Baseball season is nearly upon us, and that means that many of you are doing your best to prepare for the grueling season ahead. But too often, baseball players wait until the last minute, which can totally screw up their entire season if they're not careful.
An entire offseason training program turns into a cram session, like trying to learn a semester's worth of material for a final exam. We all know how that goes.
"I think the biggest mistake I see is when players try to play catch-up and pack months of offseason training into one or two weeks before the season," says Alex Simone, owner and operator of Simone's Baseball Performance and a former collegiate baseball player.
We commend your effort, but trying to do a complete offseason program in only a few weeks will lead to a slew of problems:
It's not reasonable to expect to get stronger and more powerful in only a few weeks. Cramming isn't an effective strategy for improving your hitting power, throwing velocity or speed on the field.
Even though your body is in a detrained state, you're throwing the kitchen table at it with as many exercises, reps or weights as possible. That's a recipe for disaster.
You don't allot enough time to build arm strength, which increases your risk of a shoulder or elbow injury once you start throwing every day during tryouts, practices and games.
Finally, Simone believes that this strategy will cause burnout before the season even starts, and as a byproduct will negatively impact your play in the field.
Fortunately, avoiding these issues doesn't require a Ph.D. in rocket science. You simply need to plan ahead and give yourself enough time to prepare your body for the season. Doing just the right amount and type of workout at the right time will leave you in peak condition and help you dominate the season.
Step 1: Schedule an offseason
Whether you play baseball or multiple sports, you need an offseason. This might be counterintuitive to the "more is better" mindset that many baseball players take when deciding how much to play, but it will pay off over time.
"I think that specifically in baseball we feel that it's important for baseball players, especially pitchers and catchers who do a lot of overhead throwing, to have at least three or four months of rest from throwing each year," says Dr. E. Lyle Cain, renown orthopaedic surgeon at the Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center.
The long rest not only gives your body a break from throwing and swinging day after day, but it's also the time when you can focus on building strength and power in the weight room, which will ultimately improve your skills on the field.
Step 2: Give your body time to recover
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some baseball players move too quickly into their offseason program and don't give their bodies a break after the season.
"The first 3-4 weeks after a season ends is all about addressing imbalances, aches and pains, and allow some form of a window to recover," advises Tony Gentilcore, a Boston-based strength coach and owner of CORE. "This doesn't mean lying on a couch and watching Netflix, but instead starting slow with some mobility work, core work and light strength and conditioning and then ramping up accordingly as the weeks progress."
Here's a 6-week baseball tune-up from Gentilcore that will achieve many of those goals.
Step 3: Hit the weights
Now it's time to start adding strength and power. There are many, many baseball training programs out there, but most good ones have a few things in common:
An emphasis on compound exercises, such variations of the Squat, Deadlift, presses and rows.
A focus on single-leg exercises, such as Single-Leg RDLs, Reverse Lunges and Skater Jumps.
Baseball core workouts that teach you to brace your spine and med ball exercises that teach you to create rotational power with your hips.
Modified exercises to be more shoulder-friendly. For example:
Single-Arm Landmine Press instead of Overhead Press
Dumbbell Bench Press instead of Bench Press
Safety Bar Squat instead Back Squat
Gentilcore and Simone have similar messages when approaching training: slow and steady wins the race. Set a goal of where you want to be for your season and take the offseason to gradually work toward that goal. Don't try to hammer out PRs your first few weeks in the weight room.
Step 4: Start throwing
"In youth baseball, it's important that kids build their arm strength up before the season actually starts and they're in competition," says Cain. "We recommend at most ages a 4- to 6-week throwing program to get their arms in shape before they start the season."
Here's a sample pre-season throwing program to help get you started.
Step 5: Deload
If your offseason program is fairly intense and you're an experienced lifter, schedule a deload week.
If you're not familiar, a deload is a week where you back off the number of reps you perform or the amount of weight you lift to allow your body to recover and come back stronger. It allows you to peak for the start of the season.
What if I'm a multi-sport athlete?
Multi-sport athletes have a harder time fitting in a proper offseason and preseason baseball plan. You have other obligations and your season might be transitioning to playoffs just as you should be peaking in your strength training. The two don't mix well.
However, you need to find time to start throwing. This could be on a day off or on the weekend. If you have any hope of playing baseball injury-free for several years, this is non-negotiable.
You also need to commit to an in-season training program. You won't be hitting PRs or training as intensely as would be possible with a dedicated offseason, but that's OK. You can still get stronger and prepare yourself for the season. Plus, playing multiple sports has many benefits, which Gentilcore details here.