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Interview With:
Dr. Gene Coleman



Houston Astros
Strength & Conditioning Coach




Question: How did you get into sports medicine and the strength and conditioning field specifically?

Answer: I was an athlete in HS and college, so I always had an interest in sports. While a graduate student at The University of Texas, I began to work with the football team as an assistant in the strength and conditioning program. When I graduated, I taught at Eastern Kentucky University and helped them design a conditioning program for most sports. From there, I joined the faculty of Texas Tech where I worked with football and basketball. After 4 years at Tech, I returned to teach at Texas and became the strength and conditioning coach for basketball. In 1976, the Astros asked me to set up a conditioning program for their minor leaguers during spring training. The goal was to advance one level per year until we reached the Major League Club. In 1978, I became the strength and conditioning coach for the ML club. In 1981, I directed conditioning programs for two clubs, Astros and Rangers. In 1982, I worked for only the Rangers.

Question: What is the most common injury that you see among young players? Pitchers first - Then position players

Answer: Tendonitis of the shoulder and elbow are the most common injuries among pitchers. Hamstring and groin strains and shoulder tendonitis are the most common injuries among position players

Question: With a focus in recent years on major league players taking nutritional supplements (such as Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, etc.) What advice would you give to a high school player?

Answer: Training and diet are more important than supplements. Players who depend on supplements often do not devote enough attention to proper training. They tend to look for the short cut and it's easier to pop a few pills, drink or eat something than it is to work your tail off. The research on supplements is incomplete. Most of the data have been collected on adults. There is little or no data on kids or HS aged youth. Also, most of the studies are 30-45 days in duration. We don't know what the long-term effects will be. Young players need to be sure that they consume enough calories to fuel their training and growth and to consume enough water to prevent dehydration

Question: One of the regular questions asked on the message boards is: "How do I increase my foot speed and lower my 60 yard dash times?" Do you have any suggestions?

Answer: Irrespective of how hard you train, you will run only as fast as your mechanics permit. Therefore, your first step should to be sure that your running mechanics are perfectly sound. Once mechanics are sound, you need to work on flexibility, strength, power and foot speed. Flexibility is important because you need to apply force through a large range of motion. Strength is important because there are no weak, slow guys. Power lets you apply the force quickly so you can accelerate. Running fast develops foot speed. If you spend 80% of your time jogging, you are spending 80% of your time practicing to be slow. I prefer to use running drills first and apparatus (parachutes, tubing, etc.,) later

Question: The next "Most often" asked question is about how to increase throwing arm strength. This comes from both pitchers and position players. Do you have any recommendations?

Answer: The body is a 3-link chain, legs, trunk and arms/shoulders. Forces are originated in the legs and then transferred through trunk where they are applied to the ball by the hands (arm and shoulder). A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. In the human body, the weakest link is often the trunk. If, for example, that it takes 1000 lb of force to throw a ball 90-MPH. Also, assume that you can generate 500 lb of force in your legs, 300 in your trunk and 200 with your arms/shoulders. If your trunk is weak and you can generate only 200 lb with it, you won't be able to transfer the 500-lb that you initiated with you legs. Assume that can you transfer only 400 lb. The end result will be 800 lb (400 from legs + 200 from trunk + 200 from arm/shoulder) and you will not be able to achieve max velocity. To increase velocity, you need to first improve mechanics (you will throw only as hard as your mechanics permit) and second to increase the strength in each length of the chain. Once you have increased the strength in each link, work to improve power in each link because velocity is the result of being able to apply a lot of force in a short period of time

Question: Many high school baseball player's only have access to the weight lifting program at their school that is structured to the football team. What should a baseball player avoid or "look out for" in a football player's weight lifting program?

Answer: Football players tend to lift for size and absolute strength without too much regard for function and range of motion. Baseball players need to improve functional strength and range of motion. Strength that is not functional is wasted. Size is not a prerequisite for success in baseball. A player who gets too big will actually lose speed and range of motion. I can't see any reason for baseball players to do heavy chest work, deadlifts or overhead lifts

Question: Will "incline running help a player's speed ? If so can you recommend a good program?

Answer: Incline running increases strength in the driving muscles of the hips and legs. However, when you run up hill, you will run slower than if you are running on level ground. We do our up-hill running during the off-season when we are building a strength/power base. As the season approaches, we do all our speed work in an environment that allows us to run as fast as we can (level ground or slight decline). We had a hill (25' long and 30-degree incline) in the weight room of the Astrodome. Our players ran the hill forwards, backwards and laterally. They also did shuffles and cariokas up the hill. We also had them run the hill using a stationary start at the bottom of the hill and using a 5-yard running start with both a straight-ahead and crossover step

Note: These questions come from the message board users - and are asked in the form posted on the board.

Question: I would be very interested to know if or how they incorporate medicine balls into their training and if he could provide a program. Also, what are his feelings on the weighted baseballs- they seem to be coming back into fashion these days and just wonder if he has anything positive or negative to say about them and if he likes them, a program to use

Answer: We use MD balls year around. A description of some of our drills can be found on my site at www.allprotraining.com and in my book, 52-Week Baseball Conditioning, by Human Kinetics. We do a lot of trunk rotations from standing, kneeling and seated positions. Likewise, we do crunches and twists with the feet on and off the ground. For explosive power, we do MD ball throws (overhead, underhand, sideways, etc.) after one step and after 2-3 jumps

I don't use weighted baseballs. Our guys make too much money and I don't want to risk injury with this population. My experience with track and field, however, indicates that athletes in field events make large gains by throwing weighted objects. They throw weighted ball, MD ball, kettle balls, etc. during the off-season. Nolan Ryan said that as a kid the threw year around. He threw footballs in the fall, basketballs in the winter, baseballs during the summer and dirt clods and rocks at all times. As a 14-year old, he threw a softball 330 feet. I don't think that kids throw enough today. They tend to play catch and then play in a game. I believe in a structured, progressive throwing program that has them playing long toss 3-4 times per week

Question: Please give us your opinion about what you feel all young PITCHERS should know about their strength and conditioning programs

Answer: Refer back to the answer concerning velocity. Young pitchers need to strengthen the 3 links in the chain. They also need to do Jobe type exercises for the rotator cuff, plus stabilization work for the scapula and wrist/forearm/hand exercises

Question: At what age, if at any age, should a young pitcher begin lifting free weights?

Answer: I prefer to look at training age rather than biological age. It's possible for two individuals to be of the same age, but differ with respect to their training background and base. I believe that all youngsters should start by doing total body exercises using body weight as resistance before the add external weight. Once they can handle their body weight in a variety of movements, they can begin to add dumbbell work.
See At What Age Should You Start Lifting?

Question: What about throwing softballs (for pitchers and/or position players)?

Answer: I think it's OK to throw softballs in the off-season to develop arms strength. However, as the season approaches, it's better to throw the ball that you are going to use in the game.

Question: My son would be very interested in what he can do as a 15-year-old catcher to decrease his "pop time". In other words what kind of drills or weightlifting can he do to increase his arm strength??? His best pop time is 2.3 and he needs to get it down to a 2.0 or 2.1. Are there any special drills that will help him out?? He is 5'5" and weighs 115 lbs

Answer: There are 3 things a young catcher can do.

  1. Improve throwing mechanics because you will throw only as hard as your mechanics will permit.
  2. Work on getting the ball out of the glove and into a throwing position quickly. This will involve foot drills.
  3. Increase strength, but direct your strength training at increasing the functional strength in the 3 links in the body chain, not at the arm and shoulder. If you increase the functional strength and power in the 3 links, your arm strength will improve.

Question: What are the must stretching exercises a player should do every time he hits the field prior to practice or a game, And, how long should you allow?

Answer: Take 5-10 minutes to warm-up and prepare the muscles to be stretched. Jog, cycle, jump rope and/or do calisthenics to warm-up. Once warm, stretch the muscles of the hip, groin, back, hamstrings, quads, calves, arm, shoulder and forearm

Question: How do you get a talented (but lazy) athlete to self-motivate?? Our HS has no mandatory program for baseball players until spring, and unless my son has someone standing over him telling him he MUST condition and strengthen himself throughout the year, he won't do it on a consistent basis. Somehow he has managed to get his speed down over the past few months from 7.5 to 7.1---without working on it AT ALL!! Help!

Answer: Motivation must come from within. No matter how much you want someone to do something, they will not do it or not give it 100% until they are committed to the task. We use other players to motive their teammates. When our young players see how hard Jeff Bagwell works, they are embarrassed not to give more effort. We have a sign in our weight room that says "Bagwell's gym - work hard, play hard or leave!"

A couple of years ago I made sure that one of our young catchers worked out in the visiting weight room of every club in the NL so he could see how much effort established MLB catchers devoted to conditioning. Watching Piazza workout really opened his eyes. I also introduced him to former catchers like Gary Carter and Bob Brenley and had them explain their views on training. This year I got one of our young outfielders together with Andre Dawson to discuss his approach to training.

Several years ago, I had Curt Schilling and Roger Clemens workout together and then had Roger talk with Curt. Curt later said that his conversations with Roger caused him to change his outlook on working out and the path of his career. We are fortunate to have Nolan Ryan close by to talk with our pitchers, but you don't need a Hall of Famer. At the HS level, kids should help each other

Question: What is the best method for building arm strength? The bands, "Rocket Arm", weights, good old long toss and so on. We hear so much from different people what is really the most effective?

Answer: Answer: We use a 3-step approach.

  1. Improve mechanics
  2. Increase the strength in the 3 links in the body chain
  3. Play long toss with planned, progressive throwing program. During his last 4-5 years of pitching, Nolan Ryan's off-season throwing program consisted almost entirely of long toss. He would start behind pitcher's mound with a bucket of 40-50 balls. He emptied the balls on to the ground and then picked them up one at a time and using a crow hop threw them into the backstop with little or no arc. Picking the balls up from the ground forced him to use his legs, back, trunk and arm (to sum the forces in his body) to throw the ball. All too often, kids stand straight up and throw using only their arm and shoulder. After throwing all the balls, he picked them up and then moved back to behind second base and repeated the drill. Finally, he moved to center field and repeated the drill.

Question: Does Dr. Coleman have an opinion on Tom House's training techniques and the finding of his computer analysis for pitchers?

Answer: I have known Tom since he was a member of our minor league staff. A lot of his computer analysis for pitchers came from the high-speed video that Dr. Ralph Mann did for me in 1985. I respect Tom's views

Question: What mistakes do you see young athletes making the most often when it comes to improving their strength and conditioning?

Answer: Kids tend to make two mistakes.

  1. They copy the training program used by a professional without having the background to do the workout

     

  2. They tend to use training protocols used by athletes come from the sport of bodybuilding, where the primary objective is to increase muscle size. Bodybuilders work one muscle group at a time to improve appearance, not function. They stand on stage and move one muscle group at a time to determine who has the best form. They don't run, hit, kick, dive, slide or throw. Speed and power have no role in bodybuilding. All muscle groups are equally important in bodybuilding, they're not in sports.

Question: Do you have any other advice or comments for the high school age baseball player - regarding strength and conditioning or just life and athletics in general?

Answer: Nolan Ryan believed that you should never lose just because the opposition was better prepared than you. There are a lot of things that you can't control. You can't control the environment (weather, condition of the mound and playing surface, etc.), your offensive and defensive support or the quality of the umpiring. Pitchers can no more control velocity, location or movement on a given day than position players can control the quality of pitches they see or hops they get. Nolan's philosophy was to focus on the one thing within his control, his preparation, and ignore those that he couldn't. He never lost a game because the opposition was in better shape, ate better, got more rest and sleep or thought more about the game than he did


To get more information about Dr. Coleman's technique's
Follow these links

Dr. Coleman's Book

Astros Fitness Online

All Pro Training



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