July 12, 2019
It is Friday and baseball is back!!! Thank you baseball gods!!! If you tuned into the 2019 MLB Home Run Derby, you know that Vlad Jr. and Joc Pederson were absolutely gassed putting on one of the most epic performances in the event’s history.
If you live under a rock, here are the highlights!
Also shout-outs to Pete Alonzo for winning the title of Home Run King!
As I watched their body language and kept my eyes on the clock, I couldn’t help but nerd out thinking how Strength and Conditioning could impact their performance. On another aspect, I tried to put myself in their cleats and picture the amount of stress that their nervous system had to be under.
Not only were they in a packed house of 35,000 fans in awe, they had 4 minutes to perform maximal effort swings with one 30 sec time out, an additional 30 seconds of swings if they hit 2 dingers over 440 ft., all with a clock ticking down on how much time they had left to hit as many homers as they could possibly hit.
Thank you MLB for switching up this format and making it the most thrilling 4 minute increments in our baseball lives!
Nonetheless, my mind started thinking about energy systems and how training for the Home Run Derby would work. To the hitter’s exhaustion it might feel like a never-ending marathon run, but in reality it is a 4 minute sprint with an autonomous 30 second rest. Swing after swing, bomb after bomb, the contestant must have a strategy for when he wants to use his time out to maximize his performance.
To put this chart from the National Strength and Conditioning Association into perspective, baseball is a sport that primarily requires the use of the Phosphagen energy system. The only time a player is working through the Phosphagen and Fast Glycolysis system is to leg out an extra base hit or advancing 2 or more bases. Think about that…
Taking a jab at coaches and players that work in long distance running… But let’s leave that out of this discussion 😉
In a regular baseball game, a batter will typically take a swing at a relative measure of extremely high intensity, all happening within pretty much 1 second. That is 1 second of a maximal energy output from the human body.
Now put that human into the Home Run Derby and see how he responds. It is absolutely amazing to see the power display and amazing skill-set that all 8 contestants had. But never mind that since they are all big leaguers. To me, I was fascinated by how these human beings could perform that many swings at the intensity and energy demand required.
On a neurological level, think about the levels of stress and hormonal changes that come with being a competitor at this event.
Major Leaguers play in front of big crowds and on nationally televised games every day, in some regards this spotlight isn’t very novice to them.
What I absolutely love about this recently changed Home Run Derby format is the element of the clock ticking down as the batter takes his hacks. Putting aside my bias as a Dodger fan supporting Joc Pederson, his performance was absolutely unbelievable. Not only did he have the pressure of having to hit at least 29 dingers, he had to hit just above 7 home runs per minute. How many of you are true power hitters and can say you can hit 7 in one round of BP?
I’m not discrediting Vladimir Guerrero Jr. because he was probably way more impressive hitting the amount baseballs he did as far as he did, but being the 2nd batter in this contest is in my opinion way more challenging if your preceding opponent hits 29 out of the ballpark.
Now some can argue that batting 2nd is more of an advantage since you start the round knowing how many dingers you have to hit. But if you’re up against 29 just to tie???
Leave a comment on this blog or on our Mo Baseball and Training social media posts on this topic!
So here’s my bias as a Kinesiology person. Stress Physiology tells us that stress is the body’s method of reacting to a condition such as a threat, challenge or physical and psychological barrier. With the crowd, the worldwide audience, score, clock, and the amount of energy expended throughout this event… I haven’t even mentioned the part that these two went triple overtime to finish just the 2nd round of the contest!
In sports, we often refer to this phenomena as either “rising to the occasion” or “choking” in performance. There is zero doubt that both Vladdy and Joc shined during the most incredible round in the history of the MLB Home Run Derby.
But what blows my mind is the enormous taxation to their nervous system with the repeated task of swinging a bat and hitting a baseball.
General Adaptation Syndrome states that
“When a training stress is introduced, the initial response, or alarm phase, reduces performance capacity as a result of accumulated fatigue, soreness, stiffness, and a reduction in energy stores (78). The alarm phase initiates the adaptive responses that are central to the resistance phase of the GAS. If the training stressors are not excessive and are planned appropriately, the adaptive responses will occur during the resistance phase. Performance will be either returned to baseline or elevated to new higher levels (supercompensation). Conversely, if the training stress is excessive, performance will be further reduced in response to the athlete’s inability to adapt to the training stress, resulting in what is considered to be an over training response.”
This gets me thinking, how would I as a strength and conditioning coach create a training program for a baseball player to compete for a Home Run Derby?
I want to start off by stating that this utterly unrealistic considering that a hitter on a Major League roster is not going to train his body year-round for a mid-season competition that has nothing to do with his team’s success. But since this is a blog talking about baseball and S&C, WHY NOT!!!
Let’s pretend we have a position player who passed all of his physicals and performed well in all his movement screens and assessments, healthy as a horse! We have to start with a periodized program that focuses on strength, power, and endurance.
All 3 are equally important, but we would have to come up with a strategy that emphasizes progressive overload through weight training, explosive strength, and some base of running or athletic conditioning.
Hans Selye’s GAS theory is a foundational principle from which the concept of periodization was developed.
“A periodized training plan that is properly designed provides a framework for appropriately sequencing training so that training tasks, content, and workloads are varied at a multitude of levels in a logical, phasic pattern in order to ensure the development of specific physiological and performance outcomes at predetermined time points.”
In regards to training for a Home Run Derby competition, we also have to consider that this athlete will also have to maintain or improve his batted ball skills. That means that while we program a variety of exercise routines, we have to maintain a balance of workload in the gym and batting practice. If we physiologically over-tax his body, we would see decreases in performance in either or both tasks of hitting baseballs and optimizing his levels of strength and conditioning.
So get to the point Mo. What are you going to make him do?
Given that contestants are invited to the Home Run Derby about a month before the All-Star Week, I designed a micro cycle that lays out 4 weeks of programmed Intensity and Volume levels for Strength, Power, Conditioning, and Hitting.
For this blog post I’m focusing on the concept of periodization, trying to prepare the athlete to peak at Week 4 to have an adaptive response for increased Power with his swing and endurance for a 4 minute max effort swinging contest. We can discuss for an eternity about exercise selection so let’s keep it simple.
What’s important to consider for a Home Run Derby event is that we need to set up the athlete to peak right at competition. For that, hitting intensity will remain high and volume will gradually increase. We have to consider this as conditioning as well because simulating the event in practice will serve its purpose. Strength training would typically remain Moderate-Low since most in-season athletes would focus on maintenance anyways.
Power training would have a slight increase in volume by Week 3 but would be tapered down the following week due to a big increase in hitting volume. If this athlete is spending more time hitting with higher intensities and volume closer to competition, we could see a great adaptation to perform at a high capacity with stamina and strength.
This approach is similar to Olympic lifting or Powerlifting, balancing a number of variables to ensure an appropriate progressive overload and maximize performance.
It’s probably not a good idea to be training like this during baseball season. If you are playing on a team, remember that training for a Home Run Derby will probably not bring in long-term results for your performance. Remember that progressive overload has to be managed with all variables of practice and competition. The program listed above is just for conversation. If you’re interested in learning more about programming, hit the Contact Us tab at the top or shoot us an email at
Nonetheless, I’m interested in hearing everyone’s thoughts and opinion on all the topics covered in this blog post. What’s your take on the variety of stressors that come with the MLB Home Run Derby? What do you think about this 4 Week micro cycle? What would you do different? Would it be worth modifying the training program for your favorite power hitter to dominate the Home Run Derby?
Highlights to Monday night’s Dinger-fest!!