Traditional baseball conditioning does not make sense, particularly when it comes to pitchers. Pitchers are expected to run long distances and ice their arms after they throw. Many coaches insist that body-weight lunges, push-ups, crunches and plyometrics are the only strength exercises a pitcher will ever need.
The truth of the matter is that this traditional concept of conditioning for baseball is completely backwards. Baseball is a sport composed of brief, explosive physical exertions followed by periods of complete energy recovery. (Triples and inside-the-park homeruns are potential exceptions for complete energy recovery.) Extended cardiovascular training in the form of running poles, getting on a treadmill, or riding a resistance bike, is, for the most part, a complete waste of time if the goal is to get better at baseball.
Baseball is an explosive sport where massive force is created in a very short amount of time. It only makes sense that baseball players should train to be explosive. There's nothing explosive about an extended light jog or crunches. Plyometrics and other body-weight exercises, while including some explosive elements, are limited by the athlete's body weight. There is no room for progression once the athlete adapts to his own body weight.
Throwing a baseball with maximum effort involves just about every major skeletal muscle in the body. This makes it one of the best indicators of a baseball player's explosive strength.
I don't think there's a single coach on the planet that would disagree with what I've said so far, not even Dick Mills who thinks strength training is not only unhelpful but also dangerous.
The thing about explosive strength -- and this may shock some of you -- is that you can improve it by lifting heavy things, like in a weight room.
This is the driving principle behind Driveline Baseball's (Seattle, WA) Velocity Development Program, a comprehensive baseball training program where the main focus is throwing velocity.
Kyle Boddy designed the program and coaches the athletes that are a part of it. The program is split between baseball skill activities, such as defense and mechanics, and strength training.
Regarding the naysayers, Boddy offered, "What they don't get is that training for strength and power also helps young athletes to train general motor patterns, which has a clear translation to all sports. Learning to use hip drive in the back squat, thoracic extension in the front squat, and explosive jumping in the power clean all translate to any sport - you name it, it transfers."
Because throwing a baseball involves so many muscles, the Velocity Development Program is not a program that focuses solely on the arm. As Boddy mentioned, his program utilizes various squat techniques and power cleans, but he also includes deadlifts -- perhaps the best measure of someone's overall brute strength -- and soft-tissue work. He adds, "When they first arrive, they do their self-myofascial release, wrist weight warmups, and resistance band work. The warm-up is pretty fast - it takes about 8 minutes."
The key to the program isn't just getting the athletes to lift the weights, it's to get them to work hard. Not every athlete who walks through the door is ready for the program. They can't all handle it. Boddy says, "We're pretty selective about who we bring in - we're seeking to create a hard-working and competitive atmosphere first and foremost. So we've had to screen out a few guys."
Selecting the right athletes is only part of the equation, though. Working with a coach one-on-one isn't always the best way to stay motivated. This is where the semi-private training model comes in.
Semi-private training, as a basic concept, is like group exercise. A small group of athletes, usually 2-4, train together as a group with a [semi-]personal trainer or coach.
Boddy credits Eric Cressey and Pete Dupuis as having influenced this aspect of his program. He adds, "Semi-private training works better for the athlete and for our business model - we get to train a larger group of guys and fill our facility up, and they get cheaper rates and a better atmosphere to train in. We tend to group them by age first, then skill second, so they have peers they can relate to."
Athletes are competitive by nature, and by throwing a handful of them together as a strength training group this competitive nature helps them push each other to work harder.
Results from Kyle's first Velocity Development Program are already being seen. In one off-season of training, a 15-year-old in his program added 8 MPH to his throws.
Now, if fixing the way baseball athletes are trained were as simple as saying, "Train for explosive strength," I would have said that at the top, and this article would have been very, very short. The truth is that you need a coach that knows how to train for explosive strength.
It's not about getting big (a.k.a. "hyooge") or moving large amounts of weight. It's about becoming explosive and training the correct motor patterns. Exercise selection, volume, intensity, and recovery are all factors that must be taken into consideration no matter how experienced the lifter is.
Kyle's results can do a lot of the talking for me, but I know from experience that Kyle has the knowledge and skillset required to manage these factors. If you live in the Seattle area, I strongly recommend taking a good, hard look at Kyle's program.
You can read more about Driveline Baseball's Velocity Development program here: