Georgia Baseball's Off-Season Conditioning Plan

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In June 2007, the Georgia Bulldogs were home in Athens, training furiously and watching the College World Series after a disappointing season. One year later, the Dawgs returned home as CWS runners-up thanks to the off-season training that had them raking at the plate and throwing BBs on the mound. 

The University of Georgia's tale of two seasons is Charles Dickens-esque: they were "the best of times" and "the worst of times." In 2007, the Bulldogs were chained to the SEC porch, unable to roll with the competition and finishing a dreadful 10 games under .500. Just one year later, UGA was one of the top 'Dawgs in the NCAA pound, placing second in the College World Series. The stunning renaissance was highlighted by shrewd coaching, physical maturation through commitment to training, and leadership from a pair of All-Americans, Gordon Beckham and Josh Fields.

One-year turnarounds never happen by accident. Examining what went wrong in '07 was crucial to Georgia's return to prominence in '08—reminding us once again that sports can be a cycle of destruction and resurrection.

Forgettable '07 Campaign
Despite a tradition-rich and prideful program, Georgia plummeted to the depths of SEC despair, finishing a dismal 23-33, last in the SEC East. Their unexpected downfall resulted largely from a tough schedule and overall inexperience, as the team's 2004 and 2006 College World Series rosters had been pillaged by the MLB Draft.

Lights Out In Georgia. UGA bats were silent as they faced formidable pitching foes weekly. The team tallied a lackluster 289 runs on the season and notched only 559 hits for a .279 batting clip. Only a single player posted an average above .320. Opposing hurlers also pulled the Bulldogs' power cords, as the team mustered just 42 homers and a .399 slugging percentage overall. Again, only one player posted double-digit dongs, and the leading plate-producer knocked in just 51 runs.

Punchless Pitching. Opposing hitters didn't necessarily feast on UGA pitching in '07, but the Bulldog staff struck out a measly 372 batters in 507 2/3 innings of work, while issuing 223 free passes. A lonely Georgia pitcher posted five wins or more, and the relief corps saved just nine games.

Back to Basic Training
Dedication to the weight room, highlighted by off-season training, stimulated some much-needed physical and mental development for Georgia's young players as they prepared for the 2008 season. "For baseball off-season training, the typical goal is maximal strength," says Jeremy Heffner, UGA's baseball strength and conditioning coach. "I have a little liberty with the guys in the summertime who stay here [on campus to train], because they're not playing baseball, which is about the only 12 weeks throughout the entire year when I can train them [and] they're not playing."

Motivated by dashed expectations and goal shortcomings in '07, the Bulldogs bought into Heffner's maximal strength philosophy and hit the weights hard, like a hanging curveball. "[For] the ones who stay in the summer, we look to increase strength, but we also build a tremendous amount of work capacity," Heffner says. "I look to get the most out of the guys."

Learning Leadership
Although they did not lack leadership, many of the '07 squad's starting pitchers and position players were young and inexperienced, showing little assertiveness on the diamond and in the weight room. Heffner says, "Guys who stay in the summer are my leaders in the weight room in the fall, because I've pushed them as hard as they can possibly push themselves. [When the other players return in the fall], I use [the summer guys] to teach and motivate, because they have such an increased fitness level to push the others."

2008 Changeup
After a slow start, Georgia ripped through their schedule to post a 45-25-1 record and capture the regular season SEC championship, a worst-to-first about-face. On their march toward Omaha, the Bulldogs burned the competition to win both the Athens Regional and Athens Super Regional. In the College World Series, they toppled topranked Miami, then swept seventh-ranked Stanford before bowing to Fresno State in the title series.

Ripping the Ball. UGA batters terrorized opposing pitchers with 787 hits—fourth best in the NCAA—and a .309 cumulative batting average. At Foley Field, scoreboard bulbs were replaced weekly as the Bulldogs plated 512 runs, clubbing 96 homers—tenth best in NCAA.

Four was a good individual number for the 'Dawgs, as that many players hit over .320, swatted 11 or more HRs, drove in at least 51 RBI and posted a .400-plus OBP. Oh, and it didn't hurt to have All-American catalyst and White Sox first-rounder Gordon Beckham in the lineup [.411 avg. / 28 HR / 77 RBI / .804 SLG / .519 OBP].

Grab Some Bench. The 'Dawgs told opposing hitters to "sit on it" as they struck out 528 in 634 total innings, while issuing only 251 freebies. More impressive, the staff had four pitchers with five or more wins. Led by fierce fireman and NCAA Stopper of the Year Josh Fields, the bullpen closed out 19 wins.

2007: Bad 'Dawgs
23-33, Last in SEC East
2008: Good 'Dawgs
45-25-1, First in SEC , second in CWS
Team Hitting
.279 Batting average
.309 Batting average
.354 On-base percentage
.391 On-base percentage
.399 Slugging percentage
.481 Slugging percentage
559 Hits
787 Hits
42 Homeruns
96 Homeruns
289 Runs
512 Runs
5.2 Runs per game
7.2 Runs Per Game
Team Pitching
23 Wins
45 Wins
9 Saves
19 Saves
372 K / 507 innings
528 K / 634 innings
223 BB / 507 innings
251 BB / 634 innings

Strength-Building Warm-Up: Med Ball Circuit with Weighted Chin-Ups
The main benefit of the Med Ball Circuit with Weighted Chin-Up routine is to strengthen your upper body chain for baseball-specific injury prevention. It also builds core stability, which generates more force from the hips, and in turn, transfers power to your hands when you're at the plate or on the mound.

Start with the Med Ball Circuit to loosen the muscles and joints in your back and shoulders. Once you're warm, use the Weighted Chin-Ups as your "big lift," or maximal strength exercise. Pumping out Weighted Chin-Ups increases strength in your shoulder blade region, which helps decelerate your arm to prevent injury when you swing and throw. They also counterbalance all the pressing and pushing exercises commonly performed in the weight room. [Added bonus: Weighted Chin-Ups increase bicep size for the mirror.]

All of these exercises have low sets and low to moderate reps to train raw power, as opposed to endurance power, which is not a primary component of baseball

1) Med Ball Chest Pass

• Stand three to five feet away from wall, facing it, holding light med ball
• Explosively chest pass ball against wall
• Catch ball; repeat

Sets/Reps: 2x6; work toward 2x12

Coaching Points: Concentrate on rapid, explosive throws // Stabilize core and avoid extraneous movement // Push ball equally with both hands; avoid favoring one side // Don't rotate wrists and hands out or throw thumbs down when passing med ball // Decelerate ball on rebound

2) Med Ball Cross and Front Throw

• Standing three to five feet away from wall, facing it, cradle light medicine ball in both hands
• Rotate core and shoulders to right for "loaded position"
• Explosively underhand toss med ball against wall
• Catch rebound; decelerate ball; rotate core and shoulder to left for "loaded position"
• Repeat explosive underhand toss
• Continue in alternating fashion

Sets/Reps: 2x8; work toward 2x16 [one toss is one rep]

Coaching Points: Translate force from ground to hip to ball // All rotation comes from hips up // Don't pivot feet // Focus on increasing elasticity, so avoid dipping shoulders while rotating

3) Overhead Med Ball Smash

• Standing erect, hold light med ball overhead with arms fully extended
• Fire ball to ground as quickly as possible
• Catch ball at eye-level on bounce
• Extend arms overhead and repeat

Sets/Reps: 2x8; work toward 2x12

Coaching Points: Always maintain full arm extension to stretch lats // Follow through on throw, like a swimmer's stroke straight into ground // Never bend at hips

4) Weighted Chin-Ups

• Load belt with as much weight as you can handle for at least 6 reps
• Grab bar at shoulder-width with palms facing you
• Lower body until arms reach full extension
• Raise body until chin is over bar

Sets/Reps: 2x as many as possible

Coaching Points: Maintain perfect posture throughout entire exercise // Never reach with neck to get chin over bar // Finish rep with "double chin" over bar // Always finish with arms extended at bottom to stretch all shoulder and back muscles

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock