Off Season Training

Being the Director of Operations and Lead Trainer at WSNS Academy a youth training academy in Cincinnati, I am always looking for new and fresh ideas to keep the energy level high for the players that train and believe it or not for myself. Don at Viper Bats asked me to post some of my off season training and I can never say no to Don he is the best just like his product.

First of all one of the things that is said at WSNS “Results Not Excuses” there is plenty of things anyone can do to train even without a facility to workout. You can use a real short cut off broomstick to swing in a limited space area, if you don’t have that make a fist with your lead hand/arm with your thumb out, take your other hand and wrap it around your thumb just like gripping a bat. Line your knuckles up correctly and you can take dry swings. Do it in front of a mirror, get the feel of the front heel being down when your hands are back, like loading a slingshot. Once in that position swing by firing your hips and trying to finish balanced holding your finish position for 2-3 seconds. Look in the mirror and try to see if your head is in the same position as when your heel was down and hands were back. Work on explosive hip action, balanced finish and limiting your head movement. Visualize pitchers you have faced before, that you have gotten hits off of and ones that have gotten you out, but always visualize successful results. Do bodyweight workouts, 15-20 minutes, put 4 exercises together do 20-30 seconds rest 10-15 seconds do each exercise in a row rest 45 seconds repeat up to 6 times. To get better shorten the rest periods. Exercises you can do;

Squats, squat jumps, burpees (the best single exercise with no weights), planks, side planks, crunches, bicycle crunches, supermen, lunges (front, side, back, drop step), push-ups ( normal, wide, narrow, diamond, T-pushup, renegade with a row), Ice skaters (jump from side to side explosive movement) different variations (slow, long , short quick, jump-hold-balance), lunge jumps. You get the idea also warm-up properly doing arm circles, jumping jacks, spider lunges, etc.,. Stretch when you are finished hips, legs, back, shoulders, and arms.

If you have a facility to use, weight equipment, tee w/net, any and all other items that is fantastic and you only have yourself to blame for not getting the work in. Typical hour workout for hitters at WSNS Academy;

Warm-up light sprints, walking lunges, arm circles (front and back), arm crossovers while doing side shuffles, high knee pulls, butt kicks, carioca (short quick hips while firing arms like running), push-ups, jumping jacks, get a sweat going. I crank up the heat kids hate it, but it gets them loose.

Go into medicine ball separation drills (2-4 pounds), keeping hips square to target stagger one foot back so that the foot that is back toes are even with heel of forward foot. Feet shoulder width apart. with keeping hips square to target rotate shoulders to work separation of hips and shoulders. Med ball needs to remain at or above the shoulder. Hands on both side of the ball, rotate shoulders releasing ball using both hands so thumbs both point towards target at release point. Do 10 reps turning shoulders both left and right, then switch feet and repeat with other foot forward.

Hitters then get bats and do a walking version of their swing, I have them set up with bat relaxed on their shoulder looking ahead as if the pitcher is on the mound, from here they release their hand closest to the knob and relax their front arm and shoulder. The hitter next works front heel down and bat back. No matter what the hitter does as far as striding, no stride, pick-up and down it doesn’t matter, have them do that and at the same time using only the one hand remaining on the bat have them bring the bat back to proper position. Several things, many hitters may need to choke up to control the bat, have the hitter use their upper arm and shoulder blade to make movement with bat back. When the heel lands and the hand is back the back knee should be inside the back foot with most of the weight loaded there. The knob of the bat should be pointing towards an imaginary catcher’s feet, with the barrel or tip of the barrel over the hitter’s head. The hitter at this point should be able to bring their bottom hand back to the bat without having to bring the bat forward. If in correct position they can fire their hips swing and finish balanced. Have them step over and repeat do 5-6 swings like that. Then have them turn around and do the same drill keeping both hands on the bat. When a hitter finishes their swing their weight should feel like it is on their back leg pushing down onto their big toe on the inside of their foot. If it ends up on the outside of their foot, they allowed their hands to dominate their swing or as I call it a top heavy swing, where the hitter hit around the ball.

Tee work I usually have them do the same drills as they just did with the med balls and also with the heel down hands back. The goal in mind is to be relaxed and work on separation of hips and shoulders. Make sure hitters have a solid foundation. A simple tee drill I do with players is called heel-hip. Player sets up with ball on tee, they place their front heel down through their stride process bringing their hands back, they must say aloud “Heel” at this point the inside of their front heel must be down. Next there are two different parts, first part is the hitter must yell “Hip” to initiate their swing. That allows them to focus on firing their hips. Once they do 5 swings like that, I have them go to the second part where they try to yell “Hip” at the point of contact. The goal is to feel their lower half fully rotated just before contact. If they accomplish this they have accomplished separation of back hip and back shoulder. They can do this version in front soft toss also, making them say it aloud, makes them commit to the action. With front soft toss and even live BP, this also allows them to use their back hip for timing of their swing. There is a process with this drill that takes the players from a stop start segment to being able to keep lower half moving to allow the hitter to adjust to different speed pitches. I will be happy to share if anyone is interested.

I have be doing this for quite awhile now, and from my experience the hard work is great and is needed, but make sure if you are working with players you make building their confidence and having fun priorities. Throw in a game once in awhile, we play a game on occasion called the tee game. We place a ball on one tee for hitter to hit and another tee with a ball on anywhere from 10′-20′ out in front. I usually put it straight away center so hitters on both sides of the plate have same angle. The tee that is out front needs to be slightly higher than the tee being hit off of by player. The goal is each player gets 3 swings and tries to hit the ball off the other tee. It only counts if they hit the other ball directly off the tee, no bounces, no off the top of the cage net or side, it cannot hit the tee it has to hit the other ball directly. I tell players if they knock it off any other way they have to make the walk of shame and put the ball back on the tee, it they hit the ball off I have to walk out to do it. It is very difficult, but happens more than you can imagine. In a group I usually either give the kid that does it (if it happens, it doesn’t always) a free Gatorade or a t-shirt, the other thing to do is have the winner if there is one choose a punishment for others (10 push-ups, burpees, squat jumps, etc) and yes as the instructor I do the punishment, because if nobody hits the ball off I choose the punishment for them. Trust me this game is a blast, I have 8 year olds up to college and minor league players playing this game against each other, because it has nothing to do with how hard you hit, just good mechanics. 3 Swings and rotate depending on time I may go 3-5 rounds, you will always have them yelling one more time and players asking to play the game.

Enjoy the holidays, I hope this helps someone out there with training. I do this as a volunteer running the facility, instructing and coaching. I am a retired firefighter, my dad played for the Reds and my son is a college catcher that has a shot at the next level. I do it because I love the game and helping kids. All lesson fees are considered a donation, if a kid can’t afford it, they don’t pay. The only thing I asked them is to take the time to give back and try to be a good person. Other than that like the Viper signs says, Swing Hard Hit Hard

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