Rob Rabena, MS, CSCS is currently the Director of Strength and Conditioning at Maple Zone Sports Institute in Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania, where his team trains all levels of baseball athletes. Rob developed his niche for training baseball players during his internship at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, Mass. Prior to joining MSI, Rob was the Director of Strength and Conditioning at Cabrini College, Pennsylvania. Rob completed his master’s degree in Exercise Science from East Stroudsburg University.
Inside Pitch: Talk about your experience at Cressey Sports Performance.
I can’t say enough good things about that experience. Everyone was very instrumental in my development and learning as a strength coach. They really point you down the right path toward success in all areas of strength and conditioning, whether it be assessments, program design, brand awareness or customer service.
I’d say one of the most valuable lessons I picked up is that it doesn’t matter how much you know, it’s how much you care. That lesson really stuck with me and I try to apply it each and every day. When it comes to Eric Cressey, what separates him from others is his passion and work ethic, he’s not a guy who just sits back and lets things happen.
IP: What separates major league players from the rest in terms of how they conduct themselves in the weight room and their level of focus?
What’s cool about this question is that I have seen players go from high school, to college, to professional baseball. I have seen how their demeanor changes and how physically they look different in the gym. In a general sense, a pro player’s job is to train, essentially…they take their training more seriously.
College players have other areas of their life that are important, such as academics. It’s generally a little bit of a different mentality for them, because their training isn’t literally their ‘job’ at that moment. A college player is also more likely to focus on strength and power, while a pro player may be focusing on something more specific.
IP: How have technological advances made you a better coach?
Technology has definitely made me a better coach; however it is important to know how and when to implement it. Here at MSI, I use a jump height measuring tool, which provides tangible numbers; I program a lot of trap-bar jumps for height, so I will use that tool while the athlete is performing their set to give me a better indicator of performance. For example, let’s say I am looking for eight inches on a loaded jump. With the technology I can see if the athlete is achieving the 8-inch goal or if they are jumping say 7 inches or 6 inches. If the numbers show me that they are trending downward, it tells me I need to lower the weight on the trap bar. In these scenarios, the athletes are going to get better because we have tangible numbers and I don’t have to rely on the ‘eye test’ anymore.
IP: Many MLB teams are looking to fill roster spots with pitchers who throw hard and batters who can hit for power. Has this trend changed the way you program for your athletes in the weight-room?
100 percent. Velocity and home runs are the name of the game now, there is no denying that. You have to embrace it, you have to train to develop those qualities.
We have to build resilient athletes that move well, that are strong, that are explosive and do well not just in the gym, but also on the field. In the end, that is why every athlete is here training. They aren’t here to look good in the mirror, they are here to look good on the baseball field, and our training programs have to represent that.
IP: What would Rob Rabena today tell the Rob Rabena of 10 years ago? Looking back, what advice would you give your younger self?
You don’t have to wait until you finish school to start reaching out and applying for internships. It is important to start reaching out to coaches early on, volunteer, observe and build a network. I didn’t really understand what it meant to build a network while I was in school.
IP: What messages are you trying to convey to your athletes in the weight room that you hope they will carry with them?
One thing I always find interesting is when athletes finish their sets, they need to put their weights away. Show up on time, be respectful, shake hands, make eye contact, say hello and goodbye. Those common courtesies go a long way in life.