Jul 13, 2018
Armed & Ready, Part 1
Tory Stephens

In the mid-1990s, my allotted offseason hours with the Texas Tech University baseball team were used — as instructed by the head coach — to do one thing: run. When we finished our conditioning for the day, players could do a voluntary 10-minute circuit, but few chose to participate. Lifting weights was viewed as something only football players did. Fast-forward 20 years, and implementing that philosophy today would make it extremely difficult to compete, not to mention keep athletes healthy.

Today, players have to be year-round weightlifters. Having a structured and all-encompassing offseason strength and conditioning program is not a luxury anymore — it’s a necessity.

At Texas Tech, our offseason plan is built from research-based adaptations that account for the rotational and overhead demands of the sport, while developing the components of a complete baseball player: strength, speed, power, and explosiveness. It is 24 weeks long, and we break it up into four different training blocks, using different periodization methods and tempos according to our goal for each one.

Following this plan, competing hasn’t been an issue. On the contrary, the squad has thrived. In 2016 and 2017, we won back-to-back Big 12 Conference titles. And in 2014, 2016, and 2018, we were fortunate to play on college baseball’s biggest stage — the College World Series — fulfilling a team goal we set every year.

Through the years, I have adopted many of my core values for offseason training from Kelvin Clark, MSCC, the now-retired former Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Vanderbilt University and Texas Tech, Hall of Fame strength coach Al Vermeil, and many others. Based on their teachings, I believe the most important aspect of offseason programming is having an effective plan and executing it. There should be no surprises or misconceptions about what you are doing or why you are doing it, and every coach and athlete must be all-in with the plan.

That being said, any successful offseason program must change when necessary to add physical stress to the athlete. For this reason, it’s important to be flexible and adapt along with the athletes.

Using these two principles as guides, I’ve created our offseason plan. The baseball team is in the weightroom three days a week for three of our four training blocks. For us, three-day programs are ideal for many reasons. First, we are able to incorporate full-body training each session knowing we do not lift the next day. This is important since baseball is played using the entire body.

Another reason the three-day program works for us is because it provides the opportunity to train each of our core movements (squat, bench, and dead lift) three times per week. Four-day plans typically have upper/lower splits or push/pull splits, which only work the core movements twice per week with an off day in the middle.

Our offseason volumes and intensities in the weightroom coincide with our practice and intra-squad schedules during the week. For example, Fridays are usually reserved for scrimmaging, live bullpens, or simulated games. It’s very important for players to showcase their skills on these days, so the coaches can evaluate their performance in pressure-packed situations. I want players feeling recovered to perform their best on Fridays, so these are our least intensive days in the weightroom.

Check back next week for Part 2 of this article.

Tory Stephens, MSCC, is in his 22st year as a strength coach and seventh as Assistant Athletic Director/Director of Strength, Conditioning, and Nutrition at Texas Tech University, where he works with the baseball team.

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