The baseball off-season is coming to an end. We had a bunch of baseball players work their butt off during the last couple of months at Endeavor, and they’re looking forward to taking all the gains they made with their training out on the field.
The way I write programs, I usually separate the off-season into 3 different phases where each phase has a different focus; the early off-season, the mid off-season and the late off-season. The early off-season is usually the shortest one of all 3 phases and puts almost all the emphasis on recovering from the previous season, fixing imbalances, recuperate, etc. The mid off-season is usually the longest phase and is where the heavy lifting comes into play, and we keep the focus on increased maximal strength, power, and muscle mass for the players that need to put on size.
The late off-season phase, which is the one our players are currently doing, focuses on speed, power, and essentially maximizing the transfer from the weight room on to the field. The max strength volume comes down quite a bit during that phase to make sure the players don’t end up overtrained. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, lots of speed and power training puts a lot of stress on the CNS.
One thing that I focus on during that late off-season phase is to maximize the amount of training in both the frontal and transverse plane. If you think about most classic lifting exercises they all develop strength in the sagittal plane (squats, deadlifts, lunges, presses, rows, etc). The reality is that on the field athletes almost never need to develop force exclusively in the sagittal plane, whether it’s when they throw, when they chase a ball, or when they hit.
There is an increased need for baseball players, just like athletes in most other sports, to develop force in the frontal and transverse planes. This is something you might not have noticed if you don’t really include multi-planar exercises in your programs, but most athlete have a really hard time developing force in the frontal plane. It is not very natural for them, yet, it can boost their performance on the field like crazy!
So let’s drop the theoretical concepts of frontal plane and transverse plane. What does that mean concretely in a training program?
There are different ways to help develop force and explosive power in the frontal plane. My 2 favorite exercises for that purpose are probably the lateral sled drag and the lateral bound (with or with resistance).
As for the transverse plane, you can get pretty creative with all the med ball throw variations and speed drills with changes of direction.
These are just some examples, but there are plenty of other ways you can include exercises and drills to optimize force production and explosive power for your athletes in the frontal and transverse plane in order to have maximize transferability of your gains made in training out on the field.
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It’s too easy to get caught into trying to cover too many things in a single training session. The result? Your session ends up taking 2+ hours. This is the best way to make anyone, athletes or non-athletes, lose interest and motivation in the gym. Even at the highest level, I don’t know many athletes who like to spend over 2 hours in the gym every day.
You know…when your session is just taking too darn long…
But how can you structure your training sessions when you have so many things to cover?
The first thing to consider is to try and trim all the fat around your program. By that I mean, drop the stuff that’s not essential. Ask yourself: what do I really need to work on? Drop everything else. That’s the first step.
Even after dropping the non-essential stuff you might realize that you still have a lot of stuff to include in your program with all the corrective exercises, mobility drills, activation exercises, and so on that one need to work on. And we haven’t even talked about the bulk of the program with all the speed, power, strength, and conditioning work yet!
One of the best ways to address this is to use rest periods wisely. Let me explain…
When working on qualities such as speed, power, and strength, the nervous system takes anywhere from to 2 to 5 minutes to recover optimally. That leaves a lot of time to just stare at the ceiling, some might think. But it’s actually a great time to fit in all your corrective, breathing, mobility, and activation work.
The only 2 rules to follow when it comes down to using corrective, or “filler” exercises between sets are:
The exercise(s) must not interfere with the main lift(s)
The corrective or filler exercise must have a low stress level on the CNS
For example, I wouldn’t pair a chest stretch with heavy bench press because of the potential loss of elasticity in the working muscles. But you could definitely pair the same bench press exercise with a scapular stability exercises, or even a hip flexor mobilization. These are just 2 quick examples, but there is no limit to the actual exercises you can use between your main lifts.
When you prescribe a rest period of 3 minutes between sets, that easily gives the time to fit in 2 corrective exercises. In the end you’ll realize that your training sessions was a lot more productive, it lasted only an hour and fifteen, and you were moving around the whole time, which makes it more motivating, and a lot less boring.
Make sure you maximize your training time by using your rest periods wisely!
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Just a quick post today to share with you some of my favorite exercises to develop power for athletes. Obviously there are plenty more exercises that I like to use throughout a training year, but these are just a couple of my favorite ones if you need some variation and something different from the traditional plyo exercises and the common Olympic lifts.
Unloaded squat jumps are a great exercise that I learned from Cal Dietz, strength coach at the University of Minnesota. It allows you to jump higher by pulling down on the bands as you jump (although it doesn’t necessarily translate into more power development), but because of the height of the jump, you have more force to absorb (or decelerate) when you come back on the floor. That really is what’s beneficial about the exercise; an increased ability to absorb forces and react to high velocities.
The second one is more of a method than an exercise itself. It’s called the complex method, and the concept is simply to perform a heavy lifting exercise (with about 90% of your 1RM) for 2-3 reps, rest for anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes and then perform a bodyweight plyometrics exercise. The idea is that the heavy lifting exercise will activate more fast-twitch muscle fibers that you’ll in turn be able to use when doing the plyo exercise. In the video I perform them within 15 seconds, but ideally you’d want a longer rest.
The third one is a medicine ball throw variation that I got from Eric Cressey. It incorporates more velocity in the movement by running a couple steps and jumping before smashing the med ball into the wall. I’ll use this variation a lot with baseball players.
The last one is a variation of an Olympic lift. The reason I like it so much is because it usually is so much easier to teach and to learn than the traditional Olympic lifts. The 1-arm DB snatch is very effective to develop power and will take minimal time to master. If you haven’t already, try it!
As I mentioned in the beginning, this really is just the tip of the iceberg, as there are so many exercises to help develop power. I just wanted to share some of my favorite ones with you if you always end up using the same ones and need variety!
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Three of the most common and effective power training methods in my opinion are:
- Olympic lifts
- Medicine ball throws
There is no doubt in my mind that all 3 methods are extremely effective, and I’m not willing to say that one is superior to the others. The way I see it is there are different situations in which one method could be superior to another, depending on the training goal.
You might have heard of the speed-strength continuum before. It is a fairly simple concept that helps define the different types of power. Power being the product of the maximal amount of force you develop in the least amount of time.
Power = Force x Velocity
Although the equation is pretty simple, the outcome can be pretty different if the emphasis is put on either force OR velocity during a pre-determined exercise. The speed-strength continuum represents different levels of force production and velocity of movement. It could be represented as follow in a chart:
The terminology is a little different, but it’s basically the same concept as I explained above.
All of this to say that depending on what your emphasis may be in a training program, or with a specific exercise, there might be a more appropriate choice than another. Plyometrics are usually done bodyweight, which allows one to perform the movement quicker, although the total force production might be lower because there is no additional external load. This would put plyometrics more towards the speed-strength end of things. An Olympic lift like the hang clean on the other hand will use a bigger external load, but the speed or the velocity of the movement might be a little slower. That would put the hang clean more towards the strength-speed end of things. As far as medicine ball throws are concerned, they would be a little more towards the middle because they are loaded, but always with a low to moderate weight and the velocity of the movement is pretty high, but not quite like a bodyweight power exercise.
The other thing to take into consideration when choosing which power development method to incorporate is the segments of the body involved. To me, one of the main differences between plyometrics and Olympic lifts and med ball throws resides there. Plyometrics use only the lower body (or upper body if you’re using an upper body exercise) to develop power; as for the Olympic lifts and the med ball throws, they use a force transfer from the lower body to the upper body in the execution of most their variations, which in the end involves the whole body.
Total body power exercises should not be ignored from a program design standpoint because they will bring a lot of benefits for sports that require such force transfers. Tackling, blocking, pitching, swinging a golf club, taking a slap shot and throwing punches are only a couple examples of the athletic movements that require some sort of power transfer from the lower body to the upper body. To me this is a crucial component to sports performance and being able to transfer the gains from the weight room to the field or the ice.
And lastly, another component that is worth mentioning about power exercises is the plane of movement in which the exercise and/or the sport skills take place. Without going into too much details with this conversation, I’ll simply say that medicine ball throws offer a rotational component to power development, which is extremely important in rotational sports like baseball, hockey, lacrosse, golf and tennis. And you don’t find that same rotational power development component with Olympic lifts or plyometrics exercises.
Hopefully I broke things down enough so that now you understand better the differences between the 3 main power development methods, and that you’ll be able to make a better choice based on your training goals!
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I’m currently working on a project at work where I need make a detailed plan of our training system at Endeavor, which I could explain to someone who has no idea what we’re doing. Getting started on that project, I struggled just putting something down on paper, simply because I didn’t know where to start. I was trying to think: “What do you cover first? How do you make someone understand all the subtleties of how you build a training program? Why we do the things we do? etc.” After brainstorming for a little while and exchanging some ideas with Kevin Neeld, I was up to something.
But what are the steps to detailing a complete training systems?
To me the first step is to highlight the philosophies behind the system. This is what’s going to guide you in building programs and knowing what components to include in your training programs. Your philosophy doesn’t have to be extremely detailed and it doesn’t have be 5 pages long. It’s really just knowing what your goals are and what the underlying concepts of your systems are. To me, these are 3 ideas behind a good philosophy:
The priorities of a good training program are, and always should be:
The Joint-by-Joint approach to training
The Anatomy Trains concept; everything works together in the body and isolation doesn’t exist
Those 3 concepts help shape a mindset of what you’re trying to accomplish and what the general directions of your training programs is. Once a background philosophy is established, you can put the building blocks of a training program in place and develop the tools to use for each component:
Self-myofascial release (foam rollers, lacrosse balls, the stick, etc)
Dynamic warm up (mobility exercises, activation drills, corrective work, etc)
Power training (plyometrics, Olympic lifts, med ball throws)
Injury prevention strategies
Once this is established, the next thing to do is to incorporate all of these things in a structured training program, or what you may call the art of program design. Managing volumes, loads, recovery periods and the like is a task that’s not easy. This is something that is totally dependent on your athletes, their sports, training background, phase of the season, recovery capacities, genetics, and much more. Although the basics of program design can be taught, only will you become better at that with experience and by listening to your athletes.
And last but not least, is the coaching itself. This is an area that might seem pretty simple, but you really need to understand the fundamentals of functional movements in order to coach even the most basic exercises the right way. Athletes need to learn to move the right way before anything else; it doesn’t matter how good your program looks on paper if your athletes move like crap. Because in the end it comes back to the first 2 goals of the whole program: do no harm, and decrease the risks of preventable injuries. Such concepts as the neutral spine, the packed shoulder blades and the packed neck are just some the concepts of coaching that need to be understood in order to make your athletes move better.
There are many things to go over when detailing a whole training system. Sure there are probably things I haven’t mentioned that might be important, but in the end I feel like those are the basics to understand to build a good, efficient training system. This is how we do things at Endeavor.
Interestingly this is all stuff that Kevin Neeld goes over into his book Ultimate Hockey Training. He goes into great detail about every aspect of a complete training system that has been proven effective for years. And please don’t be fooled by the title; this book could’ve simply been called Ulitmate Training System because it goes far beyond the concept of training for hockey. No matter what sports you’re coaching, it is an invaluable resource to have.
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We hear it all the time that athletes should train in a “sport-specific” way. They should perform exercises that are similar to the movements they perform in the practice of their sport, and training programs for different sports should be totally different. I flat out disagree.
We always see athletes performing these fancy exercises in the gym that reproduce the same movement patterns that they perform in playing situations.
Do you SERIOUSLY think this is gonna improve your slap shot just because it looks like it?
This kind of practice is FAR from optimal for a couple of different reasons: first, when you load a movement pattern, you affect the efficiency of it (for example, if you perform an exercise similar to a slap shot with a load, you’ll actually affect your original slap shot pattern, and you’ll be less efficient at performing it on the ice). Second, the more you stress the same structures the exact same way over and over, it will lead to overuse injuries a lot faster. But I digress.
Let’s take a step back for a minute, and consider what every athlete needs. I think it’s fair to say that what any athlete is looking for is speed, power, strength, endurance (relative to their sport, obviously) and a better level of conditioning (again, relative to their sport).
The hang clean will develop power for ANY sport!
Basically, all athletes are looking for the same thing. So why would their training be that different? You’re going to tell me that conditioning demands are different for a football player than they are for a hockey player. And you’re right. Conditioning demands are different, and the energy systems used are different. And the same thing goes for injury prevention; the overuse and non-contact injuries that happen in different sports are different, so therefore require special injury prevention strategies adapted to the demands of their specific sport. There are also variations that are gonna take place if you play a rotational sport (think hockey, baseball, tennis) in the way you train power. But the biggest differences pretty much stop there.
Rotational sports require more rotation-based power exercises like med ball throws
Strength training will never be “specific” to a sport. Like I mentioned above, performing exercises similar to sport movements in the weight room is far from optimal, and even detrimental to athlete’s performance. Speed, power, strength, endurance and conditioning are all developed through the same modalities (or pretty much) no matter what sport you play, because what you are developing when you’re training is not your sport-related skills, but rather your athletic qualities (muscular and cardiovascular), and those are not specific to one single sport, but common to most sports.
Like I’ve mentioned earlier, there are going to be some minor tweaks in the way you write performance programs for different sports, especially when it comes to conditioning and injury prevention, but the big lines and the structure of the programs might be a lot more similar than you think.
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One thing that people overlook too often is the reason why they’re training in the first place. I see too many people who don’t keep their goal in mind when they train. And I’m not only talking about the athletes or fitness enthousiasts themselves here, I’m also talking about the coaches and trainers. Everybody wants to workout hard and do unique style training using all kinds of fancy equipement that they perceive as being magical tools to achieve their special needs.
Too often people will judge of the training they’re doing by how tired they are at the end of the session and how sore they are the next day. How ridiculous is that? A wise man once said:”every trainer can make you tired, not every trainer can give you results.”
Google “workout tired”….this is what comes up
This couldn’t be more accurate. Whatever you do, make sure you ALWAYS keep your training goals in mind. Never judge your level of fatigue after a workout as an accurate measure for your goal achievements. Never use soreness either as an indicator of your progress.
If you’re training to improve speed, it doesn’t make sense to do interval based work with short rest periods; you will get tired quickly and you won’t be able to give a 100% on every effort. Same thing goes for people who do crossfit type training (as it seems to be the new trend) and are looking to increase their strength and power for sports peformance.
What’s all the hype with that crossfit stuff anyway?
I do think that there are many pros and cons to consider with this crossfit thing before you get into it, but using crossfit for sport-specific performance is totally ridiculous; doing tons of reps with minimal rest is not going to improve your strength and power for anyone with more than 2 years of lifting experience. Also the risk to benefit ratio with crossfit is not worth it if you’re an athlete, as you often perform complex movements with a high level of fatigue. And as I’ve mentionned times and times before, doing distance running or aerobic based training to improve sport-specific conditioning for anaerobic sports like hockey, football, soccer, lacrosse and the like is equally idiotic.
But I’ll stop here as I feel I’m starting to bitch a little too much here. The take home message is this: always keep your training goals in mind whatever you do. Consider what you really want to achieve; whether it’s to increase your speed, increase your power and strength, lower your body fat or gain muscle. Plan your training in a smart way and be consistent with your goals and train accordingly. Also accept the fact that it’s ok to leave the gym not tired sometimes, and it might actually be more beneficial to your results.