After claiming the 2007 SEC Championship for the first time in its history, the Vanderbilt University baseball team is intensely focused on making it to the 2008 College World Series. With help from their strength coach, John Sisk, the Commodores are dropping anchor in the weight room to ensure their place.
“There’s a sign here [that says], ‘These stairs lead to Omaha,’” Sisk says. “Obviously the goal in college baseball is to get to Omaha, the College World Series. So we always have that symbol there, so our guys can come in, go to work and know what they’re working for.”
Sisk’s training philosophy centers on two objectives: teaching his athletes why and how they need to train; and keeping them training after college, when they move on to the next level. To get ready for the season, Vandy players use some special training tools, including the Austin Leg Drive machine, which develops leg and hip explosion for improved base running and fielding, and which strengthens isolated muscles used for specific positions in the game.
“[The machine is] a unique piece of equipment that allows you to work on your leg drive and power fades,” Sisk says. “It doesn’t take the place of a Squat or Clean, but it complements our year-round training.”
To improve hand, forearm and grip strength, the Commodores employ tires and sledgehammers. Taken from the pages of an Ironman training book, the drill has players repeatedly whacking 300-pound tires with 20- to 50-pound sledgehammers. “The rotation basically emulates a medicine ball throw, a rotational throw, but you don’t have to catch it, [so it reduces] the risk of injury while improving power and efficiency,” Sisk explains.
The exercise is especially beneficial for pitchers, because it balances out the non-dominant side of their bodies. During the off-season, Sisk’s pitchers and hitters do more repetitions of hitting the tire to mimic a baseball swing. “If they’re right-handed hitters [or pitchers], we want more done on the left side to keep balance in the body,” says Sisk.
Players also engage in overhead swings with an 8- to12-pound sledgehammer, alternating sides for a full range of motion to benefit both shoulders. Sisk says, “You’ve got to work the full range of motion. It helps you recover, and it helps you make it through from one season to the next and to the following season.”