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Think you should spend your off days pumping iron to get bigger? Settle down there, slugger. Building strength may add yards to your long ball and give you showy beach muscles, but your number one objective in-season should be to stay healthy on the field, so you can consistently perform at your best. Although work in the gym can help you achieve that goal, you won’t get it by pounding out a dozen sets of Bench Presses. Instead, follow these five guidelines to stay injury-free and ensure you’re in top form every time you step on the diamond.
Keep On Rollin’
During the day-in, day-out grind of a baseball season, your body is bound to feel sore or tight in places. When muscle aches strike, your best friend is the foam roller. Lay the tender muscle overtop that tough foam tube (if you want to get really intense, try a PVC pipe or a lacrosse ball) and roll slowly back and forth. When the sensation feels powerful, stop and breathe deeply. Then move on. Ballplayers should pay special attention to their chest, lats, triceps, forearms and glutes. (See muscle-specific foam rolling techniques.)
Mobilize the Troops
There’s nothing wrong with doing the old one-leg-out, touch-your-toes hurdler’s stretch—if you’re a track athlete and it’s 1980. More recent studies support a much more effective way to stay flexible and strong: dynamic mobility exercises. When you perform dynamic mobility drills (like this warm-up), you hold stretches for only a couple of seconds before you change position; so they are great way to get limber, warm and loose before an activity. Make sure to focus on your ankles, hips, t-spine (mid back), shoulders and neck.
Pull, Pull, Pull
Guys with big pecs may look great in tank tops, but for the boys of summer, back muscles are what really matter. Besides being crucial to your swing, a well-developed posterior can help keep your all-important shoulders healthy—and let’s face it, if you can’t throw, you can’t play (unless you’re David Ortiz). Aim for a 2:1 ratio of pulling exercises to pushing movements in your workouts. Great options include rowing exercises, Pull-Ups and Chin-Ups.
Take One Step at a Time
Baseball does a phenomenal job of creating muscle imbalances among its athletes. During the course of a game, players are constantly pushing off of the same leg, whether they’re throwing, hitting or even running the bases (you never steal a base by turning to your left). While Squats and Deadlifts are great for building size and strength, they don't do much to correct the imbalances that inevitably result from playing baseball. Swap out those big double-leg lifts for unilateral variations like Lunges, Single-Leg Hip Thrusts and Rear Foot-Elevated Split-Squats.
Most people mistakenly think that because baseball involves a lot of rotational movements, you should train your core the same way, with lots of twists and spins. The truth is that your core is not responsible for creating rotational power; its job is to create stability, resist movement and transfer the force from your legs into your swings and throws. So instead of performing outdated Sit-Ups and Rotational Crunches, build your core training around exercises like Front and Side Planks, Ab Wheel Rollouts and Pallof Holds or Presses. (Learn more about the Pallof Press.)