An In-depth Look into Customized Strength Training at RPP; The Why and How it Works

By Nunzio Signore (BA, CSCS, CPT, NASM, FMS)

Every off-season I see dedicated athletes basically spinning their wheels and settling for thrown-together ineffective off-season programming, simply because the location is convenient, or they’re feeling pressure from the travel team they play with to train with them.  The reality is that often they’re experiencing mediocre gains or no gains at all when they should be improving dramatically. They’re settling for acceptable when they should be expecting optimal. Bottom line is if your velo has stayed the same year-over-year your training probably SUCKS!

Being strong is a good thing.  And if you want to be explosive you have to be strong first.  All performance metrics including linear and change-of-direction speed, throwing velocity, exit velo and injury prevention all are built, first and foremost, on a foundation of strength. Putting force into the ground is one thing but to be explosive you need to be able to do it quickly and that requires a good base of strength.

Once an athlete reaches 16-17 years of age, volume and intensity needs to be ramped-up to continue to make the same respectable gains they did when they were younger. I keep reading about “speed and agility” training for high school athletes.  Let me say this… as far as “speed and agility” goes, strength equals both speed (increases in force production) and agility (creates a more stable base to move quickly from).  In other words, training 4-5x’s per week is needed to reap the same benefits that the previous 2 days a week regimen used to provide at a younger age.

So, for our older guys (high school, college athletes as well as minor league and pro guys) we implement “Monthly Program Design”. This is an unlimited monthly strength training protocol designed to help give our athletes the best chance to succeed on the field.  Before I get into the specifics of it, let me highlight the advantages of this program and why everyone wants to be a “Monthly”.  The programming is:

    • Based on a thorough head-to-toe assessment
    • 100% designed around the individual’s strengths and weakness
    • Unlimited training sessions (3, 4 or 5x per week)
    • Flex time (you can basically come and go as you wish)

Note: you need to be pre-approved to participate on this program (more on this later).

So, How Does it Work?

This is the 5-step process we use here at RPP:

    • Physical Movement Screen
    • Force-Velocity Profiling
    • Program Design
    • Training
    • Periodic Re-testing

Let’s look at these, one-by-one.

Step 1 – The Physical Movement Screen

To do this effectively, we must first establish a “base-line of measurements” to help tell us the areas where the athlete most needs to improve. The big word here is “help”. While many coaches have an incredible eye, we cannot expect them to know the physical anatomy or bio-mechanical issues responsible for holding an athlete back from a movement standpoint, whether on the mound or at the plate.

With the use of goniometric measurements, movement screening, contact plates and the latest technology we create Force-Velocity profiles for every Monthly athlete.  This allows us to remove most of the guess work in programming and gives us valuable information about the athlete that we can use to make adjustments in the weight room.  Below are just a few of the things that we measure to help build the blueprint for each athlete:

“Often, we can discover the what by looking at an athlete’s mechanics but the Physical Movement and Strength and Power assessment often tell us the “why”.

For example, if we have a pitcher who is opening his upper body early, and as a result is losing crucial hip and shoulder separation, simply telling or showing the athlete the issue won’t always work. This can leave both the athlete and the coach frustrated.  Often, they just accept it and move on. As a result, many athletes continue to ingrain poor movement patterns year-over-year.  I can’t tell you how often we observe this.  For us, however, if it’s a hip and shoulder separation issue, we would look for anterior core stiffness or back leg IR issues from the assessment.

Dr. Frans Bosch said it best…

“The body cares very little about what the coach has to say.”

Step 2 – Force-Velo Profiling

As far as athletic performance goes, strength, speed and power are KING.  That’s why maximizing training protocols for a sport with movements as quick and explosive as baseball is paramount.  Increasing Power involves:

    • Increasing Force (muscle fiber size and structure)
    • Increasing Velocity (the activation and rate of firing time of motor units)

That’s just pure physics.  Improving either of these components, force or velocity, whichever is deficient in the athlete’s profile, can lead to increased power production and therefore optimize the explosiveness of the athlete. Finding which trait, force or velocity is deficient and making it the focus of your training block is the concept behind creating Force-Velocity profiles for any athlete.

(Lateral RSI)

Step 3 – Program Design

All pertinent data is then collected and used to build out an athlete’s programming. This relies on many things such as assessment results, frequency of training per week and where the athlete is in their season to name a few.  Many facilities perform some type of an assessment. While receiving and recording all this data is great, if you don’t know what to do with it, then it’s pointless. Be sure to ask questions during your assessment. Coaches need to have a thorough understanding of what they’re doing. It’s your money and your body.  Here is a sample summary of internal notes our assessment program prepares prior to assembling each athlete’s Monthly program.

Step 4 – Training

Baseball is explosive, and a ball player needs to be trained that way.  With our more advanced athletes, bar speed is monitored to help an athlete train in a specific “zone” to help emphasize force production and create a specific training adaptation.

While measuring velocity during resistance training is not new, it was previously restricted to elite athletes and typically only done on explosive power exercises such as jump squats and ballistic bench presses. By getting external feedback on the speed of the lift, athletes can get immediate feedback on power and intent which goes hand-in-hand with great performance on the mound and field. It also allows us to adjust the weight either up or down to match the strength zone we are chasing.

It’s my opinion that technology will never replace the coaches, but the coaches who know how to incorporate technology into their programming and training will replace those who don’t.”

Step 5 – Periodic Re-Testing

After finishing a specific strength block, athletes may be re-tested on the issues found in the initial assessment and a quick Force-Velo profile is re-assembled to make sure the athlete is moving in the right direction.

Summary

While the use of technology has enabled us to take much of the guess work out of training, nothing can replace the effectiveness of great coaching and great cuing. That’s why there is always quality coaching available on the floor, to our Monthlies at all times.  To participate in our Monthly Program Design, you need to be:

    • At least 16 years of age
    • Weight room (preferably RPP) proficient
    • Physically and behaviorally mature

“Giving the athlete exactly what he needs to be the best they can be, following a thorough initial assessment, is the basic premise behind our Monthly Design Program.”

See ya’ in the gym…

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