Q & A: Can I Add an Extra Session to my College Strength and Conditioning Program?

I recently received the email below from one of our student-athletes who’s currently playing D1 baseball for a university, and I thought I’d share the question+response for those of you who may be interested.

Hey Steve,

I just had a quick question for you. Right now, the lifts we are doing as a team are pretty intense, but only last about 30-45 mins. I feel tired at the end of them, but don’t feel like I am getting the necessary amount of work in. Obviously I have to do the team lifts but is there anything else I can be doing on my own to try and increase my strength? Right now, we do Squats-mon, Bench-wed, and close grip press-friday, however, all three days we do complete body work in some way. I know, two bench lifts in a row…bad. One day is bad enough. Could I be doing dead lifts on Sat or something?

Any input you could give me would be great. Thanks.

Always a good time when you’re bench pressing twice a week, on back-to-back lifting days, right? Especially in the context of a baseball strength and conditioning program, given that bench press numbers have consistently shown such a strong correlation with rotational power, throwing speed, and batting average……Or not.

First of all, I’m honest when I say I’m extremely proud of you for recognizing some of the “holes” in the program you’re doing, and your drive to make yourself better by working hard even outside of the mandatory lifting hours you’re required to complete with your team. And while bench pressing can certainly have its place in a good resistance training regimen, you hit the nail on the head by recognizing that it may not be the best option for you personally, given your sport and time constraints.

That being said, there are two points worth noting before we continue:

1) In a strength and conditioning program, you can’t always just “keep adding.” Your body, unfortunately, only has a limited capacity to recover, and there comes a point where adding extra exercises, training days, etc. can hurt you more than help you.

Stealing an analogy from Tim Ferris: “To boil water, the minimum effective dose is 212ºF (100ºC) at standard air pressure. Boiled is boiled. Higher temperatures just consume more resources that could be used for something else more productive.”

Carrying this analogy over to your strength training regimen, you have to be sure that your body’s “pot of water” is not already set to “boiling.” If it IS, then adding extra stressors (exercises, training days, etc.) are only going to actuate more fatigue, lengthen your recovery time, and could actually REDUCE your power output and strength.

So: Give yourself an honest, unbiased, introspective assessment into how you’re doing. Are you at “boiling” already? If not, then proceed with #2.

2) Since #1 is true, then you must begin your quest of adding an extra session by using the lowest intensity and the least amount of volume in order to incite adaptation.

See how your body responds and feels during the following week – both in the weight room and out on the baseball field – and then you can continue to tweak and refine from there, but still only adding the “minimum effective dose,” and nothing more, to see continued improvement.

William of Occam said it best:

“It is vain to do with more what can be done with less.”

Solution

You’re on the right track suggesting a “deadlift day” for Saturday. Provided you’re smart about it, I think it could really help fill in the missing gaps you’re currently facing, along with providing you the perfect stimulus for continued strength and power gains.

Based on what you told me, I’m guessing that your coach isn’t having you all do any dynamic effort work. Since most of your barbell work is probably being done at heavy loads+slow speeds (or “absolute strength” work) you could definitely use some work on the “speed-strength” end of the continuum.

Enter: Speed Deadlifts.

I love speed deadlifts for four reasons:

  1. Provided you do them correctly, they have enormous potential to actually refresh you upon completion, leaving you feeling charged up and ready to kick down the doors of the playing field (if your playing field has doors….)
  2. They provide an EXCELLENT way to tap into the higher threshold motor units, namely, those that have the greatest potential for force production. They also assist in neurotransmitter uptake and release, along with positively impacting the excitation-contraction coupling mechanism in muscle cells, for you exercise physiology nerds in the crowd.
  3. Since you’d typically perform multiple sets at a load load and low rep scheme, it’s certainly a good time to hone in on technique, practicing the set-up and execution multiple times in one session.
  4. If you move the weight AS FAST AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE, and if you’re good at doing this, then you experience the inevitable pleasure of causing everyone unfortunate enough to be around you at the time to destroy the backs of their pants.

For your first session, I’d recommend starting off with 6 sets of 2 reps, at 50% of your 1-rep max, with :45-:60 rest between sets.

And move the bar as fast as you can.

Did I mention you need to move the bar as fast as possible?*

Toss in some very low volume horizontal rowing (bent over DB rows, chest-supported rows, single-arm cable rows, etc.) and some scapular stability work (low box walkovers, forearm wallslides, easy pushups, etc.) after your deadlifts and call it a day.

Hopefully your coach doesn’t mind you doing this, either. If he does, you may very well have to enter the weight room surreptitiously and pray he doesn’t catch you.

The most important thing will be to start with the LEAST required to get stronger, LISTEN to what your body is telling you, and then make further adjustments (if even necessary) from there.

 

*You need to move the bar as fast as possible.