Baseball Off-Season Training
Improve movement quality, posture, and muscular balance, thus reducing the risk of injury in an attempt to keep players on the field.
Improve the player’s physical preparedness in the ability to rapidly exert high levels of force in baseball-specific tasks, thus improving the potential for baseball athletes to perform at their highest and most efficient level.
Why do we make Strength and Conditioning a priority during the Baseball Off-Season?
Baseball is dominated by BIG and STRONG athletes.
At the professional baseball level, research has found that higher-level players tend to be heavier (with a higher percentage of LBM, Lean Body Mass) to achieve greater peak and mean jump power during the vertical jump test, demonstrate greater grip strength, and perform better in the 10-yard sprint test, as compared to lower level players. Research has also found positive correlations between lean body mass, lower body power, and grip strength with home runs, total bases, slugging percentage, and a significant negative correlation between 10-yard sprint and t-test agility performance and stolen bases (Hoffman, 2009). Major league-level players tend to be bigger than lower-level players (Coleman and Lasky, 1992) and produce better offensive statistics (Crotin et al., 2014). Lean body mass has been shown to be highly predictive of pitching velocity (Nakata et al. (2013), Yamada et al. (2013)).
Baseball is a SPRINT & POWER sport.
The majority of plays in baseball are 0.3 to 4.5 seconds, on average, during which maximal or near-maximal effort is exerted by the players involved (Szymanski, 2007). Full recovery is achieved between plays. As such, the bioenergetic nature of the sport may be classified as alactic, with a robust aerobic system helpful for recovery between explosive bouts.
Throwing, pitching, hitting, sprinting, and fielding (multi-directional movements) all require maximal force production in minimal time (i.e. power), oftentimes in rotational movements (i.e. hitting and throwing). Research has demonstrated the ability of a strength and conditioning program to enhance performance in baseball-specific tasks, such as pitching velocity (Lachowetz et al., 1998, Potteiger et al. 1992, Escamilla et al. 2012, McEvoy and Newton 1994, 1998), bat swing velocity (Szymanski et al., 2011, Fry, Honnold, and Hudy, 2011, Miyaguchi et al., 2012), sprint speed (Seitz et al., 2014), and agility/change of direction ability (an important component of fielding)(Keiner et al., 2014, Jones et al., 2009, Chaouachi et al., 2012).
Sprint speed is a particularly important aspect of on-field performance. According to baseball analytics, every time a player that is a base-stealing threat reaches base, he increases the team’s average runs per game by 0.5 (Crotin, 2009).
Sprint speed, specifically the players ability to accelerate, is the one of the most important aspects for baseball players. In baseball and many other sports, athletes will never reach maximal running velocity. A baserunner will only run 90 feet (slightly less in some cases due to primary/secondary leads off of the base) before deceleration/stopping, sliding, or take a curvilinear route to round the base and reaccelerate toward the next base. In the field, outfielders have to chase down balls, but this task does not require lengthy efforts. Infielders must possess good lateral speed, quickness, and change of direction ability, and will never reach top speed. As such, baseball speed training must focus on developing acceleration ability as opposed to maximum velocity. “Pure acceleration is the most important trainable physical attribute if coaches desire to increase game-specific speed of their players.” (Coleman and Amonette, 2012).
Pitching involves an explosive throw approximately 10-30 times per inning, with a pitch delivered every 10-20 seconds. The ability to repeat these powerful throws depend on alactic and aerobic capacity, which are the main components of a pitcher-specific conditioning program. These systems are compatible and may be trained concurrently throughout the off-season. The anaerobic-lactate system contributes minimally to these efforts, therefore lactic conditioning is avoided.
Injury considerations for baseball
According to Dick et al. (2007), upper extremity (primarily shoulder and elbow) injuries account for 58% of all baseball injuries, and lower extremity injuries account for 27%. Along with tracking/monitoring the global training load and the athlete’s response (external and internal training load), attention must be paid to:
Upper body prehab considerations: address rotator cuff (particularly external rotation strength and endurance), but also focus heavily on balancing the musculature of the shoulder girdle to ensure proper length-tension relationships and scapulohumeral rhythm.
Lower body considerations: development of posterior chain (muscles along the backside of the body) musculature, dynamic stability in multiple planes of motion, and proper length-tension relationships particularly in the lumbopelvic region.
It’s important during the off-season to shift the training focus to improve physical qualities that assist sports performance as mentioned above. Baseball players are relieved from the regular number of practices and games which allows time for rest and further development in skills that indirectly affect performance.
The Baseball off-season is approximately four months. This is where players address performance traits outside of sport-specific workouts. Workouts include speed, agility, strength, and power training. Off-season training slowly builds athletes to move more explosively as they approach the season and how we translate general motor potential into skill-specific activity.
A typical programming model for baseball would start with stability and accumulation of training volume. Hypertrophy development in the early off-season, then focus on strength mid-way through, and for the last phase of the off-season focus on power. This power component will also be carried into the season, but will also be coupled with strength and stability days as well.
What does the Typical Off-season look like from a Strength and Conditioning standpoint?
November – Phase 1 – Hypertrophy/Accumulation Phase 3×8-12 50-60% 1RM
December – Phase 2 – Intensification Phase – Strength Phase 3×3 for upper, 3×5 for lower 70-80% 1RM
January – Phase 3 – Complex (Strength/Power) / Higher Load Eccentric Training Phase
February – Phase 4 – Power – Complex Phase if not ready for it in the last phase
While many other factors contribute to throwing harder or swinging the bat faster, training the physical qualities is certainly one piece of the puzzle. All of these metrics show a moderate positive correlation between pitching velocity and bat speed.
We cannot guarantee improved velocity or bat speed, but we can say when athletes put work in the weight room, physical qualities improve. The most important and vital part of the Baseball Offseason is the consistency of training. Keep showing up and putting in the work and you will be rewarded when the grass is green and the sun is shining.