This past week, a high school friend of mine contacted me about purchasing fitness equipment for his home. His son, who is in middle school, is really into sports and is at an age where strength training can be started to help enhance athletic performance. So, I delivered a weight bench and a squat rack to his home, where he will oversee his son and some kids from the neighborhood in their strength training programs.
As I was leaving my friend’s home, I thought about the workouts I used to do as a teenager during my baseball off season. Back in the 1980s, we had what is referred to as “a library” where you went to find out information. I remember going to the North Kingstown Town Library and checking out a book from the training staff of the Toronto Blue Jays. Inside the pages of this book were descriptions of exercises and stretches recommended by the athletic training staff of the Toronto Blue Jays. There must have been limited options for me to choose a book from a rival team of the Boston Red Sox. Also, strength training for sports other than football was not yet common practice in the early 1980s.
Here are a few of the exercises I would do on a regular basis as well as some personal modifications I made.
- Broomstick curls – The instructions were to get a wooden broom from your parents. Cut off the end or unscrew the top/bristle part. Then, with your parents permission and/or supervision, cut a hole in the center of the broom. Then, feed a rope (preferably a strong rope) through the center hole and tie off one end. Next, loop a weight object (I used some sand filled plates I found at the town dump) on the end of the rope and tie off underneath the object. This was the important part. Bring the stick handle shoulder level up so the handle was parallel to the ground. Then, twist the handle so the rope coiled around the handle, drawing the weight upwards. Once the weight got to the handle, twist in the opposite direction to lower the weight down to its starting position. I would do this exercise over and over again. Side note, Jesse Barfield was in the illustrations and he was one of the strongest baseball players I have ever seen. My wrist, forearms, core, and shoulders were all engaged during this exercise. By the spring season, this helped my power at the plate tremendously.
- Shoulder Rotational Movements – The instructions were to fill up a water bottle with water or sand. I filled my bottle up with sand and pebbles from the town beach. Then, find a bed, sofa, or raised surface like a bench. The trainer in the illustrations used Dave Stieb, a pitcher for the Blue Jays, help illustrate the arm movements for this exercise. Stieb was an outstanding pitcher for the Blue Jays and a consistent All-Star in the 1980s. The photos showed the trainer instructing and Stieb performing a series of shoulder movements with his right elbow bent. Then, he would lie on his stomach and perform lateral shoulder movements. All the while, holding a water bottle. Then, the trainer would position him with his back flat against a wall, arms down, and then have him raise and move his arm in various ranges of motion. The illustrations showed what angles to move the shoulder. Also, they stressed proper form and proper speed during the movements. And that each individual had their own range of motion and not to go too fast to create momentum. These exercises really strengthened my shoulder, as I a had very few injuries throughout high school from pitching and playing outfield.
- The Weighted Bat – The instructions in the book mentioned using a weighted “donut.” A donut was/is a weight that slides over the handle of a baseball bat down to the barrel, providing the hitter with extra weight. The principle, as explained in the book, was to increase the weight of your favorite bat so you would get stronger. Once the “donut” was removed, the original weight of your bat would hypothetically be lighter, thus you can swing it faster and with more speed. I didn’t have a donut in my baseball equipment filled garage, but I did have ankle weights from a recent trip to a physical therapist. So, I duct taped one of the ankle weights to my favorite bat, my Louisville Slugger® Jack Clark Genuine C271 wooden bat. And I swung that bat for months and months – 100, 200, 500 times a day. I swung it with pace and with proper form and built up incredible bat speed. By the spring season, with the “donut” off, I could swing a bat with confidence against the top pitchers in Rhode Island.
Fast forward to modern times, youth baseball players have incredible resources for athletic training. The RIBBE has visited Rhode Island baseball facilities with the top conditioning experts in the state, who supervise programs every day for young athletes. The internet has countless resources for books, videos, and instructional seminars on athletic training. Even mobile apps are available for young athletes to get in shape and learn how to improve their athletic ability. I strongly encourage parents to meet face to face with a certified fitness instructor when it comes to beginning a youth athletic training program. Contact me for a list of resources I would recommend.
Back in the 1980s, when you didn’t know how to do something, you would ask an elder, go to the library, or to a bookstore. I was a tall, skinny kid who was in very good shape cardiovascular wise. What I needed was to gain some strength in my baseball body so that I could throw the ball faster, hit the ball farther, and be the best player I could be physically. So, I went to the library, checked out a book, and read up on what the professional players did. Also, it was great to read the trainer’s instructions as well as see demonstrations by the players. The book included the muscle groups involved in the exercises. I used this awesome baseball training book to get into serious baseball shape. I did broomstick curls and 10 different shoulder rotational movements and swung a weighted bat for months. And I played indoor soccer and recreation basketball and ran in the woods behind my house to help increase my cardiovascular fitness level.
With baseball season just a few months away, I just need to convince my wife to let me carve up a broomstick, fill up a Poland Spring® water bottle with sand, and duct tape some weight to my trusted wooden bat and then I am off and running on:
The Classic Off Season Baseball Workout Reboot!!!