Former MLB Strength & Conditioning Coaches
Bob Alejo, CSCS*D, CSCS*E
Oakland A's 1993-2001 & 2009-2011
To help current and future PBSCCS members understand the evolution of the position of strength and conditioning coach in professional baseball, the PBSSC is interviewing former strength and conditioning coaches in the field.
This interview is with Bob Alejo, one of the three founding fathers of the PBSCCS. Bob has had a distinguished career in strength and conditioning at the college, professional and commercial level. His career includes:
- Strength and Conditioning Coach at his alma mater, Chico State University. Strength and Conditioning Coach at UCLA where the 23 men's and women's teams that he coached won 25 National Championships and produced more than 100 All-Americans.
- Two-time Director of Strength and Conditioning for the Oakland A's (1994-2001 and 2009-2011). In Oakland, Bob worked for "Money Ball” manager, Billy Bean and Hall of Fame manager, Tony Larussa. He also worked with some the elite players of the time including the "Bash Brothers, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, Hall of Famers Dave Steward (1993) and Ricky Henderson (2008), Miguel Tejada AL MVP (2002) and Tim Hudson, AL Cy Young (2002).
- Two-time Strength and Conditioning Coach for USA Men's Olympic Beach Volleyball Team. Bob coached the 2008 team that won Gold in Beijing and the 2012 team in London.
- Strength and Conditioning Coach, University of California, Santa Barbara.
- Assistant Director of Strength and Conditioning, North Carolina State University.
- Director of Sports Science, Powerlift.
He is currently the Senior Associate Athletics Director for Performance and Athlete Welfare, California State University Northridge in Los Angeles, a position that he has held since 2019.
PBSCCS recently caught up with Bob at CSUN and asked him the following questions:
PBSCCS: How was the transition from college athletics to professional baseball? Did you have to make any major changes in your philosophy or programs?
ALEJO: Easy! I had the best job in baseball twice! For me it was easy for a few reasons. First, in the beginning Tony LaRussa and his coaching staff, Sandy Alderson and Walt Jockety (later of course, Billy Bean and David Forst) were 100% supportive in the front office. Barry Weinberg (ATC), Larry Davis (ATC) and I became like brothers. Buy in never, ever became an issue. They led me thru the nuances of the Big Leagues so that I wouldn't fail. They not only let me do my job, they HELPED me do my job. As the first &C coach in team history, the entire coaching staff was helpful. Particularly helpful was Barry. He was the one that walked in front of me with the machete cutting down all the vines in the jungle of so that I would have a clear path to do what I needed to do. As for the transition to professional athletes, coming out of UCLA I was working with future pros and world class athletes in nearly every sport, so working with the level of athlete in MLB was not new. Programming, however, was a different story. It would take too much time to detail the changes but anyone in our field reading this will understand it when I explain it like this: I had never been exposed to nearly daily meaningful competitions (approximately 200 games in 220 days), AND training on those same days!
The philosophy changed from the collegiate development plan to concern for injury injury mitigation. Some of that was predicated on MLB players being older athletes. The other change was the weekly schedule. Monday/Wednesday/Friday programming made little sense given the daily schedule and changing game times. Instead, I created Day 1, 2,3, 4, 5, 6, 7 in that there was no assigned day but rather a workout. For example, If Day 1 landed on Monday and it was a travel day, then Day 1 would be on Tuesday. Day 2 Wednesday is off, Day 3 Thursday is training, Day 4 Friday is off, Day 5 Saturday is a training day but was a "bad day at the ballpark", now Day 5 becomes Sunday. Day 6 Monday and Day 7 Tuesday are off and Day 1 training day becomes Wednesday. The same idea goes for any training split or cycle. Also, guys have a bad day, long day, rain out, day game following a night game or the player just doesn't want to train. Okay, we'll do it tomorrow. Season is long. We aren't missing anything. By the way, most of the lifting programs were 4-5 days per week (conditioning 2x) to intentionally training for 15 minutes. Hard, heavy and get out!
The other thing that became abundantly clear was the overall volume of doing things. Hit, throw, field every day; number of swings in a day; and travel. So, the last thing I needed to do was voluminous training. And, in that case that means a higher intensity (% load and effort) is need to offset that; Low to very low volume/high to very high intensity and I use that for all sports as an in-season strategy. That's a short summary of a slightly more complex method- 3 up/1 down for training intensity, reciprocal training, separating posterior chain from a focused lower body day, rotation and anti-rotation and of course the physical conditioning of pitcher towards HIIT and sprint training.
PBSCCS: The 90's A's had some of the largest, most powerful and most athletic players in MLB. How did they compare to the "Money Ball" players that Oakland signed at the end of your first term in MLB?
ALEJO:- Hard to say. The only comparison is that they were all big leaguers and eventual champions.
PBSCCS: Oakland had the reputation of being a franchise that believed in "lift heavy or go home" in the early and mid-90's. Did you receive many questions from the front office, manager or coaches about this philosophy since it was in contrast to what others had done in the past and, if so, how did you handle them?
ALEJO: I remember asking Sandy Alderson for money to buy 90lb dumbbells in 1994- 95 or so and he looked at me incredulously and said, "C'mon, who can lift that??!!" He had no idea we had 6-8 guys using the 70's and 80's! Safe to say we bought more and more weight as the years went on because that's what we did. Now, to be clear, not every player's program relied on the heaviest weight possible and I'm calling BS on anyone who says "All my guys are doing my program." For the most part we usually had the most guys in the room. But I'd be lying if I wasn't proud of the days when we found rooms didn't have enough weight for us.......and that was just for the pitchers! Now to be fair, because I wanted high intensity in the weight room, I thought lifting before a game would be counter-productive. So, must of our guys lifted post game except the starting pitchers who lifted pre-game because they were doing other work pre-game and I didn't want them to have go twice.
As a note, at the places I worked or specific sports I worked at those places where we were extremely successful, I was never questioned once as to what or why I was doing what I was doing. It seemed at the places with less success there was always questions. Still getting questions today coming close to my 40th year in coaching! Not one coach, staff member, ATC, GM or whoever, ever questioned my intentions or methods. That's great confident, leadership- hiring folks and letting them do their job!!!
PBSCCS: What new training equipment, techniques, philosophies, etc. do you envision in the future for baseball strength and conditioning coaches and players?
ALEJO: The sky is the limit! The key is that no modality or philosophy can change the inherent kinetics and kinematics of the game; the biomechanics and physiology. The only thing the newer modalities and tech can do is bring you close to a conclusive intent and reasoning of why you do what you do. If you don't understand the game AND the science, you have no chance to be great and subsequently the players suffer. Frankly I hear enough of that coming from MLB now.
PBSCCS: What advice and suggestions do you have for current PBSCCS members and those wanting to get into strength and conditioning for baseball?
ALEJO: Understand the game and the landscape (personalities, cultures, history of the club, history of the game. history of S&C in the game). Speak the language of baseball. In other words, use baseball terminology and vernacular to explain how your program aids in performance and winning games; you understand the science but "they" don't. Lastly, understand that missing that lift or that training session won't cost you a world championship. The season is long and that missed lift, or the day BP is cancelled, or rain out, they get made up for somewhere in the season.
One of the things Sandy Alderson told me after I was hired, was that of course it was important that I had played baseball up through college and coached baseball at UCLA. What was as important to him, however, was that I had worked with so many other sports up to that point, had some success on a big stage and he felt that would contribute to what we were going to do in Oakland. I never felt I was a "baseball guy". I just happened to be a strength and conditioning coach in baseball. It was easy to go back to coaching 15 teams when I returned to the college setting and the Olympic Games. It wasn't the sports; it was the job. It is important for strength and conditioning coaches to love the game and the environment, and know that the game/organization may not love you back at some point. I recommend that coaches expand their strength and conditioning coaching experiences outside of baseball so that you can continue to coach if you leave baseball.