Jan 29, 2015Smooth Movement
When you’re a new strength coach working with an already successful team, one of the keys to a smooth transition is how you implement your training philosophy and programming.
By Adam Ross
Adam Ross, MSEd, CSCS, is an Assistant Strength and Speed Coach at Florida State University, where he is responsible for training the baseball and women’s golf teams. He spent the 2010 baseball season working in the Houston Astros’ organization as the strength and conditioning coach for their AA affiliate and can be reached at: [email protected].
Starting a new job as a strength and conditioning coach always presents challenges. But my arrival at Florida State University was truly a whirlwind experience. I came on board two games into the 2011 baseball season and had to hit the ground running. Not only had the team already started its competitive schedule, I was coming in to work with a program that had been very successful for many years.
I didn’t want to implement any significant changes to the training schedule because of the timing of my arrival. And the players did not need me to remodel their workouts because they were already following an established program that helped them be successful.
Instead, I did my best to make the transition as seamless as possible for all involved. That meant introducing small adjustments here and there, explaining my philosophy to the team, and most importantly, earning the trust of the players and coaches.
That spring, I watched the team advance to an NCAA Division I Super Regional. And the following season, I enjoyed being part of a squad that made its 21st College World Series appearance. This year, we aim to do even better.
A lot of my philosophy has been shaped by the coaches who have mentored me, including Mike Boyle, Charlie Melton, and Gene Coleman. I am humbled to have been mentored by some truly brilliant people in the world of strength and conditioning, and my experiences with them were invaluable in helping build my proverbial “strength and conditioning house” on solid rock.
The most important thing these three coaches taught me was to never stop learning. Strength and conditioning for baseball players has come a long way since Dr. Coleman became Major League Baseball’s first strength coach in 1979, and he is the first to admit it did not evolve without growing pains. In 20 years, I may look back at what I’m doing now and say, “What was I thinking?” But that’s part of continuing to learn in this profession.
When I arrived at Florida State, I had already learned that athletes need to be trained as individuals. This is a major piece of my coaching philosophy. Each player has his own genetic makeup and predispositions, orthopedic history and concerns, personality, strengths, weaknesses, and so on. Therefore, my goal is to recognize individual needs in each player and implement what is best for him.
When working with the players, I follow a general template for everyone, but there is room for flexibility within that template in the form of exercise substitutions, additions, and subtractions to suit the needs of the individual. For example, if a player needs to put on some size during the off-season, I add more functional hypertrophy to the end of each week to sneak in some extra volume. The work is added at the end of the week so the player does not fatigue his neuromuscular system when we have a full week of workouts to go and instead has the weekend to recover.
Another example of adjusting for individual needs is a pitcher with chronic elbow pain. I immediately limit heavy loaded vertical pulling, which puts stress on the elbow. The next step is to work with our team’s athletic trainer to look at possible mechanisms for the pain. Does it arise out of shoulder dysfunction that distributes forces of the throwing motion toward the elbow? Is it mechanical? Knowing the mechanism helps the athletic trainer and I see which exercises or modes of training may be contraindicated for the athlete and which will best address the problem.
This individualistic approach gives the athlete a great deal of pride in what they are doing during our weightroom and conditioning sessions. They know their program has been developed and implemented based on their own strengths and limitations and no one else’s.
Another part of my philosophy is to instill great work ethic in our players. Most Seminole baseball players hope to be drafted and get the chance to make a career out of the game they love. One way I can help them is to encourage the formation of great training habits.
A quote from Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, has always stuck with me: “Habit is the intersection of knowledge (what to do), skill (how to do), and desire (want to do).” My goal is to explain the most effective and efficient way for our athletes to train (what to do). I try to teach them in an understandable way they can replicate (how to do). And I strive to find motivating factors that will help push them toward their goals with relentless pursuit (want to do).
Every strength coach has been the new kid on the block at least once in their career. From the few times that I’ve been in this situation, it’s become clear that earning the trust of the coaching staff and players is paramount to successfully implementing a training program. Two strength coaches can implement the exact same program, but the coach who gets the team to trust in his or her ideas has a higher chance of success.
Both coaches and athletes know that strength and conditioning levels can be a game changer, so implementing an overall training program is an easy sell. However, their trust that your program is the best one is the x-factor.
With our players, it helped a lot that I was a college baseball player myself. I came in with an intimate understanding of how many games teams play per season, the travel involved, and how to balance that with the rigors of the classroom. I had a lot of common ground with the players that helped me develop relationships with them early on.
There were a lot of small things that went into earning the players’ trust, starting with my demeanor. As a new coach, I needed to come to work filled with a passion for what I was doing each day. Attitude is contagious, so I always try to be enthusiastic.
I also knew that I needed to be firm, but fair. I demand the best from our players every day, but I know that I may not always get it. Empathy for an athlete is not a weakness, but rather a sign that I truly care.
Part of caring is being accessible. As strength and conditioning coaches, we frequently play the role of counselor. I found that once I gained the trust of our athletes, they in turn entrusted me with their problems. I have learned that these personal interactions not only help the athlete, but help me grow as a coach and a person.
The coaches and support staff here at FSU immediately welcomed me. I think my relationships with the coaches grew naturally because for the remainder of my first season, I continued to implement the program that was in place. Though I made some small changes, the overall program held true to what the team was accustomed to.
Then, after the season, I sat down with the coaches for a thorough discussion about what they and I had seen during the season, and we came up with a list of areas that needed improvement. This list became my training goals for the team’s 2012 season. Through the development of a program based on these goals, I was able to explain my training philosophy to the coaches, including the importance of addressing individual needs.
Nothing I was aiming to do with the team was groundbreaking, but it was based on what I felt was best for the Seminoles baseball team as a whole and for each individual player. The coaching staff was very receptive to what I wanted to do, which I believe tied back to the x-factor of trust that we had established with each other. It is truly a privilege to work with an unbelievable coaching staff that confirms this trust in me every day.
Communication was the key to earning the coaches’ trust. Whenever there was a question or concern, the solution always arose from communicating with the staff. Whether it was scheduling, program design, or disciplinary action, there was always an open door to discuss what needed to be done for the good of the team.
TRAINING THE SEMINOLES
The collegiate baseball off-season is short due to the length of the spring season, summer leagues, and fall ball. Because the fall and winter holiday breaks occur during the off-season, we must focus on maximizing the time we have together so that each athlete makes strides. That is why our program challenges the players from day one.
Upon the athletes’ arrival in the fall, they go through a testing process that includes a physical assessment, functional movement screen, performance test, strength test, and conditioning test. The results of these assessments help us set individual off-season goals for each player.
Fall baseball starts just two weeks after the first day of classes, so once the assessment process has been completed, my goal is to get each athlete prepared for the diamond as quickly as possible. We accomplish this through lower intensity strength circuits and conditioning sessions.
During the six-week fall season, the players complete a mesocycle of the annual plan that addresses strength and power at higher intensities and lower volume to accommodate the increase in sport specific work they are getting on the field. We use the same group of exercises (or variations) as found in our off-season program.
During the 12-week off-season, the team works out five days a week–three strength days and two conditioning days. The three strength days look like this:
Day one – Explosive movement performed in the lower extremity sagittal plane paired with a prehab mobility exercise for the lower body – Bilateral knee-dominant exercise – Unilateral horizontal push-pull combo – Unilateral hip-dominant exercise – Anti-rotation movement for torso development paired with a hip circuit – Stabilization exercise for torso development.
Day two – Explosive movement performed in the upper frontal/transverse plane paired with a prehab mobility exercise for the upper body – Bilateral horizontal pull exercise – Bilateral horizontal push exercise – Bilateral hip-dominant exercise – Anti-extension movement for torso development paired with a unilateral horizontal pull – Rotation exercise for torso development.
Day three – Explosive movement performed in the lower extremity frontal plane paired with prehab mobility exercises for the upper and lower body – Bilateral knee-dominant exercise paired with a bilateral vertical pull – Eight-station metabolic circuit (bodyweight or light weights) the players complete three cycles of for time.
As we progress through the off-season, the three-day template might change slightly. For example, we might add or substitute in a unilateral strength exercise to address an athlete’s deficiency. (See “Exercise Bank” for lists of exercises that would fit some of the above categories.)
We use the two conditioning days to supplement the lifting sessions. We do this by addressing the mobility and flexibility of the joints and muscles that were used in the previous day’s lifting session. The players also perform movement drills to keep up on their mechanics, and we always finish the day with lumbar stability and thoracic mobility exercises to train the athletes’ postural control. Here is an example of a conditioning day:
– Ground-based mobility series – Low level footwork warmup – Upper body mobility series – Dynamic flexibility – Movement training – Resistance band lower extremity stretching – Postural torso development
During the off-season, I limit the athletes’ change of direction and sprint work. They have just spent the past eight to nine months sprinting, changing direction, and performing other activities as fast as they can, so I like to shift gears during the off-season and take them back to absolute strength work. Later in the off-season, we reintroduce some strength-speed work with a medicine ball. Then at the end of the off-season and into the early preseason, we incrementally add sprinting and change of direction drills because the work is sport specific and gets the players ready for the diamond.
UP TO THE ATHLETES
When looking at strength and conditioning programs, the nuts and bolts are usually fairly similar. But it is important to remember that it’s the little things that matter. For an athlete, this might mean great nutrition, regular sleeping patterns, and extra post-practice stretching.
In the end, a team’s success comes down to the athletes. With 21 College World Series appearances by the Seminoles, our players know they can be successful. They know they get great support from the coaches, the support staff, and even the fans, but the rest is up to them.
As Thomas Jefferson said, “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” These players have shown they are willing to do whatever it takes to bring home a national championship, and I hope our training program will help them do just that.
Sidebar: PITCHER VARIATIONS
Our pitchers and position players train together almost all the time. They are not separate units or entities. But sometimes, pitchers do different exercises than position players.
For example, while the position players are performing dumbbell bench press variations at certain times during the year (like the in-season when the number of training days is limited), the pitchers do pushup variations, at times using weighted vests, bands, sandbags, or chains. Dumbbell bench variations are great for both pitchers and position players, but when we are limited to one upper body push movement per week, I choose pushups over dumbbell presses for pitchers in order to use a closed chain exercise while working torso stability.
Another example includes pulling movements. During the season, when position players are performing vertical pulling exercises, pitchers usually perform horizontal pulling movements instead. With the increased throwing loads of the season, the pitchers’ elbows and backs experience trauma, and loaded vertical pulling movements would just compound that toll. Instead, the pitchers do some variations, but we load them fairly light and go through full range of motion to work on scapular tracking.
Finally, our pitchers never do the direct shoulder work in the weightroom that our position players do. Instead, they perform a comprehensive shoulder program daily in the athletic training room with our athletic trainer, Cory Couture, MS, LAT, ATC. Cory does an outstanding job implementing a program that gives the pitchers a great chance to enjoy a long and healthy season. His arm care program uses many different modes of training, such as lightweight tubing, plyometrics, dumbbell exercises, manual resistance exercises, and stretching.
Sidebar: EXERCISE BANK
The table below outlines some of the categories of movement that we use in our program, along with some examples of exercises we use. We do not employ all exercises at the same time, but rather a progression for each category.
Explosive movement in the lower extremity frontal/transverse plane: Heiden jumps progression Bounding
Explosive movement in the lower extremity sagittal plane: Bi/Unilateral box jumps Bi/Unilateral hurdle jump progression Med ball vertical tosses Med ball scoop tosses
Explosive movement in the upper extremity frontal/transverse plane: Unilateral med ball chest pass progression Unilateral med ball side toss progression
Bilateral hip-dominant: Trap bar deadifts Bilateral Romanian deadlifts Bilateral hamstring curl variations Bilateral hip bridges Pull-throughs Glute-ham raises
Bilateral knee-dominant: Back squats Front squats Safety squats Pit shark squats Dumbbell squatting variations
Bilateral horizontal push: Pushup variations Bilateral dumbbell bench press variations
Bilateral horizontal pull: Inverted rows Low/high cable/plate loaded rows Barbell rows Face pulls
Bilateral vertical pull: Bilateral varied grip pull-downs Pull-ups Neutral grip pull-ups Chin-ups Cable crossover pull-downs
Unilateral hip-dominant: Unilateral Romanian deadlifts Unilateral hamstring curl variations Unilateral hip bridges
Unilateral horizontal push: Unilateral dumbbell pressing variations
Unilateral horizontal pull: Unilateral dumbbell rows Unilateral cable row progression