With MLB season paused, strength and conditioning coaches forced to modify workout programs

For every strength and conditioning coach in Major League Baseball, there’s a rhythm, a flow and a purpose to how they design their year-round workout programs. 
Most years, it goes like clockwork.

“Every season — offseason, preseason, meaning spring training, and in-season — they have a certain amount of work volume,” Rangers strength and conditioning coach Jose Vazquez told Sporting News in a phone interview. “In the offseason, the work volume is very heavy. There’s a lot of running, a lot of lifting, a lot of stuff, so to speak. As we approach the season, we cut the volume back and we scale down the number of exercises, the number of repetitions, the number of things we do because the baseball takes over.”

You know where this is going, obviously. 

The coronavirus-mandated shutdown of the baseball season — as with pretty much every sport across the globe — has thrown a wrench into the plans of strength and conditioning coaches in MLB. 

“Right now the challenge is that we don’t have an end in sight for this thing,” Vazquez said. “So what I’ve told guys is, let’s go to a medium volume and let’s just keep that up until we’re told some sort of timeline. That’s the challenge. Basically, we’re trying to go into some sort of a hybrid between offseason and preseason.”

In a Zoom video call with media folks on Thursday morning, Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said he estimated his players are back to a “mid-January” position right now when it comes to their preseason progress. 

The workouts can vary by player. 

“Right now, our program is just based off what they have available,” Cardinals strength and conditioning coach Lance Lance Thomason told SN. “With all the gyms shutting down, not everyone has access to a gym or equipment, so we’re making modifications. A lot of guys are just doing some body-weight stuff at home because that’s all they have. We’re trying to work with the guys to provide the best opportunity to maintain where they’re at. We revisit those on a weekly basis. If they all of a sudden had access to more equipment, we could make some modifications.”

It’s a challenge, yes, but as both Vazquez and Thomason were quick to point out, with what’s happening in the world right now, it’s a rather insignificant challenge. 

“I’ve told them, ‘Look, guys, in the grand scheme of life, this isn’t biggest issue right now.’ Obviously, we’re navigating a new world,” Vazquez said. “Just make sure you take care of personal business, make sure you can take care of families. Focus on that, and we’ll do our best to get you the best workout that we can, the best ideas we can under the circumstances. We have to say to ourselves, what’s the most important thing for my life right now? Lifting weights and hitting a baseball is probably not the most important thing. So let’s keep that in perspective and do the best we can with the equipment that we have, with the access that we have, and in time they’ll let us know where we can go, when we can go back to the stadium and that kind of stuff.” 

Thomason: “Obviously, there’s uncertainty on on all fronts, whether it’s professional sports or what not. We’re basically just trying to create somewhat of a normal schedule for these guys. They worked really hard in the offseason, and we just want to make sure that they’re ready to go when MLB says we can play baseball again.”

To deal with their challenges — now and during regular year-long programs — 10 major-league teams use the TeamBuildr app to manage their strength and conditioning programs, including the Rangers and Cardinals. 

“The way the app’s designed, if there’s a video attached to it — this was was great for the offseason, and it’s coming in handy now — we put a program together, and drop it on their calendar, and then they have access to that on the phone,” Thomason said. “And then they just go down the list. If they know what I want them to do, they can click on it.

If they don’t know what it is, there’s a video attached to it. They watch that video, hit complete on their end. As an organization, we’ve used it for about seven years. Pretty well versed in TeamBuildr.”

The Cardinals were the first MLB team to reach out about the possibility of using the app to manage their needs.

“We were able to do a lot of customization with them,” TeamBuildr CEO Hewitt Tomlin said, “but also in a way that benefitted other customers.”

Tomlin said a total of 10 teams — the Rangers, Cardinals, Angels, Padres, Diamondbacks, A’s, Marlins, Rays, Astros and Braves — use the app. 

“A couple days ago, I was mowing the yard and a player called. I stopped what I was doing and within five minutes he had a workout on his phone that he could follow. That’s the beauty of this thing,” said Vazquez, who said the Rangers have been using the app for three years. “Getting the workouts to the guys, not that complicated. Helping guys to work out at home, giving them ideas of what to do, not that complicated. What makes it difficult is the timeframe. Can’t tell a guy, ‘Now you cut back.’ Or, ‘Now you’ve got to do this.’ That’s what’s challenging.”

And the timeframe isn’t something they’ll have an answer to any time soon. 

“We’re obviously in the same boat. We don’t know much,” Thomason said. “We just try to base our decisions off the information we have. We know it’s probably not going to start in the next couple of weeks, but once we hear a date, we’ll adjust our programs again and make sure that everyone has what they need to be prepared.” 

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