Strength Training with Derrek Lee

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If you think there's some injury-prevention magic in Derrek Lee's hometown of Sacramento, Calif. you're only half right. It's in Sacramento, but it's not magic. Strength coach and owner of Biancani Fitness, Al Biancani, is the power behind Lee's injury-free career.

When most baseball players set their goals for off-season training, they think about what they want to improve on the diamond: a stronger throwing arm, better speed around the bases, quicker feet in the field, more power at the plate. Worthy goals and ambitions? Absolutely. The only benefits to be reaped from dedicated training? Not for Lee and Biancani. For this duo, time spent training is also about preventing injuries.

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If you think there's some injury-prevention magic in Derrek Lee's hometown of Sacramento, Calif. you're only half right. It's in Sacramento, but it's not magic. Strength coach and owner of Biancani Fitness, Al Biancani, is the power behind Lee's injury-free career.

When most baseball players set their goals for off-season training, they think about what they want to improve on the diamond: a stronger throwing arm, better speed around the bases, quicker feet in the field, more power at the plate. Worthy goals and ambitions? Absolutely. The only benefits to be reaped from dedicated training? Not for Lee and Biancani. For this duo, time spent training is also about preventing injuries.

"Injury prevention is the number one component of my training plan," Biancani says. "And not only does my plan prevent injuries, but God forbid you do get hurt, you'll come back twice as fast. And I can show you studies that prove it!"

Lee adds, "All the stretching and strength training Al has me do keeps me healthy; it's the greatest thing about his training program. Fortunately, knock on wood, I haven't been on the DL yet."

Why place such a premium on injury prevention? Because mind-blowing speed and the ability to hit the ball a mile are useless when you're sitting in the training room rehabbing a torn hammy. You need to be on the field to impact the game, and impact player is exactly what Derrek Lee has become.

Biancani's secret to a great training plan is working the whole body. He attacks every area of Lee's body and athleticism by combining weight training with plyometrics, core training, medicine ball throws, running mechanics, starting techniques, speed ladder drills and the Shuttle MVP. As a result, Lee has developed the necessary power and explosiveness to dominate the game.

Biancani likens the body to a house. If one part is unstable, the whole house is unstable, which is why the whole body must be trained. The importance of this factor has not gone unnoticed by Lee: "Everything about this workout is good," he says. "It trains every part of my body and works on strength, quickness, explosiveness, everything. It's really hard, and when a workout is hard, you know it's working."

Five days a week during the off-season, Lee gets up in the morning and drives about 45 minutes to train with his long-time coach. "It takes discipline getting up early every day to work out at 8:30 in the morning," Lee says. "Baseball is a long season, so you've got to be mentally disciplined to play your best all season long. That all starts here for me."

We witnessed one of Lee's training sessions last December—a weight workout followed by core, plyometric, Shuttle MVP, box and med ball circuits. Each element provides specific benefits to Lee's training, and all contribute to keeping the NL All-Star off the DL.

Weight Training
To continually challenge Lee's body and strengthen his muscles, Biancani provides a new stimulus every two weeks by changing rep and set patterns. He splits weight workouts into push and pull days, alternating them through a two-week cycle. With 10 lifting days in each cycle, there are five push and five pull workouts. The reps and sets change after two weeks, but the push-pull split is constant.

Besides modifying rep and set patterns, Biancani also switches the type of equipment used in workouts. "I like to mix things up between machines, bars, dumbbells and tubing," he says. "All the different pieces of equipment allow me to constantly stress the athlete's body in new ways."

The following weight workout is from a push day in a strength-building rep-set pattern. It consists of sets of 10, 8, 6, and 4 reps.

Machine Incline Press
• Lie on back on machine incline press

• Press handles up and away from chest

• Lower handles to starting position

Bench Press
• Lie on back on bench

• Place 4" thick pad on chest near base of breast bone

• Grip bar slightly wider than shoulder width

• Lower bar to pad

• Press bar off pad until arms fully extend

AL'S POINT: I never do full-range bench. Using the pad removes all stress from the shoulder. The bench is a lift that a lot of athletes like to do, so I don't fight them. I let them do it.
LEE'S POINT: Because there is no stress on my shoulders, I'm benching more than I ever have.

Pec Deck
• Sit upright in pec deck machine with arms spread apart

• Bring hands and elbows together in front of chest

• Control handles back to starting position

Dumbell Shrugs
• Hold dumbbell in each hand with palms facing thighs

• Keep arms straight and shrug shoulders toward ears

• Lower shoulders to starting position

Lateral Dumbell Raise
• Hold a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing each other

• With slight bend in elbows, raise arms laterally

• Raise dumbbells to shoulder height

• Lower to starting position

Machine Tricep Press
• Stand with back against machine and arms bent

• Hold V attachment with both hands

• Extend arms and press attachment down toward thighs

• Control back to starting position

Medicine Ball Core Circuit
Saying that core strength is important for top baseball performance is an understatement. It's crucial—completely and utterly crucial.

To improve Lee's core strength, Biancani puts him through various routines, including the following med ball circuit that works all areas of his abs and obliques.

Begin all of the following exercises by lying with your back flat on the ground. Bend your knees so that your thighs are perpendicular to the ground, and place your calves on a bench so that your lower legs are parallel to the ground. Have a partner hold your calves flat to the bench with his legs. Hold a med ball with both hands and begin the series of crunches.

Med Ball Crunches
• Start with med ball above head touching ground

• Crunch up and touch ball to partner's hands

Overhead Russian Twist
• Start with med ball touching ground above and to right of head

• Crunch up and touch ball to partner's hands

• Lower upper body back to ground and touch ball above and to left of head

• Crunch up and touch ball to partner's hands

• Lower upper body back to ground and touch ball above and to right of head

• Repeat

Right Overhead Twist
• Start with med ball touching ground above and to right of head

• Crunch up and touch ball to partner's hands

• Lower upper body and ball back to starting position

• Repeat

Left Overhead Twist
• Same as Right Side Overhead Twist, but start with ball to left of head

Russian Twist
• Start with med ball touching ground to right of stomach with arms extended

• Twist left and crunch up to touch ball to partner's hands

• Twist left and sit back to touch ball to left of stomach with arms extended

• Twist right and crunch up to touch ball to partner's hands

• Twist right and sit back to touch ball to right of stomach with arms extended

• Repeat

Right Russian Twist
• Start with med ball touching ground to right of stomach with arms extended

• Twist left and crunch up to touch ball to partner's hands

• Twist right and sit back to touch ball to right of stomach with arms extended

• Repeat

Left Russian Twist
• Same as Right Russian Twist, but start left and twist right

Plyo Circuit
Before moving on to more advanced and explosive movements, Lee performs a light plyometric circuit to prepare his body and nervous system. "Jumping rope and these other movements are great warm-ups and low-level plyometric activities," Biancani explains. "They're good for working footwork, foot speed, coordination and conditioning."

Perform each movement with only 20-30 seconds rest between.

Jump Rope
• Continuously jump rope

• Jump with both feet, one foot or alternate feet

Squat Jumps
• Start with feet shoulder-hip width apart

• Lower hips to quarter-squat position

• Jump straight up for maximum height

• Land and immediately repeat

Tuck Jumps
• Same as Squat Jumps but tuck knees toward chest during jump

Split/Lunge Jumps
• Start with legs split front to back in lunge position

• Bend knees and lower hips, then jump for maximum height

• Switch leg position in air (front leg moves to back, back leg moves to front)

• Land and immediately repeat

Shuttle MVP Circuit
Although originally created for injury prevention and rehabilitation, the Shuttle MVP has athletic performance benefits for healthy athletes. The machine consists of a padded board that runs along a horizontal track. To add resistance, attach elastic bands to the board.

Lie on your back on the board and place your feet flat against the metal plate. Then, push off the plate in a jumping motion to propel yourself (and the board) along the track against the bands' resistance. Because the landing element is removed, explosive jump training with little or no impact results.

Biancani says, "I was one of the first in the NBA to use the Shuttle MVP, and I've seen great results. It's helped my athletes avoid knee problems as well as increase their verticals."

* If you lack access to a Shuttle MVP, Biancani recommends performing the following exercises in a pool.

Two-Leg Jumps
• Jump off both legs for maximum distance

• Repeat jumps as fast as possible

Single-Leg Jumps
• Jump off one leg for maximum distance

• Repeat jumps on same leg as fast as possible

• Repeat for opposite leg

Alternating Single-Leg Jumps
• Jump off one leg for maximum distance

• Land on opposite leg and jump again for maximum distance

• Repeat

Box Circuit
Plyometric exercises with a 12-inch box is the next progression of explosive movements— introduced only after the body is prepared from working on the Shuttle MVP.

"We'll work Derrek on the Shuttle MVP until he can handle about 400 touches," Biancani says. "He gradually works to where he's doing some Shuttle and some box work. And by the time he leaves for spring training, he'll be doing all box work."

Perform the following movements in rapid succession with only 20-30 seconds rest between.

Lateral One Up, One Down
• Start with left foot on ground to left of box and right foot on top of box

• Jump up and right

• Land with right foot on ground and left foot on box

• Jump up and left

• Land with left foot on ground and right foot on box

• Repeat

Right Foot Lateral Step-ups
• Start with left foot on ground to left of box and right foot on top of box

• Jump off right foot for maximum height

• Land in starting position and immediately jump again

Left Foot Lateral Step-ups
• Same as Right Foot Lateral Step-ups, but with right foot on ground and left foot on box

Alternating Step-ups
• Start with left foot on ground behind box and right foot on top of box

• Jump off right foot for maximum height

• Switch leg position in air

• Land with right foot on ground and left foot on box

• Jump off left foot for maximum height

• Switch legs in air and land in original starting position

• Repeat

Two-Leg Lateral Jumps
• Start with feet together on ground to left of box

• Jump right onto box for speed

• Jump for speed onto ground to right of box

• Immediately jump left onto box for speed

• Jump for speed onto ground to left of box

• Repeat

Medicine Ball Throws Circuit
"Medicine ball throws are upper body plyo drills," Biancani explains. "Because rotational movements are so prevalent in baseball, we use a lot of them to train. These throws really work the core."

The first four movements are performed on a core board, which provides an unstable surface. The board swivels and rocks, making the athlete overcome forces from all directions and maintain balance.

"Hitting is all about balance, which is where these drills come into play," Biancani says.

Perform the following drills in rapid succession with 20-30 seconds rest between movements.

Chest Pass
• Stand on core board facing partner who's 10-15 feet away

• Hold med ball at chest with both hands

• Push ball away from chest and throw to partner

• Catch pass from partner

• Repeat

Overhead Pass
• Stand on core board facing partner who's 10-15 feet away

• Hold med ball with both hands above and behind head

• Throw ball overhead to partner

• Catch pass from partner

• Repeat

Backward Overhead Pass
• Stand with feet shoulder-hip width apart in quarter-squat position

• Hold med ball at chest with both hands

• Extending at ankles, knees and hips, throw ball backward over head toward ground

• Target throw to land eight to 10 feet behind you

Side Throws (Left)
• Stand on core board with left shoulder facing partner who's 10-15 feet away

• Hold med ball with both hands and rotate to right, away from partner

• Rotate back toward partner and throw ball to him

• Catch pass from partner

• Repeat

Side Throws (Right)
• Same as Side Throws (left) but stand with right shoulder facing partner and rotate left

Flexibility
Improving range of motion is a cornerstone of Biancani's training plan. Over the course of a workout, Lee stretches up to three times. Of particular importance is stretching before and after workouts. Although many coaches have moved away from static stretches prior to activity, Biancani thinks static stretching combined with dynamic movements produces the best warm-up.

"A lot of people are black and white when it comes to static and dynamic stretching. There's a war of words going on right now about which is better for a warm-up," he says. "I believe there are shades of grey on this issue, so I use a combination of both."

Perform the following stretches with a partner. Hold each stretch for 10-15 seconds.

Knee To Chest
• Lie on back

• Bring one knee to chest

• Partner pushes foot toward hip and knee toward chest

Figure 4
• Lie on back

• Bend knee of one leg and rotate knee to side

• Keep foot of bent leg over mid-line of hips

• Partner pushes lower leg up and toward chest with knee pointed out

Hip Flexor and Quad Stretch
• Lie on stomach

• Bend knee and bring foot toward glutes

• Partner pulls up on thigh and lifts off table or ground

IT Band Stretch
• Lie on back

• Bend knee of one leg and cross over opposite leg

• Partner pushes thigh of bent leg toward table or ground

Hamstring Stretch
• Lie on back

• Keeping leg straight, bring foot toward head

• Partner pushes leg toward head, holds leg straight

Groin Stretch
• Lie on back

• Bend knee of one leg and place foot on thigh of opposite leg

• Partner pushes knee toward table or ground

Derrek's Directions
Derrek Lee was a two-sport standout in high school. He signed a letter of intent to play basketball for UNC, but followed a path to play baseball after being drafted in the first round by the San Diego Padres. Now entering his 10th season in the Bigs, Lee has learned a thing or two about the world of sports.

LIFT IN SEASON. It helps maintain the work you did in the off season. Because you remain strong, you don't have to start over when you come back after the season. When you're playing every day, it's easy to slack off and not lift. But now, everyone in the league realizes the importance of lifting. In the past, I slacked off in the second half of the season, my numbers dropped and I felt the difference. Now I always lift throughout the season.

PLAY MORE SPORTS. The more you play, the better it is for you. Some people say, 'if you play baseball, just concentrate on that.' I disagree. If you play baseball, basketball and soccer, each sport plays off the others and they work together to make you better. Each sport works on a different part of your game—basketball helps quickness and leg strength, and baseball might improve your hand-eye coordination.

DON'T TAKE STEROIDS. There are good reasons why you shouldn't. First, you obviously love the sport you're playing, but is it worth risking your life for? It's going to negatively affect your health and lifestyle down the road. Second, a question I have for anyone who's an athlete and competitor: don't you want to see how good you are on your own—without cheating? For me, if I had a great season on steroids, I would never know if that was really me doing well.

ENJOY THE GAME. There's a lot of pressure on young athletes these days, because they've seen athletes get so much money right out of high school. Scouts—whether they're from the NBA or MLB—come to watch athletes as young as eighth grade, which creates a lot of pressure. I say just enjoy it. Have fun when you're playing, don't let the pressure get to you and make sure to get that education. That way you'll always have something to fall back on.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: STRENGTH TRAINING | BASEBALL | STRETCHING | CHEST | TRAIN | MED BALL | THROW