A “Weightless” Weight Room

I wanted to take a quick look at an article of relevance in our profession for today’s post.  The Seattle Mariners have totally revamped their strength and conditioning program for the next three years by hiring Dr. Marcus Elliott as their consultant.  They have essentially removed their weights from their strength and conditioning facilities citing the following reasons as the cause for their complete overhaul. 

  • They want to stay injury free. 
  • Train more specific baseball movements.
  • Become more athletic.
  • Train hip rotational movements. 

You can find the article in the New York Times if you’re interested. 
Mariners Say Goodbye to Their Weight Room

My first thought is what is wrong with this organization.  Shouldn’t these components play an integral role in not only baseball performance training but in any athletes performance enhancement program.   Staying injury free, and training specific to your sport seems pretty damn important to me to be included in a program. 

They are dumping the old program which is centered on traditional weightlifting in which they call it “football training.”  First off I didn’t know non-specific lifting is specific to football.  Another article said they would no longer do squats and bench presses.  Again they referenced these movements to “football lifting.”  After all we all know that the squat is specific only to football and other athletes should not perform the movement. . . .EVER. 

Since when did performance enhancement that includes weights make players unathletic, and body weighted exercises guarantee the opposite.  A well balanced and thought out program should most likely include both forms at various volumes throughout the year.  I understand that there are exponential amounts of exercises and uses for bodyweight training.  Plyometrics are excellent for developing speed-strength (power).  Untrained athletes can benefit greatly from bodyweight exercises that focus on developing movement skills.  In fact I use various bodyweight exercises everyday in our programs like pushups, reverse pull-ups, ISO Ab variations, lunges, etc.  They are a great tool to utilize.  I say tool because I don’t believe they are an all encompassing program.   There are many other means and factors that go into creating an athlete’s program. 

The reports that are out there have stated the weight rooms throughout the organization are almost completely void of weights.  So what are they doing with these athletes then?  And secondly, who ever decided that just because you have barbells and plates in a strength and conditioning center means they’re only there to develop athletes into immobile, unathletic Ronnie Coleman look a-likes. 

We all know that the media isn’t always the must knowledgeable source for information on strength and conditioning subjects, so I did some research into this article.

I looked in the training that the Mariners are actually going to follow and have to say it actually looks pretty good minus the complete removal of “real” weights.  The information comes from the training that takes place at the company’s main facility in Santa Barbara, CA.  It isn’t some crazy new fad training program like I fully expected.  They put an emphasis on training the nervous system for speed and power development.  Their facility is as high tech as it gets for strength and conditioning.  They have force plates built into the floors, electronic racks, Kaiser cable equipment, Dartfish analysis, etc.   Again, last I checked, training the nervous system with an emphasis on speed, and power development, as well as developing athletic movement should be how athletes are trained anyway.  In baseball circles this may appear to be some newly created system, but training speed, and speed-strength are essential for any sport in my opinion. 

The pictures and videos of training from Dr. Elliott’s facility in California show nothing more than what I would assume to look like quality training.  They were doing tons of jumping exercises, and med ball throws along with cable exercises and free weight movements.  Their facility had racks and DB’s and there were even people . . . . . (gasp) lifting weights!  They were even doing Olympic lifts there. 

The problem may truthfully lie in the fact that professional baseball performance training is terribly antiquated and old fashioned.  After all they do believe that someone who does a bench press, squats, or deadlifts are doing only football training.  I’ve even been told that they don’t do the Olympic lifts, when talking about the bench, and squat, and deadlift. 

Long distance running still reigns supreme when it comes to the best arms in the game.  Conditioning pitchers in most organizations usually contains more mileage than a half-marathoner.  Light weights are used during the week, with a large majority of training coming from high rep leg circuits.  When I say light weights are used I’m not referring to the rotator cuff, and other shoulder or scapula stabilizers.  They are used in every fashion of a program, from squats, to DB Rows to RDL’s.  That is if they actually do these movements at all. There are many that do not.   Machines still make up a large portion, if not all, of the training means for many organizations. 

One of the videos I found shows some of the training they are emphasizing.  It is nothing more than rotational movements on a Kaiser cable machine along with several forms of jumps and bounds.  They may have taken all the free weights from the building but cable machines are still resistance, and it still qualifies as resistance training.  So for them to say they are doing none is false. 

Now all, or most, of their weight equipment has been replaced by wall mounted Keiser cable machines.  I counted eight of them attached to the wall to be exact.  Essentially what they have done is thrown out all the machines they previously had.  It creates an interesting question as to why Dr. Elliott’s main training facility incorporate the use of free weights, but not utilize these as a tool for professional baseball athletes, and even go as far as to get rid of every piece of equipment they previously had.

The Mariners will be using this program exclusively with the Minor League players.  The MLBer’s won’t have to participate if they don’t want to.  The interesting question is how they are going to train the kids that stationed at minor league affiliates all over the country and travelling all over the country with all this high tech Kaiser equipment.  As a former strength coach in professional baseball, I’ll tell you right now that this isn’t going to be feasible.  Much of a minor league players training comes on the road.  Often, teams spend 8 or 10 days straight on a road trip, getting by training at the closest 24 hour fitness, or any gym equivalent. 

In his interviews Dr. Elliott speaks of training each athlete based on his individual needs.  They do a needs analysis and come up with something different for each individual athlete.  That’s not exactly earth shattering.  Most good strength coaches are or should be doing that on a continual basis.  During that interview Dr. Elliott gives an example of the needs analysis for one of the players on the 40 man roster.  In it he discusses that this player’s need is hypertrophy.  My question becomes how they are training hypertrophy to any extent without the use of free weights.  I understand that there are many ways to skin a cat but it would seem to me that the inclusion of free weights in a program may make that task easier.

The sad thing is that the Mariners organization is completely blown away by this stuff believing that this is the new wave of training.  There is nothing new about training your athletes to be fast, powerful, and explosive, all while staying specific to your sport, injury free, and training each person as an individual.  They may be doing it without the use of weights as one of their tools, which I may disagree on, but their main training philosophy is basically that of any good strength coach’s.  Train the nervous system and create athletes that are fast, powerful, and explosive.

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4 thoughts on “A “Weightless” Weight Room”

  1. Hey there –

    I TOTALLY agree with what you’re saying. Training for sports performance shouldn’t focus on lifting weights or spending hour upon hour in the gym. There is a really great sports performance program out there that I’m familiar with called Sport Science Lab. It trains the brain’s neurons to fire more rapidly, in the proper sequences and timing for the specific sport of the athlete. I really believe in what this company promotes. I know people who have used it, and it’s greatly enhanced their performance as athletes! You should check it out if you’d like, they’ve got a website online (www.sportsciencelab.com). Have a good one!

  2. “Dr. Elliott gives an example of the needs analysis for one of the players on the 40 man roster. In it he discusses that this player’s need is hypertrophy. My question becomes how they are training hypertrophy to any extent without the use of free weights.”

    So the player needs to get under the bar, and squat, but can’t since there is no bar, and thus no real hypertrophy, and certainly no hypertrophy accompanied by strength gains.

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