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