Jan 29, 2015
For the Fences

When the Cal State-Fullerton baseball coaching staff wanted to take the team in a new direction, its strength and conditioning coach was challenged with making players bigger and stronger–and quickly.

By Greg Vandermade

Greg Vandermade, MS, CSCS, is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at California State University-Fullerton. He can be reached at: [email protected].

Every team you work with should come into the weightroom with a main goal or focus during the off-season. It’s also likely that this goal changes from year to year.

One year the coaching staff may say it needs its athletes to be better conditioned so they can compete at a high level for longer when the postseason rolls around. The following year the coaches might tell you they’d like to see their players faster and more explosive. Whatever the goal is, you must design a strength and conditioning program to meet it.

Here at California State University-Fullerton, the baseball team is going through a big shift, and as a result, so is the team’s strength training program. The coaching staff is transitioning the team from a bunt-and-steal style of play to a power hitting offense. In short, that means my job is to make our players bigger and stronger this off-season.


As I considered how to help the players safely add mass before spring, my first step was to examine which movement types would be most appropriate for the training goal. I made sure to keep the moves specific to baseball–the goal is to build bigger and stronger baseball players, not to morph the athletes into bodybuilders. Here are the four key areas of movement we are concentrating on this off-season:

Explosive training is a key part of strength training here at Cal State-Fullerton and baseball is no exception. Force application to the ground is crucial in order to increase a player’s ability to run faster and jump higher. In baseball, this can mean the difference between scoring a run and getting tagged out at home, or snagging a line drive and missing it because the player wasn’t quick enough on his feet.

To train explosiveness, we use plyometrics and the Olympic lifts and their variations. The plyometric movements we tend to focus on are speed skaters, standing long jumps, and plyo pushups. All these movements greatly enhance our baseball players’ explosiveness, and it has also been documented that plyometrics help with injury prevention.

Traditionally, not a lot of baseball teams incorporate the Olympic lifts. But if taught properly, they not only dramatically increase explosive power, but also strength and size in general. Because the Olympic lifts are technical and tough for athletes to execute properly without a lot of practice, we utilize variations that are easier to teach and perform. These include power shrugs, high pulls, jerks, and split jerks.

Our pitchers never perform snatches, but will do snatch grip pulls and high pulls. The main reason we stay away from snatches with our pitchers is to eliminate added stress to the shoulder girdle and rotator cuff muscles.

Multiple-joint ground-based movements should be the cornerstone of any baseball strength training program and are an absolute must for increasing size. Multiple-joint movements incorporate larger amounts of muscle, which allows for greater release of critical muscle-building hormones like testosterone and growth hormone.

Because most sports are played on two feet, it makes sense to train in a ground-based fashion. This ensures the greatest level of core activation among the athletes–which is another way to initiate the release of muscle-building hormones. Some of our favorite multiple-joint ground-based movements include the front squat, deadlift, Romanian deadlift, and close grip bench press.

Unilateral strength training is the next element of our training because it helps to improve muscular balance when an imbalance is present. But we must train both the upper and lower body extremities bilaterally as well as unilaterally. So for every bilateral movement performed, we match it with a unilateral movement for those muscle groups.

Some of our favorite unilateral lower body movements include:

• Bulgarian split squats • Crossover step-ups • Box lunges • Curtsy lunges • Lateral step-ups/lunges • Single-leg dumbbell • Romanian deadlifts • Single-leg hyperextensions • Single-leg Swiss ball leg curls/hip lifts.

Some of our favorite unilateral upper body movements include:

• Single-arm dumbbell neutral grip bench presses (both flat and incline variations) • Single-arm dumbbell rows • Single-arm dumbbell shoulder presses • Single-arm TRX rows • TRX pushup variations.

Core/trunk strengthening is the final key to our off-season training. In every sport, an athlete’s trunk acts to support the spine. It is also the athlete’s means of transferring power from the lower body to the upper body.

We like to incorporate as much standing core work as possible because it is much more functional for baseball players. The only time our players should be lying on the field is in a dog pile in Omaha. Our ground-based movements provide some training of the core, but we also incorporate targeted abdominal exercises. Because of the physical demands of throwing and hitting, we focus on developing exceptional rotational strength using exercises like medicine ball slams and tosses, band anti-rotational punches, and the band pull-to-press.


Keeping these areas in mind, I developed the team’s periodized strength training program geared toward increasing mass. This included selecting exercises, assigning volume, and figuring out how much time should be spent in each phase.

Hypertrophy: The first phase begins after three weeks of active rest following the postseason. For three weeks, the athletes perform a limited number of exercises, but they are extremely high in volume. The goal is to gain mass as quickly as possible.

During this phase, the team lifts three days per week. On day one, the players perform a bilateral lower body pushing exercise paired with a bilateral upper body pulling exercise. A second pairing includes a unilateral lower body push paired with a unilateral upper body pull. Day two follows a similar format, but the emphasis shifts to lower body pulling exercises and upper body pushing exercises.

The emphasis on day three is total body. We incorporate a lower body push paired with an upper body pull, followed by an upper body push paired with a lower body pull. Every exercise on each of the three days is performed for eight sets of 12 repetitions. (For an example, see “Hypertrophy.”)

Strength: For the next three weeks, the players continue to work with the same push/pull philosophy for balance. However, we increase lifting days to four per week and begin to incorporate Olympic lift variations. The goal is to start explosive training while continuing to strive to gain as much mass as possible.

Each day consists of six exercises: An Olympic lift variation, a strength movement, and two pairings. The Olympic lifts consist of two warmup sets, followed by four working sets of five repetitions. The strength movement gets the same two warmup sets, but is followed by four working sets of six repetitions. Because volume has dropped considerably, intensity must increase dramatically. (For an example of a position player’s program, see “Strength.”)

At the end of the strength phase, the players get a de-loading week to allow them time to recover from the previous six weeks of intense training. During this time, we emphasize active recovery to help facilitate the greatest strength and size gains possible.

Strength and dynamic effort: By this phase of the program, the players have begun to realize mass gains, so now we want to turn that mass into functional strength. The intensity of the lifts increases again, but the players work with minimal volume.

For one month, the program continues four days per week with the same design: an Olympic lift or explosive movement, a strength movement, and two pairings. The first two days of the week are designed for maximal effort, and days three and four are intended to be dynamic effort days. The first two weeks’ worth of exercises are generally done with sets of four repetitions, but the players’ reps decrease in weeks three and four. (For an example of a pitcher’s program, see “Strength & Dynamic Effort.”)

Maximal strength and power: The final phase of our team’s program takes us to the start of preseason. This is the time when all of the pieces we’ve put in place come together.

We back off to training three days per week. The emphasis is on developing maximal effort strength in the early portion of the week on days one and two and then turning to maximal effort power on day three with a total body workout. (For an example, see “Maximal Strength and Power.”)

Thus far, utilizing this programming style has greatly added size and strength to our baseball players. Our coaching staff has noticed considerable gains in players’ lean body mass, as well as improved hitting. I believe this program will be a huge asset to the team this season and help the squad get to Omaha, where they will hopefully vie for a national championship.


All exercises in the hypertrophy phase are performed for eight sets of 12 repetitions. Both our position players and pitchers follow the same program, with one exception when performing bench presses.

Day One Pairing one: Front squats and pull-ups Pairing two: Dumbbell lunges and single-arm dumbbell arm rows

Day Two Pairing one: Close grip bench presses (position players) or narrow grip dumbbell bench presses (pitchers) and Romanian deadlifts Pairing two: Dumbbell shrugs and single-leg Swiss ball curls

Day Three Pairing one: Deadlifts and inverted rows Pairing two: Single-arm dumbbell bench press and Swiss ball hip lifts


Olympic and strength movements during the strength phase are preceded by two warmup sets. This would be a typical week for our position players.

Day One Olympic movement: Power shrugs (5 x 5) Strength movement: Front squats (6 x 6) Pairing one: Dumbbell lateral lunges (4 x 6) and weighted pull-ups (4 x 6) Pairing two: Dumbbell cheat rows (4 x 6) and weighted single-leg squats (4 x 6)

Day Two Olympic movement: Snatch grip high pulls (5 x 5) Strength movement: Close grip bench press (6 x 6) Pairing one: Romanian deadlifts/shrug (4 x 6) and dumbbell full cans (4 x 8) Pairing two: Single-leg hyperextensions (4 x 6 each leg) and dumbbell shoulder presses (4 x 6)

Day Three Olympic movement: Single-arm dumbbell snatches (5 x 3 each arm) Strength movement: Sumo deadlifts (6 x 6) Pairing one: Barbell lunges (4 x 6) and side-to-side pull-ups (4 x 6) Pairing two: Dumbbell incline rows (4 x 6) and dumbbell Zottman curls (4 x 6)

Day Four Olympic movement: Push presses (5 x 5) Strength movement: Single-arm dumbbell bench presses (6 x 6 each arm) Pairing one: Med ball pushups (4 x 10) and single-leg Swiss ball leg curls (4 x 6) Pairing two: Reverse barbell lunges (4 x 6) and barbell shrugs (4 x 10)


This example of a pitcher’s program details the second half of the strength and dynamic effort phase.

Day One Olympic/explosive movement: Power shrugs (5 x 5) Strength movement: Front squats (4 x 4) Pairing one: Curtsy lunges (4 x 5 each leg) and neutral grip weighted pull-ups (4 x 6) Pairing two: Reverse grip bar rows (4 x 5, paired) and band rotators (4 x 10)

Day Two Olympic/explosive movement: Band-resisted standing long jumps (5 x 5) Strength movement: Neutral grip dumbbell bench presses (4 x 4) Pairing one: Dumbbell off-knee external rotation (4 x 8 each arm) and glute ham raises (4 x 6) Pairing two: Alternating kettlebell swings (4 x 10) and TRX speed skaters (4 x 5 each direction)

Day Three Olympic/explosive movement: Depth jump to box jumps (5 x 5) Strength movement: Bulgarian split squats (6 x 5) Pairing one: Inverted rows (4 x 6) and dumbbell lateral step-ups (4 x 6) Pairing two: Weighted chin-ups (4 x 6) and speed skaters (4 x 10)

Day Four Olympic/explosive movement: Box jumps (5 x 5) Strength movement: Single-arm dumbbell high incline bench presses (5 x 5 each arm) Pairing one: Dumbbell full cans (4 x 8) and single-leg Swiss ball hip extensions (4 x 6 each leg) Pairing two: Dumbbell post deltoid raise (4 x 8) and reverse hyperextensions (4 x 8)


The following illustrates a position player’s typical week in the final phase of our program.

Day One (maximal effort) Olympic movement: High pulls (4 x 3) Strength movement: Front squats (4 x 1-3) Pairing one: Single-leg squats (4 x 5) and inverted rows (4 x 6) Pairing two: Alternate grip bar rows (4 x 5) and dumbbell Hammer curls (4 x 6)

Day Two (maximal effort) Olympic movement: Hang cleans (4 x 3) Strength movement: Close grip barbell bench press (4 x 1-3) Pairing one: Med ball single-arm pushups (4 x 5 each arm) and Romanian deadlifts (4 x 6) Pairing two: Dumbbell three-way shoulder presses (4 x 5 each direction) and glute ham raises (4 x 6)

Day Three (maximal power) Explosive movements: Jump squats (8 x 3) and neutral grip dumbbell bench press (8 x 3) Pairing one: Med ball chop/side tosses (5 x 5 each direction) and close grip inverted rows (4 x 6) Pairing two: Plate pinch farmer’s walk (4 x max distance) and kettlebell swings (4 x 10)

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