I will never understand how baseball players, particularly youth and college, do not place Strength & Conditioning at the top of their priority list. More importantly, why all coaches do not stress the importance of strength training. With a sport built on failure, performance training is the surest bet to help athletes be successful in this sport.
Social Media has led to too many “experts” on sport specific training. I recognize that training videos and education is a great advancement in the field, but the negative side is it leading to a mentality that “all players are the same.” The parallels between a professional baseball player and a youth player are 0 out of 100. The parallels between a high school baseball player and a professional baseball player are 10 out of 100. The parallels between a college baseball player and a professional baseball player are 20 out of 100. My point, comparing how a professional baseball player trains to any other level is downright laughable. You simply can’t issue a blanket statement.
Strength training can be handled numerous ways per an athlete’s needs. In fact, there are about 10-20 movements that all athletes should do in an athletic performance training regimen (we will list 5 in this article). These movements can cross sport boundaries and often do. The variables are more often where the sport specific training comes from, not the movements themselves. Variables are the sets, reps, loads, rest times, etc… Strength training for baseball will lead to the following:
Greater levels of power
Greater rotation force output
Increased mental capacity by way of regular endorphin release
Acceleration times will decrease… meaning more sport specific “fast”
From my 16-year experience baseball players who begin athletic performance training at a young age, with the major emphasis on strength, flourish in high school and set themselves up for a longer and healthier career.
Training should come from a multi-faceted platform, meaning the focus is spent around developmental training principles with an emphasis on mechanical efficiency. What??? Let me simplify so it is specific to baseball players:
Posterior Chain Development… think back, hamstrings and glutes
Squat Strength… a minimum goal should be 2x bodyweight at full range of motion (ROM)
Hip Extension… ankles, knees and hips should reach extension with all power movements
Work Anti-Rotation… anti-rotation means training muscles like the obliques and QL’s of the back, in order to create a strong stability platform for the athlete during rotation
Speed Mechanics… speed for baseball can be broken down positionally but the number one trait that all should have is acceleration; this starts with mechanics and leads to force
It is vital that these principles are trained and formed by an educated and experienced Strength & Conditioning Coach. The so-called “experts” are out of their league when trying to program and coach baseball performance. I have found, from my experience, that the most common so-called experts are ex-professional baseball players; overly involved parent; the family doctor (Pediatrician); the club baseball coach; and current baseball players playing at a higher level. Knowing exercises is about 10% of the picture. For starters, here are two common myths around strength training and baseball:
1. You can’t bench press full ROM, bar to chest
2. Baseball players should not do military press or other overhead movements
Next, what the whole purpose of this article is about, is the 5 most important movements for baseball development with intent, cues, variables and more…
Purpose… to increase overall strength in the body while focusing on posterior chain strength
Muscles Targeted… the entire back; hamstrings & glutes; core for posture; and quads too.
Coaching… shoes off is the best approach to create a better floor to foot connection; for young and inexperienced athletes start with a hip down approach, meaning they squat the bar down from the hip to the floor; maintain a flat back position throughout with the only exception being experienced lifters going for singles above 90-92.5% 1 rep max (RM).
Variables to consider... younger less experienced athletes should engage in 3-4 sets x 5-10 reps; more experience athletes should vary their protocols, here is a 3-week example:
Week One: 4 sets x 6-8 reps
Week Two: 5 sets x 3-5 reps
Week Three: 5 sets x 1-3 reps or a 5-4-3-2-1 rep protocol
2. Hang Power Cleans
Purpose… overall power development of the hips through the triple extension movement while handling load deceleration by the hips / legs
Muscles Targeted… quads, hamstrings, glutes and back (the lats and traps)
Coaching… the complexity of the movement is hard to express on paper but the most important rules are making sure to hit a full triple extension every rep and catch the bar with a full foot position, not on your toes. Visit our YouTube channel (FunctionalMuscleFitness) to watch this movement so you understand those two points.
Variables to consider... younger less experienced athletes should make sure they can perform muscle pulls prior to working on catching the barbell; more experience athletes should vary their protocols, here is a 3-week example:
Week One: 4 sets x 4 reps
Week Two: 5 sets x 3 reps
Week Three: 5 sets x 2 reps
Purpose… simply put, leg strength.
Muscles Targeted… quads, hamstrings, glutes and core.
Coaching… coach younger athletes to squat down (i.e. sit down) to a larger medicine ball first; a front squat with shoes off is better to start with, learning wise, before moving to a back squat; squat full ROM, as it achieves greater levels of mechanical work with more posterior chain engagement. Any athlete who is having their heels pop off the floor during the squat is required to remove their shoes, for it provides them with better connection to the floor.
Variables to consider... when programming for squats I make sure both the front and back squat are heavily used in the program. The variables are adjusted based on the athlete’s ability to show a proper full ROM squat. Here is an example 3-week protocol:
Week One: 4 sets x 10 reps… tempo reps with a 3 down & 3 up approach
Week Two: 5 sets x 5 reps… descend under control
Week Three: 5 sets x 1-5 reps… I work to a 1 rep about 1x every 6-8 weeks
Purpose… strength & power development for pushing muscles.
Muscles Targeted… chest, shoulders & triceps
Coaching… angles of the upper body are important so I coach to keep the athletes at a 45-degree (about) angle between the upper arms and sides of the back (arms pit area). I prefer dumbbells to be used for the majority of the time baseball players are hitting this movement. Coach athletes, when bar benching, to “pinch the bench” with their shoulder blades so they have a powerful back force to keep the weight controlled; barbell should be brought down all the way to your chest; keep the feet planted firmly into the ground; do not lower the barbell or dumbbells fast and uncontrolled, that will hurt your performance and limit your results
Variables to consider... I prefer baseball players to use dumbbells, particularly with the higher reps. Here is an example 3-week protocol:
Week One: 4 sets x 8-12 reps… tempo reps with a 3 down & 3 up approach
Week Two: 4-5 sets x 5-8 reps… descend under control
Week Three: 5 sets x 1-5 reps… I work to a 1 rep about 1x every 6-8 weeks
5. Pull Ups… with an honorable mention of ‘Rows’
Purpose… strength & power development for pulling muscles.
Muscles Targeted… the entire back & core
Coaching… hands should be wider then shoulder width; pull ups means your palms face away from you; focus on full ROM, so your arms extend all the way; do not pull your knees up to your chest when you do the pull ups
Variables to consider... Back is the key to safeguarding the shoulders, which are commonly injured; additionally, a strong back will lead to a strong bench! Here is an example 3-week protocol:
Week One: 4 sets x 8-12 reps… controlled reps with a 2 second pause at the top
Week Two: 5 sets x 8-15 reps… controlled up & down but work until failure
Week Three: 5 sets x 3-6 reps… use a weight belt to hang weight
Baseball strength / performance training is a necessity for all ages, not just professionals. Engage in a program young that focuses on athletic development and avoid “sport-specific” until the baseball player has reached an experienced training age; however, even the most experienced should place emphasis on being an athlete first and foremost.