When to Play, When to Train, and When to Do Both.
As the weather starts to change and our athletes head back to school, the topic of off-season training is one that we discuss on a regular basis. Below are a few of our thoughts at GAINS Sports Performance regarding off-season training and development.
- Players should have a clear and defined off-season. Please note that this is referred to as the “off” season for a reason – players should take time “off” from playing the sport and focus on physical development. A 10-year study published by Fleisig et al in 2010 found that pitchers who threw more than 100 innings in a year were 3.5 times more likely to sustain a throwing injury (injuries were defined as elbow surgery, shoulder surgery, or retirement due to throwing injury). The study was conducted with pitchers ages 9 to 14, and researchers tracked their progress for 10 years. The average age at the time of injury was 17.6 years old, which tells us that throwing volume and frequency at the lower levels can be a contributor to injuries later in the athlete’s career.
- Using this information, we advocate that all players have a period of time where they are not throwing a baseball. This “shutdown” period should be a minimum of 8 weeks long and ideally takes place during the months of September, October, and November. This then gives the player December, January, February, and March to prepare for games that start in April.
- For every week taken off from throwing, we factor in 1 week (minimum) to 1.5 weeks needed to return to the mound (this is where pitchers and position players differ). For example, if you take off Sep-Nov (approx. 12 weeks off), we should factor in anywhere from 12-18 weeks to return to the mound. Because of this timeline, we need to remember that a player cannot be expected to take considerable time off from throwing and then return to mound form in 2-3 weeks.
- The reason a player cannot be expected to take considerable time off from throwing and then return to the mound in a short amount of time is that the body needs time to adapt to the re-imposed demands of throwing. The stress of throwing (pitching in particular) is taxing on the shoulder, elbow, hip, knee, and ankle joints. Since the athlete has been letting his body recover from throwing while building new muscle in the weight room, we need to give him time to re-adapt. This is done by implementing a throwing program that takes into account volume (how many throws per session), distance (the length as which the pitcher makes these throws), intensity (not all throws are created equal) and frequency (how many times per week/month the athlete will be throwing). This way, the athlete can gradually build up arm strength and endurance while allowing himself to use the new strength that he has acquired in the weight room.
This very generic, & simplified graph will give you a good idea of how we structure our training blocks for baseball players.
- We are primarily focused on strength training. Close to 100% of our efforts are focused in the weight room as we are looking to gain strength and size and recover from any injuries the athletes sustained during the season.
- Summary: When strength training is HIGH, skill training is LOW
Transitional period: December-February
- As the season approaches, athletes will begin to devote more time towards skill training (throwing and hitting). As we introduce new stressors that come along with throwing and hitting, we have to subtract some of the intensity from the weight room and “give” it to the skill training side.
- Summary: As skill training increases, strength training decreases
- Once March rolls around (the beginning of the high school season for northeast athletes), players have to devote more time and attention towards practices and games, which puts strength training on the back burner. This does not mean that strength training disappears entirely, it means that during this period, the priority is playing and practicing in competitive settings, not lifting weights. However, it is important to aim for a minimum of 1-2 strength training sessions per week to preserve the size and strength the athlete gained in the offseason.
- Summary: As skill training continues to increase, strength training decreases, until the intensities of both areas level out and remain constant until the season ends.
The idea of strength training for baseball players is non-negotiable, and is an important part of every college baseball program in the country. Starting weight training at a young age will not only make you a better player for your upcoming season, but can help extend your career for many years to come.
Mark Lowy – Director of Sports Performance