHAT to do and that is to stretch but he is turned the wrong way. Lenny Dykstra of the Philadelphia Phillies did not know HOW to do this Lower Back-Glute Stretch exercise. To learn exactly how to do each phase of baseball training, you should consider getting my two-hour video, book or have a clinic. 

The third part of the "secret" is to Implement correctly. At the high school level, possibly over half of the baseball players will play more than one sport. Things work much better if all coaches at a particular school are on the same page. Only about one percent of our nation's high schools are on a true unified strength and conditioning system. We need to be if an athlete is ever going to reach his potential. 

The football coach says one thing, the basketball coach something else and the baseball coach yet another. The average high school, for example, has seven different flexibility programs or philosophies floating around the high school. No wonder kids are confused. 

What is the best way to get an athlete to run faster? We don't care if he's running for a touchdown, executing a fast break or stealing a base. Whatever gets us from point "A" to point "B" the fastest is what we all should be doing! Whatever gets us to jump the highest in the quickest and most explosive way is what we all should be doing! 

If I were a baseball coach, I would do Power Cleans, Squats and everything else as described. I would hope and pray that the football, basketball and wrestling coaches would be on the exact same page. I don't want some football coach screwing up my baseball players who happen to play football. He'd better be training them twice per week correctly on Squats and Cleans during his season. Same thing with the basketball or wrestling coach. Athletes must train correctly all year round to reach their potential. Implementing the program correctly is the most important of all three parts of the "secret".  

To implement a strength and conditioning program correctly at the college level, a baseball coach should allow his red-shirt players to train in an off-season program during the season.  Give them every opportunity to develop.  All the players who don't play much should train as if it were the off-season.  You want each player to maximize his development time so that he will be at his absolute best when it becomes his turn to play.

Pro Baseball is considerably different than Pro Basketball or Pro Football in that draftng players right out of high school is standard operating procedure.  Pro football teams inherit well developed 23-year olds.  Pro Baseball teams get underdeveloped 18-year olds.  Therefore, to implement a strength and conditioning program correctly is way more crucial for baseball than football.  I believe great attention to their physical development will pay big dividends.  The recuperative powers of these young  kids is amazing plus the actual game itself is far less demanding than football or basketball.  Therefore, I would recommend that young pro-baseball players train almost like it was an off-season during the season.

BASEBALL
IN-SEASON
PROGRAM

                 DAY #1                                     DAY #2 
                   Squat                                          Clean
                   Bench                                       Box Squat 
                  S.L.D.L.                                  Towel Bench

One of our Upper Limit Training Guidelines is consistency.  It is an absolute necessity to train In-Season in All Sports.  No matter what sport, all athletes will do two workouts per week.  Day #1 is the most physically demanding and, therefore, should be done farthest away from the contest as possible.  Day #2 lifts can be done all-out with extremely fast recuperation.  Therefore, an athlete can do these lifts the day before the contest, if necessary!

The above program is for all baseball players in the development stage of their careers which is basically from the 9th grade to about age 25.  Pro players after the age of 25 would select a program to fit their individual situation.  They could continue the development program or shift into a maintenance program or an injury prevention program.

THE BFS TOTAL BASEBALL
OFF-SEASON PROGRAM

MONDAY: (1) Box Squat or Squat Variation, Towel Bench, Auxiliaries, (2) Flexibility & Agility

TUESDAY & THURSDAY: Speed, (3) Plyometric & Skill Training plus Flexibility and Agility

WEDNESDAY: Power Clean, Trap Bar Dead Lift, Auxiliaries, Flexibility & Agility

FRIDAY: Parallel Squat, Bench Press, Auxiliaries, Flexibility & Agility

(1) Examples of other acceptable Squat Variations: Front Squats or One-Legged Squats.  Acceptable Bench Variations: Close Grips, Wide Grips or Inclines.

(2) Flexibility and Agility can be done outside of the weight room.  Your flexibilty program can be done before and after your lifting program for the best results.  The BFS ten minute 1-2-3-4 Flexibility Program and BFS Agility Dot Drill are shown on video.

(3) The effect of Plyometrics can be measured by testing the Vertical Jump and Standing Long Jump.

BASEBALL AUXILIARY LIFTS

MONDAY: Leg Curl, Leg Extension, Glute Ham, *Power Snatch, Rotator Cuff, Side Lunges

WEDNESDAY: Dips, Straight Leg Dead Lift, *Jerk Press, Forward Lunges, Rotator Cuff, Wrist Curls

FRIDAY: Leg Curl, Leg Extension, Glute Ham, Straight Leg Dead Lift, Rotator Cuff, Trunk Twisters

*Do 2 sets of 5 Reps.
All other auxiliaries do 2 sets of 10 reps.

BASEBALL STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING FOR THE JUNIOR HIGH PLAYER

We have had tremendous success starting kids on a program beginning at the 7th grade.  Can we teach a 7th grader how to stretch?  Should we teach him the mechanics of sprinting?  Should we teach a 7th grader how to jump?  Can 7th graders participate in timed agility drills?  Can a 7th grader improve in these areas?  if the answer to all of these questions is yes, then why aren't you doing it?  If you are, congratulations.  If a 7th grader does improve on his speed, flexibility, vertical and standing long jump, will his self confidence improve?  What I want to know is what are you waiting for?  Get an edge.  Hardly anyone else in the country understands what you have just learned.

Now, as far as lifting weights.  Do you want to lift heavy or work on correct technique with a very light weight?  About seventy-five percent of all sports oriented junior high boys have a weight set at home with no clue on how to use it.  Coaches should take the responsibility and teach them the correct way and how to do it safely.  Research has clearly shown lifting for technique with lighter weights and higher reps will not stunt growth.  In fact, it might even stimulate growth.  Research has also shown there is no interference with the growth plates.  This myth was widely spread in the 1970's.  Some even still believe it.

Bigger Faster Stronger has special equipment available for junior high age kids so they can learn complex lifts like the Power Clean safely.  We also have a great video called "The Readiness Program" which can, in easy to understand terms, help the novice or experienced coach as well as the athletes themselves.

SOLVING THE BASEBALL BENCH PRESS PROBLEM

The Bench Press can cause three problems for baseball players yet it can provide needed upper body strength.  The first problem is the overemphasis of its importance.  Everybody always wants to know how much an athlete can Bench Press.  It's relatively easy to do compared to Squats and Cleans: Just lie down on your back and push.  You don't play baseball that way and it does not come close to duplicating  any skill  movement in baseball.  Why do we train?  Certainly not to Bench Press a ton.  It really isn't even to get bigger, faster, or stronger.  The primary objective is to WIN!  The question should be: How will the Bench Press help me win?  The Bench Press should be de-emphasized.  Athletes should only have two Bench Press workouts per week including baseball players.

The second problem that arises is what I call "Bench Press Shoulder".  About 75 percent of all athletes who Bench Press heavy three times a week suffer from, to some degree, Bench Press Shoulder.  This malady can be described in having a pain in the front shoulder joint area.  It is caused from lifting too heavy, too often.  To overcome this problem, I recommend doing Towel or Padded Bench Presses once per week as shown in the photo.  The last two inches in bringing the bar down really stretches the shoulder joint.  If you do this frequently with heavy weight, you are just asking for problems.  The Towel or Padded Bench prevents this.  Therefore, once a week do regular Bench Presses and for the other workout, do Padded Bench Presses.

The third problem is the lack of stretching the chest muscles.  Doing Bench Presses will strengthen the chest muscles obviously but they also have a tendency to pull the shoulder muscles forward and inward.  When a player strengthens his shoulders and chest, this can have a positive effect on throwing and hitting but pulling the shoulders inward and forward has a negative effect.  Mechanically speaking, it would shorten the lever arm.  This is bad in throwing and hitting.

To hit hard and to throw fast, one must be able to create a maximum summation of force.  A baseball coach would say "timing".  He would say, "I've seen little, whimpy guys hit the ball harder than a big, strong guy."  True enough!  The little guy had better timing or a better ability to create a maximum summation of force.  When an athlete starts shortening his "lever arms", he would have a tendency to screw up his "timing".  How do you prevent this from happening?  Simple!  You must stretch the chest and shoulder area at least once a day.  The "Pec" Stretch as shown is good as is the "Door" Stretch.  The door stretch is done by standing in a doorway and placing the hands on the sides of the door at a chest high level.  Then, just lean foward as far as possible and give the chest a great widening-out stretch.  Can you be very strong and very flexible at the same time?  Certainly!  The most flexible athletes are gymnasts.  The most successful college women's gymnastic team over the last twenty years has been the University of Utah.  They train with weights with great intensity by doing Parallel Squats.  Power Cleans and nearly everything else described in the BFS Baseball program.  Their team has won 10 national championships since 1981. 

Increased flexibility in the chest and shoulder area combined with improved strength can create the ability to better execute a maximum sumation of force, i.e. hit home runs or throw faster.

WHAT ABOUT STEROIDS?

It is my understanding that steroid use in the last 10 years may have been more prevalent in baseball than in any other sport.  This is stupid.  Steroids hurt a baseball player's ability to perform at his potential.  You know what really sticks in my craw?  It is the fact that the media and all governing bodies classify steroids as "performance enhancing".

What does that tell the players?  Sure, there is over 70 medical reasons not to take them but many are willing to take the risk because they mistakingly believe that steroids are performance enhancing and that they can get an edge.  This is incorrect.

Yes, steroids will make you stronger in the very short term but not long term (two years or more).  Steroids are like any other street drug: Short term high-long term low.  Also, since steroids are illegal, players buy them on the street which is very dangerous all by itself.

Perhaps the most devastating problem of steroids to baseball players is to their shoulder tendons.  Steroids affect the muscles and tendons differently.  Therefore, a quite common result for baseball players on steroids are shoulder injuries even to the point of damaging careers.  This is stupid.

The last point on steroid users involved in sports is that they usually overtrain.  They spend too much time in the weight room and too little time stretching, sprinting, and skill training.  You must spend the correct amount of emphasis on each phase of strength and conditioning.  Those who think strength and conditioning is just lifting weights are very much mistaken and will never, ever reach their potential.

WHAT ABOUT ENDURANCE?

Baseball players should never jog.  Do not go out and jog several miles to get in condition.  Baseball is a fast twitch, white muscle fiber sport.  Track athletes who run a mile or more in their event are involved in a slow twitch, red fiber muscle sport.  Therefore, if a baseball player jogs and I don't care if he runs at a 5-minute per mile pace, he is training to be slow and unexplosive.

Baseball players need to train like they will be playing and that is in short bursts.  Therefore, you sprint a short distance and then rest for an interval.  Then repeat.  This sprint-endurance training could last for twenty minutes and be very exhausting.  The coach can control the length of the sprint and the rest intervals.  These variables should be closely monitored and timed.  Thus, the coach can keep a player progressing as the intensity is increased in a controlled manner.

THE BASEBALL FUTURE

Major-league hitters finished with 4,962 home runs, the most in 128 years of baseball.  Seventeen players hit 40 or more homers.  The previous record was eight.  Forty-three players hit 30 or more, 15 more than the old record and 83 players hit twenty which was also a record.  Baltimore set a team record for most home runs in a season with 257.  Galarraga had 150 RBI, the most since 1962.  Albert Belle had 148, the highest in the American League since Ted Williams in 1949.  Fifty players drove in 100 runs or more, topping the previous record of 32 set in 1930.  Seven players drove in 140 or more for the first time.  Andruw Jones, age 19, became the youngest ever this year to hit a homerun in a World Series.  He had two home runs and five RBI for Atlanta in the first game against the Yankees.

Mark McGuire hit a major league-leading 52 homers in only 130 games and Brady Anderson hit 50 round trippers to become only the 14th player to reach that mark.  Anderson and McGuire are only the fourth twosome to ever hit 50 or more in one season.  Anderson also hit 12 leadoff homers this year which was another baseball record.  Both McGuire and Anderson are into strength and conditioning.  "Baseball players, despite what many people think, are big, strong guys," said Anderson, who is a solid 6'1", 193 pounds.  "It requires a ton of strength and coordination to play baseball.  My goal in the off-season is to train for strength, mass and explosiveness.  I tend to be lean, so I lift with compound movements by doing Squats, Dead Lifts and Lunges."

Some people might well ask, "But why this year?  Why 1996? Why all of a sudden?"  It wasn't all of a sudden.  We did not play a full year of baseball in 1994 or in 1995 and a lot happened from  1993 to 1996 as far as the number of baseball players figuring out what to do.  Many, many trained in the off-season for the first time or trained harder and more correctly.

What will happen next year or the year after that or in ten years?  The answer to that is easy and should be abundantly obvious..."You ain't seen nothin' yet".



Return to Winter 1996 Articles


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