By Dirtbag Resident S&C Coach – Alex Chow, MEd, CSCS
Hey Coach, who ya gonna pick? The guy who weighs 20 more pounds of muscle, runs .4 faster on their 60, has decreased injury risk, and is disciplined to challenge himself physically off the field? Will you pick the guy who works on his weaknesses and is comfortable confronting them in new ways? The other guy may be skilled, but, without an effective strength coach he is buying time. How long can he skirt through with talent before injury and lack of performance catch up to him? The first guy has seen the results of hard work both on and off the field. He buys in to future hard work paying off. He trusts a more holistic view of the game and recognizes that he doesn’t have to have a ball in his hand to improve his skills. This guy has an effective strength coach. The second guy might share these mental attributes but developing that grit is a skill and must be practiced. There are countless peer-reviewed studies demonstrating that an effective strength program will reduce injury risk (1,2,3,4) and improve mental (10,11) and physical performance (2,6,7,8,9). So who do you pick? It seems pretty obvious to me.
I always tell my athletes that I will make them bigger, faster, and stronger. Mostly I say this because it’s what they want to hear. I also say this so they know what all the work that I ask of them will be for in the lifelong journey ahead. The effective strength coach begins every program with analyzing and developing an athlete’s physical literacy from the ground up. We will look at basic movement patterns such as a lunge or a horizontal pull. This is a bottom-up approach to athletic performance.
A complex movement, such as a swing or a pitch, requires several simple body movements in conjunction at high speed, aiming to produce high force. 🔑Admiral William H. McCraven once said, “If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right” 🔑 When a player is struggling at the plate, we will go to the tee. In other words, we are simplifying the swing, removing complexities to master the basics. An effective strength coach uses the same concept to teach the player how to develop force effectively at different speeds and different angles, just as a hitting coach might move a tee to the outer half of the plate to teach a player to make contact on the outside pitch. The player with a strength coach is now practicing to make contact on that pitch and develop force to hit it out of the park. Both are key components to playing at the next level.
At each higher level of play, we see an increase in size and weight. Baseball-reference.com lists the average of all MLB players as 6 feet, 2 inches and 207 lbs. To gain height, a high school player can either wait-out puberty or go to the store to pick himself some shiny new parents. 💪To gain contributive mass, he must eat and resistance train. There is no other way 🔑The question then becomes, are you going to strength train now or later? Who is going to help you? Here is the role of a strength coach. We know that an effective strength program will increase lean muscle mass and power. So if your parents aren’t getting you another 2 inches for Christmas this year, you better ask for a barbell under that tree.
Why would I invest my time lifting instead of getting more reps in the cage?
10,000 hour rule, right? An effective strength program will iron out all the wrinkles of those 10,000 hours in a cage. Perhaps you might not even make it to 10,000 hours without one. Let me elaborate. Baseball is damage to our body. No doctor in history has prescribed 200 hard baseball swings and 45 min of arm whipping to make a person healthy. Only once a person is healthy and able to withstand such demand, do these things become appropriate. An effective strength program allows for muscle balance and strengthening of weaknesses. Baseball is a unilateral sport. This means that everything happens on one side of the body. When force is repeatedly created muscle and neural firing patterns will become more developed on one side of the body. When these muscle imbalances are formed, the athlete is at an increased risk of injury. An effective strength coach will be able to consider the demands of the sport and work to support more balanced bodily structures. This keeps the athlete strong and durable to withstand the degree of damage that the sport of baseball demands of the body.
In closing, strength and conditioning is now virtually at every level in baseball from the major leagues, college, high school, travel ball, little league and youth. 🔑Every athlete who takes the game seriously will be exposed to a strength program sooner or later 🔑. The players who are the most coachable will be those with a strongly developed physical literacy. These players will see the fastest results from a strength program. Therefore, a stronger body off the field will show a stronger body on the field, and strength is never a weakness.
Alex Chow, MEd, CSCS
Dirtbag Resident S&C Coach
Follow Alex on Instagram @coachac4 for more S&C related content
Follow @DirtbagBaseballNation on Instagram
- Duehring, MJ, Feldmann, CR, and Ebben, WP. Strength and conditioning practices of United States high school strength and conditioning coaches. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 23(8): 2188-2203, 2009.
- Lloyd, RS, and Faigenbaum, AD. Age- and sex-related differences and their implications for resistance exercise. In: Haff, GG, and Triplett, TN (Eds.), Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, Fourth Edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 135153, 2016.
- Quatman, CE, Gregory, DM, Khoury, J, Wall, EJ and Hewett, TE. Sex differences in “weightlifting” injuries presenting to United States emergency rooms. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 23(7): 2061-2067, 2009.
- Smith, A, Andrish, J, and Micheli, L. The prevention of sport injuries of children and adolescents. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 25: 1-7, 1993.
- Vaughn, JM, and Micheli, L. Strength training recommendations for the youth athlete. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America 19(2): 235-245, 2008.
- Faigenbaum, A. Strength training for children and adolescents. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine 19(4): 593-619, 2000.
- Granacher, U, Muehlbauer, T, Doerflinger, B, Strohmeier, R, and Gollhodfer, A. Promoting strength and balance in adolescents during physical education: Effects of a short-term resistance training. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 25(4): 940-949, 2011.
- Mannie, K, and Vorkapich, M. Accent on female strength training. Coach and Athletic Director 3: 8-10, 2007.
- Zatsiorsky, VM, and Kraemer, WJ. Strength training for young athletes. In: Zatsiorsky, VM, and Kraemer, WJ (Eds.), Science and Practice of Strength Training (2nd ed.) Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 191-213, 2006.
- Radcliffe, JR, Comfort, P, and Fawcett, T. Psychological strategies included by strength and conditioning coaches in applied strength and conditioning. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 29(9): 2641-2654, 2015.
- Williams, PA, and Cash, TF. Effects of a circuit weight training program on the body images of college students. International Journal of Eating Disorders 30(1): 75-82, 2001.
- Montoya, Brian & Brown, Lee & Coburn, Jared & Zinder, Steven. Effect of Warm-up With Different Weighted Bats on Normal Baseball Bat Velocity. Journal of strength and conditioning research 23. 1566-9, 2009.