Kyle Rogers currently owns his own business, Rogers Performance, where he trains baseball players both in person and remotely. He previously served as the Director of Athletic Performance at California State University, Northridge in Los Angeles, California, where he oversaw the strength and conditioning programs for all 19 NCAA Division I teams. Kyle was also the High Performance Coordinator at Driveline Baseball, responsible for the integration between pitching and strength and conditioning. Kyle is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA as well as a Pre-Script Level 1 Coach.
Freelap USA: Strength training in baseball has recently become a hot commodity. What has driven the baseball market out of its old way of thinking?
Kyle Rogers: There used to be a stigma around baseball that throwing velocity couldn’t be taught or developed; that it was God-given, and those without it had to learn how to compete without it. Meanwhile, the average fastball velocity in the MLB has increased from 91.7 mph in 2008 to 93.7 mph in 2020. The percentage of fastballs thrown over 95 mph has increased by 10% since 2008, and now almost 20% of the league AVERAGES 95 mph on their fastball.
To put things into more perspective, only two players have hit home runs on pitches over 100 mph in the 2021 season thus far. Throwing harder leads to less time for the hitter to make the decision to swing, which leads to a higher percentage of swings and misses. Even on off-speed pitches, analytics show that higher velocity breaking balls with worse pitch metrics than slower velocity breaking balls are getting a higher percentage of whiffs. This has led to people selling out for velocity in their training and a search for ways to develop it.
Baseball strength and conditioning was originally built around keeping guys healthy, including modalities such as long distance running to “flush the arm” and 5-pound Jobes exercises to “train the small muscles” of the shoulder. Pitchers today aren’t nearly as fragile and are much more physically developed. They’re throwing weighted balls, barbell bench pressing, and training using dynamic effort work with velocity-based training. They are substituting the long-distance flush runs with max effort sprinting. The game is valuing different things because people are finding out that these qualities can be trained, and it makes the game more exciting and the players more valuable.
Freelap USA: You often speak about skills that can be enhanced through the weight room. In what ways can the weight room transfer, or NOT transfer, to the sport of baseball?
Kyle Rogers: My biggest pet peeve is when strength and conditioning coaches talk about just “building the engine.” The way that I like to think about creating transfer or “sport-specific” training is like being a baker or chef. If you’re an elite baker, you can taste a piece of cake and then decipher the ingredients to reverse engineer how to bake that cake. If you’re an elite strength and conditioning coach, you can watch a sport and decipher the different “ingredients” that go into making athletes elite at that sport and then train those qualities.Sport specific does not mean sport mimicry. We want to train the qualities associated with the sport, not spend more time in the weight room mimicking the sport, says @KyleRogers18. Click To Tweet
For example, if you watch an elite pitcher throw, you can see how important some movement qualities are, including hip internal rotation and pelvic stability in order to rotate on a fixed femur during the leg lift—counter rotation, as well as the lead leg block and the capability to brace. You can also respect the need for thoracic spine mobility in flexion, extension, and rotation.
You should be able to see during the mechanics of the throw how important it is to train the pec in a fully lengthened position to be strong in max external rotation as well as the pec and lat to train the accelerators of internal rotation. The weight room doesn’t transfer when you live at both ends of the spectrum of overly general versus overly specific. Sport specific does not mean sport mimicry. We want to train the qualities associated with the sport, not spend more time in the weight room mimicking the sport.
Freelap USA: The bench press often gets looked at as taboo for throwing athletes. Where can this exercise make sense in a baseball player’s physical development plan?
Kyle Rogers: I think barbell bench pressing gets a bad rap because there are leaders of the industry who coined it “bad for baseball,” and when a leader of an industry says something, instead of thinking critically about it and forming your own opinion, people tend to blindly jump on board. It’s a way that private sector coaches have been able to market their training as “baseball specific”—by saying they use dumbbell bench or dumbbell floor press instead of barbell bench press to protect the shoulder. If we truly believe strength and conditioning to be responsible for preparing athletes for the demands of their sport, there are few exercises better fit for preparing the shoulder for the stresses involved in throwing than bench press.There are few exercises better fit for preparing the shoulder for the stresses involved in throwing than bench press, says @KyleRogers18. Click To Tweet
In terms of training the shapes or the “ingredients” associated with the sport, the bench press involves shoulder horizontal abduction, which is highly correlated with throwing velocity. It also trains force production of the pecs and anterior delts, which are prime movers for internal rotation of the shoulder. The shoulder internally rotates at ~4200°/s in elite throwers. This confirms that training the accelerators is very important. In terms of pure force production, there are few exercises better for throwers than bench press. I think it can be integrated into a thrower’s training program to train for both maximum effort and dynamic effort approaches, with the dynamic effort bench press leaning toward being more specific to the demands of throwing.
Freelap USA: Baseball often takes place in a single-leg stance or during gait cycle. What is your philosophy for maximizing the role of the single leg from training in the weight room?
Kyle Rogers: My philosophy on training the function of the lower body is a blend of training capacity, or mobility and stability, and output, or strength and power. With mobility and stability rooted as the body’s foundational framework, an increase in functional strength is attainable. To achieve capacity, we must utilize programming that seeks to increase range of motion and then promote patterned engagement of the body’s stabilizing muscles. A lot of people lump stability and strength together, but stability is an integrated function—it’s the ability to resist force, whereas strength is an isolated action and it’s the ability to exert force.
With that being said, the goal of single-leg training for me is to focus on creating rotational stability at the hip. I have my athletes progress from unilateral loading single-leg exercises ipsilaterally and contralaterally to bilateral loading with dumbbells and barbells. Ipsilateral and contralateral will help maximize rotational stability by mimicking the different stances associated with gait cycle to bias both external rotation and abduction (late stance) and internal rotation and adduction (early stance). You can assess athletes to determine where they are deficient and hammer home either ipsilateral to bias external rotation and abduction or contralateral for internal rotation and adduction, or you can simply progress athletes from ipsilateral to contralateral. Once you have created the capacity of rotational stability of the hip, you can then focus on driving force output in a single-leg stance by loading bilaterally with dumbbells or barbells.
Most people utilize the squat as the foundation of their lower body progression, but the reality is that most athletes don’t have the requisite skill in that movement to really drive output. Most of the time with novice to intermediate athletes, when they increase load on a technical movement like a squat, they don’t increase their strength—they increase their technical proficiency in the movement. So, you’re training the skill to squat rather than training output. That combined with the fact that—like you said—baseball often takes place in a single-leg stance, makes it not worth the time and effort spent acquiring the requisite skill in the squat to be able to drive output.
I know what you’re thinking: If you’re not squatting, you aren’t getting enough load in unilaterally loaded single-leg movements to create a stimulus to increase force production. This is where I think machines have their place in training athletes. Machines have a low barrier for entry when it comes to skill, and they make it much easier to focus on driving output and output only. Machines have a longer runway for progression in terms of load, as it is much easier to add weight to a leg press, belt squat, or hamstring curl machine than a squat because of the external stability involved in the machine. In a movement like the squat, there is a lot of internal stability required to stabilize the pelvis to make sure that you’re driving output and not training the skill.
It’s important to understand that sometimes a lack of force production is a lack of motor coordination as opposed to a lack of motor recruitment. Too often, the focus is on more recruitment instead of proper recruitment and brute force over intelligent progressions. Improving coordination and stability via single-leg movements will improve force production capabilities. Once coordination is no longer a limiting factor, you can shift your focus to driving output.
Freelap USA: In your professional opinion and experience, where do you see most baseball physical development plans fall short?
Kyle Rogers: I believe physical development in baseball falls short when you focus on building qualities like strength, power, and speed and not on building coordinative qualities associated with the sport. This may not be a popular opinion, but exercise selection is so important. I am not completely tied to any exercises, but some exercises train the qualities associated with the sport more than others.I believe physical development in baseball falls short when you focus on building qualities like strength, power, and speed and not on building coordinative qualities associated with the sport. Click To Tweet
Adaptations are more complex than strength, power, and speed. There are adaptations that are associated with the coordinative qualities involved in the movement. The easiest example is people substituting a trap bar deadlift for a straight bar conventional deadlift because it’s easier to teach and perform. The straight bar conventional deadlift requires slight anterior pelvic tilt, internal rotation, adduction of the hips, and lat stabilization of the pelvis, which are all specific adaptations to throwing a baseball hard. The trap bar deadlift is a hybrid between a squat and deadlift and its only real advantage is that you can load it more than a straight bar deadlift, so you get higher force production.
However, there’s a time and place for training that quality once rotational stability of the hips has been achieved or when your athlete is in-season and you need a low-skill, low neurological stressor to maintain strength and power between outings. So, I guess I would say most physical development plans fall short when the coach says, “it’s all about the stimulus,” but doesn’t actually know how to create the correct stimulus.