SPOTLIGHT SERIES 03 – Mike Cruz: Strength & Conditioning for Baseball Players

This week, we got to sit down with Mike Cruz and talk about one of my personal favorite topics: Strength & Conditioning for Baseball players! Mike (@coachmcruz) is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (NSCA-CSCS), a Certified Personal Trainer (ACSM-CPT), and a college baseball coach on Long Island, NY. Currently completing his Masters in Exercise Science, Cruz received his undergrad in Biology from SUNY Oneonta where he finished his baseball playing career and began his coaching one.

Since finishing his undergrad, Mike has went on to coach and train hundreds of athletes both in team and individual settings. Recently, Cruz accepted a coaching position at Molloy College (NCAA DII) to assist with baseball activities and run both the off-season and in-season strength & conditioning program.

Cruz will be finishing his Masters Degree this December and looks to continue to add certifications to better service the athletes he works with.

Give our followers a brief summary of what got you to this point, your stops along the way, and where your passion for S&C and coaching athletes comes from.

Mike: “The path to get to where I am at currently is an interesting one, and I have the sports of baseball and football to thank for that. My passion for S&C developed over time, but the passion for training has always been there. I remember always working out with my brother in our room when we were younger but there is nothing like the memory of walking into the gym for the first time. I was in 7th grade and I went with my father into the local Bally’s Fitness. From that day forward I was hooked.

However, my passion for training and baseball conflicted with each other because the coaches I had growing up were very against it. It never made sense to me why lifting would be “bad” for baseball players. All the big leaguers I watched growing up were JACKED so how did they get like that without lifting?

From that point forward, I decided that I would begin to study and learn more about training and baseball. I have been in love with it ever since.” 

Baseball (and college baseball in particular) is a sport in which strength training has just emerged at the forefront in recent years compared to other sports who have a long history of strength training in order to supplement the sport.  Why do you think that is?

Mike: “I believe it has to do with a history of baseball coaches being completely uneducated in exercise science. Baseball requires a high level of specific skill as opposed to a sport like football where you can get away with lack of skill by being simply bigger, faster, and stronger than the guy in front of you. Because of that, I believe strength training really did not become a priority for baseball players and the focus was more on skill work.

Although S&C is growing rapidly in the sport, it is not nearly at the level it should be. Basketball and football are at the forefront of the S&C industry and baseball needs to follow suit for the betterment of their players.” 

What do you feel are the most important fundamental principles when it comes to strength & conditioning for baseball players?

Mike: “Train the correct energy system! STOP with the countless number of poles and miles! Baseball is not an aerobic sport. Of course, there is a place for a base level of aerobic endurance but nothing to the degree that some coaches emphasize. Baseball is an anaerobic sport which uses intermittent bouts of extreme energy to produce a specific task.” 

What do you feel are the most overlooked aspects of strength and conditioning for players, coaches, and parents?

Mike: “There are several overlooked aspects of strength and conditioning but the biggest one I would have to say is rest. With the rise of travel teams and showcases etc., kids are playing more games than ever before but are not guided on how to properly train, recover, and rest their bodies to withstand the workload. 

I will go on the record to say that kids are better off playing less games over the summer, spending more time training in the gym, getting better sleep, and just enjoying being a kid too.” 

What are some misconceptions that you commonly see in regards to strength & conditioning and baseball?

Mike: “That kids shouldn’t start strength training until they’re 16 or whatever arbitrary age that was told to them. Any age is a good age to start training. All you need is the right supervision which is why I believe the S&C field will continue to grow, especially at the youth level.” 

Are there any differences in programming for pitchers vs. position players?

Mike: “There really shouldn’t be many differences considering they both utilize the same energy systems. However, there are some position specific differences that can make big differences. For example, position players play every day whereas pitchers play whenever they are scheduled to throw. In-Season programming for that reason will look different. Off-Season training will look very similar. The main differences will come from the individual variances for each athlete.” 

We have all heard that “baseball players shouldn’t bench”.  What are your thoughts on that?

Mike: “Bunch of crap. It is a statement that holds no merit in any training discussion. If people do not possess the ability to properly move through a pressing movement, then yes, do not bench until you gain the mobility and skills to do so. Other than that, feel free to do so if they are intelligently programmed into an athlete’s workouts.” 

Arm/Shoulder/Rotator Cuff injuries are obviously more common in baseball than in other sports.  What preventative measures can players take to not be injured?

Mike: “Lift… Honestly, get those muscles strong. What protects the shoulder more than anything however is a strong upper back. These are some of the tougher muscles to develop so there should be a lot of emphasis on them. Throwing athletes should be pulling roughly 2-3x more than they are pressing in their programming.” 

What does your ideal macrocycle look like for a college baseball player? 

Mike: “To be super general, I would prioritize muscle imbalances and muscle endurance first.  Build a healthy foundation to prepare the body nicely to progress into different adaptations. From there, it’s really individual to the athlete. Ideally, we want players to be “peaking” right before their season begins. I’m not talking about practices. I am talking games. So the progression would be generally light, working on fixing issues and building a durable foundation and then lead into being explosive and powerful right before the season. Then they should be winding down and following a similar format afterwards back into the following September.” 

Follow Mike Cruz on Instagram: @coachmcruz

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