Condition to Perform: Baseball Conditioning

If you want to improve as a baseball player, you must condition the way you play the game. STACK Expert Tony Bonvechio tells you how.

It's no secret that baseball weight training and plyometrics like lateral jumps and medicine ball throws will help you develop baseball-specific power. But where does baseball conditioning fit in? That's a question players and coaches have been debating for years.

Unfortunately, traditional baseball conditioning calls for players to jog for miles and run wind sprints until they keel over. Neither makes them better.

Baseball players require specific conditioning. To understand how players should condition, you have to understand the science behind how the body produces energy.

Energy systems

The body generates adenosine triphosphate (ATP), its main unit of energy, through three energy systems:

  • Phosphagen
  • Glycolytic
  • Oxidative

The phosphagen and glycolytic systems are anaerobic, meaning they provide energy for activities too intense for the body to consume adequate oxygen. The oxidative system is aerobic and powers lower-intensity activities like walking and jogging. All three systems are active at any given time, but the intensity and duration of activity determines which system is most dominant.

Event effects on primary energy systems

Duration Intensity Energy system(s)
0-6 seconds Very intense Phosphagen
6-30 seconds Intense Phosphagen and glycolytic
30 seconds-2 minutes Intense Glycolytic
2-3 minutes Moderate Glycolytic
>3 minutes Light Oxidative

Baseball is an alactic sport, which means the glycolytic system contributes little or no energy during play. Glycolysis releases lactate (often confused with lactic acid) and hydrogen ions (responsible for the "burning" sensation often falsely blamed on lactic acid). Glycolysis kicks into high gear for near-maximal exercise lasting 10 seconds to two minutes. Unless you're hightailing it for an inside-the-park home run, you never use glycolysis on the field. If you don't use it on the diamond, you shouldn't use it in your conditioning.

Baseball conditioning should be either:

  • Near-maximal intensity for less than 10 seconds with long recovery, or
  • Very low intensity (no lactate accumulation)

It's the in-between stuff that will get you in trouble. Running suicides and 300-yard shuttles might get your heart pumping, but won't do anything for your power or baseball-specific endurance.

Players need a powerful phosphagen system to throw, swing and sprint. They also need a fine-tuned oxidative system to stay loose between innings and recover between pitches. The oxidative system refills the energy spent by the phosphagen system—so after a few innings, a player with a weak oxidative system will lose velocity on his fastball or whip on his swing. But be careful—too much oxidative training can rob you of precious power. Baseball conditioning must strike a proper balance between training the phosphagen and oxidative systems.

Distance running

For years, baseball players have been running poles and hitting the pavement to "build endurance." Not only does long, slow running not accomplish this, but it also does more harm than good.

Baseball endurance is completely different from endurance for marathon runners and cyclists. Endurance athletes need to run or bike many miles without stopping. Baseball players simply need to throw, swing or sprint many times without losing power. Two completely different sports require completely different training, even if "endurance" is the common goal.

Lack of aerobic endurance is not the cause of fatigue during baseball. If that were true, baseball players would have lots of lactate in their blood during games. But research shows that lactate doesn't exceed resting levels after seven innings of pitching. That's because lactate only rises during glycolysis, and no baseball activity lasts long enough to get there. Remember, baseball is alactic, which literally means "without lactate." There's no need to go for a run the day after a game to "flush lactic acid"—there's no lactate buildup in the first place.

Studies show long distance running decreases explosive power, which players can't afford to lose. Who cares if you can throw a complete game if you can't throw hard enough to get anyone out? Who cares if you can run 10 miles without breaking a sweat if you can't hit the ball out of the infield?

Practice how you play

It takes about a second to deliver a pitch or swing a bat and about 15 seconds between pitches. Baseball conditioning should be similar. Short, repeated bouts of intense exercise build baseball-specific endurance and increase peak power. That said, sprints and throws should make up the bulk of a baseball player's exercise program.

To train the phosphagen system, keep the work intervals short (6-8 seconds) and rest periods about 40-60 seconds. For example:

  • 40-Yard Sprints x 8-10 reps, 40 seconds rest between reps
  • Medicine Ball Slams x 6-8 reps, 50 seconds rest between sets
  • Sled Push x 20 yards x 8-10 reps, 60 seconds rest between reps

Aerobic alternatives

Use low-intensity activities to train the oxidative system without the negative the effects of distance running. Examples include:

  • Full-body mobility circuits
  • Low-intensity medicine ball throws
  • Tempo runs (short periods of light running paired with bodyweight exercises)

Putting it all together

Here are a few sample workouts. Perform these two to three times per week, depending on whether you're in the off-season, pre-season or in-season.

Sprint conditioning (phosphagen system)

  • 20 yards x 3 reps, 40 seconds rest
  • 30 yards x 3 reps, 50 seconds rest
  • 40 yards x 4 reps, 60 seconds rest

Tempo run (oxidative system)

  • 40 yards x 4 reps at 70% max effort, 10 Dead Bugs between reps
  • Rest 3 minutes
  • 60 yards x 4 reps at 70% max effort, 20 Crunches between reps

Med Ball Throws (Phosphagen System)

Mobility circuits (Oxidative System)

Read more:

References

1. Baechle, Thomas R., and Roger W. Earle. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. 3rd ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2008.

2. MacDougall, J. D., A. L. Hicks, J. R. MacDonald, R. S. McKelvie, H. J. Green, and K. M. Smith. "Muscle Performance and Enzymatic Adaptations to Sprint Interval Training." Journal of Applied Physiology 84.6 (1998): 2138-142.

3. Potteiger, Jeffrey A., Daniel L. Blessing, and G. Dennis Wilson. "The Physiological Responses to a Single Game of Baseball Pitching." Journal of Applied Sport Science Research 6.1 (1992): 11-18.

4. Rhea, M. R., J. R. Oliverson, G. Marshall, M. D. Peterson, J. G. Kenn, and F. N. Ayllón. "Noncompatibility of Power and Endurance Training among College Baseball Players." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 22.1 (2008): 230-34.

5. Wadley, G., and P. L. Rossignol. "The Relationship between Repeated Sprint Ability and the Aerobic and Anaerobic Energy Systems." Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 1.2 (1998): 100-10.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: BASEBALL | BASEBALL WORKOUTS | RUNNING | ASICS BASEBALL | POWER | ENERGY | EXERCISE | TRAIN | SPRINT | THROW | ENDURANCE | INTENSITY | SWING | ENERGY SYSTEMS