Eric Cressey is one of the most highly sought-after baseball strength and conditioning specialists on the planet. He's worked with countless professional players over the years, and joined the New York Yankees as their Director of Player Health and Performance in 2020. He’s maintained his role as president and co-founder of Cressey Sports Performance and oversees facilities in Hudson, Mass. and Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Cressey is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He double-majored in Exercise Science and Sports and Fitness Management at the University of New England and earned a Master’s Degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science at the University of Connecticut.
He’s developed DVD sets, is an accomplished guest speaker, has published five books and more than 500 articles, and is a competitive powerlifter with competition bests of 540 lbs. squat, 402 lbs. bench and 650 lbs. deadlift. He also started the Elite Baseball Development podcast in 2019 with guests that include Corey Kluber, Kyle Hendricks, Billy Wagner and many others.
Inside Pitch: What does a typical day look like for you and your family?
During the off-season, I'm up as early as I possibly can be so I can get some work done before our daughters get out of bed. In a normal scenario, it's a mad dash to get them ready and off to school. After that I’m usually at the facility by 8:30, right around when the program will start, and that'll go pretty much from nine o'clock straight through until roughly 2:00, 2:30. After that, I typically get a lift in myself and then head home and spend some time with the family. After we put the girls to bed after dinner, it’s usually back to more work. Intermixed with all that stuff is the Yankees responsibility, which comes and goes throughout the year in Tampa or New York.
IP: What does your to-do list look like and how do you manage all of your obligations?
There's always a to-do list. I try to batch different responsibilities; record four podcasts in one day and get them stockpiled, or write five to six programs at once. Moving that needle is dependent on having really good people around me. I'm very fortunate to have good business partners at both of our facilities, and my wife is super supportive and not just in terms of what we do at home, and she's very involved with the operations of our Florida facility. You rely heavily on the people around you, and you don't just delegate, you empower, because they are people that you've educated and who have earned your trust.
IP: What was it like breaking into the industry? At what point did you decide to bring in other people?
When we moved to Boston in 2006, we had zero clients. Eventually I built everything up through the high school baseball realm, and it was the summer of 2007 when we realized, "Holy cow, this is actually a business.” I had nearly 50 clients by myself, so I was working 13 hours a day, seven days a week. I was doing the scheduling, the billing, all the coaching, all the programming. Not to mention the online presence with writing and speaking and consulting was taking off. It just wasn't scalable.
The first person I brought on was my business partner, Pete Dupuis in Massachusetts. Pete had been my roommate in college. He handled a lot of the business, the behind-the-scenes stuff. He likes to joke that he's the guy behind the guy, so that's everything from orchestrating how the facility runs, getting people scheduled, handling all the billing, things along those lines. That allowed me to leverage what I was good at doing, which was more of the training side of things.
IP: So are you doing what you thought you'd be doing when you were 18-20 years old?
You know what's funny? I started out at school thinking I was going to be an accountant. That should probably frame the start of the answer, but I realized pretty quickly while I was at business school, that wasn't the direction I wanted to go. Luckily, I was able to pivot and basically declare a double major: exercise science and sports and fitness management.
So I had the business the side, and I had the training side on the undergrad side of things. When I headed off to grad school, I wasn't sure what avenue I wanted to go to underneath the performance/kinesiology/fitness umbrella. It just so happened when I got to the University of Connecticut for my grad degree, I had a chance to observe a little bit in strength conditioning, and I instantly fell in love with it.
Between 2003 and 2005 I had some really good mentors at the University of Connecticut who took me under their wings and didn't just educate me, they empowered me with opportunities to go out and get experience working with athletes. It was a very impactful experience for me.
IP: How did you get involved with baseball specifically?
Some of my first athletes were baseball players, and I realized pretty quickly that they were an underserved population. A lot of strength conditioning coaches were just handing them the football program, and another large number of baseball players were being excessively coddled, “Here’s your rubber band and your ten pound dumbbells.”
We quickly realized as we started to create our philosophy was that there was a scenario where we could push guys really hard as long as we understood what their limitations were and how to attack them. That allowed us to carve out this niche as we’ve learned more and more about the population we were trying to help.
IP: How do you go about the scenarios with your athletes who are constantly injured, whether it’s functional or just a number of freak incidents? It’s got to be something better than, “The safest pitch count is zero” or “If you don't want to get hurt, just don't play.”
In the baseball community, we have a very specialized collection of injuries; UCL tears, thoracic outlet, lat strains, rib fractures, I've seen anterior dislocations of shoulders on weighted ball programs. And we have very specialized collections of surgeons that handle them. Yet we assume that whoever we go to down the street is the right physical therapist for us, we assume that every strength conditioning coach that we see is inherently qualified to manage baseball players.
Think about it this way: you're a professional baseball player, you blow out your ulnar collateral ligament, so you need Tommy John surgery. There are probably six to eight surgeons in the country that you'll go to, and most anyone with a baseball background could name most of them off the top of their head. So the surgery and who’s doing it is a major part of the solution for an injury, and rehab is also a huge part of the solution. But the rehab eventually ends, and now you’re dependent on strength and conditioning.
IP: So the specialization doesn’t just end with the surgery and the rehab. Makes sense…
I hear a lot of, "Well, my physical therapist or my strength coach, he’s a really nice guy."Nobody is in this industry to be a bad person! They just may not have had the education or the mentorship needed to be successful in these populations. There's a very low barrier to entry, particularly in strength conditioning.
There are a lot of physical therapists who have never watched a baseball game and they’re rehabbing baseball players. We have to be cognizant of that.
Athletic trainers are some of the most overwhelmed professionals there are. Until just recently, athletic trainers in professional baseball doubled as travel secretaries, handing out meal money to players, booking hotel rooms. They're spread really, really thin. You might talk about one trainer overseeing a roster of 30 or 35 athletes on a college team. So for them to give you the meticulous attention to detail that you need for a rehab standpoint, it's impossible. So when I hear about an athlete that's struggling with a chronic injury in the baseball realm in particular, they need to go to get a second opinion. They need to see a physical therapist, or they need to reconsider the way that they're training and seek out resources to learn about why that's the case.
IP: What are the other factors besides who injured/rehabbing athletes are working with?
If I'm a player who's struggling with an injury and I haven't been able to get the answers I want, I have to take a step back and see what ownership I have in this process, not just in the context of, "Did I work hard enough in my rehab? Was I consistent enough? Was I eating right, getting to bed early, drinking enough water?" Have you really gone to the great lengths to get good care? Not everybody can say that they did.
IP: How have you handled the influx of technology within the baseball space?
Our model is inherently versatile for that. We empower our coaches to have the wiggle room to add and subtract based on what they see. The biggest challenge is when we do want to integrate new things, it has to be taught to the entire staff, right? So one person can't just see a new exercise they like, and then say, "Hey, I think this would be good for this athlete, I'm going to throw it in there" without telling our other coaches what it is, what we call it, then how to coach it and why we would use it. That’s the most challenging thing—you want to integrate new practices to help clients as quickly as you can, but it needs to be scalable across our staff in two locations, in our case.
IP: So you’re always experimenting with tech and new ways to do things. How are you able to retain the foundation of the system you’ve always had in place?
For us, the name of the game is to always tinker, but never overhaul. I think our system is something that's been successful, it's proven worthwhile over and over again for athletes across a number of disciplines. So when we learn something new, we'll have a discussion about how we integrate it. How do we make it part of our philosophy? What percentage of our overall training is it? For example, some positional breathing could be quite impactful, even if it's only 2% of the total program that we write for an athlete. Then certainly it's got to be coached correctly.
IP: Coaching is like that, too...with all the data and the new drills and the influx of all these new things. It's always something you want to be good at. You want to “know enough to be dangerous.”
Exactly. In general, you never want to just be throwing darts. I talk to our coaches a lot about as long as you have a justification for why you put something in a program, I'm good with it. As long as you can make an actual case for including something, we're in a great spot.