M&F: How do you transition from the end of the baseball season to the beginning of the off-season training program?

Steve Odgers: Most of the players have had at least two weeks of almost complete down time following the end of the season. What I try and do is build in a couple weeks of active recovery so in that phase, they’re not on a defined program. I like them to go out and hike or ride a bike or do things they may not normally do just to keep the body active. And keep in mind, in Major League Baseball, these guys are playing 162 games in 180 days, so there’s very little time off. It’s routine every single day – they hit at the same time, they throw at the same time, the games are at the same time. Everything is regimented pretty much from the time they come into Spring Training. What you want to do is give the body complete rest, and then some active recovery, so that it’s not a complete shutdown, but rather a gradual reintroduction of the training program.

M&F: How is the training different in November and December (the “General Prep” phase) than in January and February (the “Special Prep” phase)?

Odgers: Training volume is higher in General Prep, and the reason for that is they’re coming off of a transition period between seasons, and they haven’t trained as much in season. And the other thing is, there’s really no skill demand in [November and December] – they’re not hitting, they’re not fielding, they’re not throwing. When you look at a baseball players program going into January and February, the skill demand is higher, so they’re going to have time on the field hitting. You’re looking at an hour a day of hitting, and you’re looking at time fielding – infielders and outfielders taking groundballs and fly balls and throwing. So training volume goes down slightly – not a great deal, but you have to account for the training time for skill development.

M&F: How is the training different for a baseball in-season versus off-season?

Odgers: In-season, you have a three-hour game, you have an hour of batting practice, you have their individualized work – all these players are going to be hitting off the tee or doing other things to refine their skills offensively, and there’s individual defensive work too. So before you even factor in the training time, you probably have a four-and-a-half to five-hour day. Everybody gets to the park at noon and most players don’t leave until 11 at night. So the one thing I really try and do is keep the training inside that 8-11-hour window of time and not increase the day. So I really encourage the players to be on a routine where they come into the ballpark and one of the first things they do is their individualized training program. Because if you do the training at 2:00, and say you’re on a split routine where you’re doing one day of leg strength, one day of a leg circuit, a back workout and an upper body workout spread over four days, you’re able to have pretty brief 30- and 40-minute strength training sessions. And with the running conditioning, I would typically plug it into the batting practice schedule. So I try to use the available time window. The thing that changes is that you don’t have an hour and a half to train. You have to compress it down to 45 minutes to an hour, if that.

M&F: Even if they had more time, you probably wouldn’t want them lifting for an hour and a half in-season anyway, would you?

Odgers: No, you wouldn’t. The idea for training in-season is the stimulus. We all know that when we train, we feel better. And you want the training to be a stimulus to what’s going to happen in the game. It shouldn’t detract from it. You don’t want to train so hard that you have neuromuscular interference. You want to train at an intensity and a volume that you can recover from in the 2-3 hours you have prior to the game and compete at a high level.

And that’s the real difference in training baseball players versus other athletes – you really have to have an understanding of the demands of the game and the schedule. It’s more of an art than a science. It’s pretty easy to get somebody strong. If you wanted to lay out the periodization and say, ‘;We’re going to bench and in three months we’re going to get you from A to B to C, strength wise,’ there’s a defined linear path you can achieve for strength development. But in the case of optimizing movement skill and performance in a Major League player, it’s quite a bit different when you have to factor in the number of games, the amount of travel, the fact that there are day games and night games and even weather. Weather is a factor more in baseball because you have extremes – in the early season, you’re playing games in 30-degree temperatures, and in the middle of the season you’re playing games in 100-degree temperatures. There are all these factors that don’t make it a real easy, clean template to write up.

M&F: Do you choose different exercises during the season than you do in the off-season?

Odgers: The exercise selection in-season isn’t really different; it’s just a reduction of volume and keeping speed, power and strength at a higher level. So I might have a guy like Matt do three sets of six reps instead of, say, four sets of 10 like he’d be doing in November. So in this case, you have a total volume of 18 reps in-season instead of 40. But the intensity level of that exercise is high. And I think that’s the real challenge: Keeping the training intensity high and programming enough recovery to accommodate for the competitive demand of playing 155+ of those 162 games.

A lot of people will go to lighter weights and higher reps during the season. But philosophically, when you have elite athletes, you want to train them at an elite level. You don’t want to water the training down. You want to keep their strength and keep their power peaked. If they’re highly trained, you can do that by a reduction of volume and keeping the intensity high.

M&F: What are your short and long-term goals for Matt Holliday?

Odgers: The thing I look at is evolving the training program. You’re always trying to evolve the program to each individual athlete. And the reason being, you want to keep those fine skills on the field, so you have to pay to attention to postural alignment, precision of movement and the kinetic linking. It’s not always about trying to make them stronger or more powerful and explosive. It’s more about defining the training plan to stabilize their efficiency of movement and kinetic linking – that the ankles, knees and hip joints are all working well. Particularly with Matt, we spent a lot time on his mobility and core strength last off-season. We just kept hitting it and hitting it through November and December, because that’s such an important part of keeping him on the field long term. So year to year, I really look at movement skill and postural alignment. I use my eyes like every coach does. I put my eyes on the player to understand how he moves, why he moves and picking exercises that stabilize those movements.

M&F: How big of a role does being big and strong play in hitting homeruns?

Odgers: The game the past 10 years has really focused on the equation “force x mass = acceleration” so that the ball travels further. You have big guys who hit the ball a long way. But the problem is, they can’t stay healthy and stay on the field. So what you really want is acceleration and increasing angular velocity and figuring out how to move efficiently. Matt’s a big guy, but the key to Matt hitting the baseball isn’t getting bigger and stronger. The key is keeping hip mobility, transferring power and precision of movement. So if you ask if he’s going to hit a ball farther by being stronger, I would say no; he’s going to keep hitting the ball to all fields with power by being linked up right and training properly, by having the knees, trunk and hips working properly. It’s really about angular velocity more than mass. It’s a little bit different than if you’re purely trying to lift weight. In this case, you’ve got a ball moving at 95 MPH and a bat velocity at 100 MPH trying to meet up in the middle to hit the ball to the right spot. So it’s really not as much a strength equation as a timing and speed/power equation. And that’s why you see smaller players that can drive the baseball, because they can link it up and time it up. That said, if they have all the measurements in the equation, big guys may hit the ball a little bit farther.

As Matt is concerned, he’s already one of the strongest players in the game, so you don’t want to try and make him more of that – you want to try and stabilize that and make sure that the strength supports the demands of the game. At 6’4”, 235 pounds, he runs the bases pretty well. And if he’s going to continue to do that, you have to support that with physical training. You don’t support that with more mass. You support it with better movement and precision of movement. One thing we look at is moving strength training into a more athletic mode of training. We want to use the mass that we have for the specific purpose of being athletic. So we try and shift the strength training into a component of athleticism.

M&F: Baseball is a very rotational sport, what with the twisting at the torso that occurs when hitting and throwing. How do you incorporate that into the training?

Odgers: Yes, trunk rotation is a big part of the sport, so it’s about linking the different modes of training. For example, you’ll see yoga stretching, and in that yoga stretching there’s a lot of movement off the warrior position, that split leg stance. So we know we want to have stability and strength through the lower extremities and trunk. So for example, I’ll work dynamic flexibility through yoga, and then from there I’ll take a medicine ball and do diagonal rotation patterns, where you’ll see movement in both the sagittal and transverse planes.