Complete Off-Season Baseball Workout, Part 2: Strength

January 13, 2014

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Part 1 of this series focused on fixing your body following a long and intensive baseball season. Part 2 focuses on improving your body and performance in preparation for a new season.

Strength training for baseball: myths

Strength and performance training hasn't gained as much traction in baseball as it has in other sports. Coaches and scouts have shunned it because of a set of long-held beliefs that just aren't true. Let's take a look at some of these prevailing myths and get to the truth, so you can improve your game.

Myth 1: Lifting weights will make you muscle bound.

This is probably the most common baseball myth. It is usually followed by an example of a guy who did Bench Presses and Curls for an entire off-season and came back with shoulder pain and decreased velocity.

Reality: Poor programming, not strength itself, leaves you muscle bound. Athletes often seek me out to work on their flexibility. They believe their tightness is caused by lifting, but really it's because they didn't work enough on their flexibility during their training.

Let's look at the NFL for comparison. Here we have athletes who are bigger, faster and stronger than most baseball players. Safeties in the NFL can weigh 210 pounds and run faster than most centerfielders, with terrific movement in all ranges. Did lifting make them "muscle bound" and limit their performance? No, it improved their performance and increased their ability to compete.

Myth 2: I need more time playing my sport.

Baseball players tend to believe that simply playing the game year-round gives them enough to compete on an international level with athletes from every demographic.

Reality: The best athletes are training—join in or miss out. Strength training is most apparent when you make the jump to a full-sized field and heavier bats. The bigger and stronger athletes are the ones who move ahead.

Myth 3: You are either born with talent or you aren't. 

Without the right genetics, it is nearly impossible to make it to the highest levels.

Reality: Talent is real, but the right effort and work can change your odds.

Dustin Pedroia doesn't have the physical makeup typical for success. Stephen Strasburg wasn't a phenom until he lost weight and improved his body. Dedicating yourself to the right training plan can fix your weaknesses and maximize your strengths.

So what is the right program?

Before you choose exercises for what you want to accomplish in the off-season, think about what kind of athlete you are. Are you super explosive with fast swings, fast legs and quick reactions? Or are you a slower athlete who is super strong, with slower swings but enough strength to muscle the ball where you want it?

Nearly every athlete falls somewhere along this line. Grade yourself on a scale of 1 to 10. The 1 athletes are fast and explosive—think shortstops and centerfielders. The 10 athletes are super-strong, often bigger athletes—think first basemen.

Understanding what type of athlete you are will help you choose sets, reps and a focus for your training. If you are already massively strong but can't jump over your gear bag, spending all your time getting stronger isn't the answer. If you are the fastest person on the team but are too weak to drive the ball into the gaps, strength is a priority, not more sprinting.

Pick a program and stick to it

The most important thing to remember when doing your off-season training is to stick with the program you choose. Training once in one week, then training three times a week for a few weeks and missing another week won't cut it. If you want to get better, you need to make training a priority.

Many a coach has spoken these words but they beg repeating: The best program done with little intensity isn't as good as a mediocre one done with great intensity. So pick your program, find your focus and commit to becoming a better baseball player.

How to design the right program

Step 1: Decide on a realistic schedule.

It doesn't make sense to design a program for 16 weeks when you only have 10. Prescribe things based on your time constraints.

Step 2: Have a goal for each phase.

Break up your training into three- or four-week phases. Each phase should work a physical trait or small number of traits important to maximizing your athletic ability.

The last phase should focus on the most important performance aspects—speed, power or a combination of both.

Step 3: Have a purpose for each exercise.

Why are you doing a Deadlift? Why are you doing a One-Arm Cable Row? Why are you benching? If you can't give a reason, get rid of it. You don't have time to spend doing things that lack a purpose. Becoming better is the goal. Make sure that what you are working on gets you there.

A 12-week program

Weeks 1-3 - General preparation and muscular growth/improved work capacity
Weeks 4-6 - Strength focus
Weeks 7-9 - Muscular size and increased power training
Weeks 10-12 - Strength and power focus

Sets/Reps

General prep/work capacity

  • 12-15 reps
  • <60% of a 1 rep max

Muscle gain

  • 8-12 reps
  • <75% of 1 rep max

Strength/muscle gain

  • 5-8 reps
  • 75-85% of 1 rep max

Strength and Power

  • 3-5 reps
  • 90-95% of 1 rep max

Here are a few more guidelines:

  • Primary lifts follow the phase focus and its prescribed reps.
  • Accessory lifts should stay between strength and muscle gain, unless work capacity is the goal.
  • When introducing a new lift, it is better to do more sets of fewer reps than lots of reps.

Here are two programs for two different phases. The first is a muscle gaining phase workout, and the second is geared toward strength. This athlete is assumed to be a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10—not too springy, but not just strong either.

Muscle-gaining workout

1a) Foam Roll

2a) Dynamic Warm-up

2b) Correctives

Power development (look for this in Part 3 of the series)

Strength

3a) Front Squat

  • 4 x 10

3b) One-Arm Cable Row

  • 4 x 8

4a) Front Foot Elevated Split Squat

  • 3 x 8

4b) TRX Row

  • 3 x 12

5a) Plank Hold

  • 2 x 20 sec

5b) Half-Kneeling Band Apart

  • 2 x 12

5c) Pallof Press

  • 2 x 10 ea.

Strength phase workout

1a) Foam Roll

2a) Dynamic Warm-up

2b) Correctives

Power development (look for this in Part 3 of the series)

Strength

3a) Trap Bar Deadlift

  • 4 x 5

4a) Landmine Press

  • 3 x 8

4b) Stability Ball Hamstring Curls

  • 3 x 8

5a) Push-Ups with Vest

  • 3 x 8

5b) Face-Pulls

  • 3 x 10

5c) Farmers Walk

  • 3 x 20 yards

Both workouts follow the same initial set-up, from foam rolling to correctives. Each has a dedicated section for power development, and each has paired sets. In strength phases, it is helpful to do the primary exercises alone to allow full recovery and focus on the exercise itself.

Read more:

Bill Rom
- Bill Rom is the Director of Performance Training at Prospect Sports (Farmingdale, N.Y.), where he has worked with several NFL, MLB, and Division I athletes. A...
Bill Rom
- Bill Rom is the Director of Performance Training at Prospect Sports (Farmingdale, N.Y.), where he has worked with several NFL, MLB, and Division I athletes. A...
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