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Phases 1 and 2 - Early to Mid Pre-season

Foundation Strength, Endurance and Muscle Building


Updated June 15, 2014

Phase 1 - Early Pre-Season

How this phase is approached will depend on whether a player is new to weight training or is coming off a season of weights. Building foundation strength means utilizing a program that works all the major muscle groups of the body. Less-experienced weight trainers will need to start with lighter weights and work up to heavier weights.

Repetitive sports activities can strengthen one side of the body at the expense of the other, or emphasize one or two major muscle groups with similar effect. Inevitably, weak areas can be susceptible to injury and can perform poorly. This is not to say that your non-throwing arm has to be as good as your throwing arm, but it does mean that you need to allocate sufficient training resources so that you achieve functional foundation strength in all areas, including opposing muscles and left and right sides of all major muscle group areas including back, buttocks, legs, arms, shoulders, chest and abdominals.

In the early pre-season, the foundation program encompasses a mix of endurance, strength and hypertrophy objectives, which means that the weights are not too heavy and the sets and repetitions are in the range 2 to 4 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions. In this phase, you build some strength, and some muscle size and endurance.

In pre-season you should also start doing specific rotator cuff strengthening exercises, or continue with these exercises if you have been doing them in the break. The rotator cuff is a complex of muscles, ligaments and tendons that controls the shoulder ball and socket joint, which is susceptible to overuse and shock injury.

Duration: 4-8 weeks
Days per week: 2-3, with at least one rest day between sessions and a lighter week in week 4 to promote recovery and progression.
Reps: 12-15
Sets: 2-4
Rest between sets: 30-60 seconds

Phase 1 Exercises

Rotator cuff arm/shoulder exercises for both arms

Duration: throughout pre-season and in-season.
Days per week: 3-4
Reps: 12-15
Load: light weight with minimal strain to completion of set
Sets: 3
Rest between sets: 30 seconds

The rotator cuff exercises can be done with a cable machine, rubber bands or tubes..

External rotation - move the arm outward, away from the waist
Internal rotation - move the arm across the body at the waist
Extension - move the arm to the rear
Abduction - move the arm upward away from the body

Points to Note

  • By trial and error, find a weight that represents a taxing lift for the last few reps of each set. If you're unsure, start with a light weight and increase it as you get stronger within the training period so that the perceived effort remains similar.
  • Don't lift too heavy in this phase. The last few reps in a set should be taxing yet without extreme effort to "failure", especially for the arm and shoulder exercises. You want the arm and shoulder prepared for work but not overtaxed. The rotator cuff strengthening exercises are deliberately lighter.
  • Do front squats or dumbbell or sled hack squats if the rotation required to position a barbell on the shoulders for the traditional back squat stresses the shoulder joint to the point of discomfort.
  • Shoulder joint protection is important at this and subsequent stages. This message will be repeated throughout this program.
  • Circuit training, running training and plyometrics such as bounds and jumps can be added to this gym program to suit, resources and time permitting.
  • Stop immediately if acute pain is noticed during or after an exercise, and seek medical and training advice if it persists.

Phase 2 - Mid Pre-Season

Strength and Hypertrophy Phase

In this phase you will build strength and muscle. You have a good foundation from early pre-season workouts, and now the emphasis is on lifting heavier weights in order to train the nervous system in conjunction with the muscle fibers to move bigger loads. Hypertrophy, which is building muscle size, does not necessarily imply strength, although in the foundation phase and in this phase hypertrophy will serve you well for strength development.

Strength will be the foundation for the next phase, which is power development. Power is the ability to move the heaviest loads in the shortest time. Power is essentially a product of strength and speed.

Time of year: Mid pre-season
Duration: 6 weeks
Days per week: 2-3, with at least one day between sessions
Reps: 4-6
Sets: 3-5
Rest in between sets: 2-3 minutes

Phase 2 Exercises

  • Barbell squat or sled hack squat
  • Incline dumbbell bench press
  • Romanian deadlift
  • Lat pulldown to front with wide grip
  • Pull ups - 3x6 - add weights if you find this too easy, or just go to "failure" if it's too much.

Continue with rotator cuff strengthening as for first phase.

Points to Note

  • Adjust the weight so that the final few repetitions are taxing but not to failure. The fewer reps means that you will be lifting heavier in this phase.
  • Don't lift to failure for the upper body exercises such as the dumbbell press and lat pulldown and hold good form. Keep the forearms in a vertical plane with the upper arms not extending excessively below parallel.
  • If you are unable to recover from a session with only one rest day in between, re-schedule this program to two sessions each week rather than three. Strength training can be very physically and mentally demanding.
  • You will be sore in the muscles after these sessions. Muscle soreness or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is normal; joint pain is not. Be sure to monitor your arm and shoulder reactions to this phase. Back off when any joint pain or discomfort is felt.
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