Training baseball players is unlike training any other sport. Outside of the large mental component that makes up the game, powerful rotational movements paired with a high volume of throwing make it a unique monster to manage in and out of the gym. Below are three general keys that shape our baseball performance programs at GAINS.
1 – Attentive and knowledgeable coaching
A strength training program is only as good as it is executed. An athlete can get the most in-depth, need-specific strength training program out there, but he is lifting with sloppy form, his chances for success decrease while his chances for injury increase. For the untrained athlete, a simplified strength training program coupled with great on-floor coaching is the best answer. Whether you are a novice, intermediate, or advanced lifter, the goal of any program should be to enhance and optimize movement quality in order to keep the athlete injury-free and increase his chances for success on the field.
2 – Programming that translates to the field
One of the benefits of training the novice lifter is that they are going to see immediate results following virtually any training program. Strength training is based on applying physical stress to the body, recovering from that stress, and then adapting to the stress, making the trainee stronger in the long run (this is why sleep, nutrition, and recovery are so important. More on that another time). For the individual who has never dealt with this stress, his ability to recover and adapt is far greater than the experienced individual. This means that most untrained high school athletes will get “stronger” doing the bench press with the football team, just like they will also get “stronger” doing push-ups in gym class. The question athletes need to ask is “Are these exercises going to translate to the field and make me a better player?” If the answer is no, or the answer is unclear, the athlete should explore other training options.
What does this specifically look like for our athletes? Lower body wise, it means building up the overall strength base with heavy, bilateral (two-leg) exercises combined with a lot of unilateral (single-leg) work as well. For the upper body, we care about good, clean, shoulder range of motion and core strength and stability. Programming these types of exercises in the sagittal (front and back), frontal (side to side), and transverse (rotational) planes are the closest we are going to get to mirroring the on-field demands of the sport. Top that off with core work, arm care, and stability and mobility exercises programmed according to the athlete and you have the basic framework of a good program.
3 – Programming that fits with your playing schedule
By most accounts, the high school baseball player is tremendously overworked. In the Northeast, players will play with their school from March until mid-to-late May, then play summer ball from June to August. Some will take a few weeks off at the end of summer before hopping right back in to fall ball, which will run until mid-to-late October. At this point, players have been competing consistently from March until October, which is longer than the MLB season. This type of playing schedule is not conducive to overall health, arm health, and mainly, physical development. Having a structured off-season vs. in-season training plan is critical if you plan on playing a 6-8 month season at your highest playing potential.
This means having a strength training program that works in conjunction with your playing schedule so that we can work to manage the stress of playing with the stress of lifting. Simply put, as throwing volume and frequency (the amount of throws/pitches you make and the amount of times per week you throw) increase, your lifting volume and frequency must be adjusted accordingly. Efficient periodization over a 12-month cycle is the foundation of a good strength training program, and is even more important when dealing with baseball players.
The overall takeaway here? Work hard, while working towards your goals, and always have a long-term plan in place.
— Mark Lowy || Director of Sports Performance