With the baseball season in midswing (pun intended), many athletes find themselves focusing on their performance on the field but not in the weight room. The goals of becoming bigger, stronger, and faster before opening day are now tucked away as many players are unsure of what exercises to do in order to maintain their strength throughout the season. An even bigger question is what are the best exercises to do in order to get the most bang for their buck?”
Think of some of the more common movement patterns within the baseball game: exploding off the mound during a pitch, swinging at a fastball, sprinting around a base, or diving to make a catch. All of these activities share one commonality: unilateral lower body power. Look at throwing, for instance; whether you are crow hopping during a long toss or slinging the ball across the infield, it is well known that power generation from the hips plays a significant role in throwing velocity. The weight transfer from your back leg, also known as your “drive leg,” to your front foot allows for an exceptional amount of single-leg power to be generated… which is kind of like hitting a baseball or stealing a base. So what does this have to do with your workout routine?
Depending on the gym you work out in, most “leg day” routines consist of one or more of the following exercises: squat, deadlift, leg extensions, and hamstring curls. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d rather someone go through a periodized program using these four exercises than roll off the couch and step foot on the diamond. That being said, these “common” leg exercises are all bilaterally loaded… in a sport that is unilaterally dominated. Yes, they will get you stronger, and yes, they can be performed for power, but they do not train in the demands of the game of baseball.
So what kind of exercises may be more beneficial as you prepare for the upcoming season?
- Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
- Lunge Variations
- Single-Leg Bridges
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
If you had to pick one exercise that mimics the follow-through of throwing a baseball, the single-leg Romanian deadlift (RDL) would be near the top of the list. After a player releases a ball, their body weight shifts towards their stride leg. Not only does this leg need to provide stability and absorb forces, but it facilitates the deceleration of the torso. This is why the single-leg RDL is such a good exercise; balance, trunk stability, and an opportunity to train the posterior chain eccentrically. A few coaching tips:
- Perfect the hip hinge prior to loading the athlete
- More support is better if it results in an improved quality of motion
- Think about keeping your pelvic, low back, and neck in a neutral position
When it comes to learning how to maintain trunk control, decelerate the body, and generate power, the lunge has it all. What’s better is that depending on the type of lunge you perform, it reenacts the all-important weight transfer found throughout baseball. What kind of lunges can you explore? A reverse or forward lunge both challenge the body in the sagittal plane, whereas a lateral lunge works more in the frontal plane… so play around in order to provide some variety to your movements. A few coaching tips:
- A split stance lunge (i.e. static lunge) may allow the athlete to learn the movement pattern first
- Reverse lunges tend to place less strain on the front of the knee
- Make sure you cue which leg to press through
When looking at pitchers specifically, hip extension is crucial. The back leg initiates
the forward momentum that propels a pitcher towards home plate, and being able to generate this power helps with the eventual acceleration of the arm. One of the best exercises that trains hip extension is the bridge, and once again, you can bias it with a single-leg variation. Of the single-leg bridge types, the Cook hip lift forces athletes to use their hip extensors to initiate the motion rather than extend through their lumbar spine. A few coaching tips:
- Pressing through the heel (versus the toe) will encourage more posterior chain activation
- Maintain the active contraction of the hip flexors on the opposite side the entire time
- Make sure to keep the pelvis from rotating during the motion
What’s great about these three exercises is that they require minimal to no equipment, which means you have no excuse to start kicking some serious gluteus maximus today!